Daytona 500 Goes to William Byron in Historic Fashion

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Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, FL — February 19, 2024

It is Monday, not Sunday, at the Daytona International Speedway. But it does not matter to the faithful fans who remained at the “World Center of Racing” for the 66th running of the Daytona 500.

Opening Ceremonies for the 2024 Daytona 500 / Lasco Press Photo

When the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds flew over the speedway at the end of the National Anthem, the excitement was palatable. Dwayne, ‘The Rock’ Johnson, gave the command to start engines, and 40 drivers embarked on the dream of becoming known as a “Daytona 500 Champion.”

The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds at Daytona International Speedway / Lasco Press Photo

Today’s Race

Ford Performance Mustangs sit on the front row with Joey Logano, the 2015 Champion, on the pole and Michael McDowell, the 2021 Champion, starting beside him. The defending Champion, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., starts in 35th. Michigan’s own Erik Jones sits 11th on the starting grid.

Erik Jones / Lasco Press Photo

The race distance is 200 laps around the 2.5-mile tri-oval, making up the scheduled 500 miles. Stages are 65/65/70 laps, requiring at least one fuel stop in each race segment.

Stage One

The green flag fell at 4:34 pm, and the Daytona 500 was underway. Joey Logano(22), choosing to start in the outside row, led lap one. Michael McDowell(34) led the second circuit as very little changed in the two-by-two lineup from the start.

Three laps in, three-wide racing began. Unfortunately, it did not last long. Harrison Burton(21) and Carson Hocevar(77) tangled and spun off turn four on lap four. Most of the field passed before Burton slid back onto the track in the tri-oval. The cars of Austin Dillon(3), Kaz Grala(36), Ryan Preece(41), John Hunter Nemechek(42), and Jimmie Johnson(84) were involved to some degree.

The general consensus was that Burton moved high to block a run on the outside by Grala, and the two collided, setting off the chaos.

Grala, Hocevar, and Burton were forced to the garage. Johnson and Dillon required multiple stops to repair damage to their race cars. Both lost two laps to the field. When pit road officially opened on lap nine, most of the field opted to pit for fuel. A few teams opted for new tires and some minor adjustments.

Ryan Blaney(12) and Christopher Bell(20) led the field back to the green on lap 11. They moved to the front by not pitting under the accident caution.

Ultimately, Austin was forced to the garage with damage on all four corners of his car. The crew will attempt to get him back in the race, but they have a limited amount of time (seven minutes) to accomplish that due to NASCAR’s damaged vehicle policy.

After the early accident, pushing and scrambling for positions settled down. The field seemed content to log laps until pit stops were needed to refuel.

With 31 laps on the leaderboard, the top four cars of Blaney, Bell, Daniel Hemric(31), and Logano formed a single line and pulled away to a 10-car length lead. However, the second pack, led by Chase Elliott(9), reeled them back in quickly. During the process, the Penske teammates of Blaney, Logano, and Austin Cindric(2) formed up in line together.

Teams are telling the drivers that pitted during the early caution that they are good to go on fuel to the end of the Stage. Yet, Team Penske and the Ford Mustang of Brad Keselowski(6) opted to make a fuel-only stop on lap 40.

The front of the pack reshuffled with Elliott out front, Kyle Busch(8), Bubba Wallace(23), Martin Truex Jr.(19), and Noah Gragson(10) in the top five. Single-file racing was the order of the field, as everyone tried to conserve fuel to lap 65.

Contrary to earlier crew communications, most of the field pitted between laps 50 and 55. Given the importance of the season’s first race, it appears few teams were ready to gamble during the race’s first Stage.

With one lap to go until the end of the stage, the real scramble for positions began. Chase Elliott won the Stage as his teammates at Hendrick Motorsports took three of the next four positions. Ross Chastain(1), from Trackhouse Racing, was the only interloper in the group, finishing third.

As a result of the odd pit stop cycles, no Fords earned a Stage point. Joey Logano’s Mustang finished 11th.

Stage One Results

POS CAR DRIVER BEHIND POINTS
1 9 Chase Elliott 10
2 5 Kyle Larson 0.048 9
3 1 Ross Chastain 0.061 8
4 48 Alex Bowman 0.126 7
5 24 William Byron 0.130 6
6 8 Kyle Busch 0.200 5
7 11 Denny Hamlin 0.247 4
8 23 Bubba Wallace 0.280 3
9 19 Martin Truex Jr. 0.362 2
10 99 Daniel Suarez 0.369 1

Stage Two

Kyle Larson(5), Josh Berry(4), Denny Hamlin(11), and Todd Gilliland(38) were the first two rows coming to the green flag for the restart.

Back to racing, Logano, showing that pole-winning speed drove up the outside and into the lead. Justin Haley(51), Wallace, Gilliland, and Chris Buescher(17) formed the top five.

A total of 34 cars remained on the lead lap at the start of Stage Two. Jimmie Johnson was four laps down, and Michael McDowell suffered from electrical problems. He sat five laps in arrears. Austin Dillon was able to return to the race 53 laps behind the leaders.

With the sun going down, almost the entire track was covered in shadows at the event’s halfway point. The track lights began to sparkle on the paint jobs of the race cars, and the sun reflected off the high-rise hotels on the beach.

Todd Gilliland pulled up in front of the top lane and took over the lead. This allowed Truex to pull the bottom line even with the front of the pack. More shuffling occurred as the drivers began searching out the cars of similar brands to pit together.

The Fords pitted on lap 111 for fuel only. The Chevrolets came in on 113 and 114. Toyotas mixed in with all three groups. When all stops had cycled through, Larson led, followed by Elliott, Blaney, Corey LaJoie(7), and Cindric.

Three-wide racing quickly developed as drivers searched for their teammates and brand mates to pair up with. The race for Stage Points heated up with ten laps to go in Stage Two. Kyle Busch, looking for his first Daytona 500 win, led the pack with a push from AJ Allmendinger(16). Austin Cindric and Ryan Blaney ran nose to tail trying to give Ford the stage win.

Television highlighted the sunset on the west end of the speedway as they raced for the green and white checkered flag. The lead jockeying back and forth between the two lanes.

Blaney pulled to the bottom, ditching his teammate, and powered to the Stage win. Make a mistake and get punted to the back of the field. Joey Logano finished Stage Two in the 21st position.

Stage Two Results

POS CAR DRIVER BEHIND POINTS
1 12 Ryan Blaney* 10
2 2 Austin Cindric* 0.117 9
3 99 Daniel Suarez 0.137 8
4 8 Kyle Busch 0.180 7
5 45 Tyler Reddick 0.202 6
6 24 William Byron 0.259 5
7 23 Bubba Wallace 0.265 4
8 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 0.325 3
9 16 AJ Allmendinger 0.341 2
10 17 Chris Buescher* 0.400 1

*Ford Mustang Drivers

The Final Stage

Four tires and fuel prepped the cars for the run to a final stop, likely fuel only.

Kyle Busch dropped to the bottom of the track after his pit stop and circled the track below the double yellow line. The left front tire was down after his crew failed to secure the single-lug nut on the wheel. Credit Busch with a smooth drive around the track preventing the wheel from falling off. He limped into the pits, allowing his crew to replace the tire/wheel assembly without suffering the penalty of the wheel coming off completely.

Penske teammates Cindric and Blaney lined up next to 23XI members Bubba Wallace and Tyler Reddick at the front of the field for the restart. Quickly forming a third lane on the outside with Truex at the head. Three-wide racing through the field could well mean the “Big One” is not far away.

Allmendinger moved out front. Corey Lajoie took a turn at the lead with a push from Hamlin. Kyle Busch returned to the lead in the middle lane after recovering from his pit lane mishap. Alex Bowman(48) joined the fray as Logano started making moves to the front.

On lap 152, three-time Daytona 500 Champion Denny Hamlin took over the top spot for the first time in the race. The pack returned to double-wide racing, with the lead swapping almost every lap.

Kyle Busch brushed the wall and stacked up cars behind him. It was back to three-wide racing. Joey Logano returned to the lead with a push from David Ragan(60), running just ahead of his car owner, Brad Keselowski(6). The top six cars broke away from the pack as teams began considering positioning for the final pit stop.

On Lap 170, eight Fords ran in line on the bottom lane. An ideal setup for pitting together.

A few back-of-the-pack cars broke off on lap 177 to begin the cycle of green flag pit stops. A group of Toyotas pitted on the next lap. Hamlin and Busch came in on 179. The Fords made their appearance on lap 180, while the remainder of the field hit the pit road on lap 182.

The lead pack came together on lap 183 with Ross Chastain in front, Logano second, Keselowski running in third, and Stenhouse in the fourth spot.

Quickly dissolving into three-wide racing, it was really anyone’s race to claim among the 30 drivers on the lead lap. The only mistake on the pit road was that Bubba Wallace’s crew failed to get enough gas into his car, and he would need to make another stop to finish the distance.

The anticipated “Big One” happened on lap 191 as Alex Bowman pushed teammate William Byron(24) in between Logano and Keselowski. Byron wiggled and made contact with both cars, causing a crash at the front of the pack.

Chastain, Bowman, Byron, Cindric, and Elliott managed to drive away from the melee on the backstretch. While much of the pack behind them joined in the chaos.

Truex, Anthony Alfredo(62), Blaney, Hamlin, and Ty Gibbs(54) limped their cars back to the pit road, requiring various repairs to their machines.

NASCAR brought the field to a stop out of turn two, displaying the red flag to clean up the mess.

Cars involved included Cindric, Larson, Keselowski, Elliott, Gragson, Hamlin, Blaney, Chase Briscoe(14), Buescher, Truex, Bell, Logano, Byron, Hemric, Gilliland, Preece, Jones, Stenhouse, Bowman, Gibbs, Alfredo, and Suarez.

No one came in when the pit road opened. Chastain, Byron, Bowman, Cendric, Elliott, and LaJoie led the field back to green flag racing.

The restart came on lap 196. Positions remained static for one lap. Moves began with two laps to go.

As they came to the white flag, they began wrecking again. Per NASCAR rules, if the leader takes the white flag, the next flag ends the race. After a review, NASCAR determined the yellow came out after the white, and the scoring loop indicated William Byron was the race leader and, thus, the winner.

As has happened so often in “The Great American Race,” history was made by the winner. It was 40 years ago to the day that Hendrick Motorsports competed in their first Daytona 500. Byron’s win was the 302nd by the team in the NASCAR Cup Series. In addition, the ninth Daytona 500 win by Hendrick ties them with Petty Enterprises for the most all-time wins in The Great American Race.

Results of the 66th Running of The Daytona 500

POS CAR DRIVER BEHIND LAPS
1 24 William Byron 200
2 48 Alex Bowman 0.006 200
3 20 Christopher Bell 1.390 200
4 7 Corey LaJoie 2.511 200
5 16 AJ Allmendinger 2.615 200
6 23 Bubba Wallace 2.643 200
7 42 John Hunter Nemechek 3.416 200
8 14 Chase Briscoe 3.748 200
9 43 Erik Jones 4.478 200
10 10 Noah Gragson 4.711 200
11 5 Kyle Larson 5.300 200
12 8 Kyle Busch 6.501 200
13 71 Zane Smith 7.174 200
14 9 Chase Elliott 8.103 200
15 19 Martin Truex Jr. 11.562 200
16 31 Daniel Hemric 12.121 200
17 54 Ty Gibbs 12.435 200
18 17 Chris Buescher 25.745 200
19 11 Denny Hamlin 27.333 200
20 60 David Ragan 108.172 200
21 1 Ross Chastain -1 199
22 2 Austin Cindric -1 199
23 41 Ryan Preece -1 199
24 15 Riley Herbst -1 199
25 4 Josh Berry -1 199
26 51 Justin Haley -1 199
27 62 Anthony Alfredo -2 198
28 84 Jimmie Johnson -4 196
29 45 Tyler Reddick -8 192
30 12 Ryan Blaney -8 192
31 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. -8 192
32 22 Joey Logano -9 191
33 6 Brad Keselowski -9 191
34 99 Daniel Suarez -9 191
35 38 Todd Gilliland -9 191
36 34 Michael McDowell -24 176
37 3 Austin Dillon -54 146
38 36 Kaz Grala -195 5
39 21 Harrison Burton -195 5
40 77 Carson Hocevar -195 5

 

Next Week it is on to Atlanta Motor Speedway with more Live Coverage from The Lasco Press.