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Byron runs sixth in first practice at Pocono as Hendrick still searches for win No. 250

William Byron was sixth-fastest in the first Cup practice Saturday, eyeing his first win at NASCAR’s top level. Photo: Dominic Aragon/The Racing Experts.

LONG POND, Pa. — William Byron and Hendrick Motorsports aren’t having the seasons they hoped for.

Through 20 races, Byron, who busted onto the NASCAR national touring scene with a Truck Series championship in 2016 and XFINITY Series title in 2017, is 21st in the Monster Energy Cup Series points standings with no wins and just one top five. Hendrick, meanwhile, hasn’t won a race in exactly a year.

Optimistically, that cold stretch could come to an end this weekend, as Byron showed some speed, running sixth in the first practice session at 173.320 miles per hour.

“I feel like we have good speed,” Byron said. “Early there in practice, I think the biggest thing is just trying to not fall off [with tire wear] so much. I think we fell off a pretty good amount. We have to work on that a little bit.”

In his first start at Pocono earlier this year, Byron qualified 14th and finished 18th. In 2017 XFINITY Series race at the track, he placed 12th and in the 2016 truck race, he started on the pole, led 44 of 60 laps, and triumphed.

“Last time we were here we had a pretty good run,” Byron said. “So hopefully we can improve on that.”

Pocono is typically an uncomfortable circuit for rookie drivers like Byron, but the 20-year-old says he likes the “Tricky Triangle.”

“I feel comfortable. I was pretty comfortable the first time here,” Byron said. “This time around, it’s understanding what the car is going to do and how you can improve those qualities is really important. I think coming here a second time is good to understand what the car is going to do with certain changes and kind of get a better idea of those things and hone in on it.”

When asked if he believes he can snag a win Sunday, whether with sheer speed or fuel mileage, Byron said, “I’d like to. There are some guys who are very quick. It’s going to be hard to beat them. But yeah, every week is to go out there and win. I think, realistically, try to finish in the top 10 first and kind of see where we stack up from there.”

If it were to happen — Byron going to Victory Lane — it’d present a few culminations: Byron’s first Cup win and Hendrick’s long-awaited, benchmark 250th win.

“It would mean a number of things: That we improved that much to get to that point. To be able to win would be something really special and I think outside of that, to be the team to get that win would be really cool too,” Byron said.

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