NASCAR: William Byron not the big winner at Watkins Glen

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

William Byron earned his fifth victory of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season at Watkins Glen International, but he wasn’t the biggest winner of the race weekend.

Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron continued his career season in Sunday afternoon’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Watkins Glen International, finding victory lane for the series-best fifth time this year. He has more than doubled his career win total since March, as his first career road course win was the ninth overall win of his Cup Series career.

Byron’s victory in this 90-lap race around the eight-turn, 2.454-mile (3.949-kilometer) Watkins Glen, New York road course netted him a total of six playoff points, one for leading the race at the end of stage two and five more for winning the race itself.

Given the fact that playoff points are points which drivers carry with them to start each round of the playoffs, minus the Championship 4, the win was beyond significant for the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet, especially considering that NASCAR docked him five playoff points earlier this year.

The win also keeps him in play for a second place finish in the regular season standings, and with additional playoff points on the line depending on where the playoff drivers finish inside the top 10 of the regular season standings, this is also quite important.

But with all things considered, William Byron wasn’t the biggest winner in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Watkins Glen.

Entering this race, 13 full-time drivers had found victory lane at some point in the regular season’s first 24 races to lock themselves in the playoffs. The three provisional playoff spots below the 13 winners were held by Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick, RFK Racing’s Brad Keselowski, and 23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace.

With the possibility of two new winners emerging in the regular season’s final two races, there was still a chance that only one driver would lock into the playoffs on points.

With Wallace unable to catch Harvick or Keselowski in points, this meant that one of the three spots was guaranteed to go to either Harvick or Keselowski (whether they won one of those two races or not). However, neither one had officially secured it, since the points battle between the two had not yet been decided. In fact, it remains undecided.

Because Byron is not a new winner, this means that there can be, at most, 14 regular season race winners, guaranteeing that at least two playoff spots will be awarded to drivers on points. So Harvick and Keselowski are now locked in, even if they don’t win the regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday night.

And Wallace, of course, still finds himself in the 16th and final playoff spot, which would not have been the case had a new winner (other than himself, Harvick, or Keselowski) emerged this past Sunday afternoon.

With that in mind, Wallace himself was also one of the big winners at Watkins Glen, though he still isn’t safe when it comes to locking himself into the playoffs.

The driver of the No. 23 Toyota sits 32 points above the playoff cut line heading into the 160-lap race around the four-turn, 2.5-mile (4.023-kilometer) high-banked Daytona Beach, Florida oval, but with just one playoff spot remaining, a new winner other than himself, Harvick, or Keselowski means that he will miss the playoffs for the sixth time in six seasons.

He can still technically be passed in the standings by Joe Gibbs Racing rookie Ty Gibbs and Trackhouse Racing Team’s Daniel Suarez as well, but he is in a much better situation then he would have been in had a 14th different winner emerged at Watkins Glen.

There is a big difference between being 32 points above the cut line and being in a must-win situation below it, especially heading into the biggest wild card race on the schedule.

FanDuel Sportsbook, which is giving fans an instant $200 just for betting $5, lists Byron as the second favorite to win this year’s championship.

Odds and availability are subject to change, so lock in your $200 today!

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The Coke Zero Sugar 400 is scheduled to bring the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series regular season to a close this Saturday, August 26. Who will claim the 16th and final playoff spot? Tune in to NBC at 7:00 p.m. ET for the live broadcast from Daytona International Speedway. If you have not already done so, begin a free trial of FuboTV today!