WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – The seeds of William Byron’s win at Watkins Glen International were sown the previous weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course.
While Byron started 39th at Indianapolis, he drove up to finish in 14th (in a race that had only one caution on lap 3). The 25-year-old driver felt that the climb from the back in that race set the stage for Sunday’s dominating showing.
"It kind of went unnoticed because we finished 14th and there (really) were no cautions," Byron said in his post-race press conference at Watkins Glen. "We just were passing people and working our way through the field, and just felt really good about our car. I think that momentum carried to this weekend and gave us some confidence."
In picking up his NASCAR Cup Series-leading fifth win of the season at Watkins Glen, Byron put on a show. He led 66 laps – including 65 of the final 67 circuits en route to the victory. The triumph was his first top-five finish and top-10 finish since his win at Atlanta Motor Speedway in July.
"It’s just part of the ebbs and flows of the season," Byron said of the team’s finishes in between wins. "You want to be on kill for 38 (weeks), but it's really hard to just be good every single week.
"I think it naturally was kind of a little bit of a reset for us as we try to get ready for the playoffs."
The victory and his series-leading eighth stage win of the year have Byron at 28 playoff points – most of all drivers – heading into the regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway. The Charlotte, North Carolina, native scored his first Cup Series win in the regular season closer at Daytona in 2020.
Crew chief Rudy Fugle is glad that the No. 24 team was able to grab another win ahead of the upcoming 10-race postseason, which begins at Darlington Raceway on Sunday, Sept. 3.
"It is really good to get the momentum going for the playoffs," Fugle said. "We’re super confident going into not only Daytona but going into Darlington. We’re working super hard on that first round and hoping to move forward with that as soon as we can."
The Round of 16 sets up really for Byron and Fugle. They won at Darlington in May, finished third at Kansas Speedway in May and have two straight third-place finishes in the night race at Bristol Motor Speedway. On top of that, Byron’s first three wins this season – Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Phoenix Raceway and Darlington – all came at playoff tracks. Throw in his wins at Atlanta and Watkins Glen and this team has won at nearly every type of track on the circuit: Intermediate (Las Vegas), high tire wear (Darlington), a track utilizing the 2023 short-track package (Phoenix), a drafting track (Atlanta) and a road course (Watkins Glen). All of those track types will be part of the 10-race postseason.
"He's capable of winning everywhere," team vice chairman Jeff Gordon said of Byron. "I know for us as we look at drivers and evaluate drivers, that's what you're looking for. Somebody that's diverse, somebody that's aggressive but also knows how to save the equipment when they need to and somebody that can stay calm in stressful situations.
"You want them well-rounded as far as the tracks that they compete on, but you want them well-rounded as a person, too. You see William's demeanor. He's pretty calm and cool off the track, but he's aggressive on the track. That's everything you can ask for out of a driver."