In the debut of the repaved, revamped Atlanta Motor Speedway, William Byron drove the No. 24 Liberty University Camaro ZL1 to his first NASCAR Cup Series (NCS) victory of the 2022 season in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500. In a race that saw 11 cautions and 46 lead changes – a record at Atlanta Motor Speedway – Byron led the final 10 laps of the 325-lap race to capture his third career victory in 149 starts in NASCAR’s premier series.
“The Liberty University Chevrolet was awesome there,” said Byron. “We had a pretty rough practice; worked hard on it and got it handling well. Like I told you, it was kind of an intermediate style with a little bit of superspeedway to it, so it was lot of fun. Thanks to everyone at Hendrick Motorsports.”
Byron’s win gives Chevrolet its 42nd trip to victory lane at Atlanta Motor Speedway, extending its all-time win record lead over all manufacturers. The feat also marks the bowtie brand’s third NASCAR Cup Series victory thus far this season. The winningest brand in NASCAR history, Chevrolet now sits at 817 all-time wins in NASCAR’s premier series. In just the fifth points-paying race of the season, three different Chevrolet drivers have now secured their spots in the 16-driver NCS Playoff field, with Byron joining Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman.
For the third race this season, the Camaro ZL1 took four of the top-five and six of the top-10 of the final running order. Ross Chastain and his No. 1 Trackhouse Racing team showcased their speed all day, rallying from a blown tire while leading to fight back to a back-to-back runner-up finish. Joining Chastain in the top-five was his Trackhouse Racing teammate, Daniel Suarez, who brought his No. 99 CommScope Camaro ZL1 to the checkered flags in the fourth position. Rounding out the Team Chevy top-five was Corey LaJoie, who drove his No. 7 Spire Motorsports Camaro ZL1 to his career-best finish of fifth.
Byron’s victory was also celebrated by fellow Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Chase Elliott, who drove his No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Camaro ZL1 to a sixth-place finish. Elliott, the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series Champion, leaves his home state track in the lead of the driver standings, seven points over second-place Joey Logano. Alex Bowman, No. 48 Ally Camaro ZL1, finished 10th to give Chevrolet an impressive six of the top-10.
The NASCAR Cup Series season continues next weekend at Circuit of The Americas with the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix on Sunday, March 27, at 3:30 P.M. ET. Live coverage can be found on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90.
WILLIAM BYRON, NO. 24 LIBERTY UNIVERSITY CAMARO ZL1, RACE WIN PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT:
THE MODERATOR: We roll into our post-race media availability now with our race winner, William Byron. We will continue with questions.
Q. William, just kind of curious your thoughts overall after what we went through with the practice and getting through the race, getting the win? What was your overall thoughts on the track, the layouts, and this style of racing on a mile and a half, which we've never seen before?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, certainly a lot to learn this weekend. I think that through all the things that we did to prepare, like nothing came close to what practice ended up being like, so I was shocked how crazy it was, how big the runs were.
My spotter, we talked overnight. It was like you couldn't talk fast enough to get all the things you needed to say. I thought he really worked hard overnight and got a clear idea of kind of what needed to be said so we could work on that.
But we were not very good in practice. I felt like we were really tight and had some things that we had to work through. And Rudy and my engineers and all the guys on the car worked extremely hard to get it better. And today was awesome, obviously. We led a bunch of laps. It felt like we had the best car the way we could move through the field, and just awesome to win on kind of the inaugural race of Atlanta in this style, so always cool to do something like that.
Q. With the way the Truck and Xfinity races ended, did you think you were in the best position there the last couple of laps or did you feel like that you were in trouble and/or did you see something in those races that you were able to apply to the finish here?
WILLIAM BYRON: That's a good question. I didn't really have a chance to watch the races because I was racing last night at Hickory, but I watched a little bit of the Truck race. And I saw the last lap with Chandler leading and kind of how that developed.
So I was always trying to guard against getting too far out in front. But as soon as it got double file, I would say into turn one that really helped my cause to kind of be able to just manage the momentum. But single file, surprisingly, I mean, it might have looked like we were staying single file relatively easy, but it was hard to run single file.
It was difficult to manage the lead in the front and not have somebody get a run on you to easily pass you. So I think those things were interesting as the day developed. I felt like single file was my most vulnerable place to be, and then as soon as they would get kind of doubled up throughout the field, that was probably a little bit easier to handle.
Q. What is your QuikTrip pastry of choice?
WILLIAM BYRON: It looks like one of those sour cream donuts, so I'm a big sweet tooth, so I -- my girlfriend knows I just eat constantly. So it's not great, but it's the way it is.
Q. Two for you. Being able to go back and forth and win at Hickory last night and then win here today, it's kind of old-school. It's like the old Busch Series run at a short track and then come run the super speedway on a Sunday. What do you think of that experience, being able to fly back and forth and do that?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I love it. I think it was -- I hope for my sake that it doesn't get overcrowded and a bunch of guys start doing that because I think it's unique and cool, but it was a lot of fun to go to Hickory last night. That was the most nervous Saturday I've ever had. I was nervous in the Cup car. How was that going to go? How was the travel going to be going back to the other race track, and what is that going to feel like once I get back on the track?
Really just having good people around me to calm my nerves and just get me in the right state of mind, it was really nice to have something to kind of fill the space and be able to put my mind to something on Saturday night.
Hickory is such an iconic track, and the tire management that I had to go through last night was such a cool thing to go do, and really kind of challenged my mind completely different than this, but at the same time just the ability to adapt to stuff I think was a lot of fun and definitely hope to do more of that.
I hope to do Nashville in May, the Darlington weekend, and I think it's just a lot of fun.
Q. You've worked with Branden Lines for a long time going back to your late model days. I believe this is his first Cup win. How cool is it to be able to give that to him after he has pretty much coached you throughout your career?
WILLIAM BYRON: Very cool. I mean, he -- yeah, you said it best. I feel like he has been there really every step of the way. I mean, we've always kept in touch. Very similar to Rudy. Now I feel like at the Cup level, I have that triangle that we talk about with the spotter, crew chief, driver.
I have people that I've known for most of my racing career, so I think that's very, very cool. You don't see that a lot, but for someone as young as me, I feel like it's really critical because my comfort level with him is very high. I can tell Branden whatever, whatever I think, and I can tell Rudy whatever I think.
So, yeah, it's cool to see him kind of break through that bubble that is your first Cup win because it's hard to get that. He did a great job throughout the last few laps, and I just had a good feeling coming into this race that we could do something good and pretty awesome to pull it off.
Q. William, some tires were popping, particularly on the Chevrolets. Were you kept abreast of what was happening there, and did you have a concern about that?
WILLIAM BYRON: So yes and no. I don't think it was a Chevrolet thing. I think it was just the fact that whoever was leading for a long time when it got single file. Just the way that the cars felt on corner entry, you put a lot of load into the right-side tires a lot of time in the back traffic, you put a lot of load into the front, and that's usually what you find on a repave is right front tire issues.
I think Goodyear has done a good job of working through and making sure that the right front does last, but the right rear is a little bit of an unpredictable thing because typically you're not on the right rear that hard on a repave because you can't be loose.
It was unique that that was an issue, but I'm sure it's just something new with the track and something we'll work through.
Q. I was just curious if today's race was as mentally challenging or exhausting as Daytona or Talladega?
WILLIAM BYRON: More. More, for sure. Daytona and Talladega, when you get single file, can you relax. Today when you were single-file, you were constantly working to stay single file so you didn't lose the lead. I think that was a lot different. I'm not used to that.
And the way that you -- I told Branden at one point and Rudy, I was, like, man, I can't believe we're not halfway yet because this is -- this just feels long mentally. Just all the energy that I'm spending to do all the moves that we need to make. Pretty crazy race, but definitely good to come out on top.
Q. You mentioned a few minutes ago about the triangle and having the right people around you. At this point do you feel like this is the most comfortable that you have been as a Cup Series driver and one the Hendrick organization since you have been there?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, definitely. I think that comfort has come in the last few years. I would say even back to working with Chad I felt more and more comfortable in the debriefs, more comfortable at the shop, and it was kind of one thing after another.
I would say the first thing I felt comfortable was walking into the shop and feeling like I could speak my mind and say what the car did, be critical. Then I think it slowly trickled to Rudy coming on board, somebody that I've worked with in the past, and then Branden was a nice addition to somebody I've worked with in the past as well.
Then ultimately, just having that good group around you and people that you trust and can work with. It's been a great start to the year. We've had a ton of speed. Obviously had some wrecks and things, but I felt like today was due.
Q. I'm just kind of curious. You said a couple of times after you were climbing from the car. I've got to say the excitement, the screaming and the yelling was pretty intense, but you also said you were out of breath. And I'm just kind of wondering, was the out of breath from the exertion, from the emotion, from just the intensity of the racing? And if it was the latter, where would this stack up as just being nerve-wracking compared to a Talladega or a Daytona?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I think the excitement was just from, obviously, winning a Cup race. Cup races are so hard to win, and I feel like anytime you win one it's just such an exciting feeling.
It's a little bit different, though, when you have a nice lead or you've got a dominant car all day, but when you come to a speedway, you really don't know you're going to win until you come on to the front stretch and if you are by yourself.
So it's just a crazy, exhilarating feeling when you win at a kind of super speedway style race because you're constantly working, and you never -- it's never really guaranteed. That was where the excitement I think came from. But, yeah, I think it was a lot of fun.
Q. You ran the lower horsepower package here this weekend. You guys come back in July. Would you be in favor of a higher horsepower package to kind of get the cars separated, or did you like what you had today and come back with the same package?
WILLIAM BYRON: I doubt they're going to change it after the way today was, but, yeah, I think repaves are tricky. You're never going to -- you're probably going to have a hard time making the tires last for a couple of years with the pavement and the grip that this place would have if we had low downforce.
It is what it is, and just learning to adapt as we go and try to be the best we can at it.
Q. There's parts of this track that some people say are kind of angry. It has its own little nuances already, and one of those it seems to be coming out of two in the back stretch. I was back there on the terrace watching, and you could see the cars kind of bottoming out. What did you feel in the car when you were out there, and how did that throw you guys around?
WILLIAM BYRON: Certainly the bump off two was kind of your lap counter because it was such a big bump that I felt like every time I got to that, it was like, all right, there's another lap. Definitely kind of feeling it in your back. I'm sure they'll smooth that out, and the cars are -- as we saw at California, bumps are difficult sometimes with quick jolts, but overall I think that was the only thing I saw that was kind of puzzling, but I think the rest of the track definitely did have some character that I was interested the way it worked out.
The painted line definitely has a lot of grip. Not that you really need to use that, but certainly the way that the lanes work in the corner is kind of weird. There's kind of like a snake effect to the lanes. It's not just a smooth constant progression like it is at Daytona, so that's a little different. I don't know how that will change as the years go.
Q. First off, congratulations on your big win. I saw Alex Bowman come into victory lane congratulate you. Walk me through what he said to you, and how crucial is it to have such a tight-knit relationship in the Hendrick Motorsports family.
WILLIAM BYRON: It's great to have really awesome teammates. I feel like Kyle, Chase, and Alex are awesome teammates. They're really good race car drivers, and I feel like we all learn things from each other. We all have kind of our -- as I have spent more time around all of them, I feel like we all have our tendencies and tracks that we like or dislike. It's cool to learn from each of them. I feel like we continue to strengthen each other because we're constantly kind of learning from each other, which is good.
THE MODERATOR: William, that seems to be all the questions we have. Thank you, again, for joining us. Congratulations, again, on the win. We wish you the best of luck next weekend as well.
WILLIAM BYRON: Appreciate it.
RUDY FUGLE, CREW CHIEF, NO. 24 LIBERTY UNIVERSITY CAMARO ZL1; AND RICK HENDRICK, OWNER, HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS – PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT
THE MODERATOR: We are going to go ahead and get started here with our post-race availability for this afternoon's Fold of Honors 500 here at Atlanta Motor Speedway. We've been joined by our race-winning crew chief, Rudy Fugle.
First of all, congrats on the win. We appreciate you coming in and joining us after the victory lane celebration. Tell us just a little bit about those final laps from your vantage point.
RUDY FUGLE: Thanks for the congrats. It's really exciting to be able to get a win. Just the restart and the final -- led to the final set of laps, and then we had one of the strongest cars, if not the strongest car.
But it's all about getting the pushes and trying to stay ahead of that. So our spotter, Branden Lines and William did awesome. They were able to control the lanes and go back and forth. Even just getting the lead back was phenomenal.
Holding our breath, hoping to get back to the lead, and then once we got there, just holding your breath to control it. So super proud of everybody.
THE MODERATOR: We've now been joined by Rick Hendrick as well, so we'll go ahead and open up for questions for both Rick and Rudy. I know I saw a few hands raised.
Q. Rudy, two things. First off, it was said over the radio after you won the race, and William said it in his TV interview, with the hard work that went in overnight in changing some things, working late. Can you walk us through the work that was done on this 24 car after what you saw in practice?
RUDY FUGLE: For the first time this year really we were off in practice. Just had some wrong philosophies, wrong setup items, and the way practice was we were just trying to get laps so William could get comfortable. But we really needed to work on the car more, but needed to make a plan.
Once we got out of here and got back to the hotel, our engineers, and even at the shop and here we worked until 9:00. We had some dinner, and then there was emails going out until midnight, so coming up with a plan.
Came up with a good plan thanks to -- we used a lot of the 9 stuff to help guide us and made good decisions otherwise, and then give that to the guys to come in this morning. And they got an hour and a half to pretty much rebuild the race car.
So they did phenomenal getting the car built, getting through tech and put a race car on the track capable of winning, and not dominating, but being really, really fast. Close to dominating.
Q. Did you guys come here with a super speedway philosophy in car setup, or did you come here with the typical Atlanta setup?
RUDY FUGLE: No, it was a blend. A lot of super speedway thoughts and then some Michigan, some Texas repave and just trying to -- and this car is still brand new, so there's a ton we're learning that you're trying to apply. So missed it on a couple of things, but it didn't take much to get it where we needed to be.
Q. I have a question for each of you gentlemen. Rudy, from your perspective as a crew chief, old Atlanta configuration and type of racing versus what we saw today. Your thoughts?
RUDY FUGLE: Yeah, it was -- I thought racing really was really good today. There's some things with the track, some big bumps and some character. It's difficult. It's stressful. It's a different type of racing.
Crew chiefs, we love coming to Atlanta just like drivers did because if you got it right, if you were perfect, you did your homework and you could go dominate. You could have eight, ten-second leads. That's snoozers for TV, but it's something to be proud of from our side of things.
So we really enjoyed that challenge of how hard Atlanta was and how much fun it was with tire falloff making it good. But when you have to repave tracks, this was a good product today. I thought it was really, really good.
Q. Rick, from a car owner's perspective, Daytona, Talladega races tend to be expensive. You guys tear up a lot of equipment. It seems like this is going to be kind of in that same vein. As a car owner, are you okay with adding two additional super speedway type races to a schedule and what may be your bottom line?
RICK HENDRICK: We have not had very good luck at finishing plate races. We've been in a great position, but we've seemed to get in wrecks all the time, and I don't think this is going to be quite as bad.
These cars are more durable, and you saw it today. Usually when you have a wreck down at Talladega, Daytona, it's just trashed. But a lot of cars were able to finish, and also I think it's going to be easier and better with this car and I think the speeds here at this track. I believe it's going to be a great show.
Q. I have one for each. Rudy, were you concerned at all about right rears blowing after seeing what happened to the others, you know, Goodyear said they were looking at it, but they didn't notice it was all Chevrolets and all ones who were running up front.
RUDY FUGLE: Yeah, definitely. The speed and having to run pretty much wide open to lead compared to 70% throttle for a full lap to be second or third is definitely putting a lot more stress on the tires, so it's kind of managing ourselves there.
I was trying to coach William into doing some lifts and just if we could lift a little bit and slow the pace down a little bit and not get passed, then we could save the tires. Definitely at a repave you are always worried about tires. You got hard tires because you have so much load, but eventually you put enough heat in them, and they blow out. Definitely on our mind.
We kind of knew because we share information. We kind of knew where some of these guys were and thought we may be -- we weren't in worse shape at least than they were. Just try to manage it.
Q. And, Rick, I would think that most of you feel that kind of four plate races is enough as far as when it comes to Daytona and Talladega. This kind of makes it six. Do you want to cap it, or is there any thought of some people say, well, if this works, then maybe they should do it at Texas or any of the other mile and a halfs?
RICK HENDRICK: No, I vote to cap it. With our record at plate races with finishing, I just -- I think this is enough.
Q. For Rudy. I believe this is the first win as a spotter for Branden Lines, so just the job that he did with a really chaotic style of race, and how important was it to get his first Cup win as a spotter?
RUDY FUGLE: It's huge. I'm really proud of Branden. I've known Branden for a really long time going back to Erik Jones' late model and truck days and kind of been friends with him since. So getting a chance to work with him is really exciting.
How much passion he has for racing and how much hard work he puts in during the week. He has been working really, really hard. Him and William have a good relationship, so they've been working outside of even what I know and this lingo, you know, all these -- like I said, he was -- I think he changed two batteries today because he talked so much. He talked more here than you do at Daytona and Talladega because when you get in that top riding lane in Daytona and Talladega, you know what to expect, and the runs aren't as quick. And here the runs were gigantic, and they were so fast, so spotter had to be on it, and Branden did a great job.
Q. Rudy, it looked like with about ten or 12 laps to go you might not want to be first the way the runs were taking place and all that, but William got out with some -- got some space. Was that the approach you wanted to take, or were you feeling pretty safe being in front there in the last few laps?
RUDY FUGLE: Yeah. William stated it during the first stage that he thought being second was a better spot to be, and we were -- the 1 was fast, and we were fast. I think it was the 8 we were kind of all making runs and just kind of learning.
If you get the right run, it's tough to be the leader for sure. But we just had a lot of things go right. And Mr. H talked about it before the race. Sometimes at some point things have to go right for you. We've had a lot of bad luck and bad circumstances this year that have kept us from winning races I feel like, and today we just had some things go right.
Some guys, Blaney and whoever got up together and got out a lane, and then the 20 going underneath the line with the 1 getting side-by-side, just kind of generated -- it stopped the runs from generating. It kind of worked out for us. I'll take anything we can get.
Q. I have one for Rudy and one for Rick. Rudy, two of William's three Cup victories have been on super speedway style racing. What makes him so good at that?
RUDY FUGLE: Yeah, no, he has become a great restrictor plate racer. He is really aggressive and knows how to use the runs and take the pushes and give pushes. I mean, it's hard to say what makes somebody great. You know, everybody talks about Denny when we come to these places, but you have to have good cars, you have to have good engines, and then he has just done an awesome job of learning what makes the car stay up front at these places. When we're not wrecked, he is usually up front.
Q. And, Rick, with William's victory three of your four drivers have now won three of the first five races. It's the first time that it's been done since Carl Kiekhaefer did it in 1956. What does this mean to you?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, you know, I'm awful proud of the organization and the guys the way they worked together, and we've been fortunate. We had a couple of breaks to win one of the races, but I'm proud of them.
And it's really hard today with the cars that we have and everything is equal, but I think the talent of our guys, like Rudy said, William has just been unbelievable on the plate races. I'm just proud of them. We might hit a streak here and not win one, but I'm really proud of the speed and the way they're staying up front, and hopefully we'll continue to win more races.
Q. Rick, already this season there's been a race in a stadium. You've got a super speedway race at a mile and a half track. You know, here in a couple of weeks you'll be going back to a dirt track. What do these changes mean, and what do you hope to see or what are you looking forward to more as the sport seems to continue to evolve?
RICK HENDRICK: I think it's great for NASCAR. The stadium brought a lot of new fans in. The dirt track, I've got people coming out of the woodwork wanting to go to Bristol now for that race, and I think it's exciting for the fans and the drivers are adapting well.
This car, we basically run the same car everywhere, and so I think it's great for the sport, and I would like to see a street race. Hopefully we'll just continue to work outside the box, and I think that's growing a lot of new fans for us.
Q. Why do you want to see a street race? And also, secondly, I know the Texas race ended. This one got started. I don't know if you had any contact with Jimmie or your thoughts of Jimmie having his top ten today?
RICK HENDRICK: I did not see the race. What happened to him?
Q. He was sixth.
RICK HENDRICK: We felt like when Jimmie got on oval he would be more competitive. I'm proud of him. I'm really proud of Jimmie for jumping into a sport and trying to relearn against all these guys or learn the sport. But I felt like when we got to ovals, when they got to ovals, he was going to be good.
Q. Why a street race?
RICK HENDRICK: I just think it's exciting. I think it's different. I think it would be why the Coliseum race? I mean, if there's a right street circuit that we could race on, I just think something different brings in a new level of fans. And it's exciting. It's something different to talk about.
I think keep changing it up, and it just seems to bring in a lot of new people that we haven't seen. The age group at the Coliseum were people -- I think they said, like, 60% had never been to a NASCAR race. I think just doing something different than you've done for years and years is good for the sport.
THE MODERATOR: For Rick and Rudy, congratulations again on the victory. Thank you, again, for joining us.