William Byron takes FOHQT500 win on record-setting weekend at Atlanta
At the tail end of a physically and mentally draining race Sunday at the new-look Atlanta Motor Speedway, leave it to one of the youngest drivers in the field to stay calm when it mattered the most.
William Byron kept his car clean throughout a wild event and survived out front over the final green flag laps to emerge with the win in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 NASCAR Cup Series race.
The 24-year-old from Charlotte, N.C., driving the No. 24 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports earned his first win of 2022 and third of his Cup Series career. Byron is the 46th driver to win at Atlanta in 116 NASCAR Cup Series events.
“These fans saw one heck of a race,” said Byron, who led a race-high 111 laps, the most in his career for one event. “It was definitely mentally taxing. [The team] worked hard overnight. We had a pretty rough practice and got it handling well.”
Sunday’s event was the first Cup Series contest on Atlanta’s revamped track, which features 28 degrees of banking in every turn and it became a race of attrition, with new Speedway records set for race leaders (20) and lead changes (46).
On Saturday, Atlanta’s first new layer of asphalt since 1997 produced a pair of thrilling races each decided by last-lap passes. It was the first time two NASCAR races were settled by last-lap passes on the same Atlanta weekend.
“It’s going to be crazy every year,” Byron said. “Glad we could come out on top.”
Near the race’s end it looked as if Byron was going to be Atlanta’s third last lap victim, with Bubba Wallace (13th, three laps led) and Stage 2 winner Ryan Blaney (17th, 15 laps led) preparing challenges. The field trailing Byron became bunched up near Turn 2, however, with Wallace and Blaney sustaining damage and Byron able to scoot away with enough of a gap to hold on.
“I was just trying to manage the gap to Bubba,” said Byron, who also won Stage 1. “It was a lot of fun.”
Byron completed the 500 miles in 3 hours, 57 minutes and 12 seconds, averaging 126.584 mph across the high-banked, 1.54-mile asphalt oval.
Christopher Bell crossed under the checkered flag second but was penalized to 23rd shortly after the race ended for passing under the red-and-white line on the backstretch during the white flag lap.
Ross Chastian was scored second with his third straight top-3 finish of the young season. Four-time Atlanta champion Kurt Busch was third, followed by Daniel Suarez in fourth and Corey LaJoie in fifth for his first career top-5 finish.
Chastain was one of several Chevrolet drivers at the front of the field who had issues with rear tire blowouts in separate incidents earlier in the race. Chastain emerged with minimal damage and quick work by his pit crew put him back in contention.
“I thought our day was over when we slammed the wall,” Chastian said, “[The car] was so fast.”
Eleven caution periods took up 65 of the 325 laps, including the aftermath of a 13-car crash in the middle of Stage 2 that featured several cars spinning across the grass in front of pit road. All 13 were able to get back on the track without losing a lap.
“Usually when you have a wreck in Daytona or Talladega [the car] is just trash,” said Rick Hendrick, Byron’s car owner. “I think it’s going to be easier and better at this track with the speeds here and the new car. I think it’s going to be a great show [at Atlanta].”
NASCAR returns to Atlanta this summer with the Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart weekend set for July 8-10. For more information on Speedway events, visit AtlantaMotorSpeedway.com or call 877-9-AMS-TIX.