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Spring Is in the Air, but Ford Stinks

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1. William Byron Is Making Us Believers …

Admit it: Even after he won six times in 2023, leading all NASCAR Cup Series drivers, you weren’t 100% convinced about William Byron as a perennial championship contender.

Not to say that he felt like a fluke, per se. You don’t find your way to victory lane that many times in one year in the most competitive era in NASCAR and deserve that label.

It was more a case of whether he could keep it up or do what sports stats nerds call regressing to the mean. Would Byron go back to winning maybe two races a season — still not bad! — or is he going to be a factor every week and one of the drivers we should expect to see going for glory at Phoenix Raceway this fall?

After the performance he turned in at Circuit of the Americas, we’re convinced now. Byron’s victory in Austin was his eighth in the last 40 races, meaning he’s winning one out of every five times out. Moreover, except for short tracks, he’s found ways to win at a variety of different tracks: twice at legit superspeedways, several times at intermediates and, perhaps crucially, once at Phoenix as well.

It’s way, way too early to talk about favorites to make the Championship 4, but Byron absolutely will be in the conversation once that time arrives. He’s earned that right.

2 … But Where Does That Leave Chase Elliott?

There was a time, not all that long ago, when Chase Elliott was the undisputed king of road courses. He famously got his first-ever Cup Series victory at Watkins Glen International in 2018, a fun day for the sport at a race yours truly was fortunate enough to attend in person.

Elliott really flexed his multi-turn muscles over the next few years, winning two road course races in 2019, three in 2020 (his championship campaign) and two more in 2021. Whatever else was going on with the No. 9 team, Elliott could always hang his hat on that.

That’s no longer the case. Elliott is still good on road courses, capable of racking up top 10s or top fives regardless of the venue, but he hasn’t won on any of them in more than two years. On top of that, he’s no longer even the top road course threat in his own organization.

In his last five road course races, Elliott has two top fives, three top 10s and an average finish of 12.8. But Byron has two wins, three top fives and an average finish of 6.4 over those same events, so there’s really no comparison.

There’s also something larger and…

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