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Byron Wins Lilly Diabetes 250 At Indianapolis

William Byron celebrates with his team in victory lane after winning the Lilly Diabetes 250 at Indianapolis. [John Wiedemann Photo]

William Byron celebrates with his team in victory lane after winning the Lilly Diabetes 250 at Indianapolis. [John Wiedemann Photo]

by Paul Gohde

The Lilly Diabetes 250 Xfinity Series was the competitive stock car race everyone has been waiting for at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. And it took a 19-year-old youngster, holding off a cadre of veterans, to bring that excitement back.

Fuzzy-cheeked William Byron, driving for Junior Motorsports, gave his car owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. a chance to kiss the bricks by edging Paul Menard in a race that saw door-to-door racing and a few mistakes along the way help to decide the winner.

Byron’s Liberty University Chevy started third and led 26 laps, none more important than the final 16 as Menard, Joey Logano and pole-winner Elliott Sadler made runs at the rookie while they all worried about tires and fuel.

“Was I nervous? I knew Menard and Logano were my biggest competition. We’d never run 20 laps straight on those tires. I thought the tire was going to go but it held on,” noted the winner who scored his third win and 12th top-10 finish of the season. “I knew we had a good car after practice, but Kyle (Busch) is always the one to beat here so we had set up the car to be able to race him. I think Joey faded a bit there at the end.”

And for awhile it looked like Busch would score his fourth consecutive win here at IMS. But he was called into the pits on lap 82 while leading Sadler and Erik Jones with Byron fourth. “I don’t know why we pitted,” said a frustrated Busch who stopped for two tires and fuel but dropped to a 12th-place finish after leading 43 laps. “I don’t understand.”

Another frustrated driver was Jones who followed Busch to the pits but suffered an embarrassing stop that included sliding past his pit box, having a tire roll out of the area and eventually got penalized with a slow pass through the pits. Jones’ pit problems caused him to fall to 23rd at the finish.

Menard, who never led, started 15th, but came to life in the those final 15 laps and just missed catching Byron at the flag, losing by just 0.108 seconds, a series’ record for the closest series margin of victory at IMS. “My car was tight but I had a shot at William at the end. He was better in Turn 1 and I had to play catch-up in 3-4,” said the Wisconsin veteran who won the Brickyard 400 here in 2011. “I made a dive at him in Turn 1 on the last lap and tried to make him loose but he made it stick.”

Series’ point leader Sadler trailed in fourth but retained a 40-point lead over Byron.

Stage winners were Byron (1) and Sadler (2). Byron also became the youngest series winner at IMS at 19 years, 7 months and 23 days.

“He’s got talent,” Junior said of his young driver after the win. “After a slow start early in the season he’s hit his stride lately. And I guess I get to kiss the bricks today. Hope I can do that again tomorrow.”

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Paul Gohde heard the sound of race cars early in his life.

Growing up in suburban Milwaukee, just north of Wisconsin State Fair Park in the 1950’s, Paul had no idea what “that noise” was all about that he heard several times a year. Finally, through prodding by friends of his parents, he was taken to several Thursday night modified stock car races on the old quarter-mile dirt track that was in the infield of the one-mile oval -and he was hooked.

The first Milwaukee Mile event that he attended was the 1959 Rex Mays Classic won by Johnny Thomson in the pink Racing Associates lay-down Offy built by the legendary Lujie Lesovsky. After the 100-miler Gohde got the winner’s autograph in the pits, something he couldn’t do when he saw Hank Aaron hit a home run at County Stadium, and, again, he was hooked.

Paul began attending the Indianapolis 500 in 1961, and saw A. J. Foyt’s first Indy win. He began covering races in 1965 for Racing Wheels newspaper in Vancouver, WA as a reporter/photographer and his first credentialed race was Jim Clark’s historic Indy win.Paul has also done reporting, columns and photography for Midwest Racing News since the mid-sixties, with the 1967 Hoosier 100 being his first big race to report for them.

He is a retired middle-grade teacher, an avid collector of vintage racing memorabilia, and a tour guide at Miller Park. Paul loves to explore abandoned race tracks both here and in Europe, with the Brooklands track in Weybridge England being his favorite. Married to Paula, they have three adult children and two cats.

Paul loves the diversity of all types of racing, “a factor that got me hooked in the first place.”