NASCAR: William Byron not the big winner at Darlington

William Byron, Hendrick Motorsports, Darlington, NASCAR (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)
William Byron, Hendrick Motorsports, Darlington, NASCAR (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images) /

William Byron capitalized on others’ mistakes to earn his third victory of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season at Darlington Raceway.

After a number of late incidents, including a tangle between Trackhouse Racing Team’s Ross Chastain and Hendrick Motorsports’ Kyle Larson that absolutely everybody tuned in to Fox Sports 1 on Sunday saw coming, it was none other than William Byron securing the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets its 100th NASCAR Cup Series victory.

Byron won the 295-lap Goodyear 400 at the four-turn, 1.366-mile (2.198-kilometer) Darlington, South Carolina oval after leading only seven laps.

But that was all he needed to secure his seventh career victory and his third of the year. Through 13 races this season, he has more wins than he has ever had in a single season.

However, in terms of the NASCAR Cup Series playoff picture, Byron wasn’t the biggest winner at “The Track Too Tough to Tame”.

Byron’s win and 56 total points from the afternoon certainly help him in the playoff standings. Having been docked 60 points and five playoff points earlier this season, he has some ground to make up. The would-be points leader now sits in fifth place in the standings with a series-high 16 playoff points (would be 21).

But by winning twice earlier this season, Byron was one of just three drivers who entered the Goodyear 400 having already locked himself into the playoffs. With more regular season races than playoff spots, the only way to lock in this early in the season is by winning twice; one win doesn’t necessarily secure a playoff spot. But two does.

The first half of the regular season saw nine different winners. In the event that more than 16 drivers are playoff eligible by the end of the regular season, either by winning a race or by winning the regular season championship, not all of the single-race winners will get in. The tiebreaker to determine who’s in and who’s out then becomes points.

So Byron’s third win of the season is huge for pretty much everybody hoping for no more new winners, as there is now one less opportunity for a new winner to emerge.

Take, for instance, JTG Daugherty Racing’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr. He is currently the lowest placed winner in the standings in 14th place. He will be particularly pleased that the season’s 13th race did not produce a 10th different winner, as a scenario with more than 16 winners could very well result in him being the odd man out.

Additionally, for everyone without a win, Byron winning is the next best thing. It prevents a previously winless driver from vaulting to the top of the playoff picture, thus occupying one of the previously unoccupied remaining playoff spots, and it prevents the playoff cut line (to get in on points) from moving up.

Take, for instance, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Chase Briscoe. He now finds himself in 16th place in the point standings, five points above the playoff cut line. Had someone below him in the standings won the race, such as Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott or even Wood Brothers Racing’s Harrison Burton, the cut line would have moved up a spot, and Briscoe would instead be 18 points below it.

It may not seem like much, but that difference is based on what the current gaps are. Those gaps change after each race, and that can end up being the difference between qualifying for and missing the playoffs.

Just look at what happened last year, when 15 drivers qualified for the playoffs by winning. Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. ended up missing the playoffs, despite a fourth place finish in the regular season standings, simply because he didn’t win.

So all in all, Byron’s win was a welcome sight for the dozens of drivers still vying for playoff spots.

The two other drivers already locked into the playoffs are Larson and Richard Childress Racing’s Kyle Busch, who have two wins each. In addition to Stenhouse, the single-race winners include Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Truex, Christopher Bell, Denny Hamlin, 23XI Racing’s Tyler Reddick, and Team Penske’s Joey Logano.

There are no more NASCAR Cup Series points races until Sunday, May 28, which is when the Coca-Cola 600 is scheduled to take place at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Fox is set to broadcast the race live beginning at 6:00 p.m. ET. Will the season’s 14th race produce a 10th different winner?

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

Before then, the All-Star Race is scheduled to take place at North Wilkesboro Speedway. The All-Star Open is set to be broadcast live on Fox Sports 1 beginning at 6:00 p.m. ET this Sunday, May 21, with the main event set to follow at 8:00 p.m. ET. Begin a free trial of FuboTV today and don’t miss any of the upcoming Cup Series action!