SPARTA – William Byron has been pushing hard for his first career NASCAR win. He’s come close; very close, in fact.
And while five top-10 finishes in his last nine races is encouraging for the 21-year-old former Rookie of the Year, what happened Saturday at the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway had to feel like a blow.
It definitely felt that way to fans of the Charlotte, North Carolina native who’ve followed the course of the Hendrick Motorsports driver. Byron was penalized on a restart against Clint Bowyer on lap 184.
Both racers would have had a hard time wrestling the victory from Kurt Busch, who out-dueled his brother Kyle Busch, a two-time winner, on the final lap.
Still, Byron was in contention until the penalty that many blamed on Aric Almirola, Bowyer’s Stewart-Haas teammate.
On and on it went, with only a handful of notable exceptions
Byron finished 18th in the Axalta Chevrolet. Bowyer placed sixth.
Attempts to reach Byron immediately after the race were unsuccessful. He’d hoped to build on the Daytona race last week when he was the runner-up after the race was called due to bad weather.
Byron won the Truck Series as a rookie in 2016 with Kyle Busch Motorsports. He then moved to the Xfinity Series, this time with the Hendrick team, and was again named Rookie of the Year after winning four races. He was the NASCAR Cup Series Rookie of the Year last year with four top-10 finishes.
Everything points to a promising career for arguably the best young driver in the sport. That could mean taking some lumps, too, as he did Saturday with the controversial call.