William Byron glad to avoid Daytona pressure this year


In February, William Byron clinched a NASCAR Cup Series playoff berth by winning at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Being one of the early drivers to lock into the playoffs, Byron saved himself a lot of pressure – pressure he couldn’t avoid at this time one year ago.

Entering the 2020 regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway, Byron held the final playoff spot by four points over then-Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson.

In the race, Johnson earned eight more stage points than Byron. But with two laps to go in the scheduled distance, Johnson’s hopes were ruined when he was collected in an 11-car crash.

That set up overtime, where Byron held on to claim his first Cup victory and enter the post-season.

As the series returns to Daytona to finalize the 2021 playoff field (Saturday 7 p.m. ET, NBC), he’s glad that such stress is someone else’s problem this time.

“I don’t envy the position of the other guys that are in that position to try to either have to win or they’re right there on the bubble for the points,” he said Wednesday in a media teleconference. “It’s a tough position to be in.”

But Saturday is still a key race for Byron and the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team. They’re looking to earn as many playoff points as they can after securing only eight in the season’s first 25 races.

Byron currently sits fourth in the regular season standings with 833 points. If he stays there after Daytona, he’ll earn seven additional playoff points. Overtaking Kyle Busch (838 points) for third in the regular season standings would give him eight additional playoff points.

That’s on top of the maximum seven playoff points available for sweeping both stages and winning Saturday night’s race.

With all those options and with playoff points so vital, a crash and DNF on Saturday could diminish Byron’s hopes of advancing through the rounds.

So what’s the choice? Go all-out or get the car back to the garage in one piece?

“It’s definitely on our minds,” said Byron, who starts second on Saturday. “I felt like we and Kyle (Busch) have been close, the last three races. I think we had that unfortunate thing at Indy with the curb and that hurt us in the points. We’re … five points, I think, behind him and it would be really nice to get that position.

“Kyle is a good plate racer. He’s gotten better and better every time and closer to a win. He’s going to be tough to beat. So, we’ve just got to keep tabs on him and try race as hard as we can, and hopefully we can finish the race third in points.”

Regardless of what happens, Byron is set for his third Cup playoff appearance. In recent weeks, the team has focused on trying to recapture their early-season form.

His win in February at Homestead-Miami was the first of 11 consecutive top-10 finishes. But the summer has brought less consistent results, including a five-race stretch where Byron finished outside the top 20 in four of them.

In that stretch, Byron says that poor execution – partly on him, partly on the team – undid the speed that continued to be there.

But Byron is optimistic that a refocus for the No. 24 team will yield good results when they need them.

“We just kind of needed to clean it up,” he said. “I feel like after the summer break, we’ve really been a top-five team every week. I think we are really capable right now of executing well.

“We’ve gotten back to our roots in that and made our race cars just a little bit better, I think. So, I feel like we just have to continue to execute.”

“It sounds simple but it is really hard. We’re just trying to keep that going like we did in the early part of the season and hopefully the wins will come.”

Xfinity starting lineup at Portland: Sheldon Creed wins pole


Sheldon Creed scored his first career Xfinity Series pole by taking the top spot for Saturday’s race at Portland International Raceway.

Creed, making his 50th career series start, earned the pole with a lap of 95.694 mph on the 1.97-mile road course.

MORE: Portland Xfinity starting lineup

Cole Custer will start second with a lap of 95.398 mph. He is followed by Josh Berry (94.242 mph), John Hunter Nemechek (95.127) and Charlotte winner Justin Allgaier (94.897). Road racing specialist Jordan Taylor, driving for Kaulig Racing, qualified sixth at 94.772 mph.

The green flag is scheduled to wave 4:46 p.m. ET Saturday on FS1.

Sunday Cup race at WWT Raceway: Start time, TV info, weather


Twelve races remain until the playoffs begin in early September. Ten drivers have won races. The pressure to secure a playoff spot builds as the Cup Series heads into the summer months.

Details for Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway

(All times Eastern)

START: Six-time Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee will give the command to start engines at 3:32 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:42 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at 12:30 p.m. … Drivers meeting is at 2:40 p.m. … Driver intros are at 2:55 p.m. … Tim Bounds, pastor at The Crossing Church St. Louis, will give the invocation at 3:24 p.m. … The national anthem will be performed by Bebe Winans and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra at 3:25 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 240 laps (300 miles) on the 1.25-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 45. Stage 2 ends at Lap 140.

STARTING LINEUP: Cup starting lineup

TV/RADIO: FS1 will broadcast the race at 3:30 p.m. … Coverage begins at 2 p.m. … Motor Racing Network coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. and also will stream at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the MRN broadcast.


FORECAST: Weather Underground — Partly cloudy with a high of 90 degrees and a 15% chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST YEAR: Joey Logano won the inaugural Cup race at this track. Kyle Busch was second. Kurt Busch placed third.


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Cup starting lineup at World Wide Technology Raceway


Kyle Busch will lead the Cup starting lineup to the green flag in Sunday’s Cup race at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Illinois.

Busch will be joined on the front row by Coca-Cola 600 winner Ryan Blaney.

MORE: Cup starting lineup

The second row will have Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick. The third row has Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano.

Corey LaJoie, driving the No. 9 car in place of the suspended Chase Elliott, qualified 30th after hitting the wall on his lap.

The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:42 p.m. ET Sunday on FS1.

Kyle Busch wins Cup pole at WWT Raceway


Kyle Busch collected his first Cup pole of the season and will lead the field to the green flag in Sunday’s race at World Wide Technology Raceway.

Busch last won a Cup pole at Phoenix in November 2019. He earned his 33rd career Cup pole Saturday with a lap of 137.187 mph on the 1.25-mile speedway.

MORE: Cup starting lineup

“Being able to get a pole here with Richard Childress Racing, Team Chevy and everybody on this No. 8 team is good for us and just try to get some momentum rolling,” Busch said. “Our short track stuff hasn’t been the greatest this year so far, but this isn’t the short track aero package here this weekend, so that might pay dividends hopefully for us to just have a better day than what we anticipated. Just excited to have the guys pumped up and raring to go, and knowing that their hard work is paying off.”

Busch will be joined on the front row by Coca-Cola 600 winner Ryan Blaney, who qualified at 137.153 mph. Blaney’s car failed inspection twice before qualifying. He will lose his pit selection for Sunday’s race. His car chief also was ejected. Brad Keselowski‘s car also failed inspection twice before qualifying. He loses pit selection and had the team’s car chief ejected. Keselowski qualified 19th with a lap of 135.743 mph.

Denny Hamlin (136.903 mph) starts third and is followed by Kevin Harvick (136.766) and Martin Truex Jr. (136.360). Harvick has two top-five starts this season and both have come in the last two events.

“I think we have a little bit of work to do on our car in race trim, but a lot of it is just getting into a rhythm I think – more than anything,” Harvick said. “Qualifying, we were just a little bit tight through Turns 1 and 2, and the car was good in 3 and 4. So, we have to have a better balance, and that’s what probably cost us a little bit of speed to get the pole. But, still a good day and a good starting spot.”

Corey LaJoie, subbing for the suspended Chase Elliott, will start 30th after hitting the wall on his qualifying lap. He qualified at 134.561 mph. Carson Hocevar, making in his Cup debut in LaJoie’s car, qualified 26th with a lap of 135.220 mph.

Green flag for Sunday’s race is scheduled to wave at 3:42 p.m. ET on FS1.