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William Byron’s playoff hopes end after early contact at Bristol

William Byron’s playoff hopes ended early Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway after contact damaged the nose of his No. 24 Chevrolet.

RELATED: Official race results

Byron entered Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race three points back of the postseason cutline and finished eighth in the first stage. But contact near the end of Stage 2 with the No. 95 Toyota of Christopher Bell ended his night as both cars tangled trying to avoid the drastically slowed No. 51 Ford of Joey Gase.

“I don’t know why he just stopped on the front straightaway,” Byron said over his team radio. “… What an idiot.”

Byron completed just 232 of the 500 laps at the .533-mile track and was scored 38th in the 40-car field. Crew chief Chad Knaus consoled the 22-year-old driver after he took the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet behind the wall.

“I think the No. 51 car (Gase) checked up in the middle of the straightaway. As fast as we were running the top, I was right behind the No. 95 (Bell) and I had literally nowhere to go,” Byron told NBC Sports. “You can’t stop in the middle of the straightaway when everybody is so committed to the top like that. Just ridiculous that that’s what takes us out. I thought honestly we had a shot to run top five or seven. The car was really, really good. We just needed a couple good pit stops. We were running probably ninth or 10th there. Just super disappointing – I’ve got to go back and watch that because that was kind of ridiculous.”

Though his championship eligibility ended before the halfway point at Bristol, Byron was able to find positives when asked to assess the No. 24 team’s season as a whole. His third year in the Cup Series produced his first victory — a clutch win in the regular-season finale at Daytona International Speedway.

“Yeah, I think it’s been a great season,” Byron said. “I think that we’ve performed well. I think we would have liked to perform better, based on how we ended last year. But we got a win and I feel like really the last five or six weeks, we’ve had all top-10 runs, besides Richmond, which is our worst track. I don’t know – hopefully continue being fast the next few weeks.”