DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Hendrick Motorsports had plenty to celebrate — and plenty of disappointment as well.
William Byron, the 22-year-old from Charlotte driving the team’s storied No. 24, won his first NASCAR Cup Series race in overtime of the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday night, locking up one of the three postseason berths available going into the regular-season finale.
“It’s been incredible, man,” Byron said in a televised postrace interview. “It’s been a hard couple years in the Cup Series and trying to get my first win and try to jell with this team. These guys have done an awesome job today and got us in the playoffs. It’s amazing.”
Jimmie Johnson, his 44-year-old Hendrick teammate, will have his final season as a full-time driver will end without another title.
The seven-time NASCAR champion was also battling for a postseason berth in his final season, but his chance to reach the playoffs ended after his No. 48 involved in a multi-car crash with five laps to go.
“Things just got ugly in Turn 1,” Johnson said in a broadcast interview after the race. “So, unfortunate — but that’s (restrictor) plate racing.”
Matt DiBenedetto finished 12th and secured the final spot. Clint Bowyer wrapped up a berth at the end of the opening stage.
Johnson got caught up in a wreck with five laps remaining, one started when Denny Hamlin made contact with Joey Logano. Byron squeezed between the two, took the lead and held on after a green-white-checkered finish.
The race was pretty clean for most of the night, but got crazy down the stretch.
Tyler Reddick started the first multi-car crash by trying to block Kyle Busch after getting a huge push to take the lead. Busch clipped Reddick’s bumper, sending him into the outside wall and collecting several other cars.
Busch, Erik Jones, Kurt Busch, Austin Dillon, Ryan Newman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and others were knocked out.
“(Reddick) just ran out of talent,” Newman said. “All it takes is one goofball to make a mistake.”
Reddick accepted responsibility for the crash.
“If someone made that move on me, I’d be pretty mad, too,” he said.
Byron swerved his way through clouds of smoke to stay in the mix there. He was even luckier after Hamlin and Logano got together.