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Will William Byron’s Fast Start Fizzle Again?

2023 Cup Phoenix I William Byron, No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, burnout (Credit: NKP)

For the second week in a row, William Byron took advantage of an overtime restart to capture a NASCAR Cup Series victory. At Phoenix Raceway last weekend, Byron was fast at the drop of the green flag and won the first stage. Kyle Larson took command in the second stage, and the two Hendrick Motorsports drivers combined to lead all but 16 of the race’s first 268 laps until Kevin Harvick emerged as a new challenger late in the event with superior long-run speed. It appeared that he would cruise to his first win of the year until Harrison Burton’s spin with 11 laps to go.

Thanks to a two-tire call from crew chief Rudy Fugle, Byron was second off pit road behind Larson. The race restarted with three laps left, but the yellow flag came out quickly for a crash back in the pack. On the overtime restart attempt, Byron got a huge push from Tyler Reddick, allowing him to slip away with the lead as Larson, Reddick, Harvick, and Ryan Blaney battled behind him. Byron’s second win in a row was the second for Hendrick this season and the fourth win for Chevrolet in as many races.

It is tempting to crown Byron as the championship favorite in 2023. In the last two weeks, he and the No. 24 team have shown great pace at a high-speed intermediate track and at a flat oval with the new Next Gen short track aero package. They have also been able to execute in high-pressure situations and steal wins when other drivers appeared to have the dominant car in the closing laps. Speed and execution typically bode well for postseason success.

However, Byron has gotten off to fast starts before. In both of the last two seasons, he had a win in the bank by the end of March along with a string of other good finishes that lifted him into the top five in overall points. The real challenge for the No. 24 team has been sustaining its early season momentum. Both of Byron’s strong starts to the 2021 and 2022 Cup Series seasons fizzled out, leaving potential wins and playoff points on the table once the postseason arrived. Missing out on those points left the No. 24 team with a lot of unfulfilled potential over the last two years. At this point, there is not enough evidence to suggest that 2023 will turn out differently for Byron.

Consider how Byron started off the 2021 season much like this one. After a pair of poor results at Daytona International Speedway and Auto Club Speedway, he emerged victorious in the third race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway….

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