William Byron wins 66th Daytona 500

William Byron wins 66th Daytona 500

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William Byron gave team owner Rick Hendrick something extra to celebrate in the 40th anniversary year of Hendrick Motorsports.

In a frantic scramble after a restart on Lap 197 of 200 in the Daytona 500, Byron reached the start/finish line and took the white flag moments before NASCAR called the fifth caution of the evening as Ross Chastain slid wildly through the infield grass off the bumper of Austin Cindric’s Ford.

Alex Bowman was a close second to his teammate at the moment of caution, giving Hendrick a 1-2 finish and the organization’s first victory in the “Great American Race” since Jimmie Johnson bested teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. to the stripe in 2013.

The victory was Hendrick’s ninth in the Daytona 500, tying the company with Petty Enterprises for most in the history of the NASCAR Cup Series most prestigious event. The race was postponed from Sunday to Monday because of heavy rains during the weekend.

“I’m just a kid from racing on computers and winning the Daytona 500,” said the 26-year-old Byron, who picked up the 11th Cup Series victory of his career and his second at Daytona, the first coming in the 2020 summer race at the 2.5-mile superspeedway.

“I can’t believe it. I wish my dad was here. He’s sick, but this is for him, man. We’ve been through so much, and we sat up in the grandstands together and watched the race (when Byron was younger). This is so freaking cool.”

Hendrick could barely contain his elation in Victory Lane.

“I’m telling you, you couldn’t write the script any better,” he said. “When we thought about coming down here the first time, we didn’t think we should be here, felt so out of place.

“We win this on our 40th to the day, it’s just… and tied a record now, so that’s awesome.”

Before the final restart, Chastain was racing at the front of the field on Lap 192 when a bump from Alex Bowman got Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron out of shape and knocked Byron into the right rear of Brad Keselowski’s Ford.

Keselowski turned up the track into the Ford of Joey Logano, who had led a race-high 45 laps to that point. Reigning series champion Ryan Blaney’s Ford was among the 23 cars involved in the accident that left a string of mangled vehicles strewn along the backstretch.

The wreck knocked Blaney, Keselowski and Logano out of the race, along with Tyler Reddick, defending race winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Daniel Suárez and Todd Gilliland. NASCAR red-flagged the race for 15 minutes 27 seconds for track cleanup.

“Speedway racing again,” Logano said ruefully. “It’s a lot of fun until this happens. It was pretty interesting, with a lot of pushing and shoving there at the end. Our car was able to take it. Our Mustang was so fast. It could lead a line really well. I kind of thought I had the cars I wanted around me. I had at least one I wanted around me but just couldn’t make it work.”

“Obviously, hate what happened on that backstretch,” Byron said of the accident. “I just got pushed and got sideways. But so proud of this team, whole Axalta team, 40th anniversary to the day, on Monday.

“Just extremely blessed and thankful for all the opportunities, and we just want to keep it going. We have a lot to prove this year, and this is a good start, obviously.”

How much Byron has yet to prove is debatable. He won a series-best six races last year, qualified for the Championship 4 and finished third in the final standings.

The race was not quite five laps old when an eight-car accident off Turn 4 started the inevitable attrition. Contact from Keselowski’s Ford in a tightly bunched line of the outside knocked John Hunter Nemechek’s Toyota into the center lane and into the side of Harrison Burton’s Ford.

Burton slid toward the infield, collecting the Chevrolet of Sunoco rookie Carson Hocevar. Burton’s No. 21 Mustang shot up the track and slammed into the Ford of Kaz Grala and the Chevrolet of Austin Dillon. Behind Dillon, Hocevar careened into the path of seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson, who couldn’t avoid the collision.

The wreck eliminated the cars of Burton, Hocevar and Grala. Dillon took his No. 3 Chevy to the garage for extensive repairs, and Johnson lost two laps on pit road as his Legacy Motor Club crew worked frantically to repair his Camry.

“I don’t remember exactly who it was on my outside,” Burton said after a trip to the infield care center. “It just looked like they either got a bad push or got loose and just hit me in the right side and sent me across.

“The grass was so wet that once I got in the grass, I thought I’d be OK, but the car just kept going and going… so really sad that our day is over as quick as it was. We had a really fast Ford. It’s just a bummer. There’s nothing we can do but just move on and try to win next week.”

It took 187 more laps of racing before the colossal wreck that dwarfed the earlier incident thinned the field and set up the fight to the finish among the cars that survived.

In a race that featured 41 lead changes among 20 drivers, Christopher Bell ran third, followed by Corey LaJoie, Bubba Wallace and AJ Allmendinger. Chastain, who didn’t have quite enough room when he dived to the inside of Cindric on the penultimate lap, finished 21st, one spot ahead of Cindric.

Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who was initially caught in the first yellow of the day on Lap 6, finished 28th. Reddick, the 2024 Bluegreen Vacations Duel 1 winner, finished 29th.

Defending NASCAR Cup Series champion Blaney finished 30th after being involved in the 23-car pileup.

The Cup Series will head to Atlanta Motor Speedway next for the Ambetter Health 400 on Feb. 25 (3 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN Radio, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

NOTE: Post-race inspection in the Cup Series garage at Daytona concluded without issue, confirming Byron as the race winner. Corey LaJoie’s No. 7 Chevrolet and Bubba Wallace’s No. 23 Toyota will be sent back to the R&D Center in Concord, North Carolina, for further inspection.