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William Byron hopes to ‘work out the bugs’ of rookie season in off week

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MARTINSVILLE, Virginia — More than 10 minutes after the end of Monday’s STP 500, Martinsville Speedway’s pit road was almost vacant of cars and crews.

One of the last drivers remaining was William Byron, deep in conversation with crew chief Darian Grubb and a few members of the No. 24 team debriefing his 20th-place finish.

Have all the post-race debriefs of his rookie season lasted this long?

“No, not normally,” Byron told NBC Sports. “Just trying to figure everything out.”

What’s to figure out?

Through six races in his rookie season with Hendrick Motorsports, the 20-year-old driver has truly looked like a rookie for the first time in his national NASCAR career.

He’s the only Hendrick driver without a top-10 finish after Alex Bowman claimed his first Monday with a seventh-place finish.

While all four HMS cars have struggled, combining for one top five, Byron has finished better than 15th once. That was a 12th-place finish at Phoenix, where he also led the first 15 laps of his Cup career.

Phoenix was also the only time the defending Xfinity Series champion has finished on the lead lap. At Martinsville, Byron ended the day where he started, in 20th, but three laps off the lead.

“I feel like ultimately just got a little bit of work to do to kind of figure out what we need a little better,” Byron said. “I think that if we can hone in on that, especially in the off week and kind of work out the bugs, it’ll be good once we get to Texas hopefully. Just need a little bit to kind of improve. I feel like we’ll be able to get to the shop and be able to work on it a little bit.”

Monday was his first start at Martinsville since two races there in the Camping World Truck Seres in 2016. He finished in the top 10 of both races.

But unlike those races of 255 and 200 laps, Byron had to survive 500 circuits around the half-mile track.

“Your brakes matter more,” Byron said. “The runs are longer, so you’re handling is that much more important. Really doesn’t compare that much to a Truck race other than the same race track. I feel like (in Truck races) you’re always kind of (on) short runs. With 30-lap runs, you don’t really have much of a chance to even see where your car goes after that. This is a lot different. Your handling plays a much bigger role. That’s just part of being in a Cup car as well.”

Through six races, Byron has finished better than where he started three times. The opposite occurred twice.

But he’s faring better than fellow rookie Darrell Wallace Jr, who finished 34th after multiple pit stops and a visit to the garage to repair damage. Wallace is 23rd in points, Byron is 20th.

“We haven’t really been able to show our potential just because we’ve got to have better handling and things like that,” Byron said. “I feel like once we’re able to show our potential, I think we’re right there. We’re just trying to fight through everything right now. That’s the biggest thing.”

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Kyle Larson wins Bristol Xfinity race in overtime

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Kyle Larson held off Christopher Bell and Justin Allgaier in an overtime finish Friday night to win the Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Larson led 202 of 310 laps and swept both stages on the way to his fourth Xfinity win of the season and 12th of his career.

The top five was completed by Cole Custer and Joey Logano.

The win was Larson’s first at Bristol in 18 Cup and Xfinity starts (including six top-five finishes in his previous eight Xfinity races at the track). Larson has won in four of his six starts this year (and didn’t finish the other two).

Larson dominated after pole-sitter Kyle Busch wrecked from first after leading the first 69 laps.

“It feels really good, I just wish Kyle Busch wouldn’t have had his troubles so I could have raced him,” Larson told NBCSN. “It still feels really good to win a race here at Bristol finally. I’ve been close so many times. This is my best track by far, this and Homestead.”

The overtime finish was set up by a Daniel Hemric wreck with two laps to go in the original 300-lap distance.

“We had that yellow there coming to two to go, I was like, ‘Man, again. Again I’m going to lose one here late,” Larson said. “We were able to get an average restart and get the win.”

STAGE 1 WINNER: Kyle Larson

STAGE 2 WINNER: Kyle Larson

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Justin Allgaier earned his career-best 10th consecutive top 10 … Cole Custer placed fourth for his best Bristol finish in four starts … Michael Annett placed seventh for his first top 10 of the season …  JA Junior Avila placed 20th in his series debut.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Kyle Busch was having a good night until he tagged the wall around Lap 66 while leading. On Lap 70, he lost a tire and got into the wall, causing enough damage to end his night. He finished 36th … Spencer Boyd and Vinnie Miller wrecked to bring out the second caution on Lap 105. Miller caused another caution on Lap 160 … Chase Briscoe was eliminated when he spun and hit the inside wall on Lap 142. He placed 34th.

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: “I’d love to race him on dirt. I ain’t done much of that. ” – Kyle Larson on Christopher Bell

WHAT’S NEXT: Johnsonville 180 at Road America at 3:30 p.m. ET on Aug. 25 on NBCSN.

Starting lineup for Cup Bristol night race

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Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott will lead the field to the green flag in Saturday night’s Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway (6:46 p.m. ET).

Larson starts from the pole position for the third time this year.

Kyle Busch, Paul Menard and William Byron rounded out the top five.

Click here for the starting lineup.

Kyle Larson on pole for Cup race at Bristol

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Kyle Larson won the pole position for Saturday’s Cup Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway (6:46 p.m. ET on NBCSN) with a top speed of 127.792 mph around the half-mile track.

Larson bested Chase Elliott (127.665) and Kyle Busch (127.639) to earn his third pole of the season and the seventh of his career.

Paul Menard and William Byron rounded out the top five. Menard matched his best Bristol start from 2011 while Byron earned his career-best qualifying result in 24 starts.

“The top five there was tight,” Larson told NBCSN. “I saw William run his .04 there before I went out. ‘That’s going to be hard to beat.’ I would never have thought three other guys would squeeze between him and I for first and second. That shows how tough our sport is and our series is.”

Larson’s previous poles this year were at Dover and Sonoma. He has started on the front row in three of the last four Bristol races.

The top 10 was rounded out by Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Aric Almirola, Kurt Busch and Ryan Blaney.

Jimmie Johnson qualified 13th. He was followed by Erik Jones, David Ragan, Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr. and Austin Dillon.

“We were really fast in the first round, it just didn’t really transfer over to the second round,” Jones, who won his first career pole in this race last year, told NBCSN. “Lost a lot of grip, lost a lot of speed. I think going early, the track was still a little bit hot, and we didn’t have quite a car that was ready for that.”

AJ Allmendinger qualified 25th and was followed by Kasey Kahne and Bubba Wallace.

B.J. McLeod failed to qualify.

Click here for qualifying results.

Kyle Busch wins Bristol Xfinity pole

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Kyle Busch will start first in tonight’s Xfinity Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway (7:28 p.m. ET on NBCSN) after posting a top speed of 124.686 mph in qualifying.

It is Busch’s first pole in seven starts this season. It is his sixth Xfinity pole at Bristol.

The top five is completed by Christopher Bell, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano and Matt Tifft.

Logano’s fourth-place start is the worst of his five Xfinity starts this year.

Elliott Sadler will start sixth, his best start at Bristol since 2014.

Chase Briscoe, Tyler Reddick, Chase Elliott, Ryan Reed, Austin Cindric and Ross Chastain were among those who did not advance to the final round.

Michael Annett will start 22nd after he spun and made light contact with the wall late in Round 1. He advanced to Round 2 but did not make a qualifying attempt.

Click here for qualifying results.