DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – William Byron snaked his way through a smoky crash late Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway and narrowly avoided another melee a few laps later.
Those moves got him to victory lane for the first time in his young NASCAR Cup Series career and back in the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
They also helped knock out Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, a seven-time series champion whose final season won’t end with another title.
Winless in 120 races, Johnson made a trip to victory lane to congratulate Byron and the No. 24 team, the one now directed by Johnson’s former and long-time crew chief, Chad Knaus.
“It’s a big win for Chad Knaus and William Byron," Johnson said. “I really felt like we had a way to transfer, to win, or point our way in and things just got ugly. Unfortunate, but that’s plate racing.”
Byron won the race in overtime after two late cautions and locked up one of the three postseason berths available going into the finale. Matt DiBenedetto finished 12th and secured the final spot. Clint Bowyer wrapped up a berth at the end of the opening stage.
“It was too eventful," said DiBenedetto, whose parents drove down from North Carolina to watch from the stands. “I’m mentally worn out. I’m gonna sleep great tonight, but there was so much going on there at the end.”
Chase Elliott finished second, followed by Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and Bubba Wallace.