Late laps fateful for William Byron, Ryan Blaney, Denny Hamlin
The final 60 laps Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway saw a big swing of fortune for William Byron, Ryan Blaney and Denny Hamlin that could impact which of them will race for a championship in two weeks.
Byron holds the final transfer spot heading into next week’s Round of 8 finale at Martinsville Speedway — which will set the field for the championship race Nov. 6 at Phoenix Raceway.
He has a five-point lead on Hamlin. Blaney is next, 18 points behind Bryon.
Hamlin was one of only two playoff drivers to finish in the top 10, placing seventh, while Byron salvaged his day by finishing 12th and Blaney was 17th.
Byron’s race turned during a pit stop at Lap 206 of the 267-lap event. He had fallen from fifth to 13th in the 30 laps before that stop because of an ill-handling car.
“We just had one bad run,” Byron said. “We restarted second and kind of maintained in second for maybe a couple of laps, and then the car fell off and disappeared. That one run was just really weird, so we lost a lot of track position.”
Byron was the first car to pit during that green-flag cycle in hopes of gaining track position by having fresher tires before the rest of the field.
Crew chief Rudy Fugle’s plan went away when Byron exited his stall before the left front wheel was tight. Byron was called on the radio and had only gone a few feet away before stopping and backing into his pit stall. The result was a 22.6-second pit stop for a crew that had four of its five other pit stops in the 10-second range.
That stop left Byron a lap down. A caution a few laps later allowed him to get his lap back. Byron struggled to crack the top 15 until the final laps. He gained four spots in the final 11 laps to finish 12th.
“We’ve got to figure out those short runs,” Byron told his team on the radio after the race. “That was really good balance there at the end. We just have to have that more often.”
Blaney’s race turned a few laps after Byron’s pit stop. Blaney brought out the caution on Lap 212 when he spun on the access road after exiting pit road during his green-flag stop.
“I cannot believe I just did that,” Blaney radioed his crew.
He was third before he pitted but dropped to 16th after the incident. He struggled with track position, losing a spot before the finish. Falling from third to 17th cost him 14 points — most of his deficit from the cutline.
“Downshifted like a complete moron,” Blaney told NBC Sports’ Kim Coon on what caused his spin.
“It’s just disappointing, mainly in myself. The last two weeks I have not done a good job executing at all — from wrecking last week to making a bonehead move like that this week. The 12 group doesn’t deserve that. I’m just disappointed in myself and can’t have that. Pretty unacceptable.
“Just try to go win Martinsville, that’s all we can do. We’re going to try to run up front and have a good day ... hopefully the driver doesn’t cost us anything.”
Hamlin was told he was four points ahead of Byron for the final transfer spot with less than 20 laps to go. Hamlin restarted second to eventual winner Kyle Larson but fell back to fifth within 10 laps and got into the wall in the final laps, costing him two more positions. The points lost by Hamlin, along with the points gained by Byron’s late charge, allowed Byron to take the final transfer spot from Hamlin.
“We had some good stops, pit crew did a great job the second half of the race,” Hamlin told NBC Sports’ Dave Burns. “I was able to get a good restart to get track position, taking the lead, but I can’t get my car to go. I can’t get it to turn. We are just too slow in the short run. Something we’ve got to really work on for sure. At Vegas, it hurt us as well.
“We’ll just continue to work on it. I’ll try to work on my technique and try to do anything I can to try to get some more speed out of it. We weren’t fast enough to really compete with those guys. Even when we got the lead, we were kind of just a sitting duck because I couldn’t go anywhere.”