William Byron wins first Daytona 500

Hendrick Motorsports kicked off its 40th anniversary season with a 1-2 finish

Charlotte’s William Byron celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Cup Series season-opening Daytona 500 on Monday. (Chris O'Meara / AP Photo)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The goal was obvious to William Byron: put the No. 24 Chevrolet in Victory Lane in the 2024 Daytona 500 to launch Hendrick Motorsports’ 40th anniversary season.

Mission accomplished, even if Byron had to complete an agonizing final lap under caution around Daytona International Speedway awaiting the winner to be declared.

“Did we win it? Did we win it?” Byron kept asking over his radio.

The emotion he heard over his radio from crew chief Rudy Fugle confirmed Byon had just won the biggest race of his career.

“Well, no one told me. And Rudy was crying on the radio, so I was like ‘Dude, I hope he’s crying for good reason,’” Byron said. “I guess he was a ball of emotion there, and so I was like ‘Did we actually win or not?’”

Byron snapped Hendrick Motorsports’ nine-race Daytona 500 losing streak with a win Monday in the rain-delayed “Great American Race.” He crossed under the white flag denoting the final lap at the exact moment a crash broke out behind him. The caution flag was thrown and he wasn’t quite sure if he was the official winner as he circled Daytona one final time.

The last Hendrick driver to win the Daytona 500 was Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2014. The 26-year-old Byron from Charlotte is the sixth different driver to win the 500 for Rick Hendrick, the winningest team owner in Cup Series history who celebrated the win on the actual 40th anniversary of his first Cup win.

“The first time we came here, we didn’t think we had any business even being here,” Hendrick said after the race. “We felt way out of our league. Now here we are 40 years later. You couldn’t write the script any better. To win this on the 40th, to the day, it’s just awesome.”

The ninth Daytona 500 win for Hendrick Motorsports tied the team with Petty Enterprises for most in NASCAR history.

“William Byron was already a superstar, and I mean, he just went to another level of being superstar,” said Hendrick vice chairman Jeff Gordon, himself a three-time Daytona 500 winner in the No. 24 Chevrolet.

“I wasn’t driving the car, but I felt like I was making every lap out there with him,” he said. “We’re going to celebrate. This is a huge win.”

Byron, who had never finished higher than 21st in the Daytona 500, is a self-taught racer who used computer equipment to hone his skills. He made it to the championship race last season after winning a career-high six races but lost out on the title to Ryan Blaney, the older brother of Byron’s longtime girlfriend.

“I’m just a kid from racing on computers and winning the Daytona 500, I can’t believe it,” Byron said. “I wish my dad was here. He’s sick, but this is for him, man. We’ve been through so much, and we sat up in the grandstands together and watched the race.”

The fourth and final caution of the race began when Hendrick driver Alex Bowman hit Byron from behind and it caused Byron to sideswipe Brad Keselowski and trigger a 23-car crash that caused a red flag that lasted more than 15 minutes.

There were four laps remaining on the final restart and Byron was in second. He and Ross Chastain of Trackhouse Racing pushed back and forth for the lead, and it was Byron out front as a crash broke out behind them just as he’d crossed under the white flag marking the final lap of the race.

Byron was followed by teammate Bowman in a 1-2 sweep for Chevrolet and Hendrick. Christopher Bell in a Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing finished third and was followed by Chevys from Corey Lajoie of Spire Motorsports and AJ Allmendinger of Kaulig Racing.

Bubba Wallace was sixth in a Toyota for 23XI Racing and was followed by John Hunter Nemechek in another Toyota for Legacy Motor Club. Chase Briscoe was eighth in a Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing followed by Legacy driver Erik Jones and SHR teammate Noah Gragson.

The race ran one day later than scheduled because of persistent rain all weekend at Daytona. Monday was supposed to open with the rescheduled second-tier Xfinity Series race and then lead into the 500, but when it was still raining Monday morning, NASCAR reordered the events and made the Xfinity race the closer.