After not leading a single lap all day prior to the final restart, William Byron made a bold three-wide pass on Bubba Wallace and Chase Briscoe to take the lead with six laps to go, and he drove away to win the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 at Texas Motor Speedway. It's Byron's Cup Series-leading sixth win of the 2023 season, the 300th win in team history for Hendrick Motorsports, and it makes him the first playoff driver to advance to the Round of 8.
Hendrick Motorsports' milestone victory appeared to be Kyle Larson's for the taking until a crash by J.J. Yeley with 25 laps to go, which set into motion a sequence of events that swung the race dramatically. After Bubba Wallace was able to get a launch to hang to Larson's outside, Larson would spin out racing to Wallace's inside, sending him hard into the outside wall and ending his day.
Wallace appeared to be bound for his third career win until a multi-car crash set up the final restart and opened the door for Byron to take the top spot and lead only the final six laps on his way to victory.
Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 unofficial results
- #24 - William Byron
- #1 - Ross Chastain
- #23 - Bubba Wallace
- #20 - Christopher Bell
- #11 - Denny Hamlin
- #4 - Kevin Harvick
- #6 - Brad Keselowski
- 99 - Daniel Suarez
- #47 - Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
- #14 - Chase Briscoe
Byron now joins the ranks of drivers who have earned milestone victories for Hendrick Motorsports, including two of the drivers he cheered for as a race fan growing up. Jeff Gordon earned the team's 100th victory at Michigan in June of 2001, and Jimmie Johnson got Win No. 200 in the 2012 Southern 500.
"I was such a Hendrick Motorsports fan growing up as a kid, watching Jimmie Johnson, and became really fond of Jeff Gordon as I got to know him," Byron told NBC Sports. "Just thankful for all the people and men and women back at Hendrick Motorsports and Mr. Hendrick for his investment in me and telling me at 17 years old that he was going to take me to Cup racing. Just appreciate everything he's done for me, and this is awesome. We're definitely going to enjoy this one."
Live by the restart, die by the restart
Over the course of long green flag runs in the second half of Sunday's race, it was clear that Kyle Larson's car was prohibitively the best in the entire field. Larson opened up massive leads time and again and seemed bound to cruise to victory until the caution came out with 25 laps to go.
Even then, it looked as though Larson's lead was secure. He disposed of his closest competition by faking as if he was coming to pit road under caution, then pulled back onto the track while those who had been running behind him pitted. When over a dozen cars stayed on the racetrack, Erik Jones, Denny Hamlin and others were mired too far back in traffic to challenge Larson for the win again.
But he hadn't reckoned with Bubba Wallace, who led a career-high 111 laps from the pole and got exactly the sort of restart he needed to from the outside to challenge Larson for the win. Wallace ran Larson tight to his inside, and it was enough that the effects of aerodynamics on the inside of another car sucked Larson around, sending him hard into the wall and ending his day.
Wallace would hold the lead and drive away on the next restart, but a multi-car crash on the frontstraightaway with 12 laps to go meant that Wallace had to get one more great restart and protect the lead one more time. He couldn't.
Choosing the outside for the final restart, Wallace was not able to clear Chase Briscoe by the exit of Turn 2, which led to Wallace's car losing momentum. The combination of that and him and Briscoe running side-by-side allowed Byron to get the run he needed to take the lead, leaving Wallace beating himself up over a missed opportunity despite a season-best third-place finish.
"Third time I fooled myself starting on top. (My team) gave me the right information," Wallace told NBC Sports. "14 was tight and he sent it off in there. Wasn't going to stick, but that's what he's going to do. We're racing for a win. I just hate it. I should have just kept my line into 3, and forced William to get tight. But we're so vulnerable in these cars ... just upset with myself.
"Really needed a win there, and it was a good showing. I don't know where that puts us (in the playoff standings), I don't really care. But I know what I did, and I choked. ... The best restarter in the game gives it up on a restart. Funny how that works."
The latest in a long line of battles and run-ins between Larson and Wallace has put them right together at the playoff cut line, as Larson now holds the final spot above the cut line by a scant two points over Wallace, whose third-place finish allowed him to make up significant ground after he began the Round of 12 a full 13 points below the cut line.
Attrition for playoff drivers
What helped Larson mitigate the points damage from the 31st-place finish he was left with was the fact that several other playoff drivers had wrecked racecars and poor finishes. 100-degree temperatures meant an already slick and unforgiving Texas surface became even greasier, much to the detriment of more than a handful of Round of 12 drivers.
Near the end of Stage 1, Kyle Busch began to complain to his team that something was wrong with his car, and it became clear there was when Busch spun out in Turn 1 and backed into the outside wall. Busch was left with a 34th-place finish, and one more playoff driver would join him behind the wall by race's end.
Multiple playoff drivers were involved in a multi-car crash with 12 laps to go that began with Tyler Reddick hitting the wall on the exit of Turn 4 before Erik Jones and a host of others followed him in. Among those getting the worst of it was Ryan Blaney, who had lost his track position after getting hit with a pit road speeding penalty late in the race.
Reddick would manage to fix his car enough to make it the final six laps and finish 25th. Blaney was not so fortunate, as his car was no longer able to steer and he wound up with a DNF in 28th.
Driving through that multi-car accident was Martin Truex Jr., who recovered from a spin at the end of Stage 1 to at least salvage a 17th-place finish. Faring far better was Ross Chastain, who recovered from a throttle position sensor failure and rallied from as deep in the field as 30th to score a runner-up finish.
"I just had to give it a lot of throttle, so the next pit stop for our final two-tire stop was just a whole lot of throttle. I'm sure the eardrums were blown out of everybody behind our pit box, but for our Worldwide Express Chevy, we were not fast enough to run second with two tires. We were with four," Chastain told NBC Sports. "Early in the race I thought we were one of the best cars, and I wish we could have raced with those guys. We just worked our way back with taking four tires a lot, and some bad restarts on my side, but we had the speed, and we showed it all weekend.
"We did everything we needed to do, and at this race, if you follow the chart for running position is everything that the 1 team is about, and I love it."
Reddick (-3), Blaney (-11) and Busch (-17) now join Wallace (-2) below the cut line entering Talladega. Meanwhile, those still above the cut line include Denny Hamlin (+27), Chris Buescher (+22), Christopher Bell (+20), Martin Truex Jr. (+19), Ross Chastain (+12), Brad Keselowski (+8) and Kyle Larson (+2).
Race results rundown
- William Byron's ninth career victory puts him on the doorstep of double-digit wins for his Cup career, and it also puts him in some good company on NASCAR's all-time wins list. Byron's ninth career win ties him with Hall of Famer Cotton Owens as well as Paul Goldsmith and Bob Welborn.
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr. went mostly unnoticed throughout the weekend at Texas -- save for a spin in qualifying on Saturday -- but he was near the front by the end and snuck in a solid ninth-place finish. It's the Daytona 500 champion's ninth top-10 finish of the season, which ties his career-high mark in that category with still six races left to set a new personal best.
- After an extremely difficult 2023 season, the fact that Chase Briscoe was able to fight for the win in the closing laps alone should serve as a big shot in the arm for 2024. Despite fading to a 10th-place finish in the closing laps, his seventh top 10 of the year isn't that far off from the career-high 10 he had in 2022.
- Among those who benefitted from the attrition level was Justin Haley, who quietly earned a very respectable 13th-place finish. More importantly, it marks Haley's first top-15 finish since a two-race stretch in July where he finished second at Chicago and eighth at Atlanta.
- Prior to the start of the playoffs, Legacy Motor Club's No. 42 had just three top-20 finishes the entire 2023 season between drivers Noah Gragson, Mike Rockenfeller and Josh Berry. With a 16th-place finish, Carson Hocevar already has his fourth top 20 in as many races behind the wheel of the No. 42 and continues to stake his claim to a potential Cup ride next season.
- O brother, who parked thou? Austin Dillon crashed on Lap 40 and brought out the caution during the first round of green flag pit stops after an improperly-installed wheel on his car failed. The beneficiary of that yellow? Little brother Ty Dillon, who wound up being credited with three laps led before he went on to finish 19th.
- The gutsiest performance of the race belonged to B.J. McLeod, who was forced to suffer through one of the hottest Cup races in recent memory with a faulty coolsuit that failed in the opening laps. Despite brutal internal temperatures through each car in the field and his own coolsuit not working, McLeod toughed things out to earn a 22nd-place finish.
Next up in the Round of 12 is the single biggest and most dreaded wild card race of the playoffs: The YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, next Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC.