The finish came in Byron’s 73rd series start. In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it was the 23rd for the #24, the 593rd from a crash, and the 778th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 38th for the #24, the 1,203rd from a crash, and the 1,703rd for Chevrolet.
Last season saw Byron overcome the “sophomore slump” thanks, in part, to a crew chief swap at Hendrick Motorsports. With Chad Knaus now leading the crew, three-time Rookie of the Year Byron scored his first career pole in the season-opening Daytona 500, his first of five poles on the season, and scored a pair of runner-up finishes in the July Daytona race and fall round in Martinsville. Byron earned his first spot in the Playoffs, made it up to the Round of 8, and finished eleventh in points, a twelve-position swing from 2018. Knaus and Byron continued on into 2020, and set their sights on their scoring Byron his first Cup victory.
Byron’s five poles meant his 2020 granted him a spot in the Busch Clash, where his Liberty University car drew the seventh starting spot, but finished 14th after a late-race pileup in the tri-oval. He’d run a much different looking car, sponsored by Axalta, in the 500. Axalta showcased their 2020 Global Automotive Color of the Year winner, Axalta Sea Glass, by making the faded purple shade the car’s primary color. Byron missed out on the pole, but placed eighth on the speed charts with a lap of 192.443mph (46.767 seconds). The fast lap gave Byron the 4th starting spot in Duel Race 2, which he won after he passed Kevin Harvick with three laps to go. The win kept Byron in the 4th spot for the Daytona 500.
Starting 40th and last in the field was Reed Sorenson, who was making his first Daytona 500 start since 2015. This time, he drove for Premium Motorsports in an unsponsored blue #27 Chevrolet, bumped into the field after J.J. Yeley wrecked in Duel Race 2. Another seven drivers joined him in the back of the field, starting with Ryan Blaney’s #12 Peak / Menards Ford and Corey LaJoie’s #32 RagingBull.com Ford, both backup cars after wrecks in the Duels. Also dropping back were Denny Hamlin’s #11 FedEx Toyota and Brennan Poole’s #15 Spartan Go / Spartan Mosquito Chevrolet, both for failing inspection twice. Poole had also changed an engine, joining the mechanical penalties for Ty Dillon for a new gear on the #13 GEICO Chevrolet, a transmission change for B.J. McLeod’s re-wrapped #52 Christensen Arms Ford, and unapproved adjustments on Christopher Bell’s #95 Procore Toyota.
After all the pre-race penalties, the final two cars in the lineup were Hamlin and Blaney. Though they started 39th and 40th, they did not line up side-by-side, but from the backstretch to the starting line remained both on the inside lane with Blaney in Hamlin’s tire tracks. Hamlin fell to last at the end of Lap 1, followed on Lap 3 by Justin Haley, making Kaulig Racing’s first Cup start in the #16 Fraternal Order of Eagles Chevrolet. Haley then hitched onto the inside line, dropping Poole to last after four laps. Poole traded the spot with Clint Bowyer in the #14 Rush Truck Centers Ford, who was running last from Lap 6 to around Lap 8, when Poole took it back once more. Poole then lost touch with Bowyer and the rest of the pack, remaining in 40th until rain stopped the day’s action.
When the race resumed late Monday afternoon, the leaders came down pit road, handing the spot to David Ragan in the #36 Select Blinds Ford. Christopher Bell then took the spot on Lap 25, followed by LaJoie on Lap 26 before the race restarted. The spot then changed hands rapidly from Erik Jones’ #20 DeWalt Toyota after 27 laps to Bubba Wallace’s #43 Air Force Chevrolet on Lap 29. By then, Wallace was trailing a single-file pack that was losing touch with the leaders.
Next to fall into the mix was Joey Gase, whose #51 EFX Corp. / PageKC.com Chevrolet took last place for the first time on Lap 42. Gase drafted with Wallace, but the two started to lose touch with 38th-place Jones, who was now 0.668 of a second in front. Three laps later, Gase lost touch with Wallace, complaining that his car was too free in the corners. Completely alone, Gase awaited the leaders catching him before the end of Stage 1. On Lap 52, he stayed in the high line as race leader Chase Elliott pulled his own single-file train past him on the inside lane of the tri-oval. The second trailing pack of cars dropped Gase even further back on Lap 54. The Rick Ware Racing crew was reminding Gase to drag the brake rather than lift the throttle when the caution came out.
On Lap 59, Byron was running in the 4th spot and sizing up the three leaders in front of him. Behind him, 5th-place Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., the polesitter, lined up in the #47 Kroger Chevrolet. First Byron, then Stenhouse peeked out of line, and the two made contact, sending Byron spinning across the track and into the grassy infield. Byron remained in a full four-wheel drift until he slammed head-on into the inside wall, destroying the front of his car. Under the caution, Byron climbed out, and his car was towed to the garage, done for the day.
Finishing 39th was Quin Houff, whose first turn in the #00 Jacob Companies Chevrolet ended when Aric Almirola bumped him into a spin on the backstretch, also collecting the #52 of B.J. McLeod. McLeod slammed into the outside wall, then followed him into the infield grass, where McLeod’s front splitter dug into the grass to cause further damage. Houff was done for the day, but McLeod managed to complete a few more laps, clearing the Crash Clock before he fell out of the race.
The 37th spot fell to Cole Custer, whose first turn in Stewart-Haas Racing’s #41 Ford ended with rear end trouble. Rounding out the group was Brad Keselowski, who like Byron was running among the leaders when a bump from Joey Logano into Almirola sent Keselowski’s #2 Discount Tire Ford into a spin, triggering a nineteen-car pileup that decimated the field.
*Byron is the first driver to finish last in the Daytona 500 after winning his Duel race since 2007, when Tony Stewart won Race 1 in his #20 The Home Depot Chevrolet, led 35 laps in Sunday’s race, then wrecked out of the lead in a tangle with Kurt Busch.
*This is Byron’s second last-place finish in a NASCAR national touring series race. His first came February 27, 2016, when his #9 Liberty University Toyota lost an engine after 59 laps of the Great Clips 200 at Atlanta.
*This marks the first time the #24 finished last in a Cup race with a driver other than Jeff Gordon since November 3, 1991, when Kenny Wallace had steering issues after 1 lap of the Pyroil 500 at Phoenix. The number’s most recent finish in a Cup points race since April 6, 2008, when Gordon’s #24 DuPont Chevrolet crashed after 124 laps of the Samsung 500 at Texas.
*This also marks the first last-place finish for the #24 in the Daytona 500 since February 22, 1970, when Cecil Gordon followed Richard Petty to the garage area the day Pete Hamilton won the race. Gordon’s 1968 Ford fell out with a busted a-frame after 7 laps.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #24-William Byron / 58 laps / crash
39) #00-Quin Houff / 89 laps / crash
38) #52-B.J. McLeod / 105 laps / crash
37) #41-Cole Custer / 174 laps / rear end
36) #2-Brad Keselowski / 183 laps / crash / led 30 laps
2020 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Hendrick Motorsports (1)
2020 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (1)
2020 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP