An extra day between the final race in the NASCAR Playoffs Round of 16 and the kickoff to the Round of 12 was a welcome sight to William Byron.
“I think it was nice to have Sunday to kind of reflect and have that off time,” Byron said of the day after Saturday night’s elimination race at Bristol Motor Speedway. “I know the guys worked on the car still; I think everyone kind of got a chance to breathe and reset.”
Byron’s No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team was one of those who needed a reset before Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN). While Byron advanced to the next round in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, it didn’t come easy.
Going into Bristol, Byron was 18 points and two spots below the cutline. Through eight points earned in the first two stages and an overall third-place finish, Byron jumped above the cutline. He advanced by a scant two points.
“I don’t feel like we’ll have any issues about showing up at Vegas fresh and ready,” Byron said. “We’ve got an extra day this week to really recover and get prepared. I feel like we’re going to be ready when we get on the plane and go there. I don’t think that will be an issue.”
Bristol helped Byron and his group learn a lot about themselves, the driver said. In a pressure-filled event, the team brought a good car and executed well. It was Byron’s first top-5 finish since Michigan in late August and only his third top-10 finish in the last 10 races.
“It’s been a while since we’ve had as strong a race as that throughout and no mistakes,” Byron admitted.
Recent results haven’t matched Byron’s performance level. Running fourth at Indianapolis, Byron was one of the numerous drivers taken out by a broken curb. Another DNF came two weeks later in the regular-season finale at Daytona.
In the opening race of the playoffs, Byron suffered damaged from running into teammate Alex Bowman on lap 15. Although he rebounded to run inside the top 10 later in the night, Byron still failed to finish when a lug nut knocked the valve stem off the left-front tire on lap 200, resulting in a crash. Byron wasn’t a factor at Richmond, where he finished an unmemorable 19th.
For a team that sat as high as second in points and ended the regular season fifth in the overall standings, the first round of the playoffs ended up being more stressful than Byron anticipated.
“It definitely got turned on its side with everything that happened at Darlington,” Byron said. “Darlington seems like years ago now that we’ve been through the last two weeks. Just thinking back to that race and how much we overcame, to have a flat tire and crash after that was just devastating. We thought we had put ourselves in a good position to overcome all that.
“At Richmond, we just laid an egg and weren’t really that fast, and that was a big bummer. But we overcame it at Bristol and had a really good run, and set the tone for the rest of our year. It was a tough stretch for six or seven weeks of just not getting the finishes. But we’ve had the speed, and I feel like now we’re going to get the finishes.”
Byron led 25 laps and finished eighth at Las Vegas in the spring.