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Cody Kluge Cody Kluge BVM Sports Journalist/Editor

William Byron had ‘a little extra motivation’ in Las Vegas win

AVONDALE, Ariz. (BVM) – The No. 24 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports is always going to be synonymous with Jeff Gordon. However, over the last few years, William Byron has begun to create his own legacy in the car. 

The Cup Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year in 2018 now has five career victories in the No. 24, with his first coming in the 2020 Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway. After a win at Miami early in the 2021 season, Byron looked poised for a breakout in 2022, securing victories at Atlanta and Martinsville within the first two months of the season.

While Byron did not find victory lane again in 2022, he did drive the No. 24 Chevrolet to seven more top 10s, finishing the year strong with a seventh-place finish at Martinsville, and a sixth-place run at Phoenix. 

The Hendrick Motorsports driver and his team were hoping to carry that momentum into 2023. A solid 10th-place finish at the Clash at the Coliseum was a good start, but disappointment would follow with just a 34th-place finish at the Daytona 500, and a 25th-place finish at Fontana as his team suffered through some mechanical issues.

Going into the race at Las Vegas last weekend, Byron probably wasn’t seen as the favorite for many. However, the 25-year-old’s driving combined with solid execution from his team propelled him to lead 176 laps. That included the final two laps in overtime as Byron took a lead he would not relinquish to claim his fifth Cup Series victory.

“It was awesome,” Byron said on BVM Sports’ Cup Connection. “To start the year this early with a win like that and in that fashion is a big deal for us … Just good to get a good result, honestly, and then a win.”

For a while, it appeared Byron’s Hendrick teammate, Kyle Larson, would take home the win until a caution came out on lap No. 264. With most of the field pitting, Byron came off pit road ahead of Larson, allowing him to take the lead shortly after the overtime restart and secure the victory.

“It was Kyle’s race at the end there,” Byron said. “I thought those guys were going to win … When the caution came out, I was really excited.”

Still, it was a tremendous day overall for Hendrick Motorsports, as Larson finished second, while Alex Bowman – who won the Las Vegas race last March – finished third. 

The Hendrick team has had a nice start to the year overall, with two drivers placing in the top 10 at Fontana, and Bowman finding his way to a fifth-place finish at the Daytona 500.

The Las Vegas race, however, meant a little more to Byron, Bowman and Larson, as their teammate, Chase Elliott, fractured a bone in his left leg in a snowboarding accident earlier in the week. There has been no timeline revealed for exactly when Elliott might return, but it is obviously a disappointing time for the driver of the No. 9 and his team.

“It’s tough to not have Chase there,” Byron said. “That was a bummer news wise throughout the week. It just kind of made for an interesting weekend for us. We kind of had to all pick up the slack. We knew we’d have good cars at Vegas, but I think it provided a little extra motivation.”

Hendrick Motorsports will continue to move forward, and Byron will now look for a way to sustain the early-season success he has seen in the past. That begins this week at the Ruoff Mortgage 500 in Phoenix as NASCAR concludes its West Coast swing.

“I think the race is going to be unpredictable,” Byron said. “For us, we’re just trying to get the most out of the weekend as we can, and try to have a good few days before the race just to make sure that we have good qualifying and put a good effort in.”

With the win at Las Vegas, Byron is likely to find himself in the Cup Series playoffs in a few months. Interestingly enough, the final race of the year will also be held at Phoenix Raceway, somewhere the driver of the No. 24 is hoping to build momentum at.

“I like it, I’ve had good runs here,” Byron said. “I want to continue to build on that and get a little bit better. I’ve never had an outstanding run here, always been kind of around the top 10, but want to try and get over that hump.”

Perhaps Byron can finally find the success he has been waiting for at Phoenix in 2023. Whether it comes this week or not, he has established himself as an early contender this season, and could very well be in the championship mix when NASCAR heads back to the desert in November.