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William Byron knew he was facing a big challenge with an overtime sprint of two laps at the start and the very aggressive Joey Logano right behind him.
He also felt like he had a pretty remarkable co-pilot in his corner.
“This is for my mother,” Byron said. “That same weekend last year, she had a kind of mini-stroke and was diagnosed with brain cancer. It means a lot to have her here, and it’s been a crazy year. But she’s having a great time. I kind of felt like she was driving in. there with me. “
Byron took the lead on the pit road after stage 2 stops and kept it pretty much the rest of the way at Martinsville Speedway – he led 212 laps – to become the first recurring winner this season in the NASCAR Cup Series on Saturday night.
Byron needed to hold a challenge – and a push – from Logano on an overtime sprint of two laps to finish it, but won for the fourth time in his career, giving Hendrick Motorsports four wins in eight races this season.
When the final warning, and only the second for the night’s on-track edition, came with five laps left, Byron and the seven drivers behind him chose to stay out to the last line.
“I thought everyone behind us would pit, and luckily we stayed out,” he said. “We were aggressive; we felt like we could pull on the tires and be OK, and you have one of the most aggressive guys behind you in Logano.”
Byron had both a fast car that allowed him to pull away at restart and a strong car on long runs, which was crucial as there was no warning of anything other than the end of a stage until the 311st of 400 laps on the 0.526-mile oval. .
That changed when Todd Gilliland had a flat tire and hit the wall with five laps left. Byron and the top eight cars on the track chose not to pit, with Byron choosing the inside lane and Austin Dillon finishing second on the outside.
It gave Logano an excellent opportunity to bump the leader of the road, especially as Dillon turned his tires at the restart. Logano bumped Byron into turn 2 on the final lap, but Byron held on for his second win of the weekend. He won the Truck Series Thursday night, giving him a pair of the racetrack’s unique grandfather-clock trophies for three days of solid running.
“Willy messed up a bit out of 4 and let me get to him and he did a really good job of checking the brake into third place, right, which is a good job,” Logano said. “He did what he was supposed to and got me kind of filled up behind him and I couldn’t accelerate out of the corner and be as close as I needed to.”
Logano finished second, followed by Dillon, Ryan Blaney and Ross Chastain.
Dillon looked like he had a car that was likely to challenge on a long green flag, beating Logano for second place on a restart with 80 laps left, but after Byron pulled away, patched traffic and consistency helped him build a lead of almost three seconds.
The start of the race was delayed by more than an hour as rain and sleet fell on an already cold night. It started with radar, which indicated that there would be more precipitation, maybe even some snow, but none came.
It all conspired to provide a clean track and a virtual single-file parade.
Pole-sitter Chase Elliott led the first 185 laps, winning the first and second stages for the fifth time in his career, but lost the lead in the cautious stops that followed stage 2 and had problems as the night went on. He finished 10th.
Elliott’s 185 laps led to the race starting to match what Darrell Waltrip did in the early 1980s race in Martinsville. Waltrip, however, continued to win.
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As he came from a win at Richmond Raceway and to another short track where he leads all active drivers with five wins, any hope Denny Hamlin brought to Martinsville was taken away little by little. He qualified as number 25, was rounded by Elliott at the end of stage 1 and ran laps at the back of the field and finished as number 28.
The rest of the Joe Gibbs Racing stable did not do much better, though Kyle Busch reached a seventh-place finish. Martin Truex Jr., who had won three of the last five races here, finished in 22nd place and Christopher Bell finished 20th.
The top tier moves to its third short track in a row, this time on the ground at Bristol Motor Speedway next Sunday.