William Byron took full advantage of a late on-track incident between Ross Chastain and Kyle Larson to triumph in Sunday’s Goodyear 400 Darlington Raceway and become the first three-time winner in the NASCAR Cup Series this season.
For Byron, the victory was sweet redemption for last season’s spring race at the Lady in Black, where Joey Logano’s bump-and-run denied Byron his first victory at the fabled speedway.
“Yeah, it’s pretty amazing,” said Byron, who earned the 100th victory for the No. 24 team. “My granddad passed away on Thursday, and just, man, I wish my family could be here. Just things have a way of working out, honestly. It just worked out that way today. We didn’t have the best third stage. We just kept battling, and things just kind of come back around.
“Definitely didn’t expect this. But just thankful for a great team, and, yeah, just things have a way of working out, and to come back here to Darlington and have it go exactly the other way.”
It was a lap 288 crash between Chastain and Larson—while battling for the lead—that gave Byron the opportunity to collect his seventh career victory.
Taking the inside lane, with Larson beside him, Chastain led the field to a restart after an eight-car wreck necessitated the seventh caution on lap 281. Chastain drove hard into Turn 1, plowed up the track and wrecked both his No. 1 Chevrolet and Larson’s No. 5.
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“How does that make any sense, running us into the fence?” Cliff Daniels, Larson’s crew chief fumed on the team radio. “That’s three races he’s taken us out of—the No. 1 car—three races he’s taken us out of.”
Chastain took responsibility for the mistake that took him out of the race and relegated Larson to a 20th-place result.
“Full commit into Turn 1,” said Chastain, who finished 29th. “I got really tight and drove up and turned myself. I wanted to squeeze him. I wanted to push him up. We’d been racing back and forth all day. But I definitely didn’t want to turn myself.”
The incident forced overtime, handed the lead to the driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Byron outran Kevin Harvick in the final two-lap dash.
In a race that included massive wrecks on laps 194 and 281, Chase Elliott ran third, followed by Brad Keselowski, Bubba Wallace, Harrison Burton, Kyle Busch, Justin Haley, Ryan Blaney and Chris Buescher.
In sharp contrast to the aggressive battling between Chastain and Larson, Harvick, whose No. 4 Ford had sustained front-end damage during the lap 281 wreck, gave Byron plenty of room after the overtime restart on lap 294.
“We had a good car all day,” Harvick said. “We just never could get up towards the front in our Sunny Delight Ford Mustang. Struggled in traffic today, but we were really good at the second half of the run and just struggled at the beginning of the run.
“But we had good track position, then had a bad pit stop under green, and then wound up having everything work out there at the end. Didn’t have anything for William. The front is torn up pretty good. But they did a great job and just kind of kept ourselves in the game, and you never know what’s going to happen.”
Pole winner Martin Truex Jr. had the dominant car for the first half of the race. The driver of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota handily won the first stage and led a total of 145 laps, but the handling on Truex’s Camry tightened up during the second stage, allowing Chastain to pass for the lead on lap 151.
Truex recovered to challenge Chastain for the Stage 2 victory, but on the final lap of the stage, Chastain braked hard behind a lapped car, bounced off the outside wall and sent Truex spinning toward the apron.
Chastain picked up his fifth stage win of the season, but Truex dropped to 10th, and his car never recovered after the incident. And though Truex gained four spots on pit road after the sixth caution and restarted third on lap 281, he was part of the massive eight-car wreck that decimated the field in the first two corners.
“When we got into Chastain there at the end of the second stage going for the win in that, it knocked the toe out, so we were tight from there on out,” said Truex, who finished 31st. “Just an unfortunate deal. There was plenty of room there, but he just came off the wall and hit me.
“Like I said, knocked the toe out in the right front. Pretty crappy from there, and then on that restart (lap 281), I guess I just got real tight and I don’t even know who I squeezed into the wall, but I apologize to them. Probably my fault, just got real tight and couldn’t stay down the track.”