William Byron had about as good a day a driver can without claiming the win as he started from the pole, led laps, won a stage, and finished fifth at Circuit of The Americas, yet he said the day was “hard as hell.”
Without the stoppage of stage breaks, the race played out organically and, for much of the afternoon, saw long green flag runs and green flag pit cycles. But then a rash of cautions – six to be exact – broke out and turned the proceedings into a stop-and-go affair with incidents all over the place, debris littering the circuit, and wild restarts.
Sunday’s race went into multiple overtime attempts.
“It was hard as hell,” Byron said. “It was the hardest I’ve worked in a race car, I think. Honestly, not the hardest I’ve worked but just the amount of heat and the amount of (carbon monoxide) or whatever it is in the cars.
“It was definitely tough to deal with. By lap 25 I was just praying for a second wind. Luckily it came. That’s why you train, I guess. I don’t know if I’m that much better than everybody else, but I feel fine.”
Byron would have felt better leaving with the win, but like the rest of the field, had nothing for Tyler Reddick. The two drivers had the field covered, combining to lead 69 of the race’s 75 laps.
The No. 24 won the first stage. Reddick won the second stage. The two also waged a clean and thrilling battle for the lead in the final stage. Byron lost the lead for good with 22 laps to go and spent the remainder of the event fighting to survive on the restarts.
Going into the final overtime attempt, he lined up fifth, but he was never able to make it back to Reddick to fight for the win.
“He just had the lead and I didn’t. He was better,” Byron said of the difference at the end of the day. “When we got that run with nine laps to go, he was able to pass me clean and gap me. I did a lot of blocking, a lot of protecting under braking, but he was just better.
“I think he had a little more grip than us, a little bit more lateral grip, and that’s what it takes on the road courses – being able to hustle the car a little bit more. He was still free and sideways but had grip doing it. So that’s part of racing. Good to come home top five here at COTA; we had a great weekend. We’ll take it.”