William Byron finishes fourth in NASCAR Cup Series Championship, reflects on season

The NASCAR Cup Series season wrapped up in emphatic fashion Nov. 5 at Phoenix Raceway in Avondale, Arizona. Entering the Championship race with a shot at the title were William Byron, driver of the No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet, Ryan Blaney, driver of the No. 12 Dutch Boy/Menards Ford, Kyle Larson, driver of the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet and Christopher Bell, driver of the No. 20 DeWalt Toyota.

Byron entered the Championship weekend having won six races, achieving 15 top-five finishes and grabbing four poles over the course of the season. He has been one of the most consistent drivers overall throughout the year, and entered his first NASCAR Cup Championship with high hopes for taking it all. 

The consistency continued for Byron at the start of the weekend, as he ran seventh fastest in practice on Friday. The 25 year old even managed to grab the pole in qualifying on Saturday, posting a 27.150 second lap time. The other championship drivers were somewhat spread apart, with Larson qualifying fourth, Bell qualifying 13th and Blaney qualifying 15th.

As Sunday’s long-awaited race began, Byron got off to a good start, leading the most laps in Stage 1 and winning the stage easily. 

However, as the race wore on, he began to drop back a little and lose a bit of pace. He eventually found himself running right near the other three championship drivers, as Blaney and Bell had made their way up to the front rather quickly. 

However, around lap 108, Bell experienced disaster. As the drive went into turn three, his brake rotor exploded, causing the car to go straight and up into the wall. The damage was so severe he couldn’t continue, leaving only Blaney and Larson for Byron to overcome for the Championship. As laps ticked by, Byron began to be pulled in by Blaney and Larson, and eventually was battling Blaney for the race lead. Byron was later passed by Larson, pushing him even further away from his hopes of the 2023 Cup Series Championship. 

In the end, Blaney managed to continue stringing together fast laps and finished second, taking home the coveted 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Championship, with Larson finishing third and Byron finishing fourth. 

Blaney’s win was his first NASCAR Cup Series Championship, as well as his first appearance in the Championship race. 

As Byron left the track, it was clear the driver felt the disappointment of a Championship loss after the phenomenal year he and his team had. 

“We had a great season,” Byron said. “(We have) a lot to be proud of, a lot of really solid races. We communicate well as a team, so I feel like all that stuff can just go up a notch hopefully.”

The Liberty University student posted the best season of his career and looks back on the weekend with pride in what his team accomplished.  

 “It stings, but it’s something that you’ll move past and learn from. I feel like we put together a really great weekend. No mistakes, we really attacked, I feel like from start to finish, so (there is) a lot to be proud of,” Byron said.

Gibson is a sports reporter for the Liberty Champion

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