By Dustin Albino

RICHMOND, Va. — Many people believed William Byron was a sneaky pick to reach the Championship 4 race at Phoenix Raceway this year. Now, he’s trying not to be a bracket buster in the opening round.

In the playoff opener at Darlington Raceway, Byron had a strong run derailed by a flat left front tire. End result: 34th.

In Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts Salute to American Heroes 400 NASCAR Cup Series race at Richmond Raceway, Byron needed a solid run, as he entered the race nine points below the cutline.

The No. 24 Chevrolet was anything but solid.

“We were really, really bad,” Byron told media post race. “We finished seventh here in the spring and felt like we had something decent, and made some tweaks to try to get a little better and we were terrible. I think we got to 11th one time, that was about it.

“We were really bad and I was really bad. It was all terrible.”

Byron added his No. 24 car lacked grip. During some runs, he could be a car that was capable of running speed in the back half of the top 10, but other times he was a “lapped car.”

At the end of 400 laps, Byron placed 19th (two laps down) and earned just 18 points. Add that onto his three total points last week, he’s kicked off the season with only 21 points in two races.

Entering the Round of 16 cutoff race at Bristol Motor Speedway, Byron is ranked 15th, 18 points in the hole.

“Just try to race our ass off and see if we can, maybe, win a race,” Byron said of his Bristol mentality. “That‘s pretty much what we‘ve got to do.

“I just race as hard I can, get as many stage points and see where we‘re at.”

But with just one top-10 finish in six Cup starts on the Bristol asphalt, can Byron win?

“It‘s an OK track for me, so I feel like we‘ll have a much better car there,” he added. “We‘ve just got to get there and race as hard as we can.”

Not only does Byron have to gain 18 points on Kurt Busch and Alex Bowman, but he has to outrun Tyler Reddick by 13 points, too.

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