CONCORD, N.C. – William Byron’s victory in the first race of the Round of 12 was significant on several fronts.
The triumph at Texas Motor Speedway's 2023 NASCAR Cup Series playoff race locked Byron and the No. 24 team into the Round of 8 for the second straight year. Not to mention, it was the 300th NASCAR Cup Series win for Hendrick Motorsports. It also means that the team need not worry about the wild card races of Talladega Superspeedway and the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL that complete the Round of 12.
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"Just making the Round of 8 is an accomplishment in itself," Byron said after his win at Texas. "The Round of 12 is tough. You don't really control your destiny at Talladega (Superspeedway) and then the other two could go either way. You can have a good car, you can have a bad day and crash or whatever.
"That makes it nerve-racking in this round, so it's always an accomplishment to get to the Round of 8. Excited about that."
Byron will carry at least 41 playoff points into the next round and that bonus will help give him a leg up on the field. The 25-year-old driver will be looking to add more to that bucket as well.
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Yet, the biggest advantage that the Texas win gives Byron, crew chief Rudy Fugle and company is that they can now turn their attention to preparing for the first race in the Round of 8 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday, Oct. 15. The team won there in the spring for the first of its series-best six victories in 2023. In fact, Byron has wins at the final four tracks on the schedule (Las Vegas, Homestead-Miami Speedway, Martinsville Speedway and Phoenix Raceway).
That said, Fugle knows that the team can’t rest on its laurels and has to be on its game to continue to advance through the postseason.
"This series changes so fast. It's so cyclical," Fugle said. "We're going to have to bring our ‘A’ game to every one of those races. Somebody will find more power. Somebody is going to find more downforce and somebody is going to find more setup grip between now and then. We'll go to work on that and bring all we can to those races.
"They are races that we're excited about for sure. Homestead (-Miami Speedway) is probably my favorite track. Then I like Las Vegas (Motor Speedway); William (Byron) does as well. And Martinsville (Speedway), there's nothing like it. We'll try to acquire those points and/or if we're in the spot, we'll win that race."
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The seeds of Byron and Fugle’s big year, their third together in the Cup Series, were sown last postseason when the driver of the No. 24 reached the Round of 8 for the first time.
"I knew that playoff run was going to give us confidence over the offseason to get where we are now," Fugle said when reflecting on the team’s growth.
For Byron, he is focused on the constant evolution of his career and taking advantage of what he said last week was "my best chance that I’ve had, so far" at a championship.
"I think we've got to keep working and keep steadily kind of climbing our way forward," Byron said. "I think there's a lot of good teams out there, so it's really hard to get ahead of yourself with this Next-Gen car because it's really all about nailing the setup and nailing the weekend as a whole. Giving the right feedback and all those things.
"Still have some work to do there on my end, but I think we're very capable of winning at all the tracks. It's just a matter of trying to put it all together. I'm excited. I think we have opportunities there and hopefully, we capitalize."