Wil­liam By­ron says he’s ready for move up to top se­ries

Cecil Whig - - SPORTS - By REID SPENCER NASCAR Wire Ser­vice

Wil­liam By­ron summed up his fu­ture at Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports in two words: “I’m ready.”

That was the an­swer By­ron gave team owner Rick Hen­drick on Sun­day night, when Hen­drick first broached the pos­si­bil­ity of the 19-year-old mov­ing up to the Mon­ster En­ergy NASCAR Cup Se­ries in 2018.

“He didn’t know why we were meet­ing,” Hen­drick said on Wed­nes­day dur­ing a con­fer­ence call with re­porters. “I said, ‘Wil­liam, how’d you like to drive in Cup next year?’ And he said, ‘I’m ready.’ There was no hes­i­ta­tion.

“We’re just re­ally ex­cited. It was a spe­cial mo­ment. ... Just to see his face and the ex­cite­ment there, those are real spe­cial mo­ments when you can break the news.”

On Wed­nes­day morn­ing, HMS made that news of­fi­cial. By­ron will drive the No. 5 Chevro­let in the Mon­ster En­ergy Se­ries next sea­son, with pri­mary spon­sor­ship from ex­ist­ing part­ners Ax­alta and Lib­erty Uni­ver­sity fill­ing most of the race dates. By­ron re­places Kasey Kahne, who will leave the car with one year re­main­ing on his con­tract.

“We haven’t got­ten the job done,” Hen­drick said of the re­sults from the No. 5 car. “I take full re­spon­si­bil­ity for that. For what­ever rea­son, we weren’t get­ting it.”

Though By­ron has never driven a Mon­ster En­ergy Se­ries car in com­pe­ti­tion, he has shown enor­mous tal­ent at ev­ery level of racing, win­ning seven times in his NASCAR Camp­ing World Truck Se­ries rookie sea­son last year and win­ning three times in 20 NASCAR XFIN­ITY Se­ries starts this sea­son. By­ron cur­rently is sec­ond to JR Mo­tor­sports team­mate El­liott Sadler in the XFIN­ITY stand­ings.

“As a kid, this is the race shop that I would drive by and look in the win­dows,” By­ron said of his early affin­ity for Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports. “Ac­tu­ally, at the 5/24 (shop), they have the win­dow there, and I would walk up to that, and it’s pretty cool to be on the other side of it next year. ...

“I feel like I’ve put the work into it, and I feel like I’m learn­ing on the job, and that’s been the big­gest thing for me, to learn from the best peo­ple I can have around me. Just look­ing for­ward to the fu­ture.”

With 24-year-old Alex Bow­man re­cently an­nounced as the suc­ces­sor to Dale Earn­hardt Jr. in the No. 88 Chevro­let, the shift to By­ron from Kahne fur­ther re­duces the age and ex­pe­ri­ence of the Hen­drick ros­ter. Se­condyear driver Chase El­liott, who re­placed Jeff Gor­don into the No. 24 car last year, is 22.

That leaves seven-time cham­pion Jim­mie John­son, who will turn 42 in Septem­ber, as the only vet­eran in the Hen­drick camp.

“Jim­mie John­son will be a men­tor to all three of them,” Hen­drick said. “We still have Jeff Gor­don in­volved, and Dale Earn­hardt’s go­ing to be in­volved. He’s still go­ing to be in­volved with the team, so we’ve got a lot of coaches. But the main thing is just not putting too much pres­sure on them and let them go out and learn.”

Hen­drick says he is also try­ing to help Kahne take the next step in his ca­reer. Kahne has spent six years in the No. 5 car and re­cently qual­i­fied for the Mon­ster En­ergy NASCAR Cup Se­ries play­offs with a vic­tory at In­di­anapo­lis Mo­tor Speed­way.

“I have an obli­ga­tion to Kasey, so I’m pay­ing two driv­ers next year,” Hen­drick said. “And I’m also try­ing to help Kasey in an­other sit­u­a­tion that we could be in­volved with help­ing an­other team.

“So there­fore, it’s not so much about money. It’s about the fu­ture and build­ing for the fu­ture, get­ting a fresh start.”

That’s pre­cisely what Hen­drick hopes and ex­pects from By­ron.

GETTY IMAGES FOR NASCAR

Wil­liam By­ron cel­e­brates in vic­tory lane af­ter win­ning the NASCAR XFIN­ITY Se­ries Lilly Di­a­betes 250 at In­di­anapo­lis Mo­tor­speed­way ear­lier this sea­son.

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