Byron Wins Daytona 500 On HMS’ 40th Anniversary

Byron

William Byron celebrates in victory lane following Monday's 66th Daytona 500. (HHP/Chris Owens photo)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Forty years to the day of Hendrick Motorsports’ first NASCAR Cup Series start, William Byron earned the biggest win of his career for the most decorated team in the sport.

Putting himself out in front of the field when it mattered most, Byron led only the final four laps of the 66th Daytona 500 en route to victory in the Great American Race.

The 26-year-old from Charlotte, N.C., lined up on the front row for the final restart, wresting control of the field from Ross Chastain in a back-and-forth battle of different lanes over much of the final 10 miles.

Though Chastain tried and tried, Byron led at the start-finish line on lap 197 and lap 198, before a big shove by 2022 Daytona 500 winner Austin Cindric coming down the backstretch allowed Byron to get clear for a breath going into turns three and four.

Coming to the white flag, however, the energy of the lead pack caught up to Byron and saw Chastain attempt a high-to-low switch to try and battle Byron for the victory over the final two-and-a-half miles.

But Chastain didn’t have enough space to clear the Ford of Austin Cindric, who was hurtling forward on the inside with a big run of momentum. The two banged doors, spun down into the infield grass, and then came back up into traffic in the start of a race-ending, multi-car crash in the Daytona tri-oval.

As the safety lights illuminated around the speedway and the yellow and checkered flags waved, it was Byron who was just in front of his teammate Alex Bowman at the moment of caution.

That meant that Byron was able to come back around to the finish line, making his 11th career NASCAR Cup Series victory the most important win of his life, as he won the Great American Race for the first time in his seventh Daytona 500 start.

“I’m extremely blessed and thankful for the opportunities that Mr. H (Rick Hendrick) has given me. This is unbelievable,” said Byron in the moments following his Daytona 500 triumph. “We won the Daytona 500! It’s frickin’ awesome! Let’s go!”

The sprint to the finish began after a push from fellow Hendrick Motorsports driver Alex Bowman to Byron got Byron out of shape halfway down the backstretch on lap 192.

Byron couldn’t get his Chevrolet back under control and slid down the racetrack, hooking second-running Brad Keselowski in the right-rear corner and sending Keselowski’s Ford hurtling across the pavement in front of a 30-car lead pack.

Though Byron escaped to the apron, others weren’t as lucky.

Carnage and chaos ensued in the wake of the contact, as a 23-car crash eliminated most of the top contenders in the Great American Race. Those whose nights ended short of the finish line included defending Cup Series champion Ryan Blaney, defending Daytona 500 winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 2015 event winner Joey Logano, and perennial Daytona 500 contender Brad Keselowski.

Those who survived, including then-leader Chastain, lined up for the four-lap dash to the finish that ultimately decided whose name was etched in racing immortality and who came up short instead.

Byron’s late-race performance was a rally to victory, in a way, considering his No. 24 was the car that got crossed up to start the big wreck on the backstretch which led to the race-deciding restart.

“I have so many emotions right now,” Byron admitted. “I hate what happened on the backstretch. I got pushed and got sideways … and it was on from there. I’m so proud of this team, though. To win on the 40th anniversary of Hendrick Motorsports – 40 years to the day – you couldn’t ask for more.

“This win came down to really good strategy,” tipped Byron. “We laid back and tried to save fuel for most of the race, but we would get up there at the end of the stages and make some moves to see what we had. It worked out in the end, but there were definitely some nervous moments, for sure.”

Byron led a one-two finish for car owner Rick Hendrick, with Bowman finishing second after just missing out by a bumper when the race-ending yellow flag was displayed.

As he lamented his best-career finish in the Great American Race, Bowman admitted that he wasn’t sure what more he could have done in the final moments.

Bowman

Alex Bowman (48) finished second to William Byron in Monday's Daytona 500. (HHP/Chris Owens photo)

“I was pretty sure that William had us, but you’re always going to let [race control] debate it, right?” quipped Bowman on pit road. “Maybe if we’d had a couple hundred more feet [before the caution], I think we had the run [to pass for the win].

“Regardless, it’s a big moment for Hendrick Motorsports to win this race,” Bowman added. “I’m just so proud of everyone that’s a part of this team. To win 40 years to the day of when they ran their first race shows their longevity in this sport, and to get a Hendrick Motorsports one-two and to have the (No.) 24 car in victory lane … it was a great day for all of us.

“We did everything that we could right. It just wasn’t our night at the end.”

Christopher Bell ended up third as the highest finishing Toyota driver, with Corey LaJoie’s Chevrolet fourth and Bubba Wallace finishing fifth in another Toyota.

A.J. Allmendinger, John Hunter Nemechek, Erik Jones, Noah Gragson, and Chase Briscoe closed the top 10. Stenhouse was scored 31st in his attempt to win back-to-back Harley J. Earl trophies.

Twenty cars completed all 200 laps, with 41 lead changes among 20 different drivers taking place.

Kaz Grala, Harrison Burton, and Carson Hocevar were eliminated in a lap-six crash, the only caution for incident prior to the first Big One with nine laps left. That was only a taste of the action to come.

Ultimately, the night was about a fresh-faced young gun from stock-car racing’s central hub in Charlotte, N.C., who proved that it doesn’t matter how you get to the Cup Series level, it’s what you do there that is remembered forever.

Asked how being a Daytona 500 winner sounded, Byron could only smile and laugh before responding.

“It sounds really damn good,” Byron said as he soaked in the cheers from the crowd on the frontstretch.

Yet, even as he basked in the glory of his first triumph on NASCAR’s grandest stage, Byron – who won six times a year ago in the Cup Series – couldn’t help but look ahead to what might be possible this season.

“The hope now is that we can keep it going, right?” Byron said. “We have a lot to prove this year and this is a good start. But, man … I’m just a kid who grew up racing on computers, and to win the Daytona 500?

“I can’t believe it. I really can’t.”

The NASCAR Cup Series season continues at Atlanta (Ga.) Motor Speedway on Feb. 25 with the Ambetter Health 400. Joey Logano won last year’s running of the event, which was held in mid-March.

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About Jacob Seelman

Jacob Seelman is Motorsports Hotspot’s News Editor and Race Face Digital’s Director of Content, as well as a veteran of more than a decade in the racing industry as a professional, though he’s spent his entire life in the garage and pit area.