William Byron led the NASCAR Cup series championship fight for a majority of the first 200 laps of Sunday’s finale, but one of the season’s most dominant drivers – and the one who led the series in victories – ended up third in the final out of four in the final rundown.
“It’s a bit of a letdown based on how we started the race,” Byron said. “As soon as we got into Stage 2, it was about trying to figure out how do we manage what we have, maybe make it a little bit better if we can. But we just need more on the short tracks. We just struggled as a team on the short tracks.
“We had a great season, a lot to be proud of, a lot of really solid races, communicating well as a team. I feel like all that stuff can just go up a notch and, hopefully, just have a bit more speed at certain tracks that we know are important. Definitely down the stretch here, it was tough. We didn’t have really what we needed, but that’s okay.”
Byron finished fourth in the race having led four times Sunday for 95 laps after starting from the pole.
“Before the track rubbered in, I thought we were probably the best, but we had clean air, too,” Byron said. “I thought when we had clean air, we were trying to perfect our balance out front. Once we got back second to fifth, really, we just didn’t have the turn. We couldn’t keep up with him [Ryan Blaney], especially running up the racetrack. We could run lower and kind of get out of the leftover resin up there, but we couldn’t rotate up there.
“It was kind of all we had. Before the caution, I thought we had something. There was a lot of lanes. The pace was pretty slow. As soon as we got back going on the restart that was all we had.”
The race’s final caution flew with 38 laps to go, sending the field down pit road for the final time. Byron was running third of the championship contenders at the time of the caution. The No. 24 team got Byron off pit road fifth, but second in the bigger picture to teammate Kyle Larson.
Byron chose to restart fifth, the third driver in the inside lane. In front of him was Larson, and to his outside was Ryan Blaney. On the restart with 31 laps to go, Byron was overtaken by Blaney and could do nothing but watch the title race unfold in front of him as Blaney also eventually overtook Larson.
It was a career year for Byron, where he posted six victories and entered the postseason as the No. 1 seed. By making his first Championship 4 appearance, Byron finished a career-best third in the standings.