Byron and fellow Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Alex Bowman, were both in serious danger of being eliminated from further 2021 title contention heading into last weekend’s Round 1 cutoff race at Bristol, Tenn.
Both survived, however – thanks to strong on-track performances. Byron ended up third and Bowman fifth as HMS driver Kyle Larson took the victory.
Following reseeding for Round 2, Bowman is seventh in the playoff standings and Byron eighth heading into Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Hendrick went from facing elimination of half its playoff drivers to all four still in the hunt for the series championship.
“I think for us, we’ve already kind of been through that pressure moment. A lot of guys maybe haven’t that we’re racing against, haven’t been through that,” Byron, 23, said. “I feel like for us, we learned a lot about ourselves on Saturday.
“I feel like we learned a lot about how we can come through under pressure and how we can bring a good race car and how we can execute the race really well. So, it’s been a little while since we’ve had as strong a race as that throughout, and no mistakes.
“There’s always adversity in a race, but I feel like we handled the adversity that we did have really well and brought it home in third place.”
Byron’s crew chief, Rudy Fugle, said it was “a relief” the No. 24 team was able to advance to the Round of 12.
“We don’t take that for granted. In fact, we had to fight for everything to get to the second round – it’s big for us,” he said. “From the driver to the pit crew to the team itself.
“We’re not going to take anything for granted and we’re going to lay it all on the line at the race. I think we can go far.”
This season’s first race at Las Vegas came the week after Byron’s victory at Homestead, Fla. He led 25 laps and finished eighth at Vegas – part of an 11-race streak of top-10 finishes. Larson came away with the victory in that race as well.
“I think you kind of know who the big hitters are going to be at this race with (Larson) and hopefully us and some of the Gibbs cars, and just knowing who has run well at the 1.5 mile-tracks,” Byron said.
“But that doesn’t really tell the whole story because it can come down to restarts and then anybody can win, basically. I think you’ve just got to put yourself in a good position and then you’ve got to go do really well in those restarts.”
Byron said he and his spotter, Earl Barban Jr., have spent some extra time perfecting their restart strategy to take full advantage of the opportunities which my present themselves in Sunday’s race.
“I think we were good at Michigan,” said Byron, who finished second at that 2-mile track in August. “I think we’ve been good at the last few 550 horsepower tracks.
“I’m pretty excited for Las Vegas based on our past history and the way we’ve been running on those tracks.”