By HANK KURZ Jr.
The Associated Press
MARTINSVILLE, Va. – William Byron knew he was in for a big challenge with a two-lap overtime sprint about to start and the very aggressive Joey Logano right behind him.
He also felt he had a pretty remarkable co-driver in his corner.
“This is for my mom,” Byron said. “This same weekend last year she kind of had a 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 doing great. I felt like she was riding in there with me.”
Byron took the lead out of pit road after the Stage 2 stops and held it pretty much the rest of the way at Martinsville Speedway (he led 212 laps) to become the first repeat winner this season in the Cup Series. NASCAR on Saturday night.
Byron needed to withstand a challenge – and a push – from Logano in a two-lap overtime sprint to finish it, but he won for the fourth time in his career and gave Hendrick Motorsports four wins from eight races this season.
When the final caution, and only the second for a track issue of the night, came with five laps to go, Byron and the seven drivers behind him opted to sit out for the final race.
“I thought everyone behind us would pit, and luckily we stayed out,” he said. “We were aggressive; we felt like we could get the tires back on and be good, and you’ve got one of the most aggressive guys behind you at Logano.”
Byron had a fast car that allowed him to pull away on restarts and a strong one on long runs, critical as there was no caution for anything other than the end of a stage until the 400-lap stage 311 on the 0.526-mile oval. .
That changed when Todd Gilliland got a flat tire and hit the wall with five laps to go. Byron and the top eight cars on the track opted not to pit, with Byron choosing the inside lane and Austin Dillon, second, on the outside.
That gave Logano an excellent opportunity to get the leader out of the way, especially when Dillon spun his tires on the restart. Logano hit Byron at Turn 2 on the final lap, but Byron held on for his second win of the weekend. He won in the Truck Series on Thursday night, earning him a pair of racetrack-only grandfather clock trophies over three solid days of racing.
“Willy screwed up coming out of 4th and let me get to him, and he did a really good job of controlling the brakes in third, right, which is a good job,” Logano said. “He did what he was supposed to do, and I kind of got stuck behind him and I couldn’t accelerate in the corner and get as close as I needed to be.”
Logano was second, followed by Dillon, Ryan Blaney and Ross Chastain.
Dillon seemed to have a car that would likely challenge in a long green-flag race, and he beat Logano for second on a restart with 80 laps to go, but after Byron pulled away, lap traffic and consistency made him they helped build a nearly three-second lead. .
The start of the race was delayed by more than an hour when rain and sleet fell on an already frigid night. It launched with radar suggesting more precipitation was on the way, maybe even some snow, but it didn’t materialize.
It all conspired to provide a clean track and virtual parade from a single file.
Polesitter 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 caution stops that followed Stage 2 and struggled as the night progressed. He finished tenth.
Elliott’s 185 laps to start the race matched what Darrell Waltrip did at the start of the 1980 race at Martinsville. However, Waltrip won.
After a win at Richmond Raceway and another short track where he leads all active drivers with five wins, whatever hope Denny Hamlin brought to Martinsville was slowly fading. He qualified 25th, was given a lap by Elliott at the end of Stage 1 and did laps at the back of the field and finished 28th.
The rest of the Joe Gibbs Racing stable did not fare much better, although Kyle Busch recovered in seventh place. Martin Truex Jr., who has won three of the last five races here, finished 22nd and Christopher Bell was 20th.
UNTIL NEXT TIME
The main series advances to its third consecutive short track, this time on gravel at Bristol Motor Speedway next Sunday.