DARLINGTON, S.C. – William Byron and Alex Bowman scored top-10 finishes in the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs opener at Darlington Raceway.
Byron was the top Hendrick Motorsports finisher as he came home eighth. He led 50 laps – all in stage one – to score his fourth stage win of the season. The driver of the No. 24 Valvoline Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 spent the bulk of the race in the top 10 and earned his sixth top-10 result of the season.
"I feel great about leaving here eighth tonight," Byron said. "We’re second in points. Obviously, I’m frustrated we didn’t win, especially with how stage one went. I definitely thought we were going to be battling for the win but overall I’m really happy. We executed our race. I’m proud of my No. 24 team."
Bowman took 10th as the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 came on strong when the 367-lap race shifted to the night time. The result was his 11th top-10 finish of the season.
"Greg (Ives, crew chief) and the rest of the crew did a great job today and I am proud of the work they put in all day - I know this race is a grind and I appreciate the effort and focus we had all race," Bowman said. "A top-10 finish isn't a bad way to start the playoffs."
Kyle Larson had an eventful day in the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. An early mechanical issue left him as many as four laps down. However, the reigning Cup Series champion and his team showed plenty of resilience as they were able to rally back and get on the lead lap coming to the final stage. He finished the event 12th - a day after nearly winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at the 1.366-mile track.
"I don’t know if it was something electrical for a quick second or what," Larson said of his early-race issue. "I am sure when they plug in the data, they will learn the whole story. I am just glad that it wasn’t terminal, and we were able to get back out there and fight back from three laps down.
"...Pretty bummed about it, but also happy at the same time because I thought we were going to have another DNF."
Regular season champion Chase Elliott was involved in an incident in the closing laps of stage one. The damage from that was too much for the No. 9 team to continue on and he finished 36th.
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Erik Jones won the Southern 500. His win as a non-playoff driver means that at least 10 playoff drivers will advance on points following the elimination race at Bristol Motor Speedway on Sept. 17.
Coming out of Darlington, all four Hendrick Motorsports drivers are on the right side of the playoff cut line. Byron is second in the standings (+32), while Larson is seventh (+17). Elliott sits at ninth (+14) and Bowman is 10th (+10).
Sunday’s race marked the 1,300th Cup Series start for Hendrick Motorsports. The organization became the fourth to hit that milestone in the sport’s top series.
The second race of the playoffs and the Round of 16 will take place at Kansas Speedway on Sunday, Sept. 11, at 3 p.m. ET on USA Network, MRN Radio and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Channel 90).
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William Byron, No. 24 Valvoline Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
Where he finished: Eighth
Stage one: Byron began the race from the third position and was still scored there when the caution fell for rain on lap six. The No. 24 team stayed out to restart third on lap 17 and maintained that position until the competition caution on lap 35. Crew chief Rudy Fugle called Byron down pit road for four tires, fuel and air pressure adjustment. A pit stop of 10.31 seconds had Byron leaving pit road in second for the lap 41 restart. The Charlotte, North Carolina, native maintained second and was chipping away at Joey Logano’s lead on lap 50. Byron reported the car was coming to him as the run went on and he was closing in on the leader. On lap 66, he went to the inside of Logano to take over the lead. By lap 72, he had built up a two-second lead. From the lead, Byron came to pit road on lap 75 for four tires, fuel and an air pressure adjustment. He cycled back to the lead on lap 77 following a 10.18-second stop and looked to keep the lead from Kyle Busch. Fugle told his driver to “make it live” as the 115-lap stage was coming towards its end. Byron radioed to the team, “little slimy with the rear tires but not bad though.” Even with that, his lead was up to over two seconds with eight to go in the stage. Byron led the final 39 laps of the stage for his fourth stage win of the season.
Stage two: Under the stage break, Byron pitted from the lead for four tires, fuel and a chassis adjustment to get ahead of the temperature change as the race started to transition from day to night. He lost two spots on pit road to restart third on lap 122. The No. 24 would maintain the third position early in the run with Busch and Denny Hamlin just ahead of him. The 24-year-old driver radioed that he was “just a little everywhere.” Byron gave up fourth to Ross Chastain and reported that he “might be having an issue” but wasn’t sure. He and the team were talking through what he was feeling in the car. On lap 153, Byron pitted from fourth for four tires and fuel as green-flag stops were underway. He cycled out to third after everyone had pitted but Martin Truex Jr. took third away on lap 171. When the fourth caution of the night came on lap 180, Byron was scored in fourth. Fugle called his driver to pit road for four tires, fuel, a chassis adjustment an air pressure adjustment. The No. 24 crew gained him one spot on pit road with another strong stop. On the lap 186 restart, Byron restarted third on the outside and maintained the spot prior to the fifth caution. He radioed in, “better there, definitely long run speed.” Byron pitted from third and picked off a spot on pit road after a stop for tires, fuel and air pressure adjustment that was 10.18 seconds. The driver of the No. 24 restarted third on lap 198 and was keeping pace with the leading duo of Truex and Busch. He reported being a “little snug with the back” in the closing stretch of the stage. Byron pitted under yellow from third on lap 221 for four tires, fuel and an air pressure adjustment. A slight issue on the right front cost the team four spots and Byron restarted seventh on lap 224. He worked to the outside of Christopher Bell to get fifth place away from his fellow playoff driver. Byron would finish the stage in fifth place.
Final stage: Pitting from fifth under the stage break, Fugle called for four tires, fuel and a chassis adjustment. The right-front tire got stuck under the fender and that cost the team a few seconds on pit road. Byron restarted seventh on lap 237. Taking advantage of a close moment between Ryan Blaney and Daniel Suarez, the two-time winner in 2022 moved back into the top five. Pitting from third, the driver of the No. 24 Valvoline Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 made a green-flag stop for four tires, fuel and an air pressure adjustment on lap 272. With a caution coming in the middle of green-flag stops, Byron took the wave around to get back on the lead lap. He restarted 12th on lap 284 but caught hung up on the restart and that slowed him down a bit. Running 14th, Byron told Fugle that he was too tight here – mainly from being in traffic. On lap 311, he passed teammate Alex Bowman to take 13th and three laps later, he passed Ty Gibbs for 12th. After rejoining the top 10, Byron pitted as green-flag stops got underway on lap 320 for four tires, fuel and an air pressure adjustment. He cycled out to 12th with 40 laps to go but was passed by teammates Bowman and Kyle Larson just before a caution came out on lap 341. Fugle had Byron pit under yellow for four tires, fuel and an air pressure adjustment. His pit crew gained him two spots with a 10.58-second stop. Byron restarted ninth on lap 348 and passed Bubba Wallace for eighth on lap 350. He maintained that position over the final 17 laps for his sixth top-10 finish of the season.
Alex Bowman, No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
Where he finished: 10th
Stage one: Bowman took the grid from the 16th position and got to 14th when the caution fell on lap six for weather. The No. 48 team stayed out to restart 14th on lap 17 and was 13th in the running order when the competition caution came on lap 35. Crew chief Greg Ives called Bowman to pit road for service of four tires and fuel. Prior to the pit stop, the driver told the team the car was “a little snug, but I think it’s going to come to us.” He restarted 12th on lap 41 and passed his teammate Kyle Larson for the position on lap 65. Bowman pitted on lap 73 service as green flag stops were underway. He cycled into the top 10 following pit stops but would slide out of that position in the closing laps of the stage as the tires were pretty worn out. Bowman finished stage one in 14th.
Stage two: During the stage break, Bowman pitted for four tires and fuel. However, contact on pit road with another car brought him back to pit road for new tires and fender repair. He restarted 20th on lap 122 and was able to pick a spot off on the restart to move to 19th. On lap 154, Bowman pitted from 17th for four tires and fuel. He cycled to 18th when pit stops had been completed. The 29-year-old was working to make the high line worked as he looked to pick off spots during the middle of the stage. When the caution came out on lap 180, he was scored in 17th. Ives brought Bowman down pit road for four tires and fuel. Prior to that, the driver told the team, “I felt like that was the beat we have been.” A solid pit stop from the No. 48 crew gained him two spots on pit road. Bowman restarted from 15th on lap 186. He worked around Austin Cindric to take 13th on lap 190. The caution came out three laps later and Bowman reported “that’s the best we’ve taken off.” As all the lead-lap cars pitted, so did the driver of the No. 48 for fresh tires and fuel. He restarted 12th on lap 198 after a strong 10.44-second stop from his pit crew. He continued to march forward with a pass on Cole Custer for 11th and worked around Corey LaJoie to get into the top 10 on lap 215. Bowman reported the car was tight in traffic prior to pitting under yellow on lap 221. A strong pit stop saw the No. 48 crew gain their driver a spot to set him up to restart ninth on lap 224. A really good restart and nifty work on the short run got Bowman to a seventh-place stage finish and four valuable stage points.
Final stage: Ives brought Bowman down pit road during the stage break for service and he restarted eighth on lap 237. Tight racing with Christopher Bell put Bowman into seventh place as his car looked strong under the lights. With green-flag stops underway, the driver of the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 pitted from third for four tires and fuel. Just like his teammates, Bowman had to take the wave around to get back on the lead lap following a caution during the middle of a cycle of green-flag stops. He restarted 15th on lap 284 and gained four spots in the two laps after the restart to get to 11th. Racing around several playoff drivers, he lost four spots as the run reached the 30-lap mark. Bowman came to pit road on lap 321 from the top 10 for what looked to be his final green-flag stop and the crew knocked off a 10.61-second stop for four tires and fuel. He cycled out in 14th when green-flag stops were completed. At the time of the lap 341 caution, Bowman was scored in 12th and told his team that run was “the most grip I have had taking off.” Under yellow, Ives had the No. 48 pit for four tires and fuel and Bowman restarted 10th on lap 348. He would maintain that position in the final 20 laps to score a top-10 finish.
Kyle Larson, No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
Where he finished: 12th
Stage one: Larson took the grid from the seventh starting spot and fell back to ninth when the caution came out on lap six for rain. The No. 5 team stayed out under yellow to restart ninth on lap 17 – the position they would maintain until the competition caution on lap 35. Crew chief Cliff Daniels called the reigning Cup Series champion to pit road for four tires and fuel – gaining two spots on pit road with a 10.44-second stop. Larson restarted seventh on lap 41 but slipped back to 10th after 10 laps in the run. He reported that the car was tight and that he no front or rear grip. Daniels and the team were coming up with a gameplan for adjustments as Larson slipped out of the top 10. On lap 72, Larson pitted for fresh tires and a slew of adjustments. The No. 5 came back down pit road and the team had to put the hood up as he reported no power shortly after his pit stop. Larson came back on track – three laps down – and he was told to just “keep running it here.” On lap 91, he reported that “everything sounds good now.” At the end of stage one, Larson was scored in 35th place, three laps down.
Stage two: During the stage break, Larson pitted for four tires, fuel and a series of adjustments. He restarted from 34th on lap 122. His lap times early in the run were pretty competitive with where the rest of the field was despite being several laps down. Daniels asked Larson how the car was doing and the driver radioed back, “I think it’s better.” As pit stops got going about a third of the way into the stage, Larson climbed to 30th, before pitting himself for fresh tires and fuel. When the fourth caution of the night came, the 30-year-old was scored in 32nd, three laps down. Larson stayed out under the caution to take the wave around. When the race restarted on lap 186, he was running 28th and only two laps down. The No. 5’s spin brought out the fifth caution of the race on lap 193. The spin saw him hit the wall a bit but not the damage was not severe. Larson came to pit road for repairs and new tires as the left rear was flat. The No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 came on strong on this next run as Larson was able to get to 22nd – the first car two laps down. When the caution came out on lap 219, he took the wave around to be one lap down in 22nd and in position to battle for the free pass in the closing seven-lap sprint to finish the stage. Larson ended the stage in 22nd, but received the free pass to get back on the lead lap.
Final stage: Now back on the lead lap after being four laps down, Larson pitted under the stage break for four tires and fuel. He restarted 22nd on lap 237. The long-run speed he showed in practice appeared during the first run of the stage as he began to pick off spots 25-30 laps after the restart, which put him up to 16th. On lap 271, he re-entered the top 15 for the first time since stage one. Larson came to pit road under green on lap 274 for new tires and fuel. A caution came out in the midst of the green-flag stops so Larson had to take the wave around to get back on the lead lap. He restarted 21st on lap 284 and picked off five spots in the first two laps of the run. Using the low line, Larson took 14th away from his teammate Alex Bowman on lap 314. Daniels brought Larson to pit road on lap 320 for four tires and fuel and he cycled out to 13th. He navigated around teammate William Byron to get 11th place just before the lap 341 caution. Larson told his team over the radio, “I’m just fine” before pitting under yellow for service. He came back to pit road for a quick check lug nut check before restarting 19th on lap 348. He got back into the top 15 just three laps later and kept on making passes as the race was coming to an end. A pass on Ryan Blaney put Larson in 12th place, where he finished the race.
Chase Elliott, No. 9 NAPA AUTO PARTS/Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
Where he finished: 36th
Stage one: Elliott started 23rd for Sunday’s race and was scored in 28th when the lap six caution came out for weather. The No. 9 team stayed out to restart 28th on lap 17 and the driver started to make his way forward, gaining seven spots before the competition caution on lap 35. Crew chief Alan Gustafson called his driver to pit road for four tires and fuel. Elliott restarted 17th on lap 41 and reached the top 15 by lap 51. On lap 68, he reported that the nose of the car was lazy and the right rear was starting to build up. Elliott pitted on lap 73 for four tires and fuel and cycled out to 12th in the running order. The Dawsonville, Georgia, native got really free and into the wall in an incident involving fellow playoff driver Chase Briscoe on lap 114. He had a broken toe link and just went straight up the track, resulting in a caution. The No. 9 crew went to work on fixing the right side of the car and the toe link. Elliott finished the stage scored in 31st, two laps down.
Stage two: The regular-season champ remained on pit road during the stage break as the No. 9 team continued to make repairs on the 10-minute damaged vehicle policy. The damage would prove too severe and he was done for the race.