William Byron, 19, becomes youngest winner at Daytona; wins 2nd straight Xfinity race

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William Byron earned his second consecutive NASCAR Xfinity Series race, winning the Coca-Cola Firecracker 250 Saturday at Daytona International Speedway.

Driving the No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet, Byron won under caution, needing four laps past the scheduled 100. The final caution was due to a five-car wreck that occurred behind Byron as he passed the overtime line.

At 19, Byron becomes the youngest winner at Daytona. He also won last week at Iowa Speedway and finished second a week before that at Michigan.

“We’re extremely blessed to be here and just a lot of hard work from all these guys to get here,” Byron told NBCSN in victory lane. “As a team, we’re getting more and more confident. Coming into this week (after the win at Iowa), I could tell everyone was confident.

“I never thought I’d win one of these. It’s so hard to win it.”

MORE: Xfinity race results from Daytona

MORE: Elliott Sadler remains No. 1 in the Xfinity standings after Daytona race

Byron’s JR Motorsports teammate, Elliott Sadler, finished second, followed by Dakoda Armstrong, Jeb Burton and David Starr.

“Really happy for William, but man, I didn’t want to see that (last) caution come out,” Sadler said.

With eight laps left in regulation, Brennan Poole got loose, abruptly cut to his left near the front of the pack and collected Ty Dillon.

The race resumed with four laps to go. Joey Logano was in the lead with three laps left, got shuffled back and almost wrecked, but regained control even though he dropped back to 16th.

Then, with just over a lap to go, the first multi-car wreck occurred on the backstretch, bringing out a red flag and sending the event into overtime.

The race originally started Friday night, but was red-flagged after 11 laps due to rain.

It resumed Saturday shortly after Noon ET following a red flag delay of 16 hours, 15 minutes, 51 seconds.

Then, after running an additional 26 laps, the race was stopped again for rain for two hours, 29 minutes and 37 seconds.

STAGES: Blake Koch won Stage 1, while Elliott Sadler won Stage 2.

HOW BYRON WON: The JR Motorsports driver led 29 laps. When the final restart began with four laps to go, he kept pushing toward the front and got to the point with two laps left, holding on for his second straight Xfinity Series win.

WHO ELSE HAD A GOOD RACE: Elliott Sadler had a strong run throughout the race and appeared poised to win his first race of the season. But his JRM teammate was just a bit stronger, leaving Sadler to finish runner-up. Even so, Sadler remains No. 1 in the Xfinity standings.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Wrecks are synonymous with Daytona, and several drivers saw their days end early, including Daniel Suarez, Blake Koch, Ryan Sieg, Casey Mears, Michael Annett, Ryan Reed and Daniel Hemric.

NOTABLE: Dakoda Armstrong (third), Jeb Burton (fourth) and David Starr (fifth) each earned career-best Xfinity finishes.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “We’ve had a great last three weeks. I just can’t believe this. .. I never thought I’d win one of these.” – Race winner William Byron

WHAT’S NEXT: Alsco 300, Friday July 7, 8 p.m. ET, Kentucky Speedway.

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Staff picks for today’s Cup race at Indianapolis

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Here’s a look at who the NBC Sports staff is picking to win today’s Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Nate Ryan

Kyle Larson. Only one winner in Brickyard 400 (Jeff Gordon, 27th in 2001) has started in a lower position — but if anyone can rebound after qualifying 25th on a track that’s difficult for passing, it’s the Chip Ganassi Racing driver this season.

Dustin Long

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Even before Daytona earlier this month I had this vision of Earnhardt scoring his win to make the playoffs at this track. We’ll see if I can see the future.

Daniel McFadin

Jamie McMurray reminds everyone what he’s capable of by earning his second victory in the Brickyard 400.

Jerry Bonkowski

Sentimentally, I’d like to see Dale Earnhardt Jr. win this one. But from a realistic standpoint, I’m going with Kevin Harvick to earn his second career Brickyard win.

With Matt Kenseth available, Hendrick Motorsports already was set on Alex Bowman long ago

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INDIANAPOLIS – Hendrick Motorsports announced Alex Bowman as the driver of its No. 88 Chevrolet last week, but the choice effectively was made long ago.

“We had Alex in the back of mind for whatever opportunity we had,” team owner Rick Hendrick said during a news conference Sunday morning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “It wasn’t much of a decision at all. Alex was the guy.”

Hendrick confirmed Bowman signed a multiyear contract last October that runs through 2019 and hardly considered any other options – including impending free agent — Matt Kenseth to replace Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“We were very, very careful not to guarantee (Bowman) anything other than if opportunities arose, he would have a shot,” Hendrick said. “I can’t make all the decisions. The sponsors have to be involved. But in my mind, Alex was going to get the next (ride).”

When Kenseth revealed two weeks ago that he wouldn’t be returning to Joe Gibbs Racing, Earnhardt was confident his friend would find a ride for 2018.

But with Hendrick having solidified its lineup for next season with Jimmie Johnson, Chase Elliott, Bowman and perhaps Kasey Kahne (Hendrick plans to run four Chevrolets next year but left open the possibility that William Byron could drive the No. 5 – “we’re not ready to cross that bridge yet.”), the options for Kenseth remaining in Cup seem limited.

“I love Matt Kenseth,” Hendrick said. “He is a tremendous talent. He and I have actually talked about this in the past. Sometimes things just don’t line up at the right time.”

Everything has seemed to line up well for Bowman, who drove the No. 88 in 10 races last year while Earnhardt recovered from a concussion. He also has tested for the team in its driving simulator and wheelforce transducer car (which gathers critical setup data).

“A lot of guys have the talent, they just need that one critical break, if they stay committed and keep pushing, eventually that opportunity might come along,” Earnhardt said. “(Bowman) gets that opportunity because of his commitment to his career and the gamble on himself he made a long time ago.

“He works hard and has been a key investment for Chevrolet, incredibly helpful for the company and race team. It’s very tedious work. He’s been a team player knowing if he put forth this effort, he possibly could get this opportunity.”

Hendrick said he knew little about Bowman before Earnhardt personally vouched for him. Bowman validated the recommendation by winning the pole at Phoenix International Raceway last November and leading 194 laps.

“The word for Alex is he deserved it,” Hendrick said. “He deserves a shot. He stepped into the most pressure point. I don’t think there’d be a situation on pit road of having the pressure of sitting in Dale Earnhardt’s car and to perform like he did and then the contributions he’s made to our company to help our guys.”

Rick Hendrick: ‘The plan is to run 4 cars’ next year

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INDIANAPOLIS – Car owner Rick Hendrick says “the plan” is to run four Cup cars next year even as questions have been raised about the company cutting back to three cars.

Questions have been raised with because the need of sponsorship for the No. 5 team next season. Both Great Clips and Farmer’s Bank Insurance are not returning after this season. Those companies are scheduled to sponsor the car in 22 races this year.

Hendrick said Sunday that “the plan is to run four cars” next year.

The comment was well-received. Jim Campbell, who oversees Chevrolet’s motorsports program, liked a tweet that had Hendrick’s comment about remaining four cars.

Hendrick also was asked Sunday about the status of the No. 5 car driven by Kasey Kahne but said only “that’s for another day” during a press conference with Alex Bowman, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Nationwide’s Jim McCoy.

Kahne has a contract through next season yet questions have been raised if he’ll be back. If not, an option could be for William Byron, who won Saturday’s Xfintiy race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, to move from JR Motorsports into that spot. The 19-year-old Byron, a rookie in the Xfinity Series, has won three of the last five races.

Asked about Byron moving into a Cup car next year, Hendrick said: “We’re not ready to cross that bridge yet.”

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Jimmie Johnson to start in the rear after gear change

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INDIANAPOLIS – Jimmie Johnson‘s bid for a record-tying fifth Brickyard 400 will have to begin at the back of the 40-car field.

Johnson qualified fourth Saturday but stated on Twitter that he’ll have to go to the rear of the field because they had to change the rear gear.

Although track position is pivotal at Indianapolis Motor Speedway because passing is difficult, optimists can view Johnson’s woes as a good sign. He has scored two of his three wins this season – Texas and Dover – after starting in the rear.

Also starting at the rear today is Cole Whitt (rear gear change) and Joey Gase (engine change). Whitt qualified 34th. Gase qualified 38th.

Today’s race is on NBC. Coverage begins at 2 p.m. ET with Countdown to Green.

 

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