Sunday’s race at ISM Raceway near Phoenix was a welcome change to what has been a frustrating start to William Byron’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career.
In Byron’s first three races driving the iconic No. 24 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, Byron had started no better than 17th and finished no better than 18th and had yet finished on the lead lap.
Friday’s qualifying at Phoenix showed Byron, 20, could well be a player this week, as he advanced to the final round of qualifying and ended up 11th.
The race itself proved just as rewarding, as he led the first laps of his Cup career (15) and ended up with a career-best 12th-place finish.
Byron’s crew chief, Darian Grubb, used a two-tire pit call to get the No. 24 some much needed track position and the lead at one point.
“I think the two tires worked for us, just the way our car was handling, we were really tight all day and we couldn’t really get that much out of it,” Byron said. “But, the middle stage of the race we started running closer to the top 10, ninth or 10th I think, and that was the perfect call at the time.
“I was a little, I guess, not sure if it was going to work out just because we had done it already one time. But, it worked out. We could kind of keep some clean air and I think that was a net gain for sure.”
Byron ended up with the second-best finish among HMS’ four Cup drivers, behind only Chase Elliott, who ended up third. In fact, he was headed for his first career Top 10 finish until he lost positions on the final round of green-flag pit stops.
Byron said having the opportunity to run out front helped him continue to prove himself to his fellow competitors.
“I think it just showed myself that I can do it that I can do those restarts up there. I know I have the pace up there to run until our handling kind of took over,” he said.
“I felt like if we can really start to hone in on what we need a little better we are going to be right there. It’s going to take a little bit of work, but it was fun to at least be up there a little bit.”