DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – It may not have been a points-paying win, but William Byron made his first visit to NASCAR Cup Series victory lane on Thursday night at Daytona Int’l Speedway.
Byron benefited from a Chevrolet power play in the final laps of the second Bluegreen Vacations Duel at Daytona, getting a push from fellow Bowtie Brigade members Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson coming to three to go, passing the Ford duo of Kevin Harvick and Matt DiBenedetto and never looking back.
The 22-year-old Charlotte, N.C., native led the final three tours of the 2.5-mile superspeedway and held off Johnson, his seven-time Cup champion teammate, at the finish line by .117 seconds.
It marked the record 16th Duel victory for Hendrick Motorsports as an organization, but the first for Byron in just his third season at the Cup level.
In victory lane, the young standout admitted that his move for the win actually developed sooner than he wanted to go, but he wasn’t going to pass up the chance to strike when it was afforded to him.
“There weren’t any Chevy orders or anything like that; we just did a really good job of working together,” Byron lauded. “Kurt (Busch) was a great pusher and a great helper, and I really had a lot of trust in him.
“I was really trying to go with one to go, but I had enough momentum (coming) out of the tri-oval that … just from watching old races, I knew that’s kind of where the momentum lines up to let you make moves like we did,” he added. “I didn’t know if I’d get that same kind of momentum once everyone started pushing with one to go, so we took the run and went with it. Got to second, and then Kevin played really nice and didn’t pull a big block.
“This car looks really good and I’m excited for the 500 on Sunday.”
The dominant car in Thursday’s second Duel was Kevin Harvick, who took the point for the first time on lap five and led three times for a race-high 34 laps in the 150-mile contest.
Harvick appeared to be in the catbird’s seat after the night’s lone round of green-flag pit stops, cycling back to the race lead on the 34th round after his group stayed out longer than the Chevrolets and gained time by staying in line in the draft.
However, the pack compressed back together in the final laps, with Harvick and Matt DiBenedetto out front as the lone Fords out front, Erik Jones’ Toyota sitting third and four Chevrolets behind them.
That set the stage for the Bowtie Brigade’s late move to win the race, shuffling Harvick back to fourth at the checkered flag behind Byron, Johnson and a third Chevrolet in Kyle Larson.
Harvick noted after the race that he didn’t want to endanger the field by making a big move to try and stop Byron in the final laps, knowing that the real prize sits at the end of 200 laps on Sunday afternoon.
“When they are coming that fast, it’s putting a lot of risk out there to block. We have seen how that works out,” said Harvick. “We had a great car tonight. The guys did a great job. We were able to get onto pit road, have a great pit stop and put ourselves in position to have a chance there. Matt D (DiBenedetto) was a heck of a pusher. It was just two against the rest of those Chevrolets, and we really held our own tonight with some fast Ford Mustangs.
“There was just a herd of Chevys we had to race against in that race; it was two on seven and we still almost beat them with only two cars, but not quite.”
Harvick’s Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Cole Custer completed the top five, followed by Erik Jones, DiBenedetto, Kurt Busch, Ross Chastain and Tyler Reddick.
Much like its earlier counterpart, the second Bluegreen Vacations Duel sped by at a rapid clip Thursday night, completed in just 52 minutes and 37 seconds for an average race pace of 170.980 mph.
The lone caution in the 60-lap affair came with 19 to go, when contact from Corey LaJoie sent JJ Yeley spinning on the backstretch, and ultimately, hard into the outside SAFER Barrier.
Yeley, who was one of the Open drivers needing to race his way into the Daytona 500, was eliminated at that point due to the extensive damage sustained to his No. 54 Rick Ware Racing Ford.
With Yeley out of the race, Timmy Hill was able to breathe a sigh of relief, racing his way into Sunday’s Great American Race uncontested down the home stretch with a 16th-place finish.
Brendan Gaughan came home one spot behind Hill and fell back on his qualifying time from last weekend to put Beard Motorsports into the show for the fourth year in a row.
The next on-track activity for the NASCAR Cup Series is a 50-minute practice session at 5 p.m. on Friday.
To view complete race results, advance to the next page.