2024 EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix: William Byron Sweeps COTA Bragging Rights as NASCAR’s Road Course Maestros Falter at Austin

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William Byron started the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix at the pole position on Sunday. As the Hendrick Motorsports camp was hopeful of a positive result at the Circuit of The Americas, the 26-year-old didn’t disappoint. In a dominating performance, Byron registered his second Cup Series win of the 2024 campaign.
Byron faced some tough competition as Christopher Bell made a stunning run in the dying laps of the race. However, that wasn’t enough to stop the #24 driver from registering his 12th Cup Series win. Interestingly, this is Byron’s 10th victory in a Next Gen car.
William Byron dominates the proceedings at the 2024 EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix
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It is no secret that William Byron has looked in terrific form this season. Not only has he raced smartly, but has shown a lot of consistency behind the wheel so far. Byron started the race on Sunday in the first row with some fine driving in qualifying. While he enjoyed a good time during the main race, the same cannot be said for a few other drivers.
Very early on in the race, Bubba Wallace came in contact with Martin Truex Jr and Corey LaJoie off Turn 11. Unfortunately, both Wallace and Truex Jr had to pit because of the incident after Lap 1. Interestingly, Wallace, who was in his fourth race at the COTA, was yet to finish a race at the track.
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As a result of the Lap 1 contact, Corey LaJoie dropped 20 spots from his fifth-place starting position. Because of the incident, both his left-side wheels looked damaged. At the same time, William Byron capitalized on his position as he extended his lead to 3 seconds. By then, Ty Gibbs overtook second-placed Tyler Reddick after Lap 6.
In fact, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver looked in good touch as he took down Byron’s lead to 2.5 seconds, with six laps remaining in Stage 1. Both Christopher Bell and Ty Gibbs pushed hard in the latter stages of the first stage to take away the leading position.
However, in an interesting turn of events, both Byron and Gibbs pitted just two laps before Stage 1 ended. Bell, who opted not to pit, went on to win Stage 1 and playoff points. He was followed by Daniel Suarez, Michael McDowell, Austin Cindric, and Austin Dillon.
Positively for William Byron, despite pitting, he finished seventh after Stage 1. While Bell and McDowell did not pit, they opted for a two-lap strategy. With teams going with different strategies, Stage 2 was all set for an interesting affair. Unsurprisingly, it turned out eventful almost immediately.
Byron passed Christopher Bell as he regained the lead in the 20th lap. On the other hand, it only got worse for Bubba Wallace. The #23 driver spun following contact from Brad Keselowski due to a lock-up. Unfortunately, Wallace had to pit after the incident.
While that happened, even Kyle Larson got spun in Turn 11. The Hendrick Motorsports driver lost his momentum after contact with Christopher Bell in the 22nd lap. Luckily, all was okay for the #5 driver.
If someone was there, who wasn’t as lucky, it was Kamui Kobayashi, who got spun after contact with Ricky Stenhouse Jr in Turn 8 in the 26th lap. Naturally, the #50 team didn’t look happy with Stenhouse Jr’s approach there. On the radio, the message read, “Just punted us again, same s**t he did last year.” While this happened, Byron sacrificed his lead in the 28th lap by pitting once again just before the stage ended.
Denny Hamlin inherited the lead as he decided not to pit before the end of Stage 2. Unsurprisingly, he went on to win the second stage at the COTA. Ryan Blaney, Martin Truex Jr, Todd Gilliland, and Ryan Preece followed the Joe Gibbs Racing driver in the standings.
Surprisingly, this was Hamlin’s first stage victory of the season despite having a win to his name. His lead was however short-lived as on came the final stage and the #11 driver opted to pit. As a result, William Byron retook the lead. Unfortunately for Byron, the lead didn’t last long as the HMS driver overshot Turn 1. This allowed Ross Chastain to take the lead.
In the 40th lap, Chase Elliott got penalized for missing the esses in Turn 4. This resulted in him dropping from P5 to P16. With such hard luck for Elliott, something similar happened with Kyle Busch. In the 41st lap, the #8 driver spun after coming in contact with Christopher Bell.
With 25 laps remaining, Byron retook the lead from Chastain. Post this, the #1 driver was ordered to pit once Byron pits or else complete one more lap before pitting. Following that, both the drivers pitted with 23 laps remaining in the race.
While different pit strategies were adopted, William Byron and his team looked quite confident with their plan. With 20 laps remaining, Byron, Bowman, Gibbs, Chastain, and Reddick looked strong as they had pitted already. However, the top five read Bell, Truex Jr, Shane van Gisbergen, Denny Hamlin, and Ryan Blaney, who were yet to pit.
In the 53rd lap, Kamui Kobayashi once again got spun in Turn 11 after coming in contact with Josh Berry. At that moment, the Japanese driver ranked 37th and was already a lap down. Safe to say, he did not have the best time in this Cup Series outing.
A similar incident took place with Chase Elliott. With 14 laps to go, the HMS driver got spun running P11. Christopher Bell, meanwhile, put on a late show to fight for the top position. With 11 laps to go, he was nine seconds behind Byron, placed P4 behind Ty Gibbs and Alex Bowman.
With six laps remaining, Christopher Bell moved to P3. William Byron at that point led Ty Gibbs and Bell by 2.8 and 5.5 seconds, respectively. With almost two and a half laps left, Bell overtook Gibbs to have one final go at Byron without any hindrance. In fact, in the final lap, Bell was just 1.7 seconds behind Byron.
However, it turned out to be too late for the JGR driver to turn things around. With this win, Byron became the first repeat winner of the 2024 campaign. In fact, he has achieved this feat consistently for the last three consecutive seasons.
While Byron enjoyed his time in Austin, the same cannot be said for his teammate Chase Elliott.
Chase Elliott and his Next Gen road course woes continue at the Circuit of The Americas
It is worth noting that Chase Elliott hasn’t won a race since October 2022. Not only that, the Hendrick Motorsports driver is yet to win a road course race in the Next Gen car. As he struggled last season with injuries and suspension, the race in Austin was expected to be a game-changer for Elliott.
With seven road course wins, the #9 driver has been just two wins away from equaling Jeff Gordon’s record in the Cup Series history for the most road course wins. But sadly, Elliott struggled to close the gap at COTA.
Despite starting P9 in the main race on Sunday, the HMS driver ended up P16 at the end. In the 39th lap, Elliott was penalized for track limits violation. The penalty issued was for cutting the course. While his team tried to argue their case, NASCAR stuck to its ruling.
It may be a tad unfortunate for Elliott, but he never looked like one of the favorites during the course of the race. Even Shane van Gisbergen, who was considered one of the likely candidates to triumph on Sunday, struggled in his own way. After starting P12, the Kiwi driver finished P21.
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SVG made an unfortunate error by speeding in the pit lane during Stage 2. If that wasn’t enough, his hopes of a better finish were shattered as he lost first gear during the final stage. All-in-all, it was a time to forget for some of the road course experts. Hopefully, both Elliott and SVG can draw some inspiration from William Byron. The #24 driver sure has won many hearts with his impressive performance on Sunday.

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