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William Byron drives on the front stretch during Saturday’s Cup Series race at Daytona International Speedway. Byron won the regular-season finale, securing a playoff berth. Terry Renna/Associated Press

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — William Byron snaked his way through a smoky crash late Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway and narrowly avoided another melee a few laps later.

Those moves got him to Victory Lane for the first time in his young NASCAR Cup Series career and back into the playoffs for the second consecutive season.

They also helped knock out Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, a seven-time series champion whose final season won’t end with another title.

Winless in 120 races, Johnson made a trip to Victory Lane to congratulate Byron and the No. 24 team, the one now directed by Johnson’s former long-time crew chief, Chad Knaus.

“It’s a big win for Chad Knaus and William Byron,” Johnson said. “I really felt like we had a way to transfer, to win, or point our way in and things just got ugly. Unfortunate, but that’s plate racing.”

Byron won the race in overtime after two late cautions and locked up one of the three postseason berths available going into the finale. Matt DiBenedetto finished 12th and secured the final spot. Clint Bowyer wrapped up a berth at the end of the opening stage.

Johnson looked as if he would squeeze into the playoffs. But he got caught up in a wreck in the closing laps that 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.

“It’s been a hard couple of years in the Cup Series and trying to get my first win and trying to gel with this team,” Byron said. “These guys have done an awesome job and to be in the playoffs is amazing, man.”

About 20,000 fans tried to spread out in Daytona’s massive motorsports stadium and were treated to a frantic finish.

The race was pretty clean for most of the night, but got crazy down the stretch.

Tyler Reddick started the first big 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. He was even luckier after Hamlin and Logano got together.

INDYCAR: Scott Dixon and Takuma Sato repeated their 20-lap shootout from the Indianapolis 500 a week ago, with Dixon reversing the finishing order Saturday by winning at World Wide Technology Raceway outside of St. Louis.

Sato held off Dixon a week ago for his second Indy 500 victory in four years. Dixon had 20 laps to chase down Sato, but a late caution ended the race under yellow.

At Gateway, Dixon took the lead by first beating Pato O’Ward out of the pits and then cycled to the front when Sato made his stop with 25 laps remaining. Sato returned to the track in third, quickly passed O’Ward and set his sights on Dixon.

Dixon had 20 laps to navigate lapped traffic while holding off Sato.

“Sato was coming strong at the end and I didn’t realize how strong he was coming,” Dixon said. “We were kind of going into reserve mode a little to look after the engine and then he was coming fast.”

Dixon beat Sato by 0.1404 seconds for his fourth win of the season and 50th overall and praised his Chip Ganassi Racing team. The New Zealander led 111 of 200 laps at Indy but couldn’t catch Sato in the closing laps before the caution froze the field.

“Last week at Indianapolis was a bit of a bummer,” Dixon admitted.

Dixon moved within two victories of Mario Andretti on IndyCar’s victory list. Andretti is second with 52; A.J. Foyt is the leader at 67.

Dixon holds a 117-point lead in the IndyCar championship standings as he chases a fifth title.

“That was a textbook Scott Dixon race. Steady, one at a time, here, there, nothing fancy,” said winning team owner Ganassi.

Sato finished second for a 1-2 sweep for Honda. O’Ward, the highest finishing rookie in last week’s 500, was third for Chevrolet.

Sato was attempting to become the first driver since Arie Luyendyk in 1997 to win the race immediately following the Indy 500.

“Since last week we carried a lot of momentum,” Sato said of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. “The boys did a fantastic job two weeks in a row, I’m very proud of them.”

The race got off to a rocky start with a multicar accident when the green flag waved. Alex Palou and Oliver Askew, both rookies, were penalized by IndyCar for triggering a crash that knocked out three cars from Andretti Autosport.

Alexander Rossi, still seeking his first win of the season in a horrible year for the perennial title contender, was collected along with teammates Marco Andretti and Zach Veach. It also ended the race for Ed Carpenter, and Simon Pagenaud eventually had to retire because of damage to his car.

“I was driving straight. I don’t know what you want me to say,” said Rossi, who likened the incident to an iRacing race.

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Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton poses on his car in memory of actor Chadwick Boseman after winning the pole Saturday for the Belgium Grand Prix. Francois Lenoir, Pool via AP

FORMULA ONE: After clinching the record-extending 93rd pole position of his distinguished career, Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton stood proudly on top of his all-black Mercedes and crossed his arms in memory of a hero of his own.

The British driver dedicated his latest exceptional drive at the Belgian Grand Prix to American actor Chadwick Boseman, who died of cancer on Friday at the age of 43.

“A superhero died last night so that was really weighing heavy on me today,” Hamilton said. “I was so driven to deliver a good performance today so I could dedicate it to Chad.”

Boseman played Black American icons Jackie Robinson and James Brown before inspiring audiences as the regal “Black Panther” in Marvel’s blockbuster movie franchise. The film inspired the cross-armed “Wakanda forever” salute that became a pop culture landmark.

“This was an important pole. I woke up today to the saddest news of Chadwick passing away,” Hamilton said. “That news broke me, so it wasn’t easy to get back focused. For what he’s done for our people and super heroes – to show the kids what’s possible in life. Wakanda forever.”

The salute was so resonant that California congresswoman Maxine Waters stood up and did it at singing legend and civil rights activist Aretha Franklin’s funeral two years ago.

Hamilton, the only black driver in F1, explained the impact both Chadwick and his film character had on him.

“I was really, really lucky I got to meet him once and tell him how awesome he was. Because I remember when I was a kid, Superman was the hero, didn’t look like me and I still thought Superman was the greatest,” Hamilton said. “And so when Chad became the king, when he became a superhero, it was such a special day for so many people. Because I know that young kids would be able to now look up to him and see that it is possible.”

Boseman’s death prompted an outpouring of grief and Hamilton fondly recalled the time they met.

“In New York during Fashion Week … we were out at the same dinner. We actually kind of partied away together because we were on the same table. It was an incredible scenario,” Hamilton said. “I remember when ‘Black Panther’ came out and I’m a huge Marvel fan. So just knowing how Hollywood has been for a long, long time and to see the first Black superhero come out, everyone was so proud.”

Hamilton dominated qualifying once again, setting a track record at the 7-kilometer (4.3-mile) circuit located in the Ardennes forest, finishing .511 seconds ahead of Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas and .526 clear of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.

Hamilton, who is chasing a seventh F1 title to equal Michael Schuamcher’s record, leads the standings by 37 points over Verstappen and 43 points over Bottas.

“That’s one of the cleanest qualifying sessions I’ve ever had,” Hamilton said proudly. “It’s a phenomenal feeling driving around this track, how fast this track has become.”

 

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