The NASCAR All-Star Race is a big deal for third-year Cup driver William Byron.
Just consider the 2011 showcase at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“That was the race where I went with my mom, and it was the first race she ever went to,” said Byron during a Tuesday afternoon Zoom conference.
Fan favorite Carl Edwards dominated that night. And the excitement continued after the checkered flag when Edwards wrecked his car while celebrating.
“That was pretty cool,” Byron said.
For the first time, the All-Star race will shift to Bristol Motor Speedway on Wednesday, July 15.
To advance to the main event, the 22-year-old Byron must win one of the three stages in the NASCAR Open qualifying event.
“I really don’t know what to expect,” Byron said. “Depending on the format and how the tracks feels with the PJ1 (traction compound), it’s going to be a challenge.”
Last year at Charlotte, Byron advanced into the All-Star Race by holding off Bubba Wallace on the final lap of the Open’s first stage.
So what sort of strategy will Byron and his Hendrick Motorsports crew chief Chad Knaus employ this time at BMS?
“I just have to be aggressive,” Byron said. “When I was in the Open last year, our aggression won out.
“Chad made a good call to take four tires, and that gave us the ability to knife through traffic and work our way up through the field.”
During a press conference Wednesday night on the FS1 show Race Hub, NASCAR Executive Vice President Steve O’Donnell announced that the main All-Star Race format will consist of four segments and include a new choose rule where drivers can select which lane they want to take on restarts.
BMS Executive Vice President and General Manager Jerry Caldwell discussed on the same show how the speedway will accommodate up to 30,000 fans.
Earlier Wednesday afternoon, the Tennessee Department of Health announced 1,806 new coronavirus cases, the largest single-day increase for the state has seen yet.
“Fans will bring a new atmosphere and element for the event,” Byron said. “With this being an All-Star Race, fans are really what it’s all about. There will be some money on the line, but driver’s race for the checkered flag and excitement of the fans.”
In five Cup starts at Bristol, Byron has recorded an average finish of 17.2. He overcame several obstacles to finish eighth in the Food City presents the Supermarkets Heroes 500 on May 31.
“That was one of the toughest races I’ve had at Bristol,” Byron said. “The sun was shining super bright, so it was really hot.
“With the way the cars are at Bristol, there was no air flow at the track. On top of that, we had an issue with the cooling system on my helmet. It was just a tough day, but we were able to work our way from the back to the top ten several times.”
Entering this Sunday’s spectacle at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Byron ranks 15th in points with five top-10 finishes.
“We’re getting closer to where we want to be,” Byron said. “At the beginning of the season, we had a number of issues that were out of our control.
“Our pit crew has done a great job of improving, and our adjustments during the course of races has gotten better.”
Knaus, who led Jimmie Johnson to seven Cup championship before moving to Byron’s high-profile No. 24 ride, has a reputation as a taskmaster.
According Byron, his relationship with Knaus has gradually become smoother
“When we started out together, we didn’t want to step on each other’s toes too much or rock the boat,” Byron said. “As we’ve been together for a while, the banter back and forth gets more detailed. It’s a team effort, and I think we’re getting there.”
Byron already knows the way to Victory Lane at BMS – sort of. In April, he started on the pole and led 114 of 150 laps en route to winning the Food City Showdown at virtual Bristol Motor Speedway.
Now the big show awaits at BMS on July 15.
“If we can make into the All-Star race, I think our chances are good,” Byron said. “The (Joey Logano), (Chase Elliott) and (Denny Hamlin) cars are really good at Bristol, but we have a shot.
“It’s definitely going to be intense.”
firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: @Greg_BHCSports | (276) 645-2544
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