CONCORD, N.C. - William Byron brought home the No. 24 Valvoline Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 in the 16th position and advanced into the Round of 8 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL.
For Byron, this is the first time in his career that he will be one of the eight drivers still eligible to win the championship at this point in the season.
Chase Elliott, who was already locked into the Round of 8 with last weekend’s victory at Talladega Superspeedway, finished in the 20th position after on-track incidents during the final two restarts knocked him down the order. Elliott led the most laps of any driver in the field with 30 circuits out front.
"Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) called a great race," Elliott said of his veteran crew chief, who helped put him in position for a potential win. "Our No. 9 NAPA Chevy wasn’t great, but it was plenty good enough to win. Our team called a perfect race to get us the lead, and our pit stops were really good to not to have any mistakes and get us a really nice cushion."
Kyle Larson finished the race in the 35th spot, missing out on the next round by two markers. Larson hit the wall outside of turn seven and suffered a broken toe link in the final stage. Despite fixing the issue on pit road, the 30-year-old driver lost five laps to the field. With two late-race restarts, Larson did not have anyone on his lap left to pass and was unable to make up the two points needed to advance.
"I just made way too many mistakes all year long," Larson said. "Made another one today and it ultimately cost us a chance to go chase another championship. Just extremely mad at myself because I let the team down a number of times this year and let them down in a big way today. We will keep fighting and we will come back stronger."
Alex Bowman did not race at the Charlotte ROVAL due to concussion like symptoms from a crash sustained at Texas Motor Speedway. For the second straight week, Noah Gragson stepped in to drive to No. 48 Ally Racing Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. Gragson’s performance landed him inside the top-10 before contact on the final two restarts resulted in the No. 48 being forced into the wall located in turn one. He would end the day in the 23rd position.
Heading to Las Vegas Motor Speedway next weekend, Elliott returns to the top of the standings with a 20-point advantage over second place and a 31-point gap to the cutline. Byron enters his first-ever Round of 8 opener tied for fifth in the standings, three markers behind the final transfer position into the Championship 4.
Next Sunday, the NASCAR Cup Series returns to Las Vegas for the opening race in the Round of 8. Hendrick Motorsports is the most recent organization to claim victory at the 1.5-mile oval, winning with Bowman in March. Catch all the action on Sunday, Oct. 16, at 2:30 P.M. ET on NBC, PRN Radio, and Sirius XM NASCAR Radio (channel 90).
William Byron, No. 24 Valvoline Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
Where he finished: 16th
Stage one: The driver of the No. 24 started the race in the runner-up position. Following the drop of the green flag, Byron settled into the second spot. While tracking down the leader, spotter Branden Lines radioed his driver encouraging him to, “be true to you”, and not lose time by following the leader’s lines exactly. With five to go in stage one, Byron closed the gap to within a half second of the race leader. By the time the green and white checkered flag flew, Byron ended the first stage in the runner-up position and earned nine valuable stage points for the No. 24 entry.
Stage two: After choosing to stay out and take stage points in the opening 25 laps, Byron pitted under caution prior to stage two. The decision put Byron in the 24th position for the start of the second stage. The 24-year-old driver would stay around this position under the green flag, running in the 25th spot on lap 37. While several drivers ahead chose to pit prior to the end of stage two, the No. 24 entry remained on the racetrack, crossing the line in the 11th spot.
Final stage: Byron once again pitted under the stage break, placing him in the 31st position for the restart. Under green, he moved into the 20th spot only three laps after the restart. While moving through the pack, Byron radioed his crew saying that he had, “way better grip”, as he moved his way through several cars ahead of him. Lap 74 was the decision from crew chief Rudy Fugle to bring his driver to pit road. Under the green-flag stop, Byron was given four fresh tires, fuel, and an air pressure adjustment to move up the field. The changes allowed for Byron to gain three spots under the green flag, moving into the 17th spot on lap 84. Despite getting as high as 16th, he faded back to the 18th position when the caution flag came out on lap 103. Under yellow flag conditions, Byron pitted, placing him 15th on the restart with varying pit strategies in place throughout the field. On lap 106’s restart, Byron was spun out headed into turn 11. When the caution flag returned on lap 107, he ran in the 22nd spot. Under yellow, Fugle called his driver back onto pit road for four tires and fuel prior to the overtime restart. After rolling off 21st, Byron moved up into the 16th position. The finish sends the Charlotte, North Carolina, native to the Round of 8 for the first time in his career.
Chase Elliott, No. 9 NAPA AUTO PARTS Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
Where he finished: 20th
Stage one: Elliott began the race in the ninth position and maintained this spot as the field took the green flag. By lap 16, the driver of the No. 9 had gained two positions, running in the seventh spot. Lap 22 saw Elliott make his way to pit road for four tires and fuel prior to the end of stage one. The decision moved the No. 9 NAPA AUTO PARTS Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 into the third position for the beginning of stage two.
Stage two: When the green flag dropped for the beginning of second stage, Elliott slipped back into the fourth position. On a silent radio, he maintained his top-five run until making his way to pit road on lap 47. In the pits, the No. 9 pit crew gave their driver four tires and fuel before sending Elliott back onto the racetrack. After blending with two laps to go in the second stage, Elliott crossed the line in the 10th spot.
Final stage: Elliott began the final stage in the third position and settled into this spot after the race resumed green-flag racing. While fighting for the second position, the driver of the No. 9 radioed his crew saying, “you just can’t follow closely for very long”, as he chased down the runner-up position. With 36 laps to go, he made his way down pit road for four tires and fuel once again. With a quick pit stop from the No. 9 crew that came two laps earlier than his competitors, Elliott was able to jump to the lead of the race on lap 77. With the track position, the Dawsonville, Georgia, native pulled away from the field. By lap 90, Elliott had opened up a 4.6 second lead over second place. Lap 103 saw the day’s first caution flag come out for debris. After restarting first, Elliott and AJ Allmendinger made contact in turn one, shuffling Elliott to the third position. In turn six, Tyler Reddick made contact with the Elliott’s bumper, sending the No. 9 NAPA AUTO PARTS Chevrolet through the grass. When the caution flag returned on lap 107, Elliott occupied the 26th position. After staying out under the caution and restarting in 18th, he was forced to stop in turn one when several cars spun in front of him. Despite not receiving any damage to the No. 9 entry, Elliott lost considerable time to the field. When the checkered flag flew two laps later, he crossed the line in the 20th position.
Noah Gragson, No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
Where he finished: 23rd
Stage one: Gragson began his first career road course start with Hendrick Motorsports in the 29th position. After five laps of green-flag racing, the Las Vegas, Nevada, native had moved up into the 22nd spot. While running in this position, crew chief Greg Ives asked Gragson what the balance of his car felt like. Gragson responded by radioing his crew saying, “I need drive and (we’re) tight through the infield too”. Lap 21 saw the No. 48 Ally Racing Chevrolet Camaro pit for four tires and fuel, rejoining the field in the 28th position. By the time the green and white checkered flag came out to end stage one, Gragson crossed the line in 21st.
Stage two: The strategy decision from Ives to stay out under the caution flag promoted Gragson to the 13th position for the start of stage two. After losing two positions at the beginning of the second stage, Gragson settled into the 15th spot. On lap 39, Gragson missed the backstretch chicane while battling with Corey Lajoie for the 15th position. After serving the penalty of stopping on the track where the corner was missed, the No. 48 Ally Racing team rejoined the race in the 20th spot. Prior to the end of stage two, Ives brought his driver down pit road on lap 47 for four tires and fuel before finishing the second stage in the 26th position.
Final stage: After staying out, Gragson restarted the event in the 16th spot to begin the final stage of the race. By lap 70, the Ally Racing team had moved up into the 10th position. Lap 74 saw Gragson come into pit road for the final green-flag stop of the race, getting four tires and fuel during the service. After the field cycled through pit stops under the green flag, Gragson remained in the 10th spot. Gragson continued to gain spots under the green flag, moving into the eighth position on lap 84. Lap 103 saw the first caution flag for debris come out of the race with Gragson running in the ninth position. After staying out, he restarted in the eighth position. Lap 106’s restart saw Austin Cindric make contact with the driver of the No. 48 Ally Racing Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 in turn one, sending him spinning into the outside wall. When the caution flag returned on lap 107, Gragson occupied the 19th position. After restarting in the 19th position, Gragson was again collected in an incident in turn one. When the checkered flag took to the sky, the No. 48 Ally Racing team ended the race in the 23rd position.
Kyle Larson, No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
Where he finished: 35th
Stage one: Larson started the final road course race of the season in the 18th position but quickly gained spots as he worked his way through the field. After five laps, the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 had already moved into the 12th position. On lap 14, Larson radioed his crew saying he was, “too tight on the rights”, as the crew prepared for pitstops to give him more grip in right hand turns. Larson moved into the sixth spot as several cars ahead of him made their way to pit road prior to the end of the stage. He crossed the line still in the sixth position, earning five valuable stage points in the process.
Stage two: After choosing to pit under caution for four tires and fuel, Larson began stage two in the 27th position. By lap 37, he had moved into the 24th spot. The 30-year-old driver gained two more spots under the green flag before the cycle of pit stops began. Crew chief Cliff Daniels opted to forego pitting under green, keeping his driver out on the racetrack to collect stage points. The call worked as planned with Larson crossing the line in the third spot despite a reported vibration late in the run.
Final stage: Larson restarted in the 25th position to begin the final stage but lost two spots shortly after green-flag racing resumed. After regrouping, Larson began working his way up the pack, earning the 23rd position by lap 64. Over the radio, Daniels encouraged his driver, reminding him that his lap times were as fast as those in the top-five. With 38 laps to go in the race, Larson brought the No. 5 entry down pit road for four tires and fuel during the final green-flag pit stop of the event. With 30 laps to go, Larson occupied the 15th position on track. While running in the 13th position, he pitted to fix a right rear toe link issue on lap 98. When the day’s first caution flag for debris came out on lap 103, Larson ran in the 35th position, five laps down. He rejoined the race five laps behind the race leaders for lap 106’s restart. The caution flag returned on lap 107 with Larson still in the 35th spot. Under the caution, Daniels radioed his driver informing his driver that they needed to stay ahead of the No. 99, which was the only other car on their lap. Unable to pass anyone else on his lap, Larson crossed the line in the 35th position, missing out on the Round of 8 by two points.