NASCAR Watkins Glen Auto Racing

William Byron has a series-best six wins this season, but needs to perform all to advance to the season-ending NASCAR Cup Series championship race. Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

William Byron has been the most successful driver in the NASCAR Cup Series this season. But the three races left in the playoffs are all that matter to him now.

Despite his field-best six wins, Byron said his accomplishments don’t hold much meaning to him as he prepares for Sunday’s Round of 8 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He thinks about how he has performed – running toward the front and putting himself in good positions.

“In terms of being a favorite, I think all that stuff goes out the window now when you look at the points and how close we all are,” Byron told reporters Wednesday on a video call. “Everyone’s pretty much on equal footing right now. It’s not really about who’s the favorite or what-not, but just about who can perform in the next two races and who has the best cars at those two tracks.”

Byron, nine points above the elimination line, is in the most comfortable position of the seven drivers vying for the final three spots in the Championship Four. Kyle Larson already punched his ticket to Phoenix with his win at Las Vegas, and fellow heavyweights Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin each sit just two points above the cut line.

Christopher Bell, who came within a car length of ousting Larson from the checkered flag last week, finds himself two points below that cut line. Beyond him, Tyler Reddick is 16 points below, followed by Ryan Blaney (-17) and Chris Buescher (-23).

“If I had 18 opportunities at it, maybe I would have won the race,” Bell said this week. “But I had one opportunity, in a split-second decision, and I didn’t win the race.”


Said Reddick: “We’re definitely further behind than we wanted to be coming out of Vegas. … But we can learn from that as we approach Homestead. It was a tough day for sure, but hopefully on the other side of it when we get to Homestead, we’ll just be better than we were coming into Vegas.”

CHRIS BUESCHER knows he stands entering Sunday’s race. The 30-year-old in RFK Racing’s No. 17 Ford Mustang is at the bottom of the standings among the eight drivers still eligible to win the championship. At this point, Buescher almost essentially has to win either this weekend at Homestead or next week at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia to secure his spot among the final four drivers.

He’s up for the challenge.

“I’ve just been a bit of an underdog for a lot of years,” Buescher said, “and we’ve really had to try and claw our way up.”

Buescher certainly has made the climb this year. This is just his second time making the playoffs, let alone advancing to the point of still being in contention through the Round of 8. His only other playoff appearance came in his rookie season in 2016 – “that was big in the moment” – but finished 16th. In the six years after that, Buescher has finished higher than 20th just one, nabbing 19th place in 2021.

This year, though, he found a groove, especially as the regular season came to an end.

He won three of NASCAR’s final five races heading into the playoffs and his success carried into the playoffs. Through the first seven races, he posted two top-five finishes and a seventh.

“I’ve been more ready than I’ve ever been for those moments,” Buescher said. “That’s enabled us to go take those good days and make them fantastic, get some wins, bring some trophies home and put us in a spot where we’re able to just say that we could be fighting for for championship this year. That’s huge.”

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