Rudy Fugle will be playing the point game with William Byron in Sunday’s elimination race at Martinsville Speedway.
Byron’s Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 team is 30 points to the good on the NASCAR Cup series playoff grid starting the weekend. A pair of strong results in the first two stages could put Byron on the path to advancing into the Championship 4 for the first time in his career.
“It’s definitely always a points game,” Fugle said. “Once they pay those off in Stage 1 and Stage 2, you can’t go back and get them. So, if they’re available and there’s a chance to go get some extra points, you’re going to take that chance to make sure you can get paid early because you don’t know what’s going to happen later.
“But I don’t look at Martinsville as you have to give up to get later or get early to get later. It’s not necessarily like a road course. Hopefully, we can just be near the front and in the hunt for the top five or top six all day and that stuff comes easy, and I think there’s a chance that could happen. But if not, and we get a caution 20 before a stage, yeah, we’re going to be looking to get the points.”
Byron might be a previous Martinsville Speedway winner (spring 2021), but it means nothing to them now. So much continues to evolve with the Next Gen car, so the only thing Byron and Fugle know for sure is that passing will be a premium Sunday. It means Saturday will see the team put even more emphasis on earning a good starting position to give them track position from the drop of the green flag.
“The short practice really leads to that anyway,” Fugle explained. “With only one set of tires, there isn’t an easy way to get a mock qualifying run or anything like that. So, the key is to have a good starting balance so you can know, ‘OK, on my one set of stickers, I was this balance, so when you get to qualifying, I’m going to be free tight and make speed.’
“Qualifying will be a big part, for sure. I don’t know if you’re going to come from (starting in) the 20s and win the race. You can have a good day, but you’re not going to come from the 20s and win the race, most likely. Unless things flip on its head. So, we definitely want to be in that top 12, if we can, and the top 10 for sure is our goal.”
Byron’s average finish in the postseason is 5.5, with one finish outside the top 10 (Kansas). But even with how strong the team is running and how well Byron has performed at all three tracks in this round, he specifically pointed to Martinsville Speedway as where the team needed to be better prepared, and Fugle agreed with his driver.
“I think the last two races at Martinsville haven’t been as good as the first one in the Next Gen,” he said. “Different tire every time. A different tire this time. We’ve been in the notes from the test last year, and they were just up there (wheel force) testing last week, so all those things are high on our priority list. And we’ve made changes. We’re not the same.
“We feel good about them, we’ve been working in the simulator. So, feel like we’ve got a good package.”
Byron and Fugle have looked primed for a spot in the championship race all season. although they came up short in winning the regular-season championship, Byron leads the series in victories (six), top-10 finishes (20), average finish (11.1), and playoff points (41).
“It’s super focused,” Fugle said of the team’s attitude being on the cusp of advancing. “Everybody is laser-focused. Nobody feels comfortable, but we have comfort in our process is correct, and we’ve done the right things. I think last year we went into the cut race with a five-point lead and probably overachieved, and now that we have experienced of not getting through, there’s no taking anything for granted.
“We’re ready to attack.”