2024 Daytona 500 | 4 talking points

20th February 2024
Damien Smith

Rain delayed the Daytona 500 to Monday, but for veteran team owner Rick Hendrick it proved a race worth waiting for. At the start of the 40th anniversary year for his Hendrick Motorsports empire, William Byron handed him another victory in the great race, with Alex Bowman making it a super-tight team one-two in a 500 that finished under caution.


How William Byron won the Daytona 500

Byron’s victory was confirmed because he was the one judged to have crossed the line with the lead as what was left of the field took the white flag to start the final lap. Just after he did so, NASCAR threw the fifth and final caution period of the race as Ross Chastain slid onto the infield grass after contact with Austin Cindric. The winner could so easily have been Bowman, who was right alongside his team-mate as the white flag flew. But Byron was just a fraction ahead in the dash for the white flag – and that made all the difference.


Big numbers for Byron and Hendrick

The victory marks the first for Hendrick in ten years, when Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the spoils in 2014 – ending a surprisingly long drought for one of NASCAR’s greatest teams. It was also the team’s first one-two since Jimmie Johnson led Earnhardt Jr. home in 2013. And there was another landmark, because it was Hendrick’s ninth in the Daytona 500, which equals the record held by Petty Enterprises.

For 26-year-old Byron, this is his second win in the great race following his first in 2020 and his 11th in NASCAR’s top-tier Cup championship, in the wake of a previous season in which he won six times, qualified for the Championship 4 and finished third in the final standings. He’s clearly on a roll.

“I’m just a kid from racing on computers and winning the Daytona 500,” said the overjoyed winner. “I can’t believe it. I wish my dad was here. He’s sick, but this is for him, man. We’ve been through so much, and we sat up in the grandstands together and watched the race [when Byron was younger]. This is so freaking cool.”

Hendrick too was a little overcome. “I’m telling you, you couldn’t write the script any better,” he said. “When we thought about coming down here the first time, we didn’t think we should be here, felt so out of place. We win this on our 40th to the day… and tied a record. So that’s awesome.”


The pile-up that involved 23 cars

The deciding moment followed a restart on lap 197 of 200, required after one of those huge domino-effect superspeedway accidents that sucked in an incredible 23 cars – and Byron inadvertently was at the heart of it. It was triggered when Bowman bumped his team-mate, who was then sent into the back of Brad Keselowski’s Ford. He then turned up the track and into pole position starter Joey Logano – who had led 45 laps, more than any of the 20 drivers who led at one point or another.

The accident took out Keselowski and Logano, plus other big names such as reigning Cup champion Ryan Blaney, Tyler Reddick and 2023 Daytona 500 winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Clearing up the mess required a red flag and a 15-minute pause before the race could be concluded. “Obviously, hate what happened on that backstretch,” said Byron in among his elation. “I just got pushed and got sideways.”

What happened next was in the lap of the gods. Luck always plays a hand when it comes to superspeedway races, and on this day he had it.


No fortune for Johnson on his comeback

One driver who in stark contrast was out of luck was Jimmie Johnson. The 48-year-old seven-time Cup champion and two-time Daytona 500 winner is returning for a limited programme in NASCAR this year, but the comeback was set off course as early as lap five. Johnson found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time at Turn Four as he became a victim of an eight-car pile-up that cost him two laps for repairs.

So no fairy-tale, at least for him. Instead, the shining light of fate fell favourably on his old team boss – and the timing couldn’t have been better.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.


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