CONCORD, N.C. – When you come as close as the No. 24 team and William Byron did to winning at Darlington Raceway, it would seem easy to get lost in the could have, should have, would have game.
For crew chief, Rudy Fugle, that can’t be the case for him, his driver or the team.
"Obviously, an unfortunate way to finish the last-lap-and-a-quarter of that race," Fugle told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Thursday morning. "Definitely would have liked the chance to race for it or have a chance to finish first, second, third. Anywhere besides 13th but what happened happened. The best thing we can do is move forward as fast as we can and focus forward on Kansas, which we did early Monday morning.
"… Hopefully, we redeem ourselves and go out there and try to get a third win of the year."
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Leading with two laps to go, Byron's No. 24 Axalta Throwback Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 got knocked in the bumper from Joey Logano in turn three. The result of the hit saw Byron drift up into the wall while Logano drove past for the eventual win. The two had raced in close quarters just after the lap 268 restart and that racing saw Logano brush the wall off of turn two.
When the race was over, Fugle said he and Byron dissected what happened before getting ready for this Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway (3 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
"We talked about how it all went down and how we think the restart went down. Then, how he tried to get away and what it’s like to be the leader," Fugle said. "That was the first time we had led all day at Darlington. The handling of the car and what we think went wrong. Ultimately, you are really focused on how do we keep it so that we don’t give up 10-12 car lengths over the last two to three laps that kind of put us in that position. That’s what we try to work on the most. We try to learn those things so that we get better because realistically we're looking at finishing second even if he doesn’t hit us the way he did and put us in the wall. That would have been painful as well.
"You're trying to get better and trying to figure out how to win the next race and get better through the year. We go back to Darlington, first race of the playoffs. That's what we focused on. Doesn't do any good to talk about the what ifs and the whys."
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Kansas stands as a good spot for the 24-year-old driver to bounce back from the Darlington disappointment. Byron has five straight top-10 finishes at the 1.5-mile track. He ran the second-most laps in the top-five (289 of a possible 534) last year behind teammate Kyle Larson at this venue. The 1.5-mile track is an important one as it will be the second race in the Round of 16 of the 2022 NASCAR Playoffs.
The two-time winner in 2022 also enters the weekend tied for second in the point standings with Ryan Blaney and 65 markers behind teammate Chase Elliott. Byron is also one of two drivers to score top-five finishes in both 1.5-mile races so far this season (Ross Chastain is the other), one of those top-fives being a win at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March.
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As the season marches on, Fugle said that Byron’s growth and maturity continues to impresses him especially when he looks back on when he first was paired with the driver in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2016.
"When you are the youngest guy coming up through the series as fast as he did, you are always on somebody else’s team.
"Now he’s got enough experience, that it's the 24 of William Byron’s team. And that leadership, he just shows it in everything he asks for in the car. How he handles himself. How he talks to the guys from the pit crew to the road crew to the shop people. Just a really, really good job of being a 24-year-old who’s got leadership skills of a 35-year-old. Just super mature. Really proud of how that step has evolved."