INDIANAPOLIS – William Byron made his first visit to Indianapolis Motor Speedway a memorable one on Saturday by winning the NASCAR XFINITY Series Lilly Diabetes 250.
“I had never been to a Brickyard 400 or an Indianapolis 500 before, but I always watched it on TV,” Byron said. “I just can’t believe that I won here.
“This is such a special place. To walk in here and just make laps around here is special. It’s a really special place and it’s neat to get a win. Hopefully it keeps us in the championship.”
The 19-year-old became the youngest driver to ever win a NASCAR race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway when he defeated Paul Menard by just .108 of a second in the closest NASCAR finish at the fabled Indianapolis oval.
“I’m real proud of him, he’s done an awesome job an I’m excited about his future and what is in store for him,” team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. said.
This was the first race where NASCAR used a new rules package that included the 2016 splitter and spoiler, which included running ear flaps on both sides of the spoiler, new aero ducts supplied by NASCAR at the track that are attached to the front bumper and a 7/8-inch restrictor plate.
Because of that, there were 16 lead changes among eight different drivers. The previous record for different leaders was six, most recently in 2015. Saturday’s race also reset the record for closest finish in an XFINITY Series race at Indianapolis, with the closest prior to Saturday bring Kyle Busch’s .411 of a second defeat of Kevin Harvick in 2016.
“I thought it was a pretty fun race,” Menard said after finishing second.
Joey Logano was third in a Ford followed by Elliott Sadler’s Chevrolet in fourth after he started on the pole. Cole Custer’s Ford rounded out the top five.
Kyle Busch led 44 laps but pitted from the race lead with 18 laps to go and finished 12th. His team was worried about tire wear and opted to bring Busch down pit road rather than risk Busch blowing a tire.
“I knew Paul and Joey were our biggest competition and we had seen tire wear on our car before but had not run 40 laps on those tires before,” Byron said. “But the tires held on and we were able to win the race.
“We tried to treat this as a normal race track. I thought us at the 18 (Busch) were the two best cars. I thought this was a really good package for us for this track and I think it put on a great race.”
Elliott Sadler led the field to the green flag as the pole winner and set the early pace. Although the field spread out as it normally does at Indianapolis, the top four or five cars were able to race relatively close together. A competition caution slowed the action at lap 15 and Sadler had led every lap up to that point. Busch had moved up to second after starting 11th.
Once the pits were opened, it was a full field of cars down pit road. Erik Jones spun on pit road, but everyone else was able to get in and out of the pits without incident. Busch won the race off pit road to take the lead.
Busch was in front when the green flag waved to restart the race on lap 20. The end of stage one came on lap 30 with Byron winning the stage followed by Busch, Logano, Custer, Brennan Poole, Ty Dillon, Tyler Reddick, Menard, Sadler and Matt Tifft.
Justin Allgaier was a contender during the mid-stages of the race and was the leader late in stage two when disaster struck. On lap 58 Allgaier came down pit road just prior to the end of stage two and there were nothing but issues. First he pitted outside of his box and his crew had to push him back. In doing so Allgaier’s pit crew did not get a wheel fully attached.
He left pit road and ran over an air hose, snapping the airgun off the hose. One off pit road Allgaier didn’t get very far because his left-front tire was not fully secured. His car came to a stop just off the track to bring out the caution flag, ending any shot he had at victory.
Sadler won stage two under caution, followed by Poole, Daniel Hemric, Brenden Gaughan, Brandon Jones, Ross Chastain, Ben Kennedy, J.J. Yeley, Sieg and Jeremy Clements.
Sadler pitted on lap 61 during the stage break and dropped all the way back to 20th. He gained seven position on the restart on lap 64, but up front it was Busch pulling back into the lead.
Byron was able to chase down and pass Busch briefly, but fell back several positions when he got loose battling Busch. When Busch and his teammate and second running Erik Jones pitted on lap 82, Byron moved back into the lead. Despite being the leader, Byron was complaining of a vibration that he thought was coming from his tires.
“At the end, I was thinking about the tires but with five laps to go, I reset my mind and thought, ‘If the tire blows, it blows. We’re leading at Indianapolis and we can’t give that up,’” Byron said. “I was running 90 percent to make sure I had enough tires at the end and that was the key moment for us.”
With five laps to go, Menard passed Logano for second. Menard closed in with two to go and Byron began to block. By doing that, Menard was never able to make a move for the lead and Byron won the race.
He was greeted in victory lane by Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson.
“It was great for them to come to victory lane,” Byron said. “They have two of the fastest cars for the Brickyard 400 and it would be great if one of them could bring home the win for Hendrick Motorsports.”
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