DARLINGTON, S.C. — William Byron emerged from the smoke and thunder of the final laps and overtime to win Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Darlington Raceway.
Ross Chastain and Kyle Larson crashed while racing for the lead on a restart with six laps to go, leaving the lead to Byron.
Byron started the overtime restart in front of Kevin Harvick, Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski and Harrison Burton.
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As the green flag flew for the final time, Byron surged ahead of Harvick, led the final two laps and won relatively easily.
Nothing was easy about the final segment of the race, however, as a series of front-pack accidents jumbled the running order and frustrated those who were crashed out of contention.
“Definitely didn’t expect this,” Byron told Fox Sports. “But just thankful for a great team, and yeah, just things have a way of working out, and come back here to Darlington and have it go exactly the other way.”
Joey Logano bumped Byron from the lead to win this race last year.
On a restart with 13 laps to go, third-place Logano and fourth-place Martin Truex Jr. crashed, starting a multi-car incident and causing another caution. Chastain and Larson were side-by-side for the lead, and Chastain hit the wall while racing Larson at almost the same time Truex lost control of his car.
Having watched the wild racing at the front over the final miles, Byron said he was prepared for the final restart alongside Harvick. “It does matter in the sport how you race others,” he said. “The 1 (Chastain) had done that move earlier in the race, and it had come back his way. Part of our decision-making before the final restart was that you put that in the memory bank and who are the people I’m up against in this situation and make decisions based on that.”
Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick and vice chairman Jeff Gordon both criticized Chastain’s driving after the race, in particular focusing on his crash with Larson.
Larson took the lead into the final 30 laps of the race after a long round of green-flag pit stops. Five laps later, he had a 1.7-second lead over Christopher Bell, with Chastain third and Kyle Busch fourth.
With 18 laps to go and Larson in front by about two seconds, Ryan Newman, making his return to Cup racing, hit the wall off Turn 4 and brought out a caution, bunching the field.
Following Byron and Harvick at the finish were Elliott, Keselowski and Bubba Wallace.
Byron, 25, became the first driver to win three times this season. He led only seven laps, including the final two. The win was the first Cup victory for Hendrick Motorsports at Darlington since 2012.
The final stage began with a nine-car crash on the backstretch on the first lap. The wreck was started by Erik Jones, who lost control after his right rear tire came loose. Among those swept into the accident were Austin Dillon, Austin Cindric, Michael McDowell and Daniel Suarez.
Chastain won the second stage in a tight battle with Truex. Chastain had the lead on the last lap, and Truex moved to the inside to challenge in Turn 3. Chastain popped the outside wall and hit Truex, sending Truex into a slide. Truex finished 10th in the stage.
Chastain recovered to finish first in the stage and was followed by Busch, Larson, Byron and Keselowski.
Truex led 89 of 90 laps in the first stage and led at the end of the stage. He was followed by Byron, Wallace, Chastain and Busch. There was only one caution during the stage.
Stage 1 winner: Martin Truex Jr.
Stage 2 winner: Ross Chastain
Who had a good race: William Byron scored his seventh career win after other contenders crashed over the closing laps. … Martin Truex Jr. won the pole and led most of the opening portion of the race before being involved in a crash late in the race. He was the top lap-leader with 145. … Kyle Larson used a strong final stage to race in the front pack.
Who had a bad race: Daniel Suarez and Austin Dillon parked after being involved in a nine-car crash at the start of the final stage. … Josh Berry, replacing the injured Alex Bowman, had a sour day, running several laps behind and finishing 30th
Notable: William Byron’s victory was the 100th win for the No. 24 car.
Next: Cup drivers move on to North Wilkesboro Speedway May 21 for the All-Star Open (5:30 p.m. ET) and the All-Star Race (8 p.m. ET). The next point race is the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway May 28 at 6 p.m. ET.
#NASCAR … Ross Chastain after exiting the infield care center. pic.twitter.com/9qLihkA85X
— Dustin Long (@dustinlong) May 14, 2023