Saturday, the driver of the No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet lifted his head and shouted out a pent-up yelp that formed the suitable soundtrack the rookie’s first career NASCAR XFINITY Series victory.
“I feel it all kind of comes around in racing and last week we were so close,” said Byron, who finished a mere .012 seconds behind Joe Gibbs Racing veteran Denny Hamlin last Saturday at Michigan International Speedway. “You’ve got to have a little bit off luck to win every race that we win and I feel like we got one back for last week.”
The final restart with 10 laps to go came just 11 laps after the previous one during which Byron pitted and capped off fuel while taking tires.
Good fortune finally found Byron again, who never was seriously challenged down the stretch, but only had four or five laps of fuel left before his last pit stop helped set the stage for victory.
“We definitely got a huge break the way the caution fell right there,” Byron’s crew chief, Dave Elenz, told FS1 pit reporters during a caution period with 15 laps to go.
Byron made the most of it. He won last year at Iowa, but in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
“It’s awesome just to kind of come this far,” said Byron, who received a congratulatory call from Rick Hendrick after the win.
The ninth caution of the night also benefitted some less familiar top-10 finishers, including Ryan Sieg, who ran second to notch his fourth career top-five finish in 117 series starts. Tyler Reddick took third.
“It was fun racing with Tyler at the end,” Sieg said. “We had a little bit of a battle.”
Christopher Bell — in the second leg of his first double-duty weekend — started on the pole and remained on point the entire first stage, fending off an early challenge from teammate Kyle Benjamin, and a late charge from Sam Hornish, Jr., who made his first start in nine months.
Hornish led 183 laps while winning last season at Iowa, but misfortune struck 19 laps into stage two as Bell made contact with his rear fender — an encounter that sent Hornish careening into the wall.
It also ended the veteran stock car and open-wheel racer’s first night back with Team Penske.
“He came up pretty hard when he got loose and hit me,” said Hornish, who is slated to run a limited schedule this season. “Of course, we got the brunt of it. I’m disappointed. This is one of my favorite places to come to.”
Points leader Elliott Sadler shares that sentiment — even though mostly bad luck plagued his night.
He qualified fourth, but was sent to the rear after an unapproved pre-race adjustment was made on his car. No matter. He’d ascended to fifth by the end of the first stage and ended up eighth.
Bell settled for 16th after he was collected in an incident involving Brennan Poole and Ryan Reed — the very caution that benefitted Byron and others.
Bell led 152 laps to Byron’s 78, but as both drivers know, it’s the last lap that counts.
Especially Byron, who vocally and visually celebrated this week after enduring quiet disappointment the last.
“To get second last week kind of hurt, just because we were that close,” Byron said. “But I feel like it gave us extra motivation, and I feel like last year the beginning of the summer was when I kind of hit my stride and I think we won back-to-back, so to now have a second and a first feels really good.”
Check out the unofficial results of the American Ethanol E15 250 presented by Enogen.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!