NASCAR: Phoenix United Rentals Work United 500 post-race quotes
An overtime finish determined the winner of the NASCAR Cup Series’ (NCS) United Rentals Work United 500 at Phoenix Raceway, and it was William Byron and the No. 24 Valvoline Camaro ZL1 team that came out on top. The 25-year-old Hendrick Motorsports driver proved to be a contender all race long, taking the Stage One win and leading 64 laps en route to becoming the first repeat winner of the season in NASCAR’s premier series.
“I owe the last couple of weeks to Rudy (Fugle, crew chief),” said Byron. “He’s done a really good job strategy-wise, and execution-wise, we’ve done a good job to put ourselves in those positions on the front row with a shot at the end. Thanks to everybody back at Hendrick Motorsports putting together great cars and just doing a great job. It’s a big credit to them, the engine shop, Mr. (Rick) Hendrick and everybody.”
As a caution flew with 10 laps remaining in the race, pit strategy shook up the lineup for the late-race dash to the finish. Race winning crew chief Rudy Fugle called Byron down pit road, utilizing a two-tire strategy to give the team a front-row restart position with three laps to go. Taking the green, Byron was scored in the second-position when another caution forced the race into an overtime finish. Hitting his marks on the final restart, Byron took the lead on lap 316 and never looked back; driving his Chevrolet team to back-to-back trips to victory lane.
THE MODERATOR: We are going to begin our post race media availabilities. We are now joined by our race-winning crew chief, Rudy Fugle.
You started the race strong, finished with a win. Talk to us a little bit about your race.
RUDY FUGLE: Yeah, no, William did a great restart, got the lead I think after lap one. We set sail and did well.
Ended up getting beat off of pit road. Pit stall one had a lot to do with that. Qualifying on the pole was big from them. Outmatched a little bit on pit road, never could get it back.
From there we kind of were tighter in traffic, tried to work on it to make it freer. Got way too free in stage three. Got an adjustment on the green flag pit stop. We were okay again, just too far behind.
Two weeks in a row we get that caution. Pit crew did a good job of getting us out on the front row. William did an awesome job. Second chance at a restart, did an amazing job, we won the race.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll go ahead and open it for questions.
It was you and the 5 in front today. Without giving too much, what do you think you guys have hit on that have allowed you to have success?
RUDY FUGLE: Yeah, just a little bit of everything. Specifically 24 team is focused in the simulation program all off-season. We worked really hard, especially on Las Vegas and Phoenix ’cause they’re super important in the Playoffs.
We had fresh information. Run Vegas with four to go, Phoenix obviously the last race of the year, you race them early in the year. Makes sense to work on those. Most of our focus to start with. Hope to take notes from these two races to propel ourselves to the first third, half of the year.
THE MODERATOR: We’re also joined by Hendrick Motorsports vice chairman, Jeff Gordon.
We’ll continue with questions.
JEFF GORDON: First let me say how proud I am of this guy, this team. Nobody works harder. All these guys work hard.
Over the off-season I came in one day, was it right after Christmas?
RUDY FUGLE: Day after Christmas.
JEFF GORDON: I came to the office, this guy was there all by himself. I’m so proud of this guy and the efforts they’re putting in, see the results.
We saw during the race that Kyle had a very dominant car. Unfortunately couldn’t win. I suppose like in other motorsport categories with your crew chief colleagues you share information, technical information. How identical are the Hendrick cars?
RUDY FUGLE: Yeah, if you get down to the nitty-gritty, the last 15, 20% of everything, they’re a little bit different.
We work together really well. Cliff and I were chatting about what strategy we were going to do. Open in the chat multiple times if we were going to take four or two, how we were going to do it. Even racing against each other, fully working together. We work together great, all four crew chiefs, all four teams.
But, yeah, we prepare the cars. We look at each other’s cars all week long, make adjustments. Each driver is a little bit different. So last 15, 20% is different.
If one Hendrick driver is struggling, you take over the setup of another driver?
RUDY FUGLE: Definitely. We made a lot of changes their direction after Friday practice. Saturday morning came in and changed geometry and other things, too, to chase the 5, because they were a little bit better than us, yes.
Jeff, knowing your new position with Hendrick Motorsports, do you still have time to do some races?
JEFF GORDON: If I do, please stop me. I like to drive, love to get out there and run laps. I know I can’t be as competitive as what I used to be. I prefer not to race.
I’m enjoying this challenge, working with these guys, our marketing and PR group. Obviously Rick has been an incredible mentor to me over the years. On the business side, working with NASCAR, tracks, others in the industry. It’s something I’m dedicating most of my time to these days.
I also have two kids. Family stuff, too. I did do a race last year, though. That was fun.
JEFF GORDON: I did it. It reminded me why I shouldn’t be out there racing (smiling). Took all the fun right out of it as soon as I was two seconds off the pace.
You touched on the two-wheel strategy. Was this strategy talked about before the race or at any point during the last yellow you were saying you might do four wheels or…
RUDY FUGLE: Yeah, no, as soon as the caution came out, we were chatting. We have a live chat. We were talking about what we were going to do.
Having that openness, racing for a win as teammates, is huge and vital. This week I may have swung Cliff one way, last week he may have swung me a different way at different times. It’s great teamwork.
A conversation you were having actively with William, too?
RUDY FUGLE: Yeah, no. We kind of tell him the code word we think we’re going to use for there, make sure he’s not totally against it.
We see a whole lot more of the race than he does. We have a whole lot more of the history, so yeah.
You have a little bit of the drama on Friday with them taking the pieces. Do you consider winning a race on a weekend where you have maybe a little bit of a distraction more of an accomplishment or just kind of separate, not in your head at all?
JEFF GORDON: You’re looking at me. He won the race. I’ll let him answer it first.
RUDY FUGLE: Yeah, I mean, it’s a test of mental strength. That’s just what it takes to be really good in this series. We have to think about what the task is. We have to focus on this weekend. That’s what we all did.
JEFF GORDON: I’d just say I was proud of these guys. I mean, this organization has a lot of depth. They’ve been through a lot of different experiences over the years. To lean on those in different positions or leadership or crew chiefs that have been around so much, whether you’re a young guy on a team or somebody who has been around, it’s nice to know you can lean on one another through times like that.
But I’m probably most proud of these guys went through that, then they went out there. We had the pole, third. The other two guys were fast, just slipped up a little bit. All four cars in the top 10 today.
I think that really solidified some of the hype and things that were being focused on on Friday. These guys have speed in the car. There was nothing, not last week, not this week, that was getting them to Victory Lane other than a lot of hard work and great teamwork.
Maybe the consensus over the last few years is that Byron is maybe the third or fourth guy on the team. Can he carry the banner for Hendrick Motorsports? What do you see in Byron that maybe you don’t see in some of the other drivers?
RUDY FUGLE: We have four capable teams and four capable drivers of carrying the banner every weekend. Pretty amazing. We see it in different phases.
Different things affect race outcomes sometimes: the way certain drivers race, what they’re good at, good at qualifying or not, that kind of stuff.
Week in and week out, we see it, we have four capable drivers, four capable teams. That’s amazing.
Then William, just he’s the guy that has gotten here by being one of the best at preparing during the week, then you add the experience that he’s starting to get over and over and over now. You’ll see the fruits of all of his hard work paying off. That’s what I’m super proud.
JEFF GORDON: I’ll just add to that.
You can look at other driver/crew chief combinations and teams over the years at Hendrick. To me, especially the perspective I have now, it’s just really great to see a team mature, a team grow, a team evolve. You see all the things that they’re doing behind the scenes to get there.
They didn’t just show up at the racetrack and all of a sudden, bam, they clicked on it. These guys have had to work really hard to get there.
I see a progression with William ever since he came to Hendrick. Got to remember how young he was coming into the Cup Series, so much to learn. Young in racing in so many ways.
When Rudy came to Hendrick, the instant connection and chemistry between these two was so obvious. It just took the whole team up to another notch. I think now they’re just building on that.
It’s a lot of fun to watch and see.
Bowman scoring four consecutive top 10s, you have to be happy with the consistency?
JEFF GORDON: 100%. Blake Harris coming onboard. New combination driver/crew chief. To see them click as early on as they have.
I think one of the reasons why that worked, kind of came to, was because the confidence both Alex had in Blake and Blake had in Alex. It’s nice to see that it’s paying off for them on the racetrack.
Josh Berry, you were the first guy up to his car after he finished. What have you seen? It’s a tough situation for him to be in, but just to be able to step in, second start in a Hendrick car, top 10, pretty solid.
JEFF GORDON: I’m really impressed with today’s effort. I was on the 9 box most of the race. It didn’t start off so great. To see them just continue to work through changes on the car, changes of the track conditions, just continue to push forward.
Then he was mixing it up, man. On those restarts, he was right in the middle, three- and four-wide. I was a little bit nervous because they’re pretty deep in points and needed a solid finish.
It was great to see Josh get that. That’s going to build his confidence. I don’t think anybody can explain how difficult a situation this is. I mean, an Xfinity car today could not be more opposite than what the Cup car is throughout the history that I can recall of those things being so different than they are today.
To get out of an Xfinity car and hop into a Cup car that’s so different I think is a big, tall task. We put him in a bad situation last week. This week I saw him putting in the effort and the time, the sim, getting fitted in the seat, doing his homework. It really showed up.
Jeff, what was the process like in deciding to have Josh in the car, also having your buddy Rodney Sandstorm at COTA? Who approached who about that?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I think Jeff Andrews touched on this this week.
Not always, but maybe this really started a few years ago, where you kind of have to have a backup plan. Sort of started with COVID. It’s continued on since then of if something were to happen, a driver could get sick, a driver could get injured, that you have something in place that can happen immediately.
We’ve gone down the path of not having a game plan, and it’s really difficult to find somebody. Sometimes they’re already on their way home, already left the racetrack.
Have a relationship with JRM, with their drivers, having a backup plan in place. I don’t know that Josh has ever really gotten an opportunity with Hendrick before, so that was a team decision, a lot driven by Alan and who he thought would fit in with their team, personality-wise. I think they’re making the right decision.
As far as the road course, I think the road course just opened up the door for should we look at an option that is sort of a road-racing option. We feel confident in Josh, want to keep Josh in the car as much as possible.
I raced with Jordan Taylor. He’s very talented. He’s been in our Garage 56 car, showing a lot of speed. Just the right timing, place to be able to pull that off.
Rudy, how much of a threat did you consider Harvick even on Friday?
RUDY FUGLE: We recognized him right away. We were doing all our comparing to the 4 and the 5. He might not have felt it or people may not have been talking about him, but we knew, we were watching.
I just felt like this was going to be his kind of race, right? You look at that long green-flag run in stage three, with no downforce, a bunch of dirt racers, Harvick wrapping the bottom, and William being disciplined. Discipline for running and being really good, which Kevin is amazing at. A bunch of guys that aren’t afraid to slip and slide and figure out where the grip’s at.
Yeah, they did great. They’ve been good this year, so we’re going to have to contend with them a lot.
Jeff, how much of a concern is having parts taken, even if it’s for further evaluation, especially in this era because of the single supplier issue that the penalties can be significantly more severe?
JEFF GORDON: I can tell you it was weighing on all of our minds coming into today. Certainly will continue.
We had some conversation, will continue to have conversations, with NASCAR. Every situation is sort of unique, but this is a more unique one than I’ve seen in a while where there’s been a lot of communication back and forth on this particular part, especially for this racetrack because they did a parity test in the wind tunnel.
I think it really opened up the door for some miscommunication. I don’t want to go any further than that. We’ll continue to just share all the facts and be transparent with NASCAR as we have been so far.
William and Rudy, second year in a row this 24 team is the first team with multiple wins. Last year you got that second win at Martinsville. This year earlier. How important is it for you guys to get this early start? What can you do to keep this consistency going?
RUDY FUGLE: Yeah, I think you got to get the wins while you’re hot. You got to capitalize. Super good. Our focus is nothing different now. Hit the reset button and how do we do it again.
Put the hard work in every single day, keep grinding. That’s our focus.
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I mean, I think last year, even though we won early, we didn’t really know the car or understand the car. We were kind of just adapting to what we had. We were just making the most of an unpredictable situation with the entire field. There was a lot of attrition in the races, a lot of just weird things that were happening.
I feel like now it’s strength on strength. It feels different. It feels like we’re more consistently towards the front and we’re leading laps.
We just want to focus on our processes during the week. I think our processes this week were kind of frustrating because we didn’t really get to do the things we wanted to do. Everyone was a little tired. We did that Charlotte test. There was a lot going on on the outside. It was a little frustrating going into today, but it’s cool to see that we can overcome those things and still get a win.
THE MODERATOR: Jeff and Rudy, thank you.
We’ll continue with questions for William.
What does it mean to you to continue to put the 24 in Victory Lane and carry that legacy on?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I mean, when I first started out, it was a lot of pressure. Going into my rookie year with not having any Cup starts, I don’t think you really understand the magnitude of that shift.
I think everyone prepares you for it, going from Xfinity to Cup, but the level this is, it’s so different, so many details that go into it. That was a lot of pressure.
I think once we got a win under our belt, once we kind of got some consistency going, you stop thinking about that, start thinking about how can we just build this team into something that we want long-term.
It’s just cool to have a group of guys around me that we’ve really built from the ground up with Chad, then when Rudy took over, brought a couple more people in that I was really comfortable with and trusted, like my spotter. It’s just been a good progression.
Can you give us your assessment of the new car, how you felt it changed over last season.
WILLIAM BYRON: New? Like aero package?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I thought it was really difficult to drive. Like from an objective standpoint, I know we were competitive, but I didn’t think we could pass any better. There’s still some work to do there with something going on with how tight they get in traffic.
I mean, yeah, they were certainly hard to drive. Think that’s a good test to see who is the best out there. Kyle is probably the most naturally talented. I think it just shows, like, guys were having to drive their cars and manage that. It made for a really difficult challenge inside the race car.
How many times I slipped, how much slip was too much, how much was enough to keep going fast. That was a good challenge. It kind of I think put our car control on display.
Can you take me through the last restart. High lane, all of a sudden it seemed to thrust forward. Did you get a good push from Reddick, were you unstable?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, so the restart, the launch went well for me. I had a really good launch. No wheel spin. At that point I was just focusing how can I get through the gears, how can I side draft Kyle. When they all pulled down to the apron, the outside guys at a bit of a disadvantage because of the distance. Trying to stay as close as I could there.
Then it’s who can beat each other to the corner without hitting the wall. We both got in there deep, both were up the track. He held me really tight there through the middle of one and two, off of two. There was just enough grip up there. I think I was just far enough up on him I was able to stay in it.
We were obviously dragged back. I got that big push from Tyler down the backstretch. That was huge. He drilled me, but we’re not going that fast. It was nice. That kind of got me out in some clean air.
You’ve won two races in remarkably similar fashion. Was it weird going through that? Feel like déjà vu out there?
WILLIAM BYRON: I wasn’t counting my blessings. I was kind of like, man, it went so good last week, I’m probably going to end up crashing here (smiling).
When you have that level of commitment, you know you have on a green-white-checkered to come out the other side. It’s either going to go really good or not.
Yeah, I don’t love winning races that way. It’s very stressful. It’s a lot of tactics going on with the restarts. But it’s fun. It’s a good challenge for us because you’re all tired, you’re all into that long-run mode mentally, then you have to have a pit stop and somehow reset and get into how do I get a good restart.
Looking ahead to November, what were some things you learned today that will benefit you?
WILLIAM BYRON: I mean, the cars are going to change a tremendous amount. That I kind of keep in the back of my mind.
As far as the balance goes, I thought we had the balance really good to start the race. I was sliding around a lot. Seemed to be sliding less than everybody else.
Just when I got back in second, the dirty air is so significant, I just started to get tight. I started to contribute my issues to that. Then we just got the back out of the track.
Yeah, we had to try something to try to close that gap. It just seemed like there was a bubble there. As soon as I was hung up in second, I just focused on trying to be consistent and maybe we get to lap traffic and something would happen.
I think overall throughout the race, there’s still some work to do myself to just know what I need, then also managing the car. The brakes were kind of hot. I did a lot throughout the race messing with the brakes. I just got ’em too hot doing some stuff. Need to work on some of those technique things.
You said earlier the car was difficult to drive with the new aero package. That’s for everybody. Is there a possibility you go maybe and have a meeting with NASCAR technical department to make improvements, proposals?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, for sure. We have meetings almost every weekend. That’s been a big thing since probably the middle of last year. We start having meetings with NASCAR. It’s been really productive.
Yeah, I definitely think we need to kind of objectively look at was this a better race or not. That’s really what it comes down to. From my standpoint, yeah, it tests me a lot more, but there’s still some element we have to figure out with how tight the cars are.
I think, yeah, we’ll keep working through that. I’m open to anything. I just want us to have options as drivers. I want it to be hard to drive, but I also want to be able to pass.
WILLIAM BYRON: I don’t know. I just kind of see what they bring to the track, adapt that week, yeah.
Was there much of a concern that you and Larson were going to wreck each other on the last restart?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I mean, in my situation having a win, him not having a win yet, like, I assumed he would be more aggressive. But my counter was that I got a win, I’m going to do whatever I can, too. It was a game of chicken a little bit.
Yeah, I mean, I have a lot of trust in Kyle. He’s an amazing driver. We’ve gotten to know each other off the track. I feel like we always communicate well.
Yeah, I don’t know how to answer that. I wasn’t really thinking through that situation. I was just kind of going wherever he was, trying to be a little bit better.
I asked Rudy and Jeff about everyone in the Hendrick camp seems capable of carrying the banner. Maybe consensus in the past was you are the third or fourth guy. As the years go on, do you believe you’re capable of carrying that banner? Got to be validation you are maturing.
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I think people around me have always kind of helped me understand that I’m young. Max and my dad, just everyone, my dad especially, he’s a big stats guy. He’s like, Man, you’re young. Just give it some time.
I’m very impatient, so I like things to happen quick. That’s how it happened for me coming up through.
This level is so different. Took a lot of homework, a lot of details. I think the fact that I started later than most driving was a little bit — it took some time to bridge that gap at this level. Now that gap is bridged obviously.
Yeah, I just feel like it’s a constant evolution, just trying to continue to get better.
You ran with Larson all week in Vegas last week, today as well. What does the two wins do for your team’s momentum and confidence?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I mean, I think Cliff and Rudy work really well together. I think all the crew chiefs do. But Cliff and Rudy sit next to each other in the meetings. They spend a lot of time. They kind of came in the Cup Series at the same time. Cliff had one year on Rudy. They came in with a new driver, new situation.
I feel like they get along really well. They’re very different. I feel like there’s some camaraderie there. It’s not a surprise we’re both running well. I wouldn’t be surprised if all four of us are running well. Everyone communicates really well.
I think in some ways Kyle and I’s driving style, I try to adapt to whatever the setup is, and I think he kind of does the same.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, William