William Byron wins NASCAR appeal, regains playoff points
By Bob Pockrass
FOX Sports NASCAR Writer
William Byron won his appeal Thursday of the 25-point penalty NASCAR issued following the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 on Sept. 25 at Texas Motor Speedway, putting him in a much better position to advance to the semifinal round of the Cup Series playoffs.
The appeals panel increased Byron’s fine from $50,000 to $100,000 but rescinded the points penalty, which has huge playoff implications. The three-member NASCAR appeals panel did not provide a reason for the change in penalty — as is standard procedure — but team owner Rick Hendrick had said a 25-point penalty was excessive for Byron spinning Denny Hamlin under caution at Texas.
Byron went from 10th in the standings at 11 points below the cutline to seventh and 14 points above heading into the race Sunday at the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course, after which the 12 drivers still eligible to win the championship will be cut to eight.
The four drivers who are winless in the round and lowest in points will be eliminated from championship contention.
Austin Cindric and Chase Briscoe were tied for eighth in the standings prior to the penalty, and now they are 12 points below Daniel Suárez, who now sits in eighth. Christopher Bell goes from 33 points below the cutline to 45 points below, making what was already a must-win situation even more crucial.
But the change doesn’t just impact those below the cutline. It also impacts those above as far as what they have to do to clinch a spot, no matter what anyone else does.
Ryan Blaney can clinch with 35 points (a second-place finish instead of no stage points), and he's the only driver who enters the race with a finish that could automatically advance him without stage points.
Ross Chastain would need 40 points. Hamlin would need 47 points. Joey Logano and Kyle Larson would need 50 points. They won’t know a spot where they could finish and not worry about what anyone else does until after the second stage Sunday.
Byron was initially penalized for spinning Hamlin under caution at Texas. NASCAR did not penalize Byron during the race, and officials said afterward they were paying attention to Martin Truex Jr.’s car (the cause of the caution) and didn’t realize Byron had spun Hamlin.
Byron and Hendrick Motorsports argued that the penalty was too harsh for what was meant to be a tap of the bumper, not to spin someone out. If Byron had been put to the back of the field or possibly docked a lap or two, he would've had an opportunity to gain spots (and points) prior to the end of the race. If he was parked for the move, he would have lost 23 points.
"They could have put him in the back," team owner Rick Hendrick said Sunday. "I don’t know why they waited and didn’t do anything. He didn’t mean to spin him. He meant to hit him, but William’s got a pretty clean record.
"I think 25 points in the playoffs, that’s pretty excessive."
Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass, and sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass.