MARTINSVILLE, Va. – William Byron earned a top-10 starting spot as he looks to repeat as the spring race winner at Martinsville Speedway.
The 25-year-old will start eighth for Sunday’s race after a lap of 20.155 seconds in the final round of qualifying. On the 2023 season, the Charlotte, North Carolina, native has two victories and led a race-high 117 laps two weekends ago at Richmond Raceway, which was the most recent short-track race. He also has four straight top-seven finishes at the .526-mile track.
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In group practice, Byron finished second overall with a best lap at 20.395 seconds and was second on the 10-lap average board. The driver of the No. 24 Liberty University Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 was the best on the 15-, 20-, 25- and 30-lap average board.
Saturday saw Chase Elliott back in the No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. He qualified 24th after getting loose of turn two and clipping the wall in his second qualifying lap. The 2020 Cup Series champion, who won at the Virginia track that same year, was 10th in practice and fifth on the 10-lap average board.
"I actually feel pretty good," Elliott told FOX Sports’ Jamie Little. "I had an abysmal qualifying lap but I can’t blame my leg on that one. I had a pretty good first lap and then I really messed up the exit of (turn) two on my second one. We’ll try to go forward tomorrow.
"I feel fine in the car. The entire practice run I felt fine. Once you kind of get out there on the track and you start focusing on the little things you need to be doing to hit your marks, I feel like some of that goes away."
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Elliott missed six races while recovering from a fractured tibia suffered in a snowboarding accident. After undergoing surgery, he rehabilitated in Colorado before returning to his home in Dawsonville, Georgia, in late March to continue physical therapy. The 27-year-old was medically cleared on Tuesday and tested on Tuesday and Wednesday in the Chevrolet Driver-in-the-Loop simulator in Concord, North Carolina, before making the decision to return at Martinsville. In two starts this season, the 2020 champion has a best finish of second at Auto Club Speedway in February.
Kyle Larson will start 19th in the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, while Alex Bowman lines up 23rd in the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. Larson’s runner-up finish last fall was his best result at Martinsville, while Bowman won the fall race in 2021.
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Ryan Preece earned the pole position for the 400-lap race.
This weekend marks the return of Cliff Daniels (No. 5), Alan Gustafson (No. 9), Rudy Fugle (No. 24) and Blake Harris (No. 48) as the crew chiefs for their respective teams at Hendrick Motorsports. All four crew chiefs had been suspended for the previous four races due to penalties enforced by NASCAR.
Byron is the defending race winner and the most recent winner at the Virginia venue for the organization. In that race, Hendrick Motorsports led by Byron and Elliott, were the leaders of 397 of 403 laps. At 98.51%, the performance set a record for the organization’s highest percentage of laps led in a single race.
With its 27 victories at the paperclip-shaped track, Hendrick Motorsports holds the Cup Series record for the most wins at a single circuit. Eight different drivers (the greatest number of different winners at Martinsville) have won at this track for the organization, led by Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson with nine victories apiece. Darrell Waltrip recorded four wins. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Bodine and current drivers Byron, Bowman and Elliott have each taken home one Martinsville victory. The team is the only one to lead over 10,000 laps at any one track with 10,501 circuits out front.
Tune in to watch the short-track action around Martinsville on Sunday, April 16, at 3 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN Radio and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Channel 90).