An eventful day for William Byron nearly ended with a victory at Michigan International Speedway.
Byron had one of the fastest cars in the Firekeepers Casino 400, but his decision on the final restart with eight laps to go didn’t work out. As the race leader, Byron chose the outside lane and was pushed into Turn 1 by Denny Hamlin. When Hamlin looked for a run on the outside, Byron went with him to protect the rear side of his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, and it cost them both as Ryan Blaney drove away on the inside.
Blaney held off charges from Kyle Larson, who briefly took second from Byron, and then Byron when he charged back. But it was Blaney over Byron at the finish line by 0.07s.
“The 11 tried to go high, and so by me trying to protect that, I gave up the bottom,” Byron said. “Just part of it.”
Byron needed Hamlin to stick to his bumper and keep pushing, but once they were three wide, it was “game over.” He was one of the drivers who described Sunday’s action like a superspeedway race with manipulating the air and needing help to build a run.
“You can only block so many lanes,” Byron said. “I tried to block the top and cost myself first.”
Byron was the race leader on the final restart because he’d cycled to the top spot on lap 174 when the leaders pitted for the last time. He cleared the field on a restart with 14 laps to go after a brief pause for rain, but wasn’t so lucky on the next and final restart.
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The No. 24 team also had two obstacles to overcome. Byron overshot his pit stall under the Stage 1 caution and lost time on pit road having to back up. Then damage to the left rear following contact with Hamlin halfway through the second stage required repairs during a green-flag pit stop.
“I felt like we had a really good car from really the first lap,” Byron said. “We started 18th, but we were able to get to the top 10 pretty quick, make our way through some fast cars, and then our day was just kind of up and down. I slid through the box, which was my mistake. I underestimated that for sure.
“Then had the issue with the 11 there where he came up into me, cleared himself, and cost me a bunch of left rear damage and bunch of front downforce. So, I was super tight. We fixed that under green which was pretty awesome, and was able to kind of leapfrog our way up. Once we were in the top two or three, I felt our car handled good enough with the damage.”
Byron led 18 laps at Michigan. He’s now led laps in 13 races this season after leading laps in 13 races in all of 2020. He has also led more laps this year than in 2020.