LAS VEGAS – In a race where William Byron won the opening two stages, it was a key call ahead of the overtime restart that made the difference at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Crew chief Rudy Fugle made the decision to take two right-side tires. The pit crew’s strong work saw Byron win the race off of pit road and set him up to start second – next to Martin Truex Jr., who had stayed out. Byron used the outside lane to get the lead and then stayed ahead of teammates Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman for the win. This victory is Byron’s first of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season and his fifth in the series.
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"It always seems like it always happens in Las Vegas. You get one last shootout at the end," Fugle said. "Pit crew did an awesome job getting us off pit road second, and we were able to pass the 19 (Truex Jr.) and hold everybody else off."
When the caution fell with three laps to go in regulation, Byron was running second at the time behind Larson. The field faced the decision of whether or not to pit -- all but Truex Jr. did.
"Most of us had 40 green laps on our tires," Fugle said when discussing his thought process. "I thought there would be some more (to pit), yes. I thought we would be restarting in row three if we pitted with rights. ... It's a super hard decision with only two laps to go."
The pit crew of Spencer Bishop (jackman), Jeff Cordero (front-tire changer), Orane Ossowski (rear-tire changer), Ryan Patton (tire carrier) and Landon Walker (fueler) delivered all day for Byron and the No. 24 RaptorTough.com team.
"The one pit stop they had where we lost the lead, I slid through the box or slid long so that delayed the stop," Byron said of a pit stop following the lap 184 caution. "That was on me and I knew they could get it done in the end."
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The win gets Byron into the win column early for the third straight season. The victory also served as the most miles that the driver has led in a race win (264 miles with 176 laps led at the 1.5-mile track). "I think I haven't really dominated -- I've led a lot of laps in a couple races, but to be this good in a race with our team is definitely a good sign," Byron said of the win. "It's just a different feeling. For me, having a team around me that can execute that well on pit road that well, strategy that good on adjustments. That's just a team effort."
In 2022, the Charlotte, North Carolina, native win twice in the first eight races. He also reached the Round of 8 for the first time and finished a career-best sixth in the final standings. In between that, though, was a tough summer stretch for the team.
"We felt like last year was really topsy-turvy for us," Byron said. "We obviously had a couple wins, but then we were really up and down, and just didn't really understand this car quite as good as we needed to. We needed to change some of our vocabulary when we talked about this race car versus what he and I have worked together in the past. We've worked on cars that have a different tire and different grip levels, so we just had to change some of the words that we used and kind of talk about the car."
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The 25-year-old is in his sixth full-time Cup Series season and his third at this level with Fugle. The two go back to when Byron ran a full season in the NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series in 2016. The two are constantly fine tuning their communication. Byron noted that they worked really hard this offseason with running the simulator and going through things to work through the feedback he provides the team.
"We're just trying to get our setups tuned in better, and then try to get our knowledge for changes to what William feels and how that responds," Fugle said of the simulator work the team did in the offseason. "Just working together to solve problems. You get in the season and it's super hard to get in there to the simulator and put the time in that we want to. In the offseason, we put a lot of work in. Through these first few races, it showed off last week having speed right away and then showed off this week."
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That work has not gone unnoticed as the No. 24 RaptorTough.com team looks to continue its winning ways.
"Over the last two years and these guys working together, both of them just have this rapport with each other and a trust in each other that you need in this business," team president and general manager Jeff Andrews said. "Their margins are so small, and the human capital is one that Mr. Hendrick will talk to us about. It's all about the people and it's all about relationships and communication.
"That level of communication between Rudy and William has never been higher, and we commend them because they continue to work on it. They're never satisfied with it. They worked real hard on it in the offseason. You heard William talking about how they worked in the simulator together and having Rudy's voice in his ear during that.
"We commend them and really all our race teams. Couldn't be more proud of the way our company is working together as a whole across four race teams. We've never had that. It's never been as good as it is right now with that communication level with all four of our teams."