CONCORD, N.C. – Headed into Homestead-Miami Speedway for the second race in the Round of 8, William Byron enters the event six points below the cutline. While he currently is on the outside looking in to make the Championship 4, 2022 marks his best run in the playoffs to date. But the last time the NASCAR Cup Series visited the 1.5-mile track in South Florida, Byron’s career was in a very different position.
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In February of 2021, Byron entered Homestead-Miami with one Cup victory to his name - a regular season finale triumph at Daytona International Speedway in 2020. While the win earned him a spot in the playoffs for the first time in his career, he was one of the first four cars eliminated in the Round of 16. Expecting to improve on his third year in the Cup Series, 2021 was setting up to be a make-or-break season for the driver of the No. 24.
Enter crew chief Rudy Fugle. For the first time since 2016 in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, the pair were on the same team. While they only worked together for a single season in the Truck Series, Fugle and Byron notched seven victories in 23 starts. With 2021 on the horizon, many looked at this team to move closer to the front of the field.
When race day arrived in Miami, Byron lined up in the 31st position due to the qualifying metric used to determine the starting lineup for much of 2021. But as soon as the green flag dropped, the No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 marched towards the front of the field. By the end of stage one, Byron crossed the line in the fourth position.
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As stage two progressed, an on-track incident brought out the caution flag with seven laps to go before the end of stage two. On the ensuing restart, Byron passed both Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin in the final turn to claim his first stage victory of the season. For the first time in his career, it looked as if Byron was the driver to beat on a 1.5-mile circuit.
When the final stage began on lap 168, Byron stormed to the front of the pack and continued to pace the field. After the caution flag returned to the speedway on lap 201, the No. 24 team had an issue on pit road, resulting in a loss of five spots. Restarting sixth, it took the driver of the No. 24 only two laps to get back to the front, where he would lead the final 58 laps en route to his second career victory, and his first on a 1.5-mile track.
Since the Cup Series’ last trip to Homestead-Miami, Byron and the No. 24 team have emerged as a legitimate threat to make the Championship 4 in the 2022 season. In the seven playoff races thus far, Byron has scored the second most points in the field. He also ranks second in points earned on 1.5-mile tracks and has led a career high 714 laps this season while adding two victories to his career total – Atlanta Motor Speedway in March and Martinsville Speedway in April. The No. 24 pit crew has also elevated their game. The group ranks second quickest in average four tire pit stops in the playoffs.
"I think we are seeing a side of William Byron behind the wheel that we’ve been waiting to see," Hendrick Motorsports vice president of competition Chad Knaus said of the driver of the No. 24 team on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio this week. "His aggressive nature is showing up. His confidence is growing. That team is super strong on both sides of pit wall. They’re prepared to go and battle. They’re a true championship contender. Extremely proud of that team and what they’ve been able to do."
Tune in to see Byron race to defend his Homestead-Miami win this Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN Radio, and Sirius XM (channel 90).