William Byron keeps his race trophies at his home in Charlotte, but after Saturday evening, he’ll probably need a larger case to store them all.
Byron, the 19-year-old Charlotte native, won the NASCAR Xfinity Series by virtue of his third-place finish in the Ford EcoBoost 300 on Saturday in his first and only season in the series (he will jump to the Cup Series next season). Cole Custer won his first Xfinity race in overwhelming fashion, cruising across the finish line almost without incident and 15 seconds ahead of any other driver.
Byron started the afternoon poorly and had to make an adjustment midway through the first stage, but from there, he was right in the thick of the action.
Byron ultimately got to the point where he and Sadler were jockeying for position over the last 50 laps, with Byron initially trailing. So the youngester took a risk, running up against the wall to gain back position, and eventually was able to pass Sadler, who got tangled up with Ryan Preece and fell back.
Never miss a local story.
Sign up today for unlimited digital access to our website, apps, the digital newspaper and more
As Byron crossed the finish line, hooting and hollering while he did so, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Rick Hendrick were standing just off pit road celebrating. Byron is part of the JR Motorsports team of which Earnhardt is a co-owner, plus Hendrick Motorsports – it figures then that during his championship run, Byron was sporting a pair of skeleton gloves in honor of Earnhardt.
After he crossed the line, Byron got out of his car and stripped off those gloves. Then, as he’s dreamed about all season long, Byron finally got his hands on the Xfinity Series trophy – and if he keeps racing like he did in 2017, he’ll surely need more trophy cases in the future.
Stage 1: Cole Custer cruised to a win in the first stage by almost half a lap, but of the championship contenders, Daniel Hemric was best in Stage 1. Elliott Sadler was right behind Hemric, but couldn’t pass him before the stage ended.
Stage 2: Just as Custer dominated the first stage, he led for almost all of Stage 2. But as for the championship contenders, William Byron was tops in the second stage, followed by Sadler right on his heels.
Stage 3: Sadler and Byron were neck and neck the entire race, but with the last few to go, Sadler and Ryan Preece made contact that truly allowed Byron to take a clear advantage. Sadler would go on to finish eighth, while Byron drove to a third-place finish and the championship.
Three who mattered
Cole Custer: Custer won his first Xfinity race, and the race was never in doubt considering his dominance. Custer finished an impressive 15 seconds ahead of the runner-up.
William Byron: Byron battled all afternoon with Sadler, taking chances running close to the wall, but with less than 10 laps to go, he finally pulled away when Sadler got caught in traffic.
Elliott Sadler: Sadler was in position to win the race throughout the last 50 laps, but Byron caught him from behind and ultimately got free when Sadler got tangled up with Ryan Preece.
▪ Championship contender Daniel Hemric went to pit road early in Stage 2, apparently to fix a battery issue, but he ended up staying there for so long that he fell 12 laps back.
▪ Byron is the second rookie to win the title, and he is also the second-youngest driver to do so.
▪ Earnhardt actually owned three of the four championship-contending cars in Saturday’s race (Byron, Sadler, and Justin Allgaier).
They said it
“I can’t believe it.” – Byron in his car seconds after crossing the finish line.
After winning 26 times on the NASCAR circuit, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is retiring. Here are the highlights of his career as a driver.Eric Garland McClatchy