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William Byron Takes Front Row Start All The Way To A Win at The Glen

William Byron didn’t lead all the laps at Watkins Glen but he sure led the most. In a simply dominating fashion, Byron schooled the field with this performance.

Unfortunately, the two best cars only competed for about 17 laps before last week’s winner, Michael McDowell, had a less than stellar time on pit road. Last week, McDowell put on a road racing clinic and it looked like this would be a day long duel between the two drivers before a series of mishaps sent the McDowell car into the pack. McDowell overcame those mistakes as he drove through the field back into the Top 10 before his engine gave up the ghost.

Denny Hamlin sat on the pole but never had anything for the 24 car or any car that had the lead.

One of the best battles of the race was for positions P3-6 between Hamlin, Christopher Bell, AJ Allmendinger and Ty Gibbs. Hamlin had a slightly slower car but he was just fast enough to keep the other three behind him for most of the race. I am not sure AJ was fast enough to catch the 24 but Bell and Gibbs may have been had they been able to get around Hamlin.

Just a few laps into the race, Daniel Suarez made a critical error in judgement that sent him off track and he wound up having to settle for P22 when he was running in the Top 10. He has some work to do this week.

Bubba Wallace had a solid day at P12 and kept himself on the positive side of the playoff cut off heading to Daytona.

Chase Elliott was running well but then ran out of gas at a critical juncture of the race and ended up P32. He now has to win at Daytona or he’ll miss the playoffs.

Things of note: drivers are locked in and Kyle Larson misbehaves

Martin Truex, Jr. came in leading the regular season points and was hoping to lock up the title but finishing P6 behind Hamlin’s P2 means the title will be decided at Daytona. That finish also means Byron is seeded as the top driver headed into the playoff just one point ahead of MTJ.

Bubba Wallace is 32 points ahead of Ty Gibbs and 43 ahead of Daniel Suarez. He’ll need another solid performance top maintain that lead coming out of Daytona. Gibbs and Suarez have both shown speed as of late so this will require some racing luck plus a mistake free race for all three drivers as they vie for the last remaining playoff berth.

This is a must win race for anyone else below P16 including Elliott, Alex Bowman, AJ Allmendinger and Austin Cindric. It’s go big or go home time.

And speaking of going big, Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon had an on track altercation battling for a Top 20 as the checkers flew. Larson had a speeding penalty that put him back in the field so he probably thought he deserved a better finish and was mad at himself. Or so I suppose. As they raced hard to the finish, he and Dillon got into each other a little bit, a racing incident for sure, and Larson took offense to how he was being raced at that time. So the very next opportunity he got, just a few hundred feet down the track, he went three wide and drove into Dillon sending them both spinning and creating havoc around them as everyone was digging for all they had left. Bad move, bad timing.

It’s not the first time that Kyle Larson has used his car to take out his frustrations with another driver and I am waiting for tomorrow to see if NASCAR will penalize Larson at all. I doubt they will but I think there was definite retaliation on the part of Larson and it was not a simple racing incident.

Next up: Daytona

This should be a very interesting race. Consider the last several winners at Daytona:

Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. (2017 Coke Zero Sugar and 2023 Daytona 500 winner)

Austin Dillon (the defending race winner and 2018 500 winner)

Austin Cindric (2022 500 winner)

Ryan Blaney (2021 Coke Zero Sugar winner)

Michael McDowell (2021 500 winner)

William Byron (2020 Coke Zero Sugar winner)

Denny Hamlin (2019 and 2020 500 winner)

Only a couple of these are “household names” even though five of the six are locked into the 2023 playoffs.

Yes, Daytona is as big of a crapshoot as any road course, in fact, probably more so. Consider this fact, AJ Allmendinger has the best average finish of all drivers at Daytona, but that is a small sample size given he has started just one race there in the last seven. Of the drivers with more than a couple of starts, Bubba Wallace has the best average finish.

The best average finish on superspeedways since 2020 is Ryan Blaney. The top lap leader on superspeedways since 2020 is, you guessed it, Denny Hamlin.

Hamlin should be considered a top favorite to win. Heck, all the Gibbs cars could be a threat if they can all bring speed and stay out of trouble. If William Byron shows up with speed and can stay out of his summer slump, he could threaten for a win. The same could be said of Ryan Blaney. Kevin Harvick is a P10 threat but will need some magic to make this his final win at Daytona.

Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. has proven himself as a superspeedway racer and as the defending race winner, he has some street cred. Even Austin Dillon is licking his chops as a two-time winner at Daytona. The other Austin (Cindric) knows Team Penske can bring a fast car to Daytona but he’ll have his hands full managing a Top 10.

I wish Chase well. He’ll need all the luck he can muster to win this race.

Enjoy the race, peace and aloha to our friends in Maui as well as anyone in harm’s way on the west coast. Stay cool this week.

Read my other columns from past races this season (and before) by clicking here.

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