William Byron came within 0.012 seconds of capturing his first career NASCAR XFINITY Series victory at Michigan International Speedway on Saturday.
Two late cautions stacked the field up and allowed the JR Motorsports driver to take the lead on each ensuing restart. However, as Denny Hamlin approached off the final corner, the two raced door-to-door before Hamlin edged out Byron at the finish line to claim victory.
It marked Byron’s best career series finish and seventh top-10 of the season.
While the 19-year-old’s runner-up result is impressive, his ability to challenge and battle the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regulars stood out most.
Hamlin and Brad Keselowski dominated the event, leading a combined 88 of the 125 laps and looked to be the drivers who would duel for the victory. The second to final caution placed Byron in the picture, and he rose to the occasion.
Competing with and nearly topping premiere series veterans isn’t an easy feat, especially in only the rookie’s second career start at the speedway and his run attests to his talent behind the wheel.
While Saturday marked the first time Byron showed such prowess at the front of the field in the series, similar performances later this season will continue to set him apart from both regulars and young competitors.
A trip to the winner’s circle seems to be right around the corner. Byron would be the third driver competing for the title to pick up a victory in 2017, and first since his teammate Justin Allgaier won at Phoenix in March.
Next weekend’s race at Iowa may present his best opportunity yet. In each of his first starts at the track in the K&N Pro Series East and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, he came home with the checkered flag.
Showing similar strength at Iowa and beyond will be key as Byron looks to further establish himself as the next young star to emerge out of the XFINITY Series and succeed at NASCAR’s top level.
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