Byron goes from hero to zero as crashes take out race leaders at Atlanta

HAMPTON, GEORGIA - MARCH 19: Aric Almirola, driver of the #10 Smithfield Ford, spins after an on-track incident during the NASCAR Cup Series Ambetter Health 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 19, 2023 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

After two consecutive wins for the first time in his career, William Byron went from hero to zero at Atlanta Sunday.

Byron came into the race as the defending winner and started 11th. He was competitive but on lap 189 was swept up in an accident that happened just ahead of him.

Kevin Harvick had just taken the lead; Ross Chastain was behind. As the field entered Turn 2 Harvick got loose at the front of the Chastain’s Chevy and was sent spinning.

Byron along with Josh Berry, Chris Buescher, Tyler Reddick, Bubba Wallace, Chase Briscoe, Austin Dillon, Harrison Burton and BJ McLeod were swept up in aftermath. While most were able to continue, Byron along with Burton, Buescher, Harvick and McLeod were done for the day.

“It was superspeedway-type racing,” Byron said. “I thought for the most part, it was pretty single file all day. That was a little discouraging because the bottom lane wouldn’t really go that much. But as we all started to save fuel on the top, the bottom started to surge there. It looked like the No. 1 (Ross Chastain) and the No. 4 (Kevin Harvick) just got connected there into turn one and got the No. 4 loose.

“It’s just part of racing. That’s the way it goes, not really in our control. We were up there running in the top-five and doing what we needed to do.”

Despite incidents in the past involving Chastain, replays appeared to show that there was no contact between him and Harvick. For his part, Harvick seemed to agree.

“I think he just caught me so quick right there in the middle of the corner,” Harvick said. “Then he kind of was up on the right rear part of the corner and he came back down and when he came back down it just spun the thing out.

“I don’t think he actually even hit me, but it started chattering the rear tires and then I was just along for the ride.”

A few laps later, another race leader was also taken out. On lap 210 while leading Aric Almirola lost a tire coming into Turn 4. He crashed hard into the outside wall along the front stretch.

“I’m OK,” he said. “It knocked the wind out of me, mostly because it caught me by surprise, but I’m OK.  I blew a tire.  I just blew a tire.  I have no idea why.  We had way less laps on that set of tires than we had earlier, so I don’t know.”

Kyle Larson, who was running second was also crashed and was done for the day as well.

“There was nowhere to go,” he said. “Nobody had been having tire issues, so I wasn’t even expecting the No. 10 (Aric Almirola) to have a tire issue in front of me. Even if I did, I didn’t have time to react.

“It’s a bummer. Just frustrating. I was finally upfront on this style of racetrack and still end up with a DNF. I don’t know, just frustrating.”

Greg Engle