Before Sunday’s Bank of America Roval 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Byron needed 44 points to shoot past the Round of 12 elimination line.
Afterward, the fourth-year driver was angry he has yet to make it to the Round of 8.
William Byron started Sunday’s NASCAR event strong
“It’s not the round we wanted,” Byron told the NBC Sports broadcast.
Byron started Sunday from the No. 11 position and quickly moved up the field, thanks, in part, to his constant pace and crew chief Rudy Fugle deftly managing the machine’s tire changes.
Managing a top-10 in both Stage 1 and 2, Byron was in a position to remain in playoff contention.
“Everything went almost according to plan,” Fugle told nascar.com. “… We had the lead, (and) we were stretching the lead.”
Then, with 21 laps remaining, a yellow flag appeared. It changed Byron’s momentum. Before the yellow, he led a race-high 28 laps. After the yellow, “I was just too mad,” he said.
Byron’s downfall started on the restart with 21 laps to go.
Hard racing, ‘mistake’ lead to Byron’s madness
Racing with Hendrick Motorsports stablemate Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin, and Tyler Reddick for the lead, the drivers entered the backstretch chicane.
Reddick touched Byron’s rear bumper, which caused him to go past the curbing. He was penalized for surpassing the track limits. The stop-and-go penalty dropped him to 12th place, essentially eliminating him from playoff contention.
But not without one last push.
Byron fought his way through traffic, improving nine spots for the final few laps, but he lost focus and hit the way between Turns 5 and 6. Larson went on to take the checkered flag.
“I could have finished third, but I was just too mad,” said Byron, who immediately “spoke” with Reddick in the garage area after placing 11th. “He hit the back bumper just as I was downshifting into first gear. No way was I going to make the chicane.
“It was a mistake.”
Crew chief Rudy Fugle earned his first Cup win
A fourth-year Cup Series driver, Byron has two career wins, one in each of the past two seasons. This season, he has established career highs with 10 top-five finishes and 17 top-10s.
Byron’s goal next year? The Round of 8, to start.
With Fugle leading the team, Byron appears to be comfortable with the reunion. Fugle and Byron came up the NASCAR ranks together and, for a time, dominated the Camping World Truck Series.
When Byron breezed to a victory at the Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead Miami Speedway on Feb. 28, he led 102 laps and ended up beating runner-up Reddick by 2.777 seconds.
The win was Fugle’s first as a Cup Series chief.
“That guy has been huge for my career,” said Byron, who is one of eight drivers to win more than one race before turning 24 years old. “He’s the reason I’m here and I’m glad we could get him. He’s just awesome, and this whole team did a phenomenal job.”
When the season is over, Byron may be able to look back and appreciate such performances.
But after Sunday’s late-race madness, it may take a while.