Saturday’s Lilly Diabetes 250 featured a brand new aero package including restrictor plates. With closer racing and crazier restarts, William Byron was able to hold off a late charge from Paul Menard to win his third race of the season in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
The 19-year old phenom has impressed all season long in the #9 Chevrolet, and he continued to do so Saturday afternoon at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He won Stage 1, and dominated the closing moments of the race, beating Menard to the line by just 0.108 seconds.
The new package at Indy surely played out as expected, as cars could get a huge run on the one in front. This led to slingshot passes on the straightaways and wildly aggressive restarts. At some points, the high lane looked to work decently as a passing lane.
Elliott Sadler sat on pole and led the first 16 laps until the competition caution waved. Kyle Busch and Byron came off pit lane first, and jockeyed for the lead. Byron ended up clearing the #18 car, driving to Stage 1 victory.
Stage 2 saw some overly aggressive manoeuvres, two of them leading to wrecks. On Lap 39, Spencer Gallagher moved slightly up the track, causing him to get turned by Ryan Sieg.
Sieg was sent spinning, leading to Tyler Reddick making an evasive move into the grass. With a severely damaged car, Reddick was forced to take it to the garage, finishing 37th. Gallagher and Sieg would continue with minimal damage.
Just 11 laps later on Lap 50, Mario Gosselin misjudged the gap between himself and the #0 car of Garrett Smithley. In turn, Smithley was sent spinning, avoiding damage, but bringing out the pace car. Cars got back racing with 8 to go in the stage, and it seemed Justin Allgaier would be on his way to a stage win.
Somewhat surprisingly, Allgaier, along with Byron, Cole Custer, and others, headed down pit lane with four to go in the stage. Allgaier had a catastrophic error in his pit box, though. He pulled in with his right sides not fully inside his pit box. The crew, after starting to service the car, halted and let Allgaier position his car correctly.
At that point, losing valuable time, Allgaier drove away without his right front secure. Driving around the track wounded, he brought his car to a stop: a very astute decision. If he had not done so, and the tyre came off, his crew chief Jason Burdett would have been suspended for four races.
This incident brought out a yellow flag with one to go in the stage, handing Elliott Sadler the Stage 2 win. As the drivers who stayed out came to pit road, Busch, Byron, and a cast of others stayed out.
The third and final stage would go unstopped by yellow flags and see multiple lead changes. Busch pulled away from a feisty Byron. Eventually, the #18 would drag along Erik Jones in the #20, pulling away from Byron, Sadler, and Joey Logano.
Astonishingly, Busch and Jones would head down pit road with just 18 laps left. According to Busch’s team, they did not want to risk their driver losing a tyre. This briefly gave Sadler the lead. Byron would come storming back though, passing his teammate on Lap 84.
As the young kid led, he reported a worsening vibration. The team left the final decision up to the young driver, and Byron never did pit. All the while, Menard was blasting through the field. With 5 to go, Menard made it up to Byron’s back bumper. Coming to the white flag, Byron blocked the Cup regular twice. Menard desperately tried to get alongside the #9, but could not do so.
Byron would take the chequered flag, the third time he has this season in his stellar rookie campaign. Menard, Sadler, Logano, and Custer rounded out the top five. Ryan Reed, Brennan Poole, Daniel Hemric, Brandon Jones, and Ty Dillon all scored top ten finishes. Busch would finish 12th and Jones would place 23rd after a tyre violation.
The new package added excitement, even if it did decrease speeds substantially. Steve O’Donnell said it passed NASCAR’s “eye test”, but more will have to be seen in various testing for it to be put in place for the Brickyard 400 in 2018.
As for the standings, Elliott Sadler retains his points lead over Byron and Allgaier. Sadler added one playoff point, while Byron added six. Veteran Brendan Gaughan scored seven stage points and finished 13th, while Sieg scored two stage points and would end up 14th. This allowed Gaughan to extend his gap over Sieg to 15 for the 12th and final playoff spot.
With just five races until the series playoffs begin, the teams will head to the 7/8-mile Iowa Speedway next Saturday. Byron took the checkers at Iowa just under a month ago.