NASCAR Barometer:  William Byron Wins Treacherous Darlington Race

NASCAR Barometer: William Byron Wins Treacherous Darlington Race

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Darlington Raceway lived up to its reputation as one of the toughest tracks on the schedule with multi-car accidents and a war of attrition at the front. William Byron was the one who outlasted the competition and seized the advantage as leaders ahead of him ran afoul of trouble. The Hendrick Motorsports driver led just seven laps to win his first race at the track and third of the season. He inherited the lead for the first time on lap 288 after Ross Chastain and Kyle Larson collided on one of the last restarts of the race to bring out the final caution of the race, a wreck that took out two of the quickest cars on the day. That pair had previously combined to lead 122 laps, which was emblematic of the difficulty drivers faced Sunday. Racing at the front of Sunday's Goodyear 400 was so treacherous that the top 10 finishers led a mere 19 of the 295 laps run. There were eight total cautions and 19 lead changes as Byron won in overtime, easily fending off Kevin Harvick, who overcame damage from a previous accident.

Drivers and teams get a break from racing for the series championship this week with a visit to North Wilkesboro Speedway for NASCAR's annual All-Star Race weekend. The 0.63-mile oval is a historic track that the series last raced on in 1996, and it returns this week to host NASCAR's annual race for a million-dollar prize. The 200-lap main event will

Darlington Raceway lived up to its reputation as one of the toughest tracks on the schedule with multi-car accidents and a war of attrition at the front. William Byron was the one who outlasted the competition and seized the advantage as leaders ahead of him ran afoul of trouble. The Hendrick Motorsports driver led just seven laps to win his first race at the track and third of the season. He inherited the lead for the first time on lap 288 after Ross Chastain and Kyle Larson collided on one of the last restarts of the race to bring out the final caution of the race, a wreck that took out two of the quickest cars on the day. That pair had previously combined to lead 122 laps, which was emblematic of the difficulty drivers faced Sunday. Racing at the front of Sunday's Goodyear 400 was so treacherous that the top 10 finishers led a mere 19 of the 295 laps run. There were eight total cautions and 19 lead changes as Byron won in overtime, easily fending off Kevin Harvick, who overcame damage from a previous accident.

Drivers and teams get a break from racing for the series championship this week with a visit to North Wilkesboro Speedway for NASCAR's annual All-Star Race weekend. The 0.63-mile oval is a historic track that the series last raced on in 1996, and it returns this week to host NASCAR's annual race for a million-dollar prize. The 200-lap main event will follow the 100-lap All-Star Open, with Friday's pit crew challenge determining the lineup for Saturday's two 60-lap heat races. The top two finishers from the Open will advance to the main event along with the winner of a fan vote. While a points win may not be on offer, every team will be hungry to win a million-dollar check this week in a breather from the points battle.

UPGRADE

William Byron – Racing the track is often more important than racing the competition at Darlington, and that is exactly what netted Byron his third win of the season. The Hendrick Motorsports driver had a top-five car throughout the afternoon, but that was enough to take advantage when others had trouble. Byron led just seven of the last eight laps of the race after inheriting the lead as those ahead started taking one another out. The current season has already become Byron's most successful in the series, and it hasn't even hit the halfway point yet. Fantasy players should keep in mind that this team has a history of getting better late in the season, too. If that trend continues in 2023 we could be looking at a true contender for the championship. Byron should be in contention again this week in the All-Star Race. The 25-year-old will be getting a lot of laps at North Wilkesboro racing in the ASA STARS Super Late Model race on Tuesday and the Craftsman Truck Series race on Saturday. 

Martin Truex Jr. – Truex was quick out of the gate at Darlington. He qualified fastest and then led all but the first lap of the first stage to grab his 57th career stage win. He gave up the lead to Ross Chastain in the second segment after his car's handling deteriorated, but closed the gap to challenge for another segment win late in the stage only to collide with the No. 1 car on the final lap and spin out of contention. That incident wasn't his fault, but it did ruin what could have been an otherwise top finish for the former champion. In fact, it was the beginning of the end for Truex as he was never able to get back into contention and then crashed out of the race completely on lap 280. Still, leading 145 total laps shows how competitive he was, and that speed doesn't seem to be leaving him any time soon. His short track races this season have all ended with finishes of 11th or better, including a victory in the Clash back in February.

Brad Keselowski - Former champion Keselowski lived up to the promise he has shown so far in 2023 with his sixth top-10 finish of the season at Darlington. The No. 6 machine qualified in the top 10 for the race and then Keselowski planted the car there for the entire race distance. While the Ford machines seemed to be behind on speed, Keselowski delivered a top effort to keep his nose clean and maximize what the car was capable of. He scored stage points in both segments, and then avoided the crashes at the end to pick up an impressive fourth-place finish. That was his second top-five in the last four races and third top-10 in the last five. Keselowski sits 13th in the championship standings in a relatively comfortable playoff position heading into the All-Star weekend. A race win would assure him of a playoff appearance, but it looks like he could be one of the drivers able to get the job done on points alone as he becomes a consistent top-10 finisher.

Bubba Wallace - Two top-five finishes in a row have Wallace climbing closer toward the playoff battle. The 23XI Racing driver has started to deliver fantasy players regular top-10 finishes after a difficult start to the season. Sunday's fifth-place finish at Darlington was Wallace's fifth finish of 12th or better from the last six races. Prior to that run of results he had just one top-10 on the season, a fourth-place finish at Las Vegas. The team's recent turn for the better has them in 15th position the standings with an 18-point gap to Chase Briscoe in 16th. Wallace and team seem to be finding their stride and continuing to race as they have the past several weeks will open the door to victories as well as a place in the championship fight. Fantasy players are used to Wallace scoring the odd victory at certain tracks, but his competitiveness on every type of configuration is growing week by week.

Todd Gilliland - Even one of NASCAR's most daunting tracks didn't derail Gilliland's impressive 2023 season. Sunday's race was just his third series start at the track and his 11th-place finish did not disappoint. After last week's race his series average finish at the track is an impressive 18th. That finish was also his second top-15 in the last five races and his sixth of the season. Gilliland has delivered some impressive runs so far in 2023 and is making the most out of his Front Row Motorsports machinery. He sits 22nd in the standings heading into the All-Star weekend and should be one to watch at North Wilkesboro, too. He impressed out of the gate at the short Clash at the Coliseum track and could be one to watch again this week in the All-Star Open. Advancing to the main event will be his goal at North Wilkesboro

DOWNGRADE

Ross Chastain - While the No. 1 team's speed has not been in question, Chastain continues to be a risky selection for fantasy players. His quick pace was evident again Sunday at Darlington when Chastain took advantage of handling problems from Martin Truex Jr., who dominated the early portion of Sunday's race, to get out front and lead much of the second stage. The lead Chastain built in that span slipped away in the final laps, and that enabled Truex to make a move for the segment win. However, the pair made made contact and it was Chastain who kept his car pointed forward and escaped to win the stage. That wasn't the last contact of the day for him, though. While racing for the lead against Kyle Larson near the finish he pushed high, crashing the pair so that neither would be able to win. Chastain's list of drivers seeking revenge continues to grow each week.

Erik Jones -  A lost rear wheel caused Jones to spin as Sunday's final stage kicked off. The spin triggered a multi-car wreck due to the field being so bunched together on the restart while Jones limped away from the carnage on three wheels. Lost wheels beget crew suspensions and fines, and that is something the No. 43 team will have to deal with in the coming weeks. At the checkered flag the No. 43 was only back to the 25th position, which was their third finish outside of the top 20 in the last five races. The competitive surprises the team were capable of last season seem to be harder to grab hold of this season as other teams have developed the new car further. Jones only has two top-10 finishes so far this season and both of those came on superspeedways. His best short-track finish of the season came on the dirt at Bristol when he finished 14th. He hasn't finished in the top 25 in any other short-track race this season.

Tyler Reddick – The No. 45 team's weekend got off to a terrible start after the car failed Friday inspection twice. NASCAR ejected crew chief Bill Scott for the trouble, and the team also lost their pit stall selection. Reddick and team valiantly persisted in Sunday's race, but only managed to come away with stage points in the first segment and a 22nd-place finish overall. After finishing second and third in the two Darlington races last season the No. 45 was one of the cars many were thinking should challenge for the race win. However, the actual outcome was a far cry from those expectations. Sunday's finish was also Reddick's second outside of the top 20 from the last five races. Reddick has a victory to fall back on, but the team will be focusing on eliminating their trouble and delivering more consistent top-10 finishes as the summer schedule proceeds and the playoffs grow nearer.

Daniel Suarez – A late crash Sunday cost Suarez his playoff position. The Trackhouse Racing driver missed stage points in both opening segments Sunday, and the pain was compounded when a multi-car crash broke out at the start of the race's final stage. Suarez was knocked out of the race and scored just three total points from his 34th-place finish. The No. 99 had been clinging on to a spot in the top 16 of the series standings prior to the weekend, but now heads into the All-Star weekend 13 points behind Chase Briscoe in the final transfer spot. The team will need to use this exhibition race weekend to regroup and rekindle their championship hopes when they return to points racing in two weeks. Darlington was their second finish outside of the top 30 in the last three races, which are their two worst finishes of the season thus far. Continued results like that will end their playoff hopes quickly.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Kevin Harvick – While Harvick's runner-up Darlington finish itself wasn't a surprise, the drama he and his team had to overcome to get it was. The team's championship-like approach enabled him to maximize their points haul on a challenging day. Harvick was a top-10 contender much of the afternoon, but a crash caused heavy front-end damage to his car and threatened his afternoon. The team kept the car on track and up to speed despite the heavy damage, though. In the final miles, as those ahead continued to eliminate themselves, Harvick just cycled forward. By the final overtime restart he found himself starting on the front row. His car was too damaged to mount a challenge for the win, but his runner-up finish was impressive given his dramatic day. His second-place finish was his first top-10 since the Bristol dirt race, and gives him a dose of success before taking on North Wilkesboro.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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