AUSTIN, Texas — William Byron is a stud in qualifying at road courses. In Saturday’s qualifying session for the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix, he won his fourth career pole on a road course, all coming at different venues.
In the past, however, that single-lap speed hasn’t translated over for a full race. Of his 64 prior top-10 finishes entering Sunday’s race, just six of them have been when turning left and right.
Byron led the opening handful of laps in the race before Austin Cindric got by on a restart when the No. 24 car and Tyler Reddick went wide into Turn 1. Soon, it became an ongoing battle between Bryon and Reddick for the lead.
When Bubba Wallace overdrove Turn 12 and broke an oil line after contact with Kyle Larson and Erik Jones, Reddick elected to pit. The race resumed on lap 15 with Byron out front, earning the opening stage win, his series-high fourth stage victory of the season.
Being off strategy and attempting to make the race on two pit stops, Byron missed out on Stage 2 points. But when Reddick pitted on lap 32, Byron cycled back to the lead. The No. 45 Toyota would go on to chase Byron down from eight seconds back on fresher tires.
The duo had a classic, respectful road course battle. Then, a caution flew 12 laps remaining, which led to five additional restarts. Reddick maintained control of the race, while Byron would get shuffled a position, only to gain it back.
“It was bowling balls,” Byron said of the late-race physical restarts. “You just push the guy in front of you and you‘re all tandeming up and relying on the guy in front of you to stop.
“It was cleaner at the beginning of the race, we had some really fun restarts with me and Reddick and a couple other guys. Towards the end, it‘s just physics and you‘re trying to drive in there as hard as you can and hope that you stop.”
On one restart, Byron chose the outside lane and fell back to third. He then chose the bottom line for the remaining restarts and dropped to fifth in the finishing order.
“Wish I could have done a little bit better at the end with the restarts,” Byron noted. “Come home fifth is kind of disappointing given where we ran all day.”
Byron led the second highest number of laps in the race at 28. He trailed only Reddick, who controlled the majority of the race and paced the field for 41 circuits.
Overall, Byron thought he had the second best car, which is why it stings to finish fifth.
“I thought [Reddick] was definitely better than us, but we were a solid second on our own,” Byron stated. “It was a good day. It was just leading everyone else and then here comes the [No.] 45 a couple tenths faster. That was hard, but it‘s part of it.”
The fifth-place finish is Byron’s best result on a road course in 22 Cup starts at such racetracks. He believes he’s getting better, but he still needs to get over the hump. To get additional seat time, he competed in the Xfinity Series race on Saturday and finished runner-up to AJ Allmendinger.
“You just have to put the whole race together on a road course, and I feel like we‘re getting closer,” he said. “It‘s just little bits here and there, knowing what I need in the racecar in practice. I still don‘t have a great idea on the road courses of what I need and I think that‘s why I qualify so good, but don‘t always race as good. I think I‘ve figured that out.”
The series heads to Richmond Raceway next week, where Byron was leading last year until Denny Hamlin got by with fresher tires with five laps remaining. Byron finished third.