SMITHTON, Pa. — Audio, photo and story by Race Chaser Online Associate Editor Kyle Magda —
Points leader William Byron looked to have Saturday’s UPMC Health Plan 150 at Motordrome Speedway in hand.
Byron led 92 of the race’s first 93 laps before the tires started to wear off on the No. 9 Liberty University Chevrolet. Once repairs were made to the worn-out surface, Byron’s only sniff of the lead came during a three-wide move between he, Dillon Bassett and Austin Hill for the top spot after the lap 120 restart, as the backslide began for the 17-year-old driver.
“It was disappointing towards the end,” Byron said. “It was eventful towards the end of the race. You just have to stay positive, but I tried for as much as I had in the car, I just tried to keep it going straight and try to hold up as many people as I could, but just couldn’t hold up any more people.”
The four-time winner on the 2015 season dropped down to eighth in the final running order. Byron and HScott Motorsports with Justin Marks (HSMJM) teammate Dalton Sargeant set a torrid pace early on in the event before tires became a factor in the late going.
“We just kind of played the game wrong there,” Byron added. “We wanted to run a decent pace and they were making us harder than we wanted to and that’s the way it works out sometimes. It worked for us at Langley, it worked for us at Greenville, but it just didn’t work here. We just got loose, so that’s kind of a bummer, but we still came home with a top-10 finish and feel like we can build on it.
“Our goal tonight was to at least go out swinging, so we tried to get that win. Just didn’t come up what we needed.”
Byron’s eighth-place run was the K&N East rookie’s eighth top-10 finish in the 2015. With showings of seventh at Watkins Glen and 13th at Iowa Speedway within the last three weeks, it has allowed HSMJM teammate Scott Heckert to close on the No. 9 team in the points standings.
Heckert finished runner-up to Byron July 17 at Loudon, while winning back-to-back races at Watkins Glen International in the Bully Hill Vineyards 125. In that time-frame, the Ridgefield, Connecticut native chopped 19 points off of Byron’s points lead before heading into last Saturday’s night race at Motordrome Speedway.
Unlike Byron, Heckert ran towards the back half of the top-10 for a majority of the race to save tires before making his move up towards the front on the .5 worn-out track at Motordrome .
“That was the plan the entire night,” Heckert said. “We knew it did not matter where we we running lap one through 100, so we were trying to fall back and probably run fifth to seventh and conserve, but we got stuck a little bit and ended up back in 11th. From there, we knew we had to save and our goal was to be at least half-a-second to a second off the leader’s pace.
“That way, we knew we were conserving the rear tires big time and that’s what after those late cautions allowed us to pick up some spots.
Heckert ran as high as third in the race before losing the spot to a hard-charging Rico Abreu, who made it as high as second in the UPMC Health Plan 150, and the second-place points man came home in the fourth spot. With Byron leading the most laps on the night, Heckert cut the 17-year-old driver’s points lead from 14 to 12 at the conclusion of the race.
“It’s still an uphill battle for us,” Heckert said. “We have to be really smart. No mistakes from here on out these last three races. We have a legitimate shot, just got to keep doing what we’re doing.”
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East turns left and right for the second and final time this season on August 29 at Virginia International Raceway for the third-annual Biscuitville 125. The last three races the series has run on a road course, Heckert has claimed every victory, dating back to August 2014 at Watkins Glen International when he picked up his first-career win.
“I’m excited for it,” Heckert said of VIR. “Obviously, it’s a track we excel at and hopefully just another chance to pick up some points.
The defending Biscuitville 125 winner didn’t test along with his HSMJM rookie teammates in June. After the test concluded, Byron, Sargeant and J.J. Haley all went West in late June for the K&N race at Sonoma, with Sargeant finishing the best of the trio with a runner-up showing and leading the most laps on the event.
Byron qualified outside pole for both the K&N West race at Sonoma and the East race at Watkins Glen, as the driver of the No. 9 Liberty University Chevrolet prepare to tackle the 2.25-mile road course in Southern Virginia.
“The test was good,” Byron said. “I feel like we’re going to there strong. I qualified second for both the road courses, so I think just finish that off there and we’ll be OK. We need a good run, so I think if we could get a top-five there, that would be really good. We’ll try to work on that and go there and just see what we have to work with.”
HSMJM currently holds five of the first six spots in the K&N East points standings, with New Smyrna winner Austin Hill breaking up the team’s points party in third.
Audio with William Byron:
Audio with Scott Heckert: