William Byron’s first Coca-Cola 600 lasted 115 laps.
Byron, a Charlotte native and NASCAR rookie, hit the wall in Turn 3, forcing him out of the race and to a 39th-place finish.
“We just were really loose and just trying to make the top work,” said Byron, a Charlotte Country Day graduate. “I just got loose, the car came around and hit the wall, and then we had a bunch of damage. It started rubbing on the tire and then it wasn’t rubbing on the tire. It was cleared, but it just felt like something broke going into (Turn) 3. And we just hit the wall again, and then we had an electrical issue.”
Byron is driving one of NASCAR’s iconic rides — the No. 24 Chevy of Hendrick Motorsports that was once driven by newly minted NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon. After winning seven races as a Truck Series rookie in 2016 and the Xfinity championship in 2017 (again as a rookie), Byron has faced a steep learning curve in the Cup Series, with a single top 10 (10th at Texas) in 12 races before Sunday’s 600.
Byron was stoic about Sunday’s outcome.
“Unfortunate,” he said. “But we will go to Pocono and figure it out there.”
A fiery exit
Ryan Blaney had the most spectacular-looking mishap of the race, if not the most severe.
Much of Blaney’s No. 12 Ford caught fire when a cylinder broke on Lap 279. The flames, glowing bright orange in the night, engulfed the bottom of the car and much of the front end.
Blaney jumped out of the car when it stopped and wasn’t injured.
“It looks worse than what it is,” said Blaney, who would finish 36th. “It gets hot. You can’t see anything. That’s one of the biggest things is you can’t see where you’re going, but it looks a lot worse than what it is. The safety stuff keeps the fire away from us.”
A new meaning of 'Rowdy'
It wasn't just Kyle Busch who lived up to his "Rowdy" nickname after his victory.
Once Busch claimed the checkered flag, a fan sitting near the track began climbing up the curved fence as if he were going to jump over. The fence is at least 30 feet tall. A security guard then had to follow the fan up the fence to drag him back down before eventually escorting him away from the track.
Johnson ready to win again
Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who has struggled for much of the past two seasons, was fifth, one of his top finishes of the year. Although Johnson had back-to-back top 10s recently (a third at Bristol and sixth the following week at Richmond), his winless streak is now at a career-long 36 races.
“(Finishing fifth) feels good, but I definitely want to win,” said Johnson, who survived a spin early in the race with Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin. “I’m tired of running fifth. I’m tired of running whatever it is.”
Hamlin acknowledged that Busch had a dominant car. But Hamlin, who finished third and 13.5 seconds behind Busch, would have liked to have seen how Busch handled driving behind Hamlin for a while.
"There was one time we came out right beside him," Hamlin said. "He barely beat me out of the pits, by maybe 2 inches. That was a crucial moment. That maybe would have given him some dirty air to see if he could pass. But he didn't have to pass anybody all day.
"He had an exceptional car that was a little better than us."