A long season filled with on-track challenges, resilience and late momentum for William Byron, crew chief Chad Knaus and the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE team ended with a disappointing outcome in the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday, September 19. Following an on-track incident with a lapped car in the closing laps of the second stage throughout the main event, Byron ended his night in the garage and as one of four competitors who were knocked out of title contention this season.
For Byron, he was coming off a fifth-place run at Darlington Raceway, the Playoff opener in the beginning of September, and a 21st-place result last weekend at Richmond Raceway. Coming into Bristol, he was three points below the top-12 cutline and he needed a strong run under the lights at Thunder Valley to transfer into the Round of 12 of the Playoffs.
Starting in 15th place, Byron gained four spots on the track through the first 30 laps of the race and just as the first caution of the race flew for an on-track incident. During the ensuing restart, he was able to crack the top 10 as he continued to methodically work his way towards the front. When the first stage concluded on Lap 125, Byron and the No. 24 Liberty University Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE were scored in eighth place as he collected a handful of stage points. By then, the Charlotte native moved back inside the top-12 cutline.
Restarting in seventh place when the second stage started, Byron remained within the top 10 on the track for the majority of the stage and was in position of transferring to the second round of the Playoffs.
It all came to a crashing end, however, with less than 20 laps remaining in the second stage. He was running in 10th place when he ran into the back of Christopher Bell, who checked up for the lapped car of Joey Gase, and sustained front-nose damage with smoke coming out of the No. 24 car. The damage was enough to force Byron to nurse his No. 24 Chevrolet to the garage, where he parked it and climbed out dejected as his hopes of winning at Bristol and advancing to the second round of the Playoffs came to an end.
The final scoreboard placed Byron in 38th place, 268 laps shy of the finish, while teammates Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman transferred to the Round of 12 in the Playoffs after finishing seventh and 16th, respectively.
“I think [Gase] – it was like a black and green car – checked up in the middle of the straightaway,” Byron said on NBCSN. “As fast as we were running the top [lane], I was riding behind [Christopher Bell] and I had, literally, nowhere to go. You can’t stop in the middle of the straightaway when everybody’s so committed to the top like that. Just ridiculous that that’s what takes us out. I thought, honestly, we had a shot to run top five or seven. The car was really, really good. We just needed a couple good pit stops. We were running ninth or 10th there. Just super disappointing. I gotta go back and watch that because that was ridiculous.”
The late misfortune of not advancing to the Round of 12 in the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs served as a disappointing end to Byron’s run for a first Cup title following an up-and-down 26-race regular-season stretch, where he finished in last place in the season-opening Daytona 500 due to an early accident, earned nine top-10 results and rallied by scoring his first Cup career victory in his 98th career start at Daytona, the regular-season finale, in August and to claim a Playoff berth for this season, second of his career.
The Charlotte native will remain as a Hendrick Motorsports competitor in the NASCAR Cup Series through 2022.
Byron, along with his fellow competitors, will return for the next scheduled NASCAR Cup Series Playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday, September 27, at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN.