Byron Wins Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs Round Of 12 Opener
Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 Race Day Recap
Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron prevailed over a dominant Bubba Wallace in a late-race restart to capture Sunday’s Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 that opened the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs Round of 12 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Byron took advantage of Wallace, in the playoff hunt for 23XI Racing, and non-playoff driver Chase Briscoe battling side by side on a restart with six laps remaining to slip underneath and steal the lead on the backstretch. He was never threatened after that and rolled to a 1.863-second margin of victory over runner-up Ross Chastain of Trackhouse Racing.
The Cup win was a series-best sixth for Byron, his first at Texas Motor Speedway and a record milestone 300th for Hendrick Motorsports. More importantly, the victory provided him with an automatic berth in the Round of 8 and one step closer to securing his first Cup Series championship.
“I finally got a good restart at the end, and number 300 for Hendrick Motorsports, but [teammate] Kyle [Larson] really deserved this one, I’ve got to say, those guys were really fast all day and I hate it for them in the end,’’ said Byron, referring to Larson’s crash while battling for the lead with 20 laps remaining. “But man, it was awesome getting this car to the front. My car loved clean air. We just fought through traffic all day. My Liberty University Chevrolet was just tight back in traffic but had good pace. … It was a grind-it-out day, and our team was there at the end and I’m really proud of this one as hot as it was, it was tough. We’ll take it and go on to the next round.”
Byron and Chastain led playoff drivers to a sweep of the top five finishing positions with Wallace taking third and Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Christopher Bell and Denny Hamlin in fourth and fifth, respectively. Retiring Kevin Harvick of Stewart-Haas Racing, making his track -record 39th and final Cup start at Texas, finished sixth.
Wallace, looking to become just the sixth pole sitter in 43 Cup races at Texas Motor Speedway to go wire to wire, led five times for a race-high – and career-high – 111 laps fought off one Hendrick Motorsports challenge but couldn’t do the same with Byron.
Hendrick’s Kyle Larson, who led four times for 99 laps, took control of the 267-lap race with a five-second lead over the field with 25 to go before a spin by JJ Yeley brought out a caution. On the restart with 21 to go and Wallace starting up front with Larson, the two playoff contenders had a door-to-door battle on the opening lap. Wallace then made a move high on Larson heading into Turn 1 on the next lap, which got Larson loose and into the wall.
“We just went in there side by side and I lost it,’’ Larson said. “Pretty bummed, but happy for William and Mr. H. (Hendrick) Three hundred Cup series wins is incredible and a great night overall for our organization.’’
It was a massive hit for Larson’s playoff hopes as he went from a possible automatic berth into the next round to finishing 31st. He fell from fourth in the playoff standings to eighth, which is the transfer spot for the next round.
Next up for Wallace was Byron, who started up front with him on the ensuing restart with 13 to go. Wallace had a great restart and jumped out to the lead, but it was short-lived as a multi-car accident a lap later brought out the 11th caution of the afternoon.
That set up the final restart showdown with Wallace and Briscoe on the front row and Byron along with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott in the next row. With Wallace and Briscoe battling for the lead on the backstretch on the restart, Byron shot low with a strong move to make the pass on both of them.
“Just choked,’’ Wallace said. “My worst re-start (of the day). Hate it for my team, hate it for [sponsor] McDonald’s. We deserved to be in Victory Lane, but nothing’s ever guaranteed. You have to go out and fight for it and not give it away and that’s what I did.”
With Byron’s victory, playoff drivers have won all four playoff races that have been run. In the Round of 16, Larson won at Darlington, Reddick at Kansas and Hamlin at Bristol.
Brad Keselowski of RFK Racing was the only other playoff driver outside of the top-five finishers to record a top-10 finish by taking seventh. RFK Racing teammate Chris Buescher (14th), a native of Prosper, Texas, and Martin Truex Jr. (17th) of Joe Gibbs Racing were the only other playoff contenders to crack the top 20.
It was a disastrous start to the Round of 12 for 23XI Racing’s Tyler Reddick (25th), Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney (28th), Larson and Richard Childress Racing’s Kyle Busch (34th). Heading into next Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway, Reddick sits 10th in the playoff standings (-3 of Larson), Blaney 11th (-11) and Busch 12th (-17).
The three-race Round of 12 playoff set concludes Sunday, Oct. 8, at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s ROVAL.
Texas Motor Speedway’s always-busy events schedule is well under way. Upcoming events in 2023 include: Goodguys’ Summit Racing Lone Start Nationals (Sept. 29-Oct. 1), Speedway Children’s Charities Smoke Show (Oct. 11) and Gordy’s Hwy 30 Music Fest (Oct. 19-22). The year wraps up with the family-favorite and speedway tradition Gift of Lights holiday light show.