NASCAR playoff contenders: No. 2 – William Byron
Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron has had a breakout season in 2023, posting a series-high five wins in the regular season. He has also posted more top five finishes and more 10 finishes than he did throughout the entire 2022 season.
Despite a playoff points deduction earlier this year, Byron sits tied atop the standings heading into the playoffs. He and the No. 24 team have been clicking since the start of the season, and now he has his eyes set on his first career Championship 4 appearance and title.
The case for William Byron
Byron and company have been firing on all cylinders from the start of the season. They have had nearly flawless execution on the track, in the pits, and beyond. And that has been enough to help them to steal a few wins late in races this season.
Examples of the No. 24 team’s flawless late race execution include the two early season races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Phoenix Raceway. Both races came down to late pit stops and restarts, and in both of those cases, Byron was able to take advantage of the opportunities and win.
Now he finds himself sitting 29 points above the opening cut line and effectively has one of the easiest paths to the Championship 4, thanks to his wins and playoff points throughout the season. If the speed he had in the regular season continues into the playoffs, he will almost certainly be racing for a championship.
The case against William Byron
While five wins in the regular season is nothing to scoff at, the circumstances of some of those wins were far from ideal for Byron. In four of those wins at Las Vegas, Phoenix, Darlington Raceway, and Atlanta Motor Speedway, he got some late help from a wide variety of situations that ultimately turned top five finishes into wins.
At both Las Vegas and Phoenix, Byron was almost certainly heading toward second place finishes before a late cautions jumbled up the field, allowing him to take victories on the final restarts.
At Darlington, Byron was not the driver to beat throughout the day, with the fastest three cars belonging to Ross Chastain, Martin Truex Jr, and Kyle Larson. But as the race went on, Truex spun out racing for the lead at the end of stage two, and Larson and Chastain then got together and wrecked, allowing Byron to drive away with the victory.
At Atlanta, Byron did have of the fastest cars from the drop of the green flag, but some mixed strategies at the end of stage two allowed for him to take the lead just before rain shower hit, ending the race well before the scheduled finish and giving him his fourth win of the season.
While Byron has still been among the best drivers in 2023, he has managed to have a lot of things go his way to secure his wins. It’s far from a given that such circumstances will continue in the playoffs. Consistency could also prove problematic, as he has no top five finishes in the 12 most recent races other than his two wins.