William Byron had a lot of expectations for himself for the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season. It was his third in NASCAR’s premiere series and second with crew chief Chad Knaus. Plus, over the second half of last season, he appeared to be finding the speed.
He had five top 10 finishes over the first 17 races, none of which being in the top five either. He had four top 10’s in all 36 races of his rookie season a year prior. Then, came that runner-up finish in the rain shortened Coke Zero Sugar 400 last July. That was his best career finish and first top five of his career on the Cup level too. Over the final 19 races, Byron had eight top 10’s, five of which being in the top five.
Unfortunately, 2020 hasn’t started the way that he had hoped it would.
In Daytona, he won his Duel race but was crashed out by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. early in the ‘500 itself and finished last in 40th. A week later in Vegas, he restarted in overtime in the top five but a tire rub dropped him to 22nd. Fontana, was a struggle to get to 15th. Phoenix, he finally got going and earned his first top 10 of the season with a 10th place run in the No. 24 Chevrolet.
Then, COVID-19 hit. He’s had a rough way back too.
He won the first stage of the race at Darlington on May 17, but didn’t feel a loose wheel and crashed not long after. He’d finish 35th. With a shorter race on Wednesday of that following week on the same race track, he could only work his way back up to 12th.
In Charlotte, he ran well in the ‘600 but another late race tire problem plagued him. He finished 20th. That did earn him the pole for the follow up race the next week on the 1.5-mile track but he had contact on pit road early with Corey LaJoie and never recovered. He’d finish 12th.
While he was eighth two Sunday’s ago in Bristol, another tire problem relegated him to 33rd in Atlanta. Just two top 10 finishes scored for him in 2020, no top fives, has dropped him to 17th in the playoff standings, 20 points out.
As we head to Martinsville on Wednesday night, Byron needs to hope the luck changes to not risk falling further behind. He’s getting to the danger zone. While he has plenty of time to make up 20 points, what makes you think the luck will allow it to happen? What happens if he falls 40, 50 or even 60 points back?
Martinsville is a place Byron can get it going. As I said above, it’s not for the lack of talent that’s keeping him out of the top 10. It’s all bad circumstantial luck. His last race in Martinsville, he finished runner-up. He was third and eighth respectively there in the Truck Series in 2016.
Hendrick Motorsports is at their best at Martinsville and Chad Knaus has always had good race cars there. Now, can Byron find his way to victory lane? He needs it.