TALLADEGA, Ala. — William Byron enters today’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway not knowing if he truly is above the cutline or below it.
He’s listed as eight points outside the final transfer spot after NASCAR penalized him 25 points for spinning Denny Hamlin under caution last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.
Hendrick Motorsports’ appeal will be heard this week. Should the team win, Byron could get those 25 points back.
But that doesn’t matter to Byron this weekend. He views himself outside a playoff spot.
“I race eight behind,” said Byron, who starts ninth in today’s race (2 p.m. ET on NBC). “I don’t think about the hypotheticals.
“Obviously, I feel like we’ve got a good case and a good amount of evidence that we put together, but I race (as the points are). So just move forward with it. Go after the stage points and feel like we’re capable of running really well at superspeedways.”
If he wins today to advance to the next round, the points he was penalized won’t matter, but if he doesn’t win, those could prove valuable.
The points deducted are an element of the Hendrick appeal.
“The severity of the penalty, that’s what we were opposed to and that’s what the appeal is about,” Byron said.
His point is that being docked a similar amount of points in a three-race round as during a 26-race regular season is too severe. The suggestion being that point penalties should be modified for the playoffs because drivers have fewer races to make up those points before the playoff field is cut.
That will be up to the appeal panel to determine. Should Hendrick lose, the team could further appeal that decision.
Byron is in this situation after being upset with how Hamlin squeezed him into the wall last week at Texas. Martin Truex Jr. crashed to bring out the caution a few laps later. As Hamlin, running second, slowed, Byron ran up to Hamlin’s car and hit it in the back, sending Hamlin spinning through the infield grass.
Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said series officials in the control tower didn’t see the contact. Series officials did not penalize Byron during the event but announced a penalty two days later.
Hamlin had wanted to be placed back in his original spot after the contact but series officials put him back in the field where he blended in. Asked if he was satisfied with the penalty to Bryon, Hamlin said: “It didn’t help my finish. … It didn’t change the fact that I could have won the race instead of finishing 10th.”
Byron said he and Hamlin spoke this week.
“It was a good conversation, learned a lot from him,” Byron said of Hamlin. “Got a better understanding of what he was thinking.”
Byron’s incident shares similarities to what happened to him at Darlington in May. Joey Logano was upset with Byron for crowding him into the wall with 26 laps left. Logano caught Byron and hit the back of Byron’s car, knocking it out of the way with two laps left. Logano won. Byron finished 13th. NASCAR did not penalize Logano.
That incident was under green and in the final laps — when NASCAR is more likely to allow drivers to settle the race between themselves within reason. Byron’s contact of Hamlin last week was under caution and NASCAR typically frowns upon such action.
Earlier this season in the Xfinity Series, NASCAR did not penalize Noah Gragson for wrecking Sage Karam and triggering a 13-car crash at Road America. Four days later, NASCAR penalized Gragson 30 points and $35,000.