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William Byron beats Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman by 9 inches to win Daytona 500

Nearly 100,000 fans return to Daytona International Speedway after Sunday's rainout

Don Coble, don@claytodayonline.com
Posted 2/19/24

DAYTONA BEACH – William Byron drove through a salvage yard of twisted cars in the final eightn laps of the rain-delayed Daytona 500 Monday night before emerging from the smoke – literally …

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William Byron beats Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman by 9 inches to win Daytona 500

Nearly 100,000 fans return to Daytona International Speedway after Sunday's rainout


Posted

DAYTONA BEACH – William Byron drove through a salvage yard of twisted cars in the final eight laps of the rain-delayed Daytona 500 Monday night before emerging from the smoke – literally – to win the biggest stock car racing of the year.

Byron’s No. 24 Chevrolet was involved in a crash on Lap 192 of 200 after his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Alex Bowman, bumped him to turn him into Brad Keselowski’s car while they were racing for second place. That triggered an 18-car crash that eliminated many drivers who dominated most of the race.

Then, as the field stormed off the fourth turn on the last lap, Ross Chastain tried to squeeze beside Byron’s leading car, but Byron moved down to force Chastain to make an evasive move that wound up sending him and Austin Cindric spinning through the trioval infield.

The wreck happened 100 yards short of the finish line. NASCAR displayed the white flag, signifying one lap to go, and then the caution flag. Since Byron had taken the white flag before the race was put under caution, he was delared the winner.

“It feels like a dream,” Byron said. “It’s still just setting in. With how much work it takes to get to this point, you want to cherish these moments with your team. I definitely want to be the guy who wins the big races. Any of (the Hendrick drivers) could’ve won this race. We were all out there with a chance to win.”

It took nearly five minutes before the sanctioning body determined Byron beat his teammate by nine inches. The rest of the running order was frozen when NASCAR displayed the caution flag a split second after Byron crossed the finish line.

“At the end of the race, we use all available resources,” said NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition Elton Sawyer. “When the caution comes out, we’ll use video, a timestamp at the time of caution. Obviously, we would have loved to have left it green and let it finish naturally. But once the 2 car (Cindric) had spun and started back up the racetrack and was going to be in traffic, oncoming traffic, there was no choice but to throw the caution.”

The victory came on the 40th anniversary of Hendrick starting his NASCAR team. The organization now has 302 NASCAR victories, including a record-tying nine Daytona 500s.

“When I think back of 40 years coming back here, feeling like I didn’t belong, seeing Junior Johnson and the Pettys and the Wood Brothers, and here we were with five full-time people and no sponsor,” Hendrick said. “To win this race, I guess it’s been 10 years, I forgot how thrilling it really is.

“I think it’s going to sink in next week a little bit more. I’m in awe of how hard it is to win this race.”

Petty Enterprises has nine Daytona 500 wins – seven by Richard Petty and one each by Pete Hamilton and Lee Petty.

Hendrick's wins were by Jeff Gordon (three), Jimmie Johnson (two) and one each for Dale Earnhardt Jr., Geoff Bodine, Darrell Waltrip and Bowman.

Christopher Bell was third, Corey Lajoie was fourth, Bubba Wallace was fifth, A.J. Allmendinger was sixth, and John Hunter Nemechek was seventh.

The race was scheduled for Sunday but was pushed back to Monday by rain. Nearly 100,000 fans came back a day later.

“What an awesome crowd,” Byron said. “I hate what happened on the backstretch (with eight laps to go). I got pushed (by Bowman), and the bumpers don’t line up exactly.”

Joey Logano, Bell, Chastian and Todd Gilliland led 97 of 200 laps until the 18-car crash that destroyed the cars driven by Logano and Gilliland. Byron led only once – the final four laps.

Kyle Busch’s opportunity to win his first Daytona 500 could have ended on Lap 134 when he pulled off pit road at the end of Segment 2 before his crew attached the right-front lugnut. Busch, whose winless streak at the Great American Race extended to 19 years, limped around the 2.5-mile track at a crawl during the caution so the wheel wouldn’t fall off. His crew put on a new tire – with the lugnut – and he returned without losing a lap.

Perhaps driven by frustration and anger as much as horsepower, Busch pushed his way through the pack to lead 15 laps later. Just as impressive was his ability to weave through the carnage of an 18-car wreck at the front of the pack with eight laps remaining.

The finish line crash dropped him back to a 12th-place finish.

It didn’t take long for the garage area to start collecting crippled cars. Brad Keselowski bumped Nemechek entering the third turn, which triggered a seven-car crash on the sixth lap. Cars driven by Nemechek, Jimmie Johnson, Austin Dillon, Kaz Grala, Harrison Burton, Carson Hocevar, Ryan Preece and outside pole winner Michael McDowell were involved. Grala, Hocevar, Burton and Preece were done.

Chase Elliott led a parade of Chevrolets in a segment featuring various fuel strategies. Chase Elliott won the segment, followed by the Chevys driven by Kyle Larson, Chastain, Byron and Busch.

The Fords then took charge in Segment 2. Defending series champion Ryan Blaney passed his Penske Racing teammate Austin Cindric in the middle of Turns 3 and 4 to win the segment. Cindric hung on for second, followed by Daniel Suarez, Busch, Ty Gibbs, Byron and Wallace.

While the first 130 laps were relatively tame for Daytona standards, the intensity boiled over in the final 30 laps. There were nine lead changes in a 48-lap stretch leading up to the 18-car melee with eight laps to go.

The series moves to the 1.5-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway next Sunday.