Sunday afternoon was not the first time crew chief Darian Grubb made a strategy play to get his driver, William Byron, track position.
Pocono Raceway was instead the latest example of Grubb having confidence in his rookie driver to get the job done near the front of the field. And Byron delivered, leading 10 laps when Grubb left him on track with older tires on Lap 102.
During that time Byron led veteran eventual winner Kyle Busch and the three other Joe Gibbs Racing cars. Busch wouldn’t find a way around the Hendrick Motorsports rookie until Lap 112.
“That’s what your job is,” Byron, who finished a career-best sixth, said of being comfortable in that position. “I’ve always been in contention to win races, so I know how to do those things; you just go to put me there, and our team is capable of doing those things.
“It’s good. We’re starting to have the speed to make those kinds of moves and have it pay off. It was risky, but we got a caution. We were really top 10 right before that anyways, we finished the stage in 10th, so it wasn’t a huge surprise for us to be up there. But feels good to have some speed and be able to have a run like that.”
One of 13 drivers who had their qualifying time disallowed following inspection, Byron came from the rear of the field. The call from Grubb to move further up the leaderboard was made after Byron earned points finishing 10th in stage two. Grubb’s strategy calls also helped Byron lead laps earlier this year at ISM Raceway and Talladega.
“It was a really good job by us going through the whole day and executing having a good day for strategy, trying to work our way to the front,” Grubb told RACER. “We knew we started ourselves back with having the penalty from qualifying. [We] had a fast car and did a really good job just maximizing what we could get out of the day.
“If that last caution had happened three laps later I think we would have been set because we were planning to pit under green when nobody else could, and we could have made it to the end. It’s all a good day for us.”
In 21 career races, Byron has now led a total of 53 laps. The Gander Outdoors 400 will go down as his second top-10 finish of the season, and Byron is confident such a run will give the No. 24 team momentum going forward.
“Our cars are just getting faster,” Byron said. “Now we have the speed to run in the top 10, which makes it a lot easier to do things and allows us to be more aggressive, allows me to drive the car the way I know how to drive it.
“I feel like our speed is just starting to get us in a position to be more aggressive, which is really good.”
Grubb was clearly pleased by his team’s day and the outlook for the rest of the season. Byron continues to lead the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings and sits 21st in points.
More importantly, Pocono was the first non-restrictor-plate track the series has now visited twice, and Grubb sees growth from his young driver.
“It’s a big deal because this is one of the first tracks we’ve come back to a second time, so our notebooks got some paper in it and we can actually pay attention to the notes from last time,” Grubb said.
“He’s done a really good job about reading what we need to do in practice and getting the cars better, so now we’re looking forward to going back to a lot of these track a second time.”