William Byron was declared the winner of Sunday evening’s NASCAR Cup Series race after rain started to fall at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron earned his NASCAR Cup Series-leading fourth win of the 2023 season in the first race past the season’s halfway point at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday night.
It wasn’t until beyond the halfway mark of the Quaker State 400 Presented by Walmart when the rain started to fall, and the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet, who had overcome an earlier spin and pit lane penalty, was in the right place at the right time to capitalize after just 185 of the 260 scheduled laps had been completed.
While the No. 24 team might have been exaggerating the level of rainfall at first, the intensification of the precipitation left NASCAR with no choice but to throw the checkered flag, declaring the 25-year-old Charlotte, North Carolina native the winner.
Now sitting at eight career victories, Byron has doubled his career win total for the third consecutive season, and Atlanta Motor Speedway is the first track at which he has won twice.
Both of his wins at the four-turn, 1.54-mile (2.478-kilometer) have come since the track’s repave and reconfiguration between the 2021 and 2022 seasons.
But William Byron wasn’t the biggest winner in the NASCAR Cup Series field at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday night.
Through the regular season’s first 18 races, there were 12 different winners, of whom 11 are full-time drivers and therefore playoff eligible. Of those 11 drivers, four had officially secured their playoff spots by winning more than once.
Because there can be more regular season race winners than playoff spots, with the playoff field restricted to 16 drivers and the regular season featuring 26 events, winning once doesn’t necessarily lock a driver into the playoffs.
The 16 playoff spots officially go to the regular season points champion (winner or not) and the 15 drivers who rank next highest in wins. Because no more than 13 drivers can win multiple regular season races, winning two or more races is what truly locks a driver into the playoffs at this point in the year.
Byron was already locked into the playoffs, thanks to his wins at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Phoenix Raceway, and Darlington Raceway. He was the first driver to reach two wins, and he did it in the season’s fourth race. He was not in danger of missing the postseason.
FanDuel Sportsbook, which is now offering fans an instant $200 just for signing up and betting $20, lists Byron as the second favorite to win the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series championship at +700.
While the points he earned in Sunday’s race, which elevated him to the lead of the standings despite a 60-point penalty earlier in the year, and the five playoff points he earned from the victory itself are huge, the drivers who were the big winners of Sunday’s race are the drivers currently battling for the final few playoff spots.
The next three drivers in the Atlanta finishing order were Trackhouse Racing Team’s Daniel Suarez in second place, Kaulig Racing’s A.J. Allmendinger in third, and Front Row Motorsports’ Michael McDowell in fourth, none of whom have won this season.
Had one of those drivers become the 12th winner in the provisional playoff picture, that would have ruffled a lot of feathers among the other non-winners just above or below the playoff cut line — and even some of the lower placed single-race winners who are currently in the playoff picture, such as 23XI Racing’s Tyler Reddick (13th place) and JTG Daugherty Racing’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (14th).
While Suarez, Allmendinger, and McDowell naturally would have liked to win Sunday’s race for themselves, Byron winning was the next best thing, since it kept five playoffs spots open instead of only four. It eliminated one of the remaining opportunities for a new winner to emerge.
In fact, both Suarez and McDowell now find themselves above the cut line on points, with Allmendinger just a handful of points behind them.
History shows that there will likely be a few more new winners before the regular season ends, especially with two road course races and a superspeedway race among the regular season’s final seven races. There could still mathematically be up to 18 winners before the playoffs are scheduled to begin. There were 16 last year, and the entire season ended with 19.
The 20th race on the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series schedule is the Crayon 301, which is set to be broadcast live on USA Network from New Hampshire Motor Speedway beginning at 2:30 p.m. ET this Sunday, July 16. Begin a free trial of FuboTV and don’t miss it!