The Long Road to Victory: How William Byron Won the 2024 Daytona 500 After a Decade of Heartbreak for Hendrick Motorsports

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The roar of the crowd reached deafening levels on Monday as William Byron took the checkered flag at the 2024 Daytona 500, ending over a decade of heartbreak for Hendrick Motorsports at the iconic superspeedway.

It was a moment ten years in the making, with the famed No. 24 car from Hendrick Motorsports finally returning to victory lane at Daytona for the first time since 2014. The win came exactly 40 years after Rick Hendrick first entered NASCAR, making it a storybook tale of perseverance finally paying off when it mattered most.

For Byron, the journey to victory was one filled with adversity. The 26-year old from Charlotte cut his teeth in the racing world not on dirt tracks or in go-karts but on simulated races online. His innate talent earned him over 100 virtual wins and eventually the backing to make the leap to real-world racing.

After working his way up the ranks at record pace, Byron found himself succeeding Jeff Gordon in Hendrick’s iconic No. 24 car at just 20 years old in 2018. The pressure was immense, but his quiet confidence never wavered even through difficulties.

The 2024 edition of “The Great American Race” was no different. Inclement weather pushed the event to Monday, and the racing action itself kept fans on the edge of their seats.

An early wreck took out several top contenders like past champions Jimmie Johnson and Austin Dillon. The rest of the race was defined by intense pack racing and daring moves, with Hendrick’s Chase Elliott and Penske’s Ryan Blaney capturing the first two stages respectively.

However, the real drama ramped up in the final 15 laps. While fighting for the lead, contact between the cars of Brad Keselowski and Alex Bowman triggered a massive 23-car pileup, red-flagging the race for nearly 20 minutes.

Somehow Byron threaded the needle, escaping the melee unscathed. After a tense final restart, the battling pack roared towards the finish with Byron and Ross Chastain of Trackhouse Racing swapping the top spot multiple times.

I felt like, ‘Man, that was stupid,’” Byron recalled thinking after one of Chastain’s blocks. “‘I shouldn’t have blocked that. He just took the lead.’”

But in yet another twist, contact from Corey LaJoie sent Chastain and Austin Cindric spinning, just as Byron took the white flag. NASCAR quickly called for a race-ending caution, freezing the field and locking in Byron’s position at the front.

For several agonizing minutes, the Charlotte native could merely circle behind the pace car, anxiously querying his team about his status.

“Did we win it? Did we win it?” he repeated as crowd noise drowned out the radio. Finally, the emotion in crew chief Rudy Fugle’s voice confirmed that after years of waiting, Hendrick Motorsports had finally reclaimed Daytona glory on the very day of their 40th anniversary.

“I wasn’t driving the car, but I felt like I was making every lap out there with him,” said Jeff Gordon, himself a three-time Daytona winner. “We’re going to celebrate. This is a huge win.”

The victory was extra meaningful for the Hendrick family in another regard. Gordon had flown team owner Rick Hendrick and his wife Linda to the race on his private jet, a tradition going back decades. A decade ago in 2014, the plane never returned to Charlotte after a technical issue caused it to tragically crash, with Linda as its lone casualty.

Byron’s win was also a testament to the power of technology in racing. His unconventional path from online simulator to virtual ace put him on the inside track to succeed at the highest levels. Other drivers were following this innovative pipeline too, bringing new blood into a sport dominated by legacy for so long.

As Byron reveled in the biggest win of his young career, he looked back on the road that got him there. From playing simulated stock cars in his bedroom to hoisting the Harley J. Earl Trophy in front of 100,000 fans, the journey was never easy but sweetened by the years of effort.

“I’m just a kid from racing on computers and winning the Daytona 500,” Byron reflected with a mix of disbelief and quiet confidence. “I can’t believe it. I wish my dad was here…We’ve been through so much and we sat up in the grandstands together and watched the race.”

On a picture-perfect day at the World Center of Racing, a decade of patience by Hendrick Motorsports finally paid off in storybook fashion. And for virtual racer turned Daytona 500 champion William Byron, the difficult road to victory made success all the sweeter.

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