NASCAR Power Rankings: Denny Hamlin moves up to first place

For this kind of weekend at Martinsville Speedway, William Byron has raced several late model races this year.

While there are many ways to do laps in a simulator or on iRacing, there is value in doing real laps in a race car, even if it differs from the next-gen car. With limited practice in the Cup, the more laps the merrier, especially for 24-year-old Byron, who only started competing a decade ago – years after many of his competitors first started.

Byron is close to contesting the Cup Championship race for the first time this weekend. He leads Denny Hamlin to last transfer spot by five points.

Byron’s experience of late model racing this season gave him additional opportunities to work on his race car, whether it required more time for restarts, tire management or something else. His success this year — which included winning the Slinger Nationals in Wisconsin in July — also gave him added confidence.

“Super proud of him for stepping out of his comfort zone and pushing his limits,” said crew chief Rudy Fugle in July motormice on peacock. “That’s the big thing.

“A lot of guys do it in different ways, but not always in front of an audience. You don’t do it in front of everyone because if you go up there and miss the show… most people who don’t know how hard it is will laugh at you. You have to get past that. He did and it paid off. He’s a much more complete rider this year and will just keep growing.”

Byron is heading to Martinsville after winning the spring race (and this weekend’s Camping World Truck Series race), but he faces a tough opponent in Hamlin, who has five Martinsville wins and 16 top-five finishes there in 33 starts. Byron will make his 10th Cup start at the historic half-mile course. Hamlin put in nearly 16,000 laps at those Martinsville races compared to Byron who put in just over 4,200 laps there.

Byron’s spring win at Martinsville was his second of the season, but he hasn’t won in NASCAR since. Since then he has won three Late Model races. He won at Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville in May, at Berlin Raceway in Michigan in June and at the Slinger Nationals in July.

“I think it’s learning to be versatile,” Byron said this summer of the value of late model racing. “Winning in different cars is a big boost because you’re not one-dimensional.

“Like before this year, I probably would have gone back sooner and managed Late Models if I felt it was going pretty well. But I didn’t think I would be able to take what I’m doing now and move on. Doing it this year has definitely instilled some confidence knowing I can get in a car and learn.

“I think that’s what it takes on Sunday … that adaptability and the ability to have different techniques and make it work.”

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Two weeks ago, Kyle Larson saw his Drivers’ Championship chances end when he retired after the round of 16 at the Charlotte Roval.

But Team #5 was still high enough in the Owners’ Score to have a shot at the Owners’ title. Credit goes to how crew chief Cliff Daniels kept the team focused on this goal after the disappointment in the Roval.

“Cliff has done a great job with his team and got them back on track,” said Jeff Andrews, President and General Manager of Hendrick Motorsports.

With Homestead in the round of 16, it presented a great opportunity for the No. 5 team for Hendrick Motorsports to secure a place in the Owners’ Championship race in Phoenix.

When Homestead hosted the Cup title race, series observers believed that Larson would be the big favorite to win if he could make it this far. Because the next-gen car features a composite body that can make more contact with the wall, it offered another benefit for Larson, who often walks along the wall there.

“I think (Sunday) it honestly paid off because I finally have a car that’s strong enough for me,” Larson said, referring to the composite body. “I can drive into the wall without flattening your tire or messing up your aerodynamics

“I probably ran a decent amount into the wall three or four times (Sunday) where with the old car it probably would have been a pit stop and I would have killed my race.

“Fortunately, I think this car has played a lot in my favor because I push the limits more than others. You can see it on the right side of my car. That’s pretty obvious.”

Larson showed his strength, leading 199 of 267 laps and sweeping both stages.

“My car was incredible on the wall,” he said. “It also has to behave the way you want it to.

“It did everything I wanted, against the wall. The ride quality was great in (Turn) 3. It spun where I needed it to turn on retraction so I could carry speed. It turned on the output so I could just keep my foot on the gas. It was neither too loose at the exit nor too tight where I had to take my foot off the accelerator.”

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Martin Truex Jr.’s bad luck continued Sunday.

He appeared capable of grabbing his first win of the season but was spun in the pit lane and saw his chances of victory end.

Truex came out of the pit lane as the leader on lap 246 of the 267-lap race. With the sun in his eyes, he slowed abruptly as he approached his pit stop and was hit from behind by Kyle Larson. The contact threw Truex backwards into his cabin. His pit stop lasted over a minute and cost him any chance of victory.

“It was really hard to see through those windshields now with the sun and all that stuff covering them,” Truex said. “I must have seen my box too late. So I slowed down before swerving out of the way there (Larson). Partly on me.”

Truex finished sixth, contributing to the times he could have won but didn’t.

In Texas in September, Truex was leading when he had a puncture and crashed on lap 268 of the 334-lap race. He turned 31.

At Darlington in September, Truex was leading with less than 35 laps remaining when he lost power steering and his engine began to overheat. He turned 31.

In New Hampshire in July, Truex led 172 of the first 206 laps. When the warning came out on lap 206, Truex came into the pits. He was the first on the pit lane and the first to exit after taking two tyres. Three cars stayed away. On reboot, Truex was trapped and pushed back. He eventually dropped back to 11th before dropping back to fourth in a race in which he had won both stages and was dominant.

At Nashville in June, Truex was able to line up alongside Chase Elliott on the front row for the final restart when he mistakenly followed his teammates down the pit lane.

Elliott was leading when the warning came out with eight laps to go for Josh Bilicki’s engine failure. Elliott fell by the wayside but Kyle Busch, who finished second, and Denny Hamlin, who finished third, both pitted.

Truex, who finished fourth, was told to stay out if he could restart on the front row. Since both Busch and Hamlin would have come down pit lane, Truex would have received a front row seat for the restart, but he also drove down pit lane. Truex started 14th and finished 22nd.

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