Byron wins 2024 Daytona 500 despite late drama

Photo of Byron triumph in Daytona500.

In Daytona Beach, Florida, William Byron clinched an electrifying win for team owner Rick Hendrick during the 40th anniversary of Hendrick Motorsports. As the Daytona 500 approached its conclusion with only three laps remaining, chaos erupted following a restart on Lap 197.

Byron capitalized on the opportunity, seizing the lead and crossing the start/finish line just before NASCAR initiated the fifth caution due to Ross Chastain’s dramatic slide across the infield grass, triggered by Austin Cindric’s Ford.

Alex Bowman closely trailed his teammate when the caution came out, securing a 1-2 finish for Hendrick, marking the organization’s first victory in the “Great American Race” since Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s triumph in 2014. This win also represented the first Hendrick 1-2 finish in the “Great American Race” since Jimmie Johnson narrowly beat Earnhardt in 2013.

Hendrick’s ninth victory in the Daytona 500 tied the company with Petty Enterprises for the most wins in the event’s esteemed history within the NASCAR Cup Series. The race had been rescheduled from Sunday to Monday due to heavy rains over the weekend.

“I’m just a guy who started racing on computers, and now I’ve won the Daytona 500,” remarked the 26-year-old Byron, who clinched his 11th Cup Series victory and his second at Daytona, with his first win occurring in the 2020 summer race at the 2.5-mile superspeedway.

“I can’t believe it. I wish my dad was here. He’s sick, but this is for him, man. We’ve been through so much, and we sat up in the grandstands together and watched the race when I was younger. This is just so amazing,” Byron expressed, while Hendrick could hardly contain his elation in Victory Lane.

“I’m telling you, you couldn’t write the script any better,” he said. “When we thought about coming down here the first time, we didn’t think we should be here, felt so out of place. Winning this on our 40th anniversary to the day, it’s just… and tying a record now, so that’s awesome.”

Before the final restart, Chastain led the pack on Lap 192 when a push from Alex Bowman unsettled Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron, leading to Byron colliding with the right rear of Brad Keselowski’s Ford. Keselowski then spun into Joey Logano’s Ford, who had led the race for a significant 45 laps. Reigning series champion Ryan Blaney’s Ford was among the 23 cars involved in the ensuing accident, resulting in a line of wrecked vehicles along the backstretch.

The crash resulted in Blaney, Keselowski, and Logano, as well as Tyler Reddick, defending race titleholder Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Daniel Suárez, and Todd Gilliland, being forced out of contention. NASCAR paused the race for 15 minutes and 27 seconds to clear debris from the track.

Reflecting on the incident, Logano expressed some regret, saying, “Back to speedway racing. It’s thrilling until incidents like this happen. The closing laps were intense, with a lot of maneuvering. Our car handled it well. Our Mustang was fast and skilled at leading a group. I thought I had the right cars around me, or at least one, but unfortunately, it didn’t work out.”

Byron also shared his thoughts on the accident, stating, “I’m obviously disappointed with what happened on that backstretch. I was pushed and went sideways. However, I’m incredibly proud of this team, the entire Axalta team, especially considering it’s our 40th anniversary today, on Monday. I feel blessed and grateful for all the opportunities, and we’re determined to maintain this momentum. We have a lot to prove this year, and this is certainly a promising start.”

The question of how much more Byron needs to demonstrate his abilities remains up for discussion. Last year, he achieved an impressive six wins, made it to the Championship 4, and finished third in the final standings.

Within the first five laps of the race, chaos erupted with an eight-car collision near Turn 4, signaling the onset of inevitable setbacks. Keselowski’s Ford initiated the incident by making contact with John Hunter Nemechek’s Toyota amidst a tightly packed outside line, sending Nemechek veering into the center lane and colliding with Harrison Burton’s Ford.

As Burton slid towards the infield, he collected Sunoco rookie Carson Hocevar’s Chevrolet. Subsequently, Burton’s No. 21 Mustang surged up the track, impacting Kaz Grala’s Ford and Austin Dillon’s Chevrolet. Hocevar, behind Dillon, swerved into the path of seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson, resulting in unavoidable contact.

The crash rendered Burton, Hocevar, and Grala out of contention. Dillon retreated to the garage for extensive repairs on his No. 3 Chevy, while Johnson’s Legacy Motor Club crew worked to repair his Camry, costing him two laps.

Reflecting on the incident after a visit to the infield care center, Burton stated, “I can’t recall exactly who was on my outside. It appeared they either gave a poor push or lost control, making contact with me on the right side, sending me across the track.

Despite the wet grass, I thought I could halt, but the car kept sliding… It’s disappointing that our day ended so abruptly. We had a competitive Ford, but all we can do is look forward and aim to win next week.”

Following an additional 187 laps of racing, a significant wreck ensued, thinning the field and setting the stage for the final showdown among the remaining cars. In a race characterized by 41 lead changes among 20 drivers, Christopher Bell secured third place, trailed by Corey LaJoie, Bubba Wallace, and AJ Allmendinger. Chastain, attempting a bold maneuver to the inside of Cindric on the penultimate lap but finding limited space, finished 21st, just ahead of Cindric.

Jimmie Johnson, a seven-time Cup champion initially ensnared in the first yellow flag on Lap 6, concluded the race in 28th place, while Reddick, the victor of the 2024 Bluegreen Vacations Duel 1, crossed the finish line in 29th place.

Blaney, the reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion, ended up in 30th place after getting caught in the 23-car pileup.

The next event for the Cup Series is the Ambetter Health 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on February 25th at 3 p.m. ET, broadcasting on FOX, PRN Radio, and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Following the post-race examination in the Cup Series garage at Daytona, Byron’s victory was officially confirmed with no issues. However, further inspection awaits Corey LaJoie’s No. 7 Chevrolet and Bubba Wallace’s No. 23 Toyota at the R&D Center in Concord, North Carolina.


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