Daytona 500 Winner William Byron Thought There Would Be More Wrecks

Daytona 500 winner William Byron stopped by Jalopnik to talk about how he ended up in victory lane less than 24 hours ago. Effective strategy, preparation and teamwork put the Hendrick Motorsports driver in contention, but two late-rate cautions played a significant role in deciding a winner. While Daytona is known for wrecks that send most cars to the scrapyard, this year’s affair was relatively calm until the finale.

When I asked Byron if he thought the race would be clean for so long, he replied, “Honestly, no. I thought there could be ten or 15 wrecks in the race.” There were only three cautions for crashes across the entire 200-lap race. Byron added, “It was a weird race. Like I felt like there were a lot of times I was about to key [the radio] up and say, Man, I feel like there’s going to be a wreck.”

The lack of cautions did impact how the race was driven. Fuel mileage was a large focus for much of the distance. The 26-year-old noted that the middle lane was “the place to be” to save fuel during long runs, but the advantage faded as the race went on. Eventually, the field was forced to make green flags pit stops to reach the finish.

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Green flag pit cycles can be the most intense aspect of racing at Daytona. Byron said, “I don’t know how there’s not more crashes” when drivers merge back onto the superspeedway. The new Daytona 500 winner cited speed differences between the pack and rejoining cars. He added, “Most of the guys are dicks about it because they’ll just slide right up in front of a big pack of cars going ten miles an hour faster. In the driver’s meeting, they said not to do that. But, they don’t enforce it.”

The No. 24 Chevy Camaro was lucky to escape the Big One unscathed despite Byron playing a role in starting it along with his teammate Alex Bowman. With less than ten laps to go, Byron and his team used the red flag to game plan their final restart and leaned on information that they studied before the race.

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The Charlotte native took the lead and stayed out in front when the caution came out on the last lap. However, the caution took Byron by surprise because in the moment he expected to race to the checkered flag. He was “bracing for what move I needed to make next to try to defend my position.” Byron’s victory put Hendrick Motorsport level with Petty Enterprises for most Daytona 500s wins for a team. Byron’s name will now be featured in the record books alongside the famous names that won the Great American Race for Rick Hendrick, like Darrell Waltrip, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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