FORT WORTH, Texas — William Byron took the lead for the first time after the final restart with six laps left to win at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday, advancing to the round of eight in the NASCAR playoffs while giving Hendrick Motorsports its 300th victory.
With Bubba Wallace and Chase Briscoe battling for the lead, Byron was able to get underneath them before finishing that first lap and staying there.
“I choked … I had my worst restart,” said Wallace, who after just sneaking into the round of 12 started from the pole and led a career-high 111 laps. “This one is going to sting for a little bit.”
The top five finishers were all playoff contenders, with Ross Chastain second, ahead of Wallace, Christopher Bell and Denny Hamlin. Retiring driver Kevin Harvick was sixth and playoff driver Brad Keselowski seventh.
“We’ve just been kind of steady Eddie through the first three or four races and we haven’t shown any flashes, but today I thought we had a good car if we could have just get to the front,” Byron said. “At the end there we were really fast.”
Byron finished 1.863 seconds ahead of Chastain for his sixth win of the season, the most in the Cup series. He maintained the points lead he had starting the second round.
Hamlin, Chris Buescher, Bell, Martin Truex Jr., Chastain, Keselowski and Kyle Larson round out the top eight of the playoff standings behind Byron. Wallace moved up three spots to ninth, still one below the cutoff line when this three-race round is done, with Tyler Reddick, Ryan Blaney and Kyle Busch behind him.
There are two more races in the round of 12, at Talladega next weekend and then the Roval at Charlotte.
After a previous restart with 20 laps to go in the 267-lap race, when Larson and Wallace hadn’t taken fresh tires for the final stretch, they were still side-by-side going into Turn 1. Larson was on the inside when he got loose, went up the track and slammed hard into the wall to end his day, though he didn’t make contact with Wallace.
But there was still one more restart, after five cars got caught up in an accident in the back of the field, including playoff contenders Ryan Blaney and Tyler Reddick, last year’s winner at Texas.
That is what set up the 25-year-old Byron in the No. 24 Chevrolet, instead of Larson, getting the milestone victory for Hendrick. It was Byron’s 10th career win.
Byron said he wasn’t sure he could put into words what it meant to get No. 300, expressing his thanks to “Mr. Hendrick for his investment in me, and telling me at 17 years old that he was going to take me to Cup racing. So just appreciate everything he’s done for me. This is awesome.”
Denny Hamlin was racing with damage to his right side after being hit by Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Ty Gibbs on pit road in the first stage.
“Once we got the damage, (the car) just wasn’t as fast as it was before,” Hamlin said. “Still, considering how much damage it had, it was a top-three car. A bunch of carnage happened there in the end, and we avoided it, so we are in a better spot than when we entered.”
It was a rough Sunday for Busch. He knew something was wrong with his car when trying to get to the end of first stage. The playoff contender didn’t make it that far, with No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet getting loose and slamming hard into the outside wall in Turn 1 before coming down to the inside of the track.
“I felt like I had a flat right front (tire), and I was going to come to pit road. I second-guessed it, and said ‘I don’t think so, man. It’s just something’s wrong. Something’s not right, but it’s not a a flat’,” Busch said. “And just all on its own, just turned into the bottom of the race track in Turn one and it just swapped ends on me. That’s the rear, not the front, not having grip.”
Busch had the car in reverse, backing down the entire backstretch, through the third and fourth turns all the way to his pit stall. He finished only 73 laps and was 34th in the 36-car field, dropping from sixth to 12th in the playoff standings.
Two cars lost rear right wheels in a span of 13 laps early in the race. Austin Dillon’s No. 3 Chevrolet did so when racing full speed near Turn 3 on lap 41, bringing out the first caution soon after the first cycle of green-flag pit stops had mostly been completed.
Then 12 laps later, after another caution, Todd Gilliland was in a pack of cars in Turn 2 when the tire on the No. 51 Ford started coming loose and then snapped off the car.