NASCAR: William Byron’s rare chance for redemption

William Byron, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
William Byron, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /

For the second straight year, William Byron is the first driver to win two NASCAR Cup Series races. But last year, he couldn’t do what those before him had done.

NASCAR has utilized a winner-take-all Championship 4 to cap off its round-by-round playoff format since 2014, and every year from 2014 to 2021, the first driver to win two races ended up in the Championship 4.

In 2014, 2015, and 2018, Kevin Harvick pulled it off. In 2016, it was Jimmie Johnson, and in 2017, it was Brad Keselowski. Kyle Busch pulled it off in 2019, Joey Logano pulled it off in 2020, and Martin Truex Jr. pulled it off in 2021. Harvick (2014), Johnson, and Busch won the championships those years.

The 2022 season saw seven different winners in the first seven races, and it was Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron, who won the season’s fifth race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, who became the first driver to win twice, taking the checkered flag at Martinsville Speedway in the season’s eighth race.

Could Byron, who had never even made it to the round of 8 of NASCAR’s playoffs, keep this trend alive and make it nine for nine for the first two-time winners?

Following his second win of the year, Byron went on a lengthy cold streak. He recorded just a single top 10 finish throughout the regular season’s final 18 races, and that was a lackluster ninth place effort.

The driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet began to heat up in the playoffs, reeling off four straight top eight finishes to open the postseason to get into the round of 8, but a forgettable round of 8 saw him bow out early. He finished in sixth place in the point standings.

So through nine seasons of the Championship 4 format, Byron is the one and only driver who has failed to qualify for the Championship 4 after becoming the season’s first two-time winner.

While that eight-year streak ended last year, Byron finds himself with a shot at redemption.

After yet another rough start to a season, which has become Byron’s norm (no higher than a 17th place finish in any of a season’s first two races throughout his six-year career), he has now scored back-to-back victories at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Phoenix Raceway.

Four races into the 2023 campaign, he is once again the first driver to find victory lane twice. Can he get to the Championship 4 for the first time and return to Phoenix Raceway in November with a shot to win his first career Cup Series championship?

Next. All-time NASCAR Cup Series wins list. dark

The other two drivers who have taken the checkered flag this year are JTG Daugherty Racing’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Daytona International Speedway) and Richard Childress Racing’s Kyle Busch (Auto Club Speedway).