Survive and advance ended up being the theme of the night for William Byron and Alex Bowman.
With a pair of top-five finishes at Bristol Motor Speedway, the Hendrick Motorsports teammates jumped above the playoff grid cutline to advance into the Round of 12. Byron finished third for his first top-five finish in nearly a month to overcome an 18-point deficit. Bowman finished fifth and broke the tie he was in on the cutline.
“Honestly, I don’t think I breathed for 100 laps,” Byron said. “I was honestly just trying to go as hard as I could. I had the best seat in the house for the leaders getting together. I was just trying to make as much speed as I could. I felt like that was what our car had, and we were just trying to hold off the 12 [Ryan Blaney] and just drive it as hard as I could. It was a pretty awesome moment — that we could pull through being 18 points out and come into this race and advance is pretty amazing.”
Byron earned points in both stages, and his car seemed to improve as the night wore on, advancing by two points on Tyler Reddick. A crash in the round’s opening race at Darlington and a 19th-place finish at Richmond put him below the cutline going into the first elimination race.
Bowman also entered Bristol without a top-10 finish in the first two playoff races. Saturday night, while Bowman didn’t earn points in either stage, he and crew chief Greg Ives kept working on their Chevrolet to climb up the leaderboard in the final stage and take advantage when the competition started falling by the wayside.
Bowman went from below the cutline to ninth and advanced by 10 points. As Byron and Bowman finished with the leaders, Reddick finished 12th, and Aric Almirola finished 19th. Reddick and Almirola were the first two drivers below the cutline.
“It was an interesting night, for sure,” Bowman said. “We were pretty awful at the start of the race. Greg [Ives] threw everything — including a laptop, I think. I heard there was a laptop casualty there during the race, it was so bad.
“I just started really out of the racetrack, and it took a lot of adjusting on it to get it where we needed it, and it was obviously really fast there at the end. I’m just proud of everybody on this No. 48 team for not giving up. My mistake at Darlington kind of put us in this box; us and the 24 [Byron]. I’m really glad the No. 24 made it because if they wouldn’t have, that would have been on me, too.”
By advancing, Byron and Bowman keep Hendrick Motorsports in championship contention with all four of its drivers. Bowman starts the second round seeded seventh, while Byron is seeded eighth.
“I think we’re going to some really good tracks,” Byron said. “We won on a 1.5-mile earlier this year. The Roval, we’ve been really fast there and have had a number of poles on road courses, so I feel like we just had to get through this round. We had a really unfortunate start to it, and we made up for it tonight.”
Bowman is also optimistic about the upcoming races at Las Vegas, Talladega and the Charlotte Roval.
“I’m just appreciative to make it through this round,” he said. “It’s Ally’s first time in the playoffs, and we want to get them as far as we can and try to go chase a championship. There are some good tracks coming up for us this round, and I’ve just got to go do my job and not make any more mistakes and have a good rest of the playoffs.”