Friday April 12th, 2024 8:27AM

Byron dominates NASCAR's 1st road course race of season, wins at COTA

By By Jim Vertertuno AP Sports Writer

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — William Byron won the Daytona 500 with an agonizing final lap under a caution flag. He took the checkered flag on Sunday at the Circuit of the Americas at full throttle.

Bryon started from pole position and delivered a dominant drive in NASCAR's first road course race of the season. The Hendrick Motorsports driver led 42 of 68 laps and built the big lead he needed to hold off a hard-charging run from Joe Gibbs Racing's Christopher Bell over the final two laps.

Bell shaved nearly three seconds off Byron’s lead to create some late drama before Byron slammed the door over the final corners.

“I was trying to not make mistakes," Byron said. “I knew that last lap he was going to be pushing hard.”

Even when he was building the lead, Byron said he knew the victory would be tight at the end.

“Everyone is too good, and that car (was) too close,” Byron said.

A self-taught racer who used computer equipment to hone his skills, Byron earned career win No. 12 and his second on a road course.

The Circuit of the Americas, a track built for Formula One, has been the first road course for NASCAR each of the last four seasons.

And unlike the crash-filled triple-overtime race of 2023, Sunday's race was mostly incident free as Byron made easy work of the field.

Byron led 23 laps of the first two stages, but found himself quickly dropped to third at the start of the final stage as Ross Chastain, who won at COTA in 2022, jumped to the front.

Byron fought back to pass him with 25 laps to go, and both cars pitted on the same lap. Chastain then got hung up in traffic on the re-entry and fell several cars behind.

That gave Byron the chance to open the gap he needed to keep Bell behind him at the end. Ty Gibbs, the 21-year-old grandson of team owner Joe Gibbs, finished third after getting passed by Bell with three laps to go.

“Another lap, I would have gotten there for sure,” Bell said. “Passing (Byron) would have been difficult. I needed him to make a mistake and he didn’t make a mistake.”

PENALTIES
The course had few track limits, but the ones enforced by race officials brought a hefty penalty for drivers who got caught.
Chase Elliott, who won here in 2021 and leads active drivers with seven road course wins, was running sixth early in the final stage before driving out of bounds in the s-curve section of the racetrack.

That forced him do to a pit lane drive-thru and took him out of contention when he rejoined in 16th. Elliott, a former Cup Series champion, hasn't won since 2022.

FORD FALTERS
Ford drivers have yet to win this season and did not expect big results on the road course. They delivered on the low expectations. Chris Buescher was the top Ford driver on Sunday in eighth.

COMING BACK TO COTA
The Circuit of the Americas is the only track to host both NASCAR and F1, and all signs point to the stock cars coming back next year.
Circuit of the Americas President Bobby Epstein said this week he has a deal for NASCAR to return in 2025 but provided no details. Marcus Smith, president of Speedway Motorsports, which runs the event and rents the track for the week, also said he plans a return.

“We love bringing NASCAR to Austin," Smith said. "Nothing is final until the official NASCAR schedule comes out, but we’re planning for another big event in Austin at COTA in 2025.

UP NEXT
The series moves to short track racing next Sunday at Richmond Raceway in Richmond, Virginia.

NASCAR Cup Series EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix Results
Sunday
At Circuits of the Americas
Austin, Texas.
Lap length: 3.41 miles
(Start position in parentheses)

1. (1) William Byron, Chevrolet, 68 laps, 47 points.
2. (4) Christopher Bell, Toyota, 68, 45.
3. (2) Ty Gibbs, Toyota, 68, 37.
4. (17) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 68, 33.
5. (3) Tyler Reddick, Toyota, 68, 34.
6. (14) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 68, 0.
7. (6) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 68, 31.
8. (20) Chris Buescher, Ford, 68, 29.
9. (16) Kyle Busch, Chevrolet, 68, 28.
10. (7) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, 68, 35.
11. (35) Joey Logano, Ford, 68, 26.
12. (28) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 68, 34.
13. (32) Chase Briscoe, Ford, 68, 24.
14. (8) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 68, 33.
15. (10) Bubba Wallace, Toyota, 68, 22.
16. (9) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 68, 21.
17. (15) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 68, 20.
18. (11) Austin Cindric, Ford, 68, 26.
19. (34) Zane Smith, Chevrolet, 68, 18.
20. (12) Shane Van Gisbergen, Chevrolet, 68, 0.
21. (22) John H. Nemechek, Toyota, 68, 20.
22. (18) Carson Hocevar, Chevrolet, 68, 15.
23. (24) Ryan Preece, Ford, 68, 20.
24. (5) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 68, 13.
25. (21) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 68, 18.
26. (26) Todd Gilliland, Ford, 68, 18.
27. (23) Kaz Grala, Ford, 68, 10.
28. (30) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Chevrolet, 68, 14.
29. (25) Kamui Kobayashi, Toyota, 68, 8.
30. (29) Harrison Burton, Ford, 68, 7.
31. (19) Daniel Suárez, Chevrolet, 68, 15.
32. (38) Erik Jones, Toyota, 68, 5.
33. (36) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 68, 9.
34. (39) Noah Gragson, Ford, 67, 3.
35. (31) Josh Berry, Ford, 67, 3.
36. (37) Timmy Hill, Ford, 66, 0.
37. (33) Daniel Hemric, Chevrolet, 66, 3.
38. (27) Michael McDowell, Ford, garage, 51, 9.
39. (13) Justin Haley, Ford, disqualified, 68, 0.
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Race Statistics

Average Speed of Race Winner: 85.227 mph.
Time of Race: 2 hours, 43 minutes, 15 seconds.
Margin of Victory: 0.692 seconds.
Caution Flags: 2 for 4 laps.
Lead Changes: 11 among 7 drivers.
Lap Leaders: W.Byron 0-12; C.Bell 13-19; W.Byron 20-28; D.Hamlin 29-31; W.Byron 32-33; R.Chastain 34-43; W.Byron 44; T.Gibbs 45; T.Reddick 46; C.Bell 47-48; M.Truex 49-50; W.Byron 51-68
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Led, Laps Led): W.Byron, 5 times for 42 laps; R.Chastain, 1 time for 10 laps; C.Bell, 2 times for 9 laps; D.Hamlin, 1 time for 3 laps; M.Truex, 1 time for 2 laps; T.Gibbs, 1 time for 1 lap; T.Reddick, 1 time for 1 lap.
Wins: W.Byron, 2; D.Hamlin, 1; K.Larson, 1; C.Bell, 1; D.Suárez, 1.
Top 16 in Points: 1. M.Truex, 220; 2. T.Gibbs, 215; 3. R.Blaney, 211; 4. D.Hamlin, 206; 5. K.Larson, 205; 6. W.Byron, 183; 7. C.Bell, 183; 8. R.Chastain, 182; 9. C.Elliott, 173; 10. T.Reddick, 171; 11. A.Bowman, 165; 12. C.Buescher, 153; 13. K.Busch, 150; 14. D.Suárez, 148; 15. J.Nemechek, 144; 16. B.Keselowski, 134.
___
NASCAR Driver Rating Formula

A maximum of 150 points can be attained in a race.
The formula combines the following categories: Wins, Finishes, Top-15 Finishes, Average Running Position While on Lead Lap, Average Speed Under Green, Fastest Lap, Led Most Laps, Lead-Lap Finish.

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