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NASCAR Cup Atlanta II

Byron hopes return to Atlanta can halt 'rough stretch'

William Byron kicked off the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season with two victories and four top-five finishes in the season’s first eight races. But he’s been unable to add to either total since.

Entering the 19th race of the season on Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Byron is still locked safely in the series playoffs thanks to his two wins and tied with his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Chase Elliott, and Ross Chastain with the most playoff points (13).

However, the consistent results that had highlighted the start of Byron’s season seem to be missing of late.

“It’s been a rough stretch. It’s not been from a lack of effort,” Byron said. “I feel like for a couple weeks there, you’re still riding the high from winning Martinsville and getting your second win … all those things.

“We’ve had speed. Like Darlington, we obviously had speed. Kansas, we were leading the race and had a flat tire, damaged the whole underbody of the car and had no speed after that. That showed us how important that was.

“There’s been a lot of other races, like Charlotte – qualified fifth, ran in the top-five for the first half of that race. We made a strategy decision to short-pit. Given how many cautions there were at Charlotte, we were running out of tires. We restarted 18th and unfortunately got in that crash that took out 10-plus cars.”

The last 10 races have seen Byron and his No. 24 Chevrolet team manage one finish better than 13th – a ninth-place effort at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway. He’s led laps at Talladega, Darlington and Kansas but could not turn those into strong finishes.

Byron, 24, has found the situation more frustrating than usual because he knows HMS the speed to compete and win but has not been able to replicate the results from earlier in the season for a variety of reasons.

“It’s just been tough. There’s been maybe one or two races where we just didn’t have any speed,” he said. “Gateway, we were really bad. That was a wakeup call, for sure.

“The results don’t look good at all, but we know that the majority of the time – I’d say 75-percent of the time – we’ve had the speed to compete. It’s just been a lot of circumstantial things; some in our control and a lot out of our control honestly.

“I wouldn’t say that we’re not trying; it’s just been tough to put a smooth, solid weekend together, which is what was making us win races. We were a top-five car and executing the way we needed to put ourselves up front.”

Returning to Atlanta should offer Byron and his team a boost – the spring race was the site of their first win of the season.

Even on a redesigned track and with a record 46 lead changes, Byron still led 111 of the 325 laps, showing the No. 24 team was the class of the field.

“I think everybody is going to get better, so it’s not going to be near as easy as it was the first time around. I think everybody gets a chance to look at the data; look at what worked, how I kept the lead and stuff like that,” Byron said.

“So, it’s not going to be as easy to fend people off, for sure. It’s just going to be adapting as the race starts. It’s kind of the same thing as we did last time. You just adapt and learn as we go.

“I’d like to lead a bunch of laps like we did last time, but it’s going to take a lot of learning in the first stage to get there.”

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