DARLINGTON, S.C. – Quietly and with a lot of purpose behind him, William Byron pushed his streak of consecutive top-10 finishes in the NASCAR Cup Series to double digits Sunday at Darlington Raceway.
The 23-year-old took his 10th straight run of 10th or better at NASCAR’s top level with an inspired drive at the 1.366-mile, egg-shaped oval, trailing only Martin Truex Jr., Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch at the checkered flag.
Byron, who won earlier in the season at Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway on a worn asphalt surface similar to Darlington’s, stayed in the conversation for much of the day but could never get close enough to the leaders to give himself a fighting chance at the front of the field.
He crossed the finish line fourth in the No. 24 Valvoline Chevrolet that sported a throwback scheme honoring the late Neil Bonnett, but was 17 seconds behind race winner Truex.
Normally, that type of a deficit would be maddening for a driver at the top level of stock car racing, but Byron viewed it as a rebound after battling an ill-handling race car in the early stages of Sunday’s event.
“I thought we were pretty solid all day. We fell back to eighth or ninth early in the race and we were just too loose. We didn’t really have the car fully connected yet, but we just got it better and better,” noted Byron. “The long runs were somewhat our weakness. We weren’t super strong on long runs; we were just kind of a fourth-place car. But to finish fourth is good for us.”
Prior to his current streak, Byron had never lined up more than five top-15 finishes in a row in the Cup Series, let alone top-10 runs.
But Byron pointed out that since the arrival of new crew chief Rudy Fugle, who came over to Hendrick Motorsports this season from Kyle Busch Motorsports and previously worked with Byron in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, his No. 24 team has been on a much improved run.
“To have our 10th top-10 [finish] in a row is awesome. I think our team is just super consistent this year,” Byron said. “That’s a credit to Rudy (Fugle, crew chief) and the guys preparing awesome cars and executing well. We just have to find that little bit [extra] to get with the 5 (Kyle Larson) and the 19 (Truex). We’re there at times, but we can’t really kind of break that seal, which is hard.
“We just have to continue to build our notebook,” he continued. “It’s Rudy and I’s first time going to these tracks, so I feel like there’s a lot of room to go still. But we’re doing great.”
Racing on Mother’s Day was particularly poignant for Byron this year, as he revealed May 4 that his mother, Dana, was diagnosed with a localized MALT lymphoma brain tumor shortly after the Martinsville (Va.) Speedway race weekend in April.
But it was the extension of a career season for the Charlotte, N.C., native, who believes that with a few more tweaks and improvements that his team can put themselves in championship contention when the playoffs roll around.
“I feel like for us to run all day where we finished is impressive. That’s what the good teams do, and I feel like we’re in that mix,” Byron said. “We’re in that fourth to sixth range right now, so we just kind of have to break that seal to get into the top-two or three. I think it’s pretty obvious which cars those are.
“We’re not there quite yet, but we’re getting close.”