After conquering Daytona, Byron looks forward to second chance on Chicago streets

William Byron won Monday's rain-delayed Daytona 500 in large part because he managed to survive the massive wreck that took out more than a dozen competitors with fewer than 10 laps remaining.

The late-race, mass wreck is not unusual at NASCAR superspeedways like Daytona and Talledega. But is there a skill to avoiding large accidents or is it mostly luck?

“I think there's skill,” Byron said in a phone interview Tuesday. “I think just anticipation, really. A lot of times you just have to stick to the lane that you chose to get through there. But there's definitely some anticipation to it for sure.”

Last year at the Chicago street race, there were never going to be any huge accidents, because speeds were much slower. But Byron did help cause a massive traffic jam when he slid into the barrier while trying to make the right turn from Jackson to Columbus on a wet surface. It was one of the most-replayed moments of the inaugural Chicago race.

“I think the rain created a lot of that,” Byron said. “I feel like this year if it's dry, it will be a little bit cleaner race, but still pretty competitive because I feel like the field was really close last year.”

Byron will get a chance at redemption, because NASCAR's Chicago street race will return to Grant Park on July 6-7. Last year, Byron finished 13th in Chicago after starting 22nd and is looking forward to Year 2.

“I'm really excited for it,” he said. “I thought it was a really successful event last year and honestly felt like without the weather, it would have been a huge event. For me as a driver, it was a really tough and challenging race; definitely a lot of difficulty driving the track. But I enjoy it. I'm excited for the challenge to go back.”

Racing on city streets is typically reserved for Formula 1 or sometimes Indy cars, so the Chicago event was a new experience for most NASCAR drivers. Trackhouse Racing brought in a ringer, New Zealand's Shane van Gisbergen, who won last year's rain-shortened event in his first NACAR race.

“I think that was the first street course I'd ever raced,” Byron said. “It's very unique, the way you have to drive the track and be a certain amount of smooth, but also aggressive and not try to go over the limit. It's a pretty interesting style of race for sure.”

The race inconvenienced some locals, but even with the constant rain that weekend, it was a quite a spectacle to see the cars race with the Chicago skyline in the background.

“It was cool,” Byron said. “The first few laps of practice it's easy to get distracted, from all the views. It's cool walking the track the day before and seeing everything in plain sight before the track's busy because honestly, our frame of reference as driver's is lower and looking out in front of us, but it's a pretty cool spectacle.”

Last year, Byron led NASCAR with six wins and 21 top-10 finishes. Monday marked his first Daytona 500 victory. The Charlotte, N.C. native had a unique entry to the sport. Byron, 26, started by playing racing video games as a kid, then tried the real thing and followed a steady climb to success.

“I feel like that's a natural way people are getting their start now in motor sports,” he said. “I like 'Call of Duty' and I play some FIFA (soccer) as well. I definitely dabble in those for sure.”

Down time doesn't come often in NASCAR. Byron will be back on the track in Atlanta this weekend, with 20 races to go before the return to Chicago.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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