NASCAR Cup Phoenix showdown "a bit of a letdown" for Byron
Hendrick Motorsport driver William Byron says his performance in the NASCAR Cup title decider at Phoenix was "a bit of a letdown" to end his best season to date.
Watch: William Byron on fourth place finish: ‘We all raced really hard’
The 25-year-old won a season-high six races in 2023 and took pole for the crucial Championship 4 race, but after winning the opening stage felt his balance shifted as the track rubbered in.
Having led all 60 laps in the opening stage, he remained out front until he was run down by Kevin Harvick for the lead on lap 93 of 312, leading only three more laps in the race.
As Ross Chastain took victory, second place proved enough for Team Penske's Ryan Blaney to win his first Cup title while Byron ended up fourth, putting him third among the Championship 4 contenders.
Byron, the youngest of the Championship 4 drivers in his first opportunity to win a title, said: “Once the track rubbered in, we got really tight.
“Especially when we lost the lead on track, we just had a big balance shift and got tight back in second through fifth, just couldn’t gain a lot of speed through [Turns] 1 and 2, just kind of having to really over-slow the car, get it to the bottom.
“That’s all we had there. Just really proud of our team, great season.
“It stinks to come up short. I’d like to think we’re going to be back in this position and we’re going to have more shots at it.”
Photo by: Matthew T. Thacker / NKP / Motorsport Images
William Byron, Hendrick Motorsports, Axalta Chevrolet Camaro
Byron has targeted on short tracks as an area for improvement in 2024.
Admitting that Sunday’s finish was “a bit of a letdown”, he added: “I felt like we brought a good car this weekend. Really until the track kind of changed, I thought we were in the game.”
His team-mate Kyle Larson missed out on a second Cup title by finishing third in the race, and admitted to NBC Sports afterwards that he “was just not as good as a few other guys, especially Blaney and Ross probably”.
Larson was overtaken by Blaney for second in the closing stages and couldn't mount a fightback afterwards.
“I'm at peace knowing that that was all I had today”, he said. “I know it didn't look maybe like it that last run. That was all I had, our team did a really good job of putting us in that spot.
“I am still obviously extremely bummed, as I'm sure Denny [Hamlin] was last week. Even though I didn't feel like I had the fast car, I had an opportunity. It's a bummer when you don't win.
“At the same point, I'm probably coming up this close, probably more eager for the following season already. I know where I need to improve and I'm just ready to get back on the track and work on all that.”
Photo by: Rusty Jarrett / NKP / Motorsport Images
Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro
Larson felt that Blaney and his team “did a really good job” after winning last time out at Martinsville to secure a Championship 4 berth, and said “they deserved to win”.
Meanwhile, fourth title contender Christopher Bell saw his hopes evaporate when he blew a brake rotor on lap 108 and his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota slammed the Turn 3 wall to cause enough damage to put him out of the race.
Bell, who finished third in the standings last year, explained that it was “the first time I’ve ever exploded a rotor in my career”.
“I was surprised, but early on in the race I had a little bit of brake fade and the second run it just kept getting worse and worse,” he said.
“I don’t know. Just obviously a disappointing way to end.”
Reflecting on his season, he added: “I’m very proud of the effort put forth by our team to get to the Championship 4, but I do feel like we left a lot on the table at various races throughout the year.
“I’m excited about the future. We haven’t reached our potential yet.”
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