DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — William Byron snaked his way through a smoky crash scene late Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway, then narrowly avoided another melee a few laps later.
Those moves got the 22-year-old driver from Charlotte, North Carolina, to victory lane for the first time in his NASCAR Cup Series career and back in the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
They also helped knock out veteran Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, a seven-time Cup Series champion whose final season as a full-time NASCAR driver won't end with another title in the iconic No. 48 Chevrolet.
Winless in 120 straight races, Johnson made a trip to victory lane to congratulate Byron and the No. 24 team, the one now directed by Johnson's former longtime crew chief Chad Knaus.
"It's a big win for Chad Knaus and William Byron," said Johnson, who is tied for the all-time mark for series championships with Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty. "I really felt like we had a way to transfer, to win or point our way in, and things just got ugly. Unfortunate, but that's plate racing."
Byron won in overtime on the unpredictable superspeedway after two late cautions, locking up one of the three postseason berths that had been available going into the regular-season finale. Matt DiBenedetto finished 12th and secured the final spot in the Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 Ford. Clint Bowyer wrapped up a berth at the end of the opening stage, also in a Ford, for Stewart-Haas Racing.
"It was too eventful," said DiBenedetto, whose parents drove down from North Carolina to watch from the stands. "I'm mentally worn out. I'm going to sleep great tonight, but there was so much going on there at the end."
Hendrick's Chase Elliott finished second, followed by Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr., with Richard Petty Motorsports driver Bubba Wallace fifth.
Johnson looked as if he would land one of those three playoff spots, but he got shuffled back in the final stage, and then he got caught up in a wreck in the closing laps that started when Hamlin made contact with Joey Logano. Byron squeezed between the two, took the lead and held on after a green-white-checkered finish.
It was the ninth overtime conclusion for Daytona's summer race in the past 13 years.
Byron didn't care how he got the win, just that he finally did. He had five top-five finishes last year, but he had none this year until last weekend's fourth-place showing at Dover International Speedway.
"It's been a hard couple of years in the Cup Series and trying to get my first win and trying to jell with this team," Byron said. "These guys have done an awesome job, and to be in the playoffs is amazing, man."
About 20,000 fans were spread out across Daytona's massive motorsports stadium, and they were treated to a frantic finish. The race was pretty clean for most of the night, but things got crazy down the stretch.
Tyler Reddick started the first multicar crash by trying to block Kyle Busch after getting a huge push to take the lead. Busch clipped Reddick's bumper, sending him into the outside wall and collecting several other cars. Busch, Erik Jones, Kurt Busch, Austin Dillon, Ryan Newman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and others were knocked out.
"Just ran out of talent," Newman, whose harrowing crash at the finish of this year's Daytona 500 won't soon be forgotten, said of Reddick. "All it takes is one goofball to make a mistake."
Reddick accepted responsibility for the wreck.
"If someone made that move on me, I'd be pretty mad, too," he said.
Byron swerved his way through clouds of smoke to stay in the mix then. He was even luckier after Hamlin and Logano got together.
"I wasn't going to lift," Byron said. "It was awesome."
He did a burnout that included a few spins through Daytona's wet infield grass, then headed to victory lane for the first time in three years on the cop circuit.
Johnson met him there, quite possibly a visual changing of the guard at Hendrick. The young hotshot is headed back to the postseason with a long-awaited victory, and the 44-year-old with 83 Cup Series wins is sliding into retirement without the storybook ending he talked all week about wanting to at least maintain as a possibility.
He will race on, of course, because that's how NASCAR's playoffs work, even though only 16 drivers are eligible for the title, a championship field that will be whittled down to a final four for the November finale at Phoenix Raceway. The playoffs begin next Sunday at South Carolina's Darlington Raceway, where NASCAR made its return in mid-May after a two-month shutdown amid the coronavirus pandemic.
As for keeping the wheels turning, NASCAR pressed on at its historic track while other sports postponed games and practices this week in the wake of the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by a white police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Wallace, the lone Black driver in the Cup Series, said before the race that there was not much of a dialogue among drivers regarding sitting out Saturday.
"We still have a lot of work to do as a nation to make things better for us, our next generation coming up through," Wallace told NBC Sports before the race. "Us not following suit (with other sports) does not mean that we're standing down. We still know what's on our table or what's on our plate to go out and accomplish and attempt to accomplish to make this a better place."
IndyCar role reversal
MADISON, Ill. — Scott Dixon and Takuma Sato repeated their 20-lap shootout from last Sunday's Indianapolis 500, with Dixon reversing the finishing order by winning Saturday's IndyCar Series race at World Wide Technology Raceway near St. Louis.
Sato held off Dixon six days earlier for his second Indy 500 victory in four years. Dixon had 20 laps to chase Sato down at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but a late caution ended the race under yellow.
Dixon took the lead Saturday by first beating Pato O'Ward out of the pits and then cycling to the front when Sato made a stop with 25 laps remaining. Sato returned to the track in third place, passed O'Ward with a bold outside move then set his sights on Dixon, who had 20 laps to navigate lapped traffic while holding off Sato.
"Sato was coming on strong at the end," Dixon said. "I didn't realize how strong he was coming. We were in reserve mode to look out for the engine, and he was coming with a head of steam."
Dixon beat Sato by 0.1404 second for his fourth win of the season and 50th overall. Afterward, the 40-year-old New Zealander who led 111 of 200 laps at Indy praised his Chip Ganassi Racing team.
"Last week at Indianapolis was a bit of a bummer," Dixon admitted of the runner-up finish.
Dixon moved within two victories of Mario Andretti on IndyCar's all-time victory list. Andretti is second with 52; A.J. Foyt is the leader at 67.
"I'm very lucky and very fortunate," Dixon said. "It's not just me; it's the team. I'm very fortunate to work with these guys. It's them. Fifty is a great number, and I'd like to think there's 50 more."
Dixon holds a 117-point lead in the points standings as he chases a sixth season championship. IndyCar races again Sunday at WWT Raceway.
"That was a textbook Scott Dixon race. Steady, one at a time, here, there, nothing fancy," said winning team owner Ganassi.
Sato finished second for a 1-2 sweep for Honda. O'Ward, the highest finishing rookie in last Sunday's edition of "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing," was third for Arrow McLaren SP in a Chevrolet.
O'Ward led a race-high 94 laps, moved to the front on the 68th lap and held it until he and Dixon pitted on the 162nd.
"Towards the end, Dixon got us in the pits," O'Ward said. "We didn't have enough pace to get up and pass him. I just couldn't keep up."
Sato was attempting to become the first Indy 500 winner since Arie Luyendyk in 1997 to win the race immediately after the crown jewel.
"Since last week we carried a lot of momentum," said Sato, who drives for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. "The boys did a fantastic job two weeks in a row. I'm very proud of them."
Sato also used a bold outside pass on O'Ward. and although the cars never touched — O'Ward initially thought there was contact — the close proximity caused O'Ward's car to wiggle.
"It was nothing risky at all," Sato said. "We were just able to have a go because Dixon was running away with it. We had fresher tires, and I think they helped. I gave him enough room. It was tight."
The race got off to a rocky start with a multicar accident when the green flag waved. Alex Palou and Oliver Askew, both rookies, were penalized by IndyCar officials for triggering a crash that knocked out three cars from Andretti Autosport.
Alexander Rossi, still seeking his first win of the season in a horrible year for the perennial title contender, was collected with teammates Marco Andretti and Zach Veach. It also ended the race for Ed Carpenter, and Simon Pagenaud eventually had to retire with damage to his car.
Rossi likened the incident to an iRacing virtual event.
"I was driving straight," he said. "I don't know what you want me to say."
F1: Hamilton salutes Boseman
SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium — After clinching the record-extending 93rd pole position of his distinguished Formula One career, six-time series champion Lewis Hamilton stood proudly on top of his all-black Mercedes and crossed his arms in memory of a hero of his own.
The British driver dedicated his latest exceptional qualifying drive at the Belgian Grand Prix to American actor Chadwick Boseman, who died of cancer on Friday at the age of 43.
"A superhero died last night, so that was really weighing heavy on me today," Hamilton said. "I was so driven to deliver a good performance today so I could dedicate it to Chad."
Boseman played Black American icons Jackie Robinson and James Brown before inspiring audiences as the regal "Black Panther" in Marvel's blockbuster movie franchise. The film inspired the cross-armed "Wakanda forever" salute that became a pop culture landmark.
"This was an important pole. I woke up today to the saddest news of Chadwick passing away," Hamilton said. "That news broke me, so it wasn't easy to get back focused. For what he's done for our people and super heroes — to show the kids what's possible in life. Wakanda forever."
The salute was so resonant that California congresswoman Maxine Waters stood up and did it at singing legend and civil rights activist Aretha Franklin's funeral two years ago.
Hamilton, the only black driver in F1, explained the impact both Chadwick and his film character had on him.
"I was really, really lucky I got to meet him once and tell him how awesome he was. Because I remember when I was a kid, Superman was the hero, didn't look like me and I still thought Superman was the greatest," Hamilton said. "And so when Chad became the king, when he became a superhero, it was such a special day for so many people. Because I know that young kids would be able to now look up to him and see that it is possible."
Boseman's death prompted an outpouring of grief, and Hamilton fondly recalled the time they met.
"In New York during Fashion Week ... we were out at the same dinner. We actually kind of partied away together because we were on the same table. It was an incredible scenario," Hamilton said. "I remember when 'Black Panther' came out, and I'm a huge Marvel fan. So just knowing how Hollywood has been for a long, long time, and to see the first Black superhero come out, everyone was so proud."
Hamilton dominated qualifying once again, setting a track record at the 7-kilometer (4.3-mile) circuit located in the Ardennes forest, finishing .511 second ahead of Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas and .526 clear of Red Bull's Max Verstappen.
Hamilton, who is chasing a seventh F1 title to equal Michael Schuamcher's record, leads the standings by 37 points over Verstappen and 43 over Bottas.
"That's one of the cleanest qualifying sessions I've ever had," Hamilton said proudly. "It's a phenomenal feeling driving around this track, how fast this track has become."
But Bottas has not given up hope of closing the gap with a victory Sunday, considering Spa is the longest circuit in F1 and has a big straight up to the first turn.
"I'm not too bothered as I know second place is a good place to start," Bottas said. "I need to attack if I want to keep my title hopes there, so I'm definitely going to go for it. I know there will be opportunities."