Mixed emotions in William Byron’s first Cup win

Leave a comment

“The playoffs.”

That’s the first thing that popped into 22-year-old William Byron‘s mind Saturday night In the moments after winning his first career Cup Series race.

Not that he’d earned the win at Daytona International Speedway or that he was now only the second Cup driver to win a race in the No. 24 made famous by Jeff Gordon.

No, after surviving multiple wrecks in the final laps, the third-year driver was just relieved to be part of the 16-driver playoff field at the end of the regular-season finale.

Byron began the night only four points above the cutline. He ended it inside the top 16 with Matt DiBenedetto while teammate Jimmie Johnson’s bid for an eighth title in his last full-time season was denied.

Byron’s mind quickly went to the crew members on his No. 24 team.

“Just how excited I knew that my team was, how excited (spotter) Tab (Boyd) was on the radio, how excited (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) was, how excited I was,” Byron said.

Entering his 98 career Cup start, Byron admitted he had thought about how long it had been since he’d won a race. His last trip to Victory Lane in a points race was Nov. 11, 2017 when he won a Xfinity race at Phoenix Raceway.

“That feeling of coming off (Turn) 4, it’s just a shot of adrenaline right into your arm, it really is,” Byron said. “It’s just an incredible feeling. I can’t describe winning a race in NASCAR. It’s been a while.”

Byron said winning his Daytona 500 qualifying race in February “was kind of half of that, I’d say, three‑quarters of that feeling. I just want that feeling again. This is awesome, man.”

Relief wasn’t reserved for Byron.

Knaus, in his second year working with Byron, had plenty to share.

With the victory, the seven-time champion crew chief accomplished multiple career goals.

A former member of the No. 24 teams of Gordon and Ray Evernham in the 90s, Knaus had finally taken the No. 24 back to Victory Lane.

“It was a long time coming,” Knaus said. “I really wanted to get to Victory Lane with this 24 car again. To be able to do it with the legacy that Jeff Gordon and Ray Evernham started with this car at Hendrick Motorsports, to get it back to Victory Lane, follow suit with what Chase (Elliott) was able to do with the 24 car, to put William’s name up there, it’s a lot of pressure. I feel really happy about it and definitely a lot of relief.”

The other goal was also rooted in personal history: his 17 years working with Jimmie Johnson on the No. 48.

“The one thing to be selfish from my standpoint is I wanted to get to Victory Lane with a car … without Jimmie Johnson’s (name) on top of the door. Nothing against Jimmie or any of that, but just to do it, to see if I could accomplish it.

“We’ve come close, had some really solid runs with the 24 car. Not as many this year as we would have liked to have had. To do it really means a lot, to be able to bring this team into the playoffs again.”

On the flip side, Knaus felt “awful” the win came at the expense of Johnson, who failed to make the playoffs for the second year in a row.

“Let’s be quite honest, right? Jimmie shouldn’t be in this position,” Knaus said. “If it hadn’t been for COVID, him missing a race, he should have been solid in the playoffs. That hurts. I hate it for Jimmie. He’s one of my best friends. He was the first guy that came by pit road and looked up at me, revved up the engine, gave me a thumbs up. He means the world to me. He’s a great man and brother of mine.

“It hurts me, but it is what we do, we compete. We’ve got to go do what we need to do.”

Knaus mentioned relief when asked to compare Saturday night’s win to what he experienced in 2002 when he and Johnson earned their first win together at Auto Club Speedway.

“It’s a different emotion. It’s a different time,” Knaus said. “Obviously, in 2002 it was just different. It was so raw and so pure, just a different time. William is experiencing those emotions right now obviously. I think it’s fantastic. We’ve got a handful of guys on the team that have never won a Cup race before. They’re going through those same emotions.

“For me it’s quite honestly a little bit more of a relief than maybe the elation of victory.”

NASCAR announces changes to Kansas playoff weekend

Leave a comment

Citing “programming changes,” NASCAR announced shifts in the race dates and start times for its visit next month to Kansas Speedway.

The Xfinity, ARCA and Truck Series races have been shifted, while the Cup race remains at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday, Oct. 18.

The biggest move is the Truck Series race shifting from Friday night to Saturday afternoon.

Here are the changes.

Friday, Oct. 16, 8:30 p.m. ETARCA Menards Series on FS1 or FS2; network TBD at a later date (previously at 10 p.m. ET)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 4 p.m. ETTruck Series on FOX (previously Friday, Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. ET on FS1)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 7 p.m. ET Xfinity on NBCSN (previously 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN)


Xfinity Series playoff standings after Las Vegas

Leave a comment

Chase Briscoe opened the Xfinity Series playoffs by earning his second consecutive win.

His victory Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway gives him 57 playoff points and an automatic spot in the Round of 8.

Harrison Burton holds the final transfer spot. He has a two-point advantage over Ross Chastain.

Behind Chastain below the cutline are Michael Annett (-10 points), Riley Herbst (-14) and Brandon Brown (-20).

Below is the full Xfinity Series playoff standings going into Saturday’s race at Talladega (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Drivers in red are below the cutline to advance. Drivers in yellow are in the remaining playoff spots.

Xfinity Series playoff standings

Cup playoff standings after Las Vegas

Leave a comment

Kurt Busch flipped the script on the Cup playoff standings with his win Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

He entered the Round of 12 as the last driver in the playoff standings, but is the first driver to clinch a spot in the Round of 8.

Replacing Busch in the bottom spot of the playoff standings is Austin Dillon. He is 32 points behind Alex Bowman, who holds the final cutoff spot.

Behind Bowman is Kyle Busch (-9 points), Clint Bowyer (-20), Aric Almirola (-27) and Dillon.

“Obviously, the 1 car (Kurt Busch) was not a car that we needed to win a race,” Clint Bowyer said after Sunday’s race. “It’s been a hell of a battle back there with cars that are kind of in the same wheelhouse as far as points-wise. (Kurt Busch) winning changes that landscape quite a bit, but we’re only 20 points out.”

Here is the full playoff standings entering Sunday’s playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Drivers in red are below the cutline to advance to the Round of 8. Drivers in yellow hold the remaining available playoff spots.

Cup playoff standings



Kurt Busch win capped off big racing weekend for family

Leave a comment

After hopping from the door of his No. 1 Chevrolet Sunday night, Kurt Busch let out a primal scream.

The source of his emotion?

“20 years of agony and defeat” at the his home track, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, had been replaced by “triumph.”

After the fortunate timing of a caution and pit strategy Sunday night, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver led the final 26 laps and visited LVMS’ Victory Lane for the first time, a day after his brother Kyle Busch experienced a special win.

There was plenty more for the 42-year-old driver to celebrate. He’d entered the Round of 12 as the last driver in the playoff standings. But with his first win in 46 races, Busch became the first driver to plant in his flag in the Round of 8.

But the Las Vegas native’s focus was on the 1.5-mile track, which he’d seen evolve from a “desert gravel pit” into the site of two NASCAR race weekends each year.

“This feeling of growing up here and watching the track get built … when Speedway Motorsports came in and bought it, I’m like, ‘Man, there’s going to be a Cup race there, I hope I can make my way up through Legend cars (and race there). And just all the memories, all the memories of everybody, my mom and dad, every Saturday night, all the commitment they gave me and my little brother (Kyle Busch) to make it in racing.

“For me it was a hobby. I never knew I’d get this far. A guy named Craig Keough here locally in Las Vegas, the owner of the Star Nurseries here in Las Vegas, took a chance on me and let me run his late model a few times and we won a couple races and started working our way up.”

Busch made his first NASCAR start on the Las Vegas oval in 2001 driving for Roush Fenway Racing. Between then and Sunday, he won 31 Cup races, the 2004 championship and the 2017 Daytona 500.

But his home track eluded him until his 21st year competing on the sport’s top circuit.

Busch said Sunday’s win is “right there underneath” his Daytona win and the championship.

“Any time you win, it’s special,” Busch said. “But to do it in front of my hometown crowd and nobody was there (due to the COVID-19 pandemic) and all the people that I see every time I come to Vegas and I get to say thank you and I can’t right now, that’s the hardest part. So this one is easily ramping up to being my third most favorite win ever.

“Right now it’s my favorite because it’s here, it’s Vegas, and I have so many people to thank. They know they helped me, and they know who they are, and it just all started with mom and dad taking me to the racetrack right here at the Bullring in Las Vegas.”

The Busch family got to celebrate more than one win over the weekend.

The night before Kurt’s Vegas breakthrough, a third generation racer got his first taste of victory.

Kyle and Samantha Busch’s son, Brexton, won his first karting race and celebrated with his parents in Victory Lane.

“It’s so much fun to watch him and just to see his excitement and how much he enjoys going to the race track and being with is friends,” Kyle Busch said after his sixth-place finish Sunday. “It’s three generations worth, I guess. My dad (Tom) did it, myself and Kurt and now him. It’s pretty fun to just be out there. My dad is kind of the truck driver, the team manager, the crew chief, the lead mechanic and all that stuff on his kart.

“He’s got a big task at hand in order to get it all ready to go and get us to the race track every week. It’s been fun to see (Brexton) and to see how excited he was when he was able to win and beat the other competition that was out there and to see his joy. I told him, ‘Whatever that feeling is, whatever you’re feeling, however that sits in you, that’s feasible, that’s possible a lot more often than just one time. So don’t rest on just getting one, we gotta go out there and fight for more.'”

Kurt Busch wasn’t there for his nephew’s win, but he got all the details from his sister-in-law as they flew to Las Vegas.

“It definitely felt like a generational shift was happening,” he said. “But maybe not. Maybe not. This old guy has still got it going on.”