William Byron wins NASCAR iRacing Richmond Race
Coming from the third starting spot, Bryon took the lead on lap 60 to bring home the checkered in the 150-lap simulation race at the 0.75-mile “D”-Shaped oval. “I was really, really concerned that we were going to have too old of tires there on that restart, but we were able to get good exits off the corner and just have a pretty decent restart and get the win,” says Byron. Leading a total of 96 laps for the win, Byron has led the most laps of all drivers in the four eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series races with a total of 320 laps.
The victory brings Byron’s career iRacing stats to an impressive 319 wins. “I wasn’t in a racing family growing up, so this was really my avenue to cut my teeth. Obviously, a much different way than most guys grew up. But I feel like in my generation, it’s pretty normal. I’ve very thankful for what its done for me,” says Byron. “Now, driving the No. 24 car in real life for Hendrick Motorsports is a dream. It’s incredible. I was really just the kid on here that was excited to see a NASCAR face on a channel when I was racing against them. So, now to be racing in real life and everything kind of come full-circle during this tough time is neat, too.”
Timmy Hill (Toyota) was second, Parker Kligerman (Toyota) was third, and Kyle Busch (Toyota) rounded out the top-five finishers of the race.
Denny Hamlin, who won the inaugural Pro Invitational Series event at Homestead, finished sixth followed by his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Erik Jones. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Bubba Wallace and Brad Keselowski rounded out the top 10 — the highest finish for both Keselowski and Wallace to date.
Despite several new entries this week, the Richmond race had the real competitive feel NASCAR fans have come to expect at the 0.75-mile oval.
And Byron, who partly got his competitive start in iRacing years ago, again put on a master class – holding off a group of competitors with fresher tires on a final race restart with three laps to go.
“I didn’t really know how that was going to work out, but luckily we were able to have a little bit of buffer to the guys with four tires, and then the late restart, just executed that well,’’ Byron said. “It was fun. Really enjoyed it. To go back‑to‑back is really cool. Having fun with it while we’re kind of in a hiatus here, but looking forward to getting back to real racing soon, too.’’
Matt DiBenedetto was parked late in the race after iRacing officials disapproved of avoidable contact he made – crashing Ryan Preece in the waning laps. It was a tough ending to a promising day for Preece, who won the pole position in qualifying and held a virtual “meet and greet” with his sponsors and fans before the green flag. He was the only other driver to lead multiple laps – his No. 37 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet pacing the field for 59 laps, second only to the race winner.
Top-10 finishers such as Kyle Busch, who finished fifth after starting 27th along with Jones (who started 24th) and Wallace (who started 28th) had to feel a strong sense of accomplishment on the afternoon.
Ultimately, strategy played a decisive hand in the dramatic final stretch to the checkered. A caution period with four laps remaining in regulation created an urgency for Byron. He had to hold off Hill – whose No. 66 Toyota was on fresher tires – in those frantic overtime laps.
And Byron and Hill have a virtual “history.” Byron was leading at Texas Motor Speedway when Hill moved him on a late-race restart to snatch the victory. On Sunday, it was just a clean fair sprint to the checkered.
“He raced me really clean; I was really thankful for that,’’ Byron said. “We’ve had some good races, honestly. Texas, obviously I was frustrated with Texas, but if I would have been in his position, I probably would have done the same thing, looking back on it.
“I think he’s done a really good job showing how consistent he is. I feel like he’s got good race craft, and I enjoy racing with him. I know what to expect when I race with him, that he is going to use the bumper, so I just have to race him back that way, and I think we both understand that. Fortunately I had just enough speed to kind of keep my gap there and win that race.”
Hill, the only driver with top-three finishes in all four eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series races, tweeted after the race that he was pleased with the effort, and like so many, already eagerly looking forward to the Talladega Superspeedway virtual high banks, where the series races next Sunday.
“Just came up a little bit short there at the end,’’ Hill said on Twitter. “Congratulations to @WilliamByron on the win! Looking forward to a bunch of fun at Talladega next week.’’
The fourth race in the online series was a fixed-setup event with no rapid-repair car resets allotted.
WILLIAM BYRON, NO. 24 AXALTA CHEVROLET TRANSCRIPT:
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, and thank you for joining us. We are now joined by William Byron, driver of the No. 24 AXALTA Chevrolet and the winner of today's Toyota Owners 150 at the virtual Richmond Raceway. William, thank you for joining us again today. Talk a little bit about taking home another victory.
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, that was really cool. I appreciate it. Just really pleased with how it turned out. Definitely the pit call there with about 40 ‑‑ yeah, 40 laps to go was a tough one. I didn't really know how that was going to work out, but luckily, we were able to have a little bit of buffer to the guys with four tires, and then the late restart, just executed that well. Yeah, it was fun. Really enjoyed it. To go back‑to‑back is really cool. Having fun with it while we're kind of in a hiatus here, but looking forward to getting back to real racing soon, too.
Q. William, so far, we've seen drivers who are experienced in iRacing win these races. Who do you think is going to be the first one who doesn't have a lot of experience to break through and win?
WILLIAM BYRON: That's a good question. I think that what I saw this week was that there was a lot of ‑‑ everyone was really equal on a short run in terms of speed, like even the guys with a little bit less experience. I think the more experience is just running those longer runs and kind of knowing how the tires wear and stuff like that. I think Kyle Busch is the obvious choice. He's run ‑‑ in the practice race that I did, he ran third, and then he ran fifth today. So, I think his talent and ability to kind of understand the cars is coming through.
I thought Brad Keselowski was really impressive recently. I think he was running third at one point in this race. You know, it's just little details here and there that make a difference, and everyone is really close now. I'd say the top five or seven could all win, I think, soon. I'd say those two guys, Brad and Kyle.
Q. Watching today, a lot of decisions on two tires, four tires and on tire wear got me thinking about when you get back to racing in actual cars and especially if there's no practice or very limited practice, how difficult are those decisions going to be?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, it's going to be really difficult. I think that's a great question. Yeah, I think there's going to be a lot of difficulty to know what the falloff will be in a run, and track position is going to matter and be indicative of what that strategy call is. Really, we made our decisions on staying out there based on our practice speed and what we anticipated the tires going through a heat cycle and taking back off, and I think if I had one more restart, I think that next seat cycle on my tires there would have been really bad for me. It's the same thing in real life. I think that's pretty cool how iRacing simulated the heat in the tires and stuff like that, which you saw in qualifying. It was a big deal to get heat in your tires and stuff.
But yeah, once we get back to real racing, I think it's going to be difficult to make those strategy calls. It's going to really come down to instinct on that.
Q. Obviously, things seem to change almost daily, but there's certainly been a lot more talk lately from the President and other politicians about having sports return. How much is it starting to be a little bit more of a light at the end of the tunnel potentially, understanding that still things could change? And what kind of concerns or questions might you have whenever sport came back and how it handled things?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I mean, it's good to hear. I think just my personality is one that I just like to know concrete evidence of when we are going to go back or not, so it kind of ‑‑ it's tough for me to hear potential when it is and when not, and honestly I just try to tune it out a little bit just because I don't know concretely when it's going to be. But I think it's going to be soon rather than later, and I'm excited about that.
I think honestly, I've used this time ‑‑ obviously the iRacing has been a big thing, but I've used this time to grow some confidence in myself and work on some things there, and I'm excited to go back racing when we do. I think we'll have a good opportunity to run well.
I don't really know when, but I'm just going to wait until I get the official word, and then I'll work accordingly.
Q. What kind of challenge will it be on everybody and on drivers, the likelihood of multiple races in a week with NASCAR still wanting to get all 32 remaining races in, and the challenge, the physical, mental on a driver, but also the challenge for the teams where you could see potential mid‑week races and two, three races a week?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, it's going to be tough managing your time. The team aspect of things is going to be difficult because those guys are going to have to turn cars around, and your shop efforts are going to have to be really exceptional to prepare good cars.
You know, I think that honestly for me as a driver, I'm just going to have to manage my time really well. I'm going to have to be in good physical shape but not be too worn out training too hard or anything like that. It's going to be a really fine balance, but you're just going to have to take care of yourself and treat it like it was, I guess, growing up when I would go race three or four times a weekend in Legend cars. Granted, the races weren't as long, but sometimes it was easy to get worn out as it got hot. I'm definitely going to have to revert back to that.
Q. Do you know how many iRacing wins you have? And also, what do you remember about the very first iRacing victory you had?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I remember ‑‑ I think I've got quite a few. I don't know between dirt and asphalt really what it is. I've gotten like 12 or 15 dirt wins here recently, but I think that's probably pretty up there. But I think honestly, for me when I first started, things clicked pretty well. I just had to honestly learn the race craft, and once I learned kind of how to race better, I think that's what translated over for me in the real car, setting up passes and when to be aggressive and whatnot is really what I tried to learn.
The lap time, anybody can make a pretty good lap time, as you saw in qualifying. The lap times were all pretty close. It's just about race craft and really knowing what to do there.
Q. Do you remember who you beat the first time you won an iRace?
WILLIAM BYRON: I have no idea. It's probably either a young kid or an old person. I don't really know. I have no idea. I think it was ‑‑ you obviously have to work your way up the ranks in iRacing, so it was probably a legend car or something like that.
Q. Since you're an iRacing pro and back‑to‑back race winner in this series, can you discuss what you think the NASCAR Pro Invitational will be like at Talladega next week?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, it's going to be wild. I think there's honestly going to be some really good racing, though. I think the goal should be to have a couple of resets to keep us all in the game, and I'm really actually looking forward to it because I feel like some guys will be really good at drafting. But at the same time, it's going to be really interesting.
Q. A handful of races, two wins into the series, have you noticed that anybody in the field races you differently than on the real track, and will any of that spill over when you go back to racing?
WILLIAM BYRON: I mean, honestly, I've learned a couple different guys, like Timmy I've never really raced a whole lot. I raced him in Legend cars a little bit. But Ryan Preece races pretty similar to how he races in the real car, Kyle Busch, all those guys race similar. So, I feel like honestly, I've just learned more of the tendencies that they have whenever they're racing. So, I'm glad I've kind of learned some of those things, and I feel like there's some parallels to draw there. So, everyone races, I would say, very similar to what they do in real life.
Q. Just curious if we do indeed go back to racing at Charlotte for the Coca‑Cola 600, you won both poles at Charlotte last year. You have, I guess, a top‑10 finish at the Coca‑Cola 600. You've talked about your confidence; you've built up confidence during this off period. How positive would you feel about going into Charlotte for NASCAR's return?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I feel really good about it. I think that Chad obviously has a ton of success at Charlotte, and I feel like now that the track at Charlotte has gotten more wear and more abrasive, I feel like that falls into his notes and his wheelhouse of when they ran really well there with the 48 car. I'm super confident that Chad is going to have a good setup when we go back, and I think honestly if we can just kind of parlay what we did last spring there, which was a decent top‑10 finish, I think we were top 5 or 6 in all the stages in the 600 race, and I feel like we ran well. If we can just work on a couple of things there to have a better car once the track rubbers in really aggressively and once the race changes and evolves over 600 miles, we should be in good shape. I'd love to go back there. Really any of the mile‑and‑a‑half’s I feel like we'd have a good opportunity.
Q. And there's been discussions about skeleton crews, maybe a half dozen guys on each team when we go back to racing initially. How will you have to adapt to having a smaller workforce surrounding you at the racetrack?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, it's going to be tough. The ability that we have normally had in practicing and having this conventional string of a schedule throughout a weekend is not going to be there I don't feel. We're not going to have ‑‑ unfortunately not going to have the fans signing autographs in the normal routine there. I'm just going to try to make it as normal as possible. I'm really enjoying racing a lot right now. I know it's virtual, but I've been racing dirt races and asphalt races, so I'm going to try to do that when we still go back racing, too, and I think we're going to be racing a lot in general. So, I'm looking forward to that.
Q. I just wanted to ask you about the finish and kind of what went through your mind when you knew Timmy Hill was going to be right there coming at you with just a couple laps to go and really how tightly the two of you have raced these races?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, he raced me really clean. I was really thankful for that. We've had some good races, honestly. Texas, obviously I was frustrated with Texas, but if I would have been in his position, I probably would have done the same thing, looking back on it. I think he's done a really good job showing how consistent he is. I feel like he's got good race craft, and I enjoy racing with him. I know what to expect when I race with him, that he is going to use the bumper, so I just have to race him back that way, and I think we both understand that.
Fortunately, I had just enough speed to kind of keep my gap there and win that race.
Q. Next week's race at Talladega, obviously it's going to be virtual, but it's going to be the first time that NASCAR has had any sort of superspeedway event since Ryan Newman's crash at Daytona. Do you feel like having an iRacing event being the next superspeedway event kind of helps cut through any tension or uneasiness about this style of racing that drivers or fans may have in light of what happened at Daytona?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I mean, it's going to be a tough race. I think virtually you're going to see a lot of aggression and things of that nature. But yeah, I can't really say that it has any relation to what happened at Daytona recently, but yeah, superspeedway racing is a tough sport in itself, and it's a lot of risk involved, and it's just part of it.
Q. With today's race there were a lot more long runs it seemed like, especially in the middle of the race. How did that affect how you attacked the race and what your pit strategy was?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I wasn't really sure how much of a long run that was going to be, but we definitely had that meaty portion of the race that was a very lengthy run. Made an easy strategy call to come down and take four tires, which was actually the last time we pitted, but it worked out well to where we could stay out. But yeah, I definitely was intrigued by how long the runs were. I thought everyone did a really good job of studying and practicing, and we had a drivable setup that would allow guys to move around and really to make passes on each other.
Q. Do you think with all the racing that you've done and all the practicing that you've done is going to make ‑‑ you're going to be a little bit sharper than maybe some of these guys when you come back?
WILLIAM BYRON: I hope so. That's the plan. I hope so for sure. I mean, even for me, I've done more iRacing this time than really, I ever have. I've never been on my simulator as much, even though I've been an iRacing advocate for a long time. Yeah, I think that this period of time has really kind of opened my eyes to some new things that I could try and some new methods and things like that. So, I'm really excited about that.
At the same time, the real car has slight differences here and there, so it'll take some adaptation to get back used to the car, but I really like the method that we've used during this time, and I've just enjoyed kind of having a little bit of pressure on a race and having another way to practice that different than our normal race.
Q. You talked about here on the teleconference, you talked about on the FOX broadcast about practicing for the bump‑and‑run. How do you do that? Do you just kind of park your car a little bit in the corner and let somebody ram into you? What's the idea of how you practice for that?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, there's definitely a strategy to it. But you know, I think those things are just things that you learn over time. Honestly when I was racing short tracks and bull rings that's kind of the method that it took to be successful, so I guess to kind of revert back to that somewhat. But yeah, Timmy raced me really clean today, and he's obviously done a good job. I think he finished like top three in all the races so far. So that's pretty impressive, and he's been good.
Q. With the success that you've had over the years even prior to getting into the Cup Series, did you envision iRacing going to the level it has, certainly as a result of something so unanticipated with the pandemic, but did you ever envision one day it would be on the FOX network and people would be watching it on a daily basis?
WILLIAM BYRON: No, definitely not. Like I said, it's taken on a different meaning even for me with the pressure that's been added to it and the sponsor coverage and everything like that. It's taken on a different meaning for sure. But I've enjoyed that. I think it's given me a purpose during this time, obviously a difficult time for everyone, but it's given me a chance to work on something myself and put myself in some difference positions than I've ever been in, as well. Very thankful that FOX has done what they've done to promote it, and I think it's been a great thing overall.
Q. When you look at ‑‑ we talked about the similarities between the iRacing and then at the real track, but is there any difference in keeping the car out of trouble in iRacing versus real on‑track racing?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I think that there's a little bit of difference in the fact that you have to manage your damage and you have to manage who you make contact with, I guess, and how that works out. You know, it's tough to pass on there, just like it is in real life when everybody is so equal, so really when I was trying to pass Ryan Preece there at the beginning, I just had to do a good job of getting a run on him so I could get to his inside and kind of show the nose. Yeah, it's a tough thing just like it is in real life to manage contact and try to set up passes.
Q. With the smaller field today and the lack of resets in the field, did you notice a tangible difference with the racing that went on today?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, yeah, most definitely. I mean, there was way less intentional contact. People were cleaner and more methodical with the way that they raced. I thought that was a good thing. I thought they were still hard racing, but guys weren't running all over each other for position. I was really pleased with that. I mean, I don't know what it looked like, honestly, but I was pleased with how the racing was, with myself and Ryan Preece and Timmy Hill, and then throughout the field I thought it was good.
Q. As a follow‑up on what we talked about earlier with the fans, all the experts have said that any sport in this country is going to begin again without fans. Nobody obviously wants that, but how would you as a driver have to adapt to not having your normal environment at the track and fans, whether it be packed stands of 100,000 or just a local short track, they add a lot to the race in general? How would you as a driver adapt to not having them there?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, it's going to be tough for sure. The normal routine is going to have to change, and the amount of time that we are at the racetrack is probably going to change, too. I'm looking forward to seeing what that is like. I know our team on the 24 will do a good job of preparing and adapting to the circumstances, so I'm just looking forward to seeing how that plays out.
Q. You mentioned that you've run some dirt recently. You made your debut in the Sprint cars for the World of Outlaws. What are your thoughts on the Sprint cars?
WILLIAM BYRON: Oh, I love them. They're really cool. I really enjoy the way that they are, just because you have to adapt lap after lap, and the variance of the track and the way that the car feels is just incredible how much it changes lap after lap. I've been learning about the setup of those cars, too, and just trying to adapt as well as I can. I feel like there's still a lot of room for me to go, but I think there's been some progress there in the last couple weeks. I'm excited for whenever that next race is. Hopefully Tuesday or Wednesday. I'm excited to run those again.
Q. Is there a specific car and track combo on iRacing outside of NASCAR that you prefer?
WILLIAM BYRON: I actually love the ‑‑ I'd say the Sprint cars at Eldora are really cool. Yeah, I've ran them at a couple different tracks. Limaland is a cool track for them, too. So, there's a lot of neat ones. I think INDYCAR at any track is really cool, as well. There's a lot of great ones out there.
Q. How do you feel about iRacing giving drivers the unlimited wave‑around today? We saw a lot of wave‑arounds, guys asking for them, and we saw a lot of guys like Dale Earnhardt Jr. that weren't really impressed by that.
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I mean, I think it's interesting because you kind of get a different perspective on it than we have in real life where you really have ‑‑ in real life the wave‑arounds are only warranted if you're the Lucky Dog or if everyone pits in front of you. So, it's definitely different. But I think at the same time it's a good thing because it kind of keeps ‑‑ obviously it's not a real race, so it keeps everyone engaged.
Q. We saw more retaliation today between DiBenedetto and Preece. Some drivers were even lobbying for a race suspension or just something other than the disqualification because obviously that hasn't really worked in the past. How do you feel on that?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I definitely don't think intentional wrecking is good any time, any race, so definitely not impressed by that, what was done there. So, it definitely still doesn't impress me now, as it didn't last week, so I don't know what they should do, but I would suggest not doing it.
Q. You've been joined by your teammates on the Pro Invitational circuit over the past few weeks in Jimmie Johnson and Alex Bowman. How do you think they have adapted to the race ‑‑ and Chase Elliott, too, of course, but he's run plenty of iRaces since. How do you think they've adapted, the new guys in Bowman and Johnson, how do you think they've adapted to the track so far, and is there collaboration between your teammates with this kind of thing, or is there any way to do that?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I try to help as much as I can. I think that it's been cool to see those guys running, as well. I think it's good for all of Hendrick Motorsports to be doing something during this time, so I try to help when I can for sure, and they seem like they've been enjoying it a little bit. Yeah, it's been good.
Q. As someone who has become kind of a face for the pro invitational series with these back‑to‑back wins, how does it feel to provide a sense of normalcy for the American sports fan if only for about two hours every weekend?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, it's really cool. I think that it gives us a chance to show the world what racing is all about. Hopefully we're bringing it good coverage and publicity. Yeah, I think it's really cool for us because we are the only sport that's able to do it and realistically show something that we can do. So definitely proud of that right now.
Q. Just with a lot of real‑life drivers running the sim, how does the communication look between you and some of the other drivers in iRacing to sort of give feedback and improve the sim?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, we try to give a lot of feedback week to week. I feel like honestly each week it's continuing to get better because of that feedback that we've been giving, and Dale Jr. has been a big advocate for that. I feel like he's been one of the biggest ‑‑ he and Denny Hamlin, Parker Kligerman, those guys have been trying to improve it each week, so really pleased with how that's been going.
Q. Once real‑life racing does get back going, how would you feel about doing like ePro Invitational let's say during the off‑season, like the December and January months?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, it would be cool. I think honestly what I've enjoyed from it is just the variety of racing that I can do, whether it's NASCAR, INDYCAR, Sprint cars, Supercars, whatever it is. There's a lot of cool things that we can do right now, so I'd enjoy doing that throughout the future, honestly, whether it's NASCAR or whatever it is. Hopefully that can continue.
Q. Would you like to see the Coke Series drivers included in some aspect of iRacing alongside real‑life professionals such as yourself?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, it would be really cool to have some of those guys come into the race. I think they're obviously very good, and I get a chance to race against them sometimes during the week. It's cool to race against them. I think, for now, though, it gives our guys a chance to shine, and it's good to see them separate and kind of give each one their individual show per se. I think it's been really good so far.
Q. NASCAR has said they want to keep the Pro Invitational series going beyond the break of the virus. How do you think that'll look once real racing resumes?
WILLIAM BYRON: I think that it's going to be interesting for sure. I think right now this is working really well during the time being, so we're just going to continue doing it until we get back.
THE MODERATOR: William, thank you for joining us today.
WILLIAM BYRON: Absolutely, thank you.
THE MODERATOR: And thank you to all the media for joining, as well.
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