Step up in class has been an eye-opener for Wil­liam By­ron


DAY­TONA BEACH, FLA. — To call Wil­liam By­ron’s ini­ti­a­tion into the Mon­ster En­ergy NASCAR Cup Se­ries a baptism by fire wouldn’t be giv­ing enough credit to the fire.

To say the least, the 20-year-old Lib­erty Univer­sity sopho­more has had a rough de­but in his first three races at NASCAR’s high­est level, but not for a lack of grit or ef­fort.

Start­ing the sea­son-open­ing Day­tona 500 in a backup car af­ter an early crash in the first Can-Am Duel qual­i­fy­ing race three days ear­lier, By­ron was part of a nine-car wreck on Lap 60 of the Great Amer­i­can Race. De­spite a sub­se­quent spin off Turn 4 on Lap 190, By­ron sol­diered on to a 23rd-place fin­ish, four laps down to over­time win­ner Austin Dil­lon.

A week later at At­lanta, By­ron went a lap down to even­tual race win­ner Kevin Har­vick be­fore a sched­uled com­pe­ti­tion cau­tion on Lap 30. Only Har­vick’s largesse—slow­ing enough to let By­ron pass him be­fore the yel­low flag waved—kept By­ron on the lead lap.

By­ron and crew chief Dar­ian Grubb im­proved the No. 24 Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports Chevro­let through­out the race, but By­ron was no match for Har­vick. No one else was ei­ther. By­ron fought through the af­ter­noon and was run­ning at the fin­ish, two laps down in 18th place.

Last year’s NASCAR Xfin­ity Se­ries cham­pion had never worked harder for a mid-pack re­sult.

“Yeah, es­pe­cially with what I fought in the be­gin­ning of the race,” By­ron ac­knowl­edged last Fri­day be­fore qual­i­fy­ing at Las Ve­gas Mo­tor Speed­way. “It was rough. There’s no doubt about it, it was a rough week­end, but we def­i­nitely learned a lot from it.

“Just to make it 500 miles and to know what that’s go­ing to be like and to know what I need to do to get to that point was the big­gest thing for me. Once I kind of re­al­ized where we were as far as how our car han­dled and things like that, you just kind of re­set your goals and just go from there to fig­ure out what you can do to max­i­mize the day.”

The Las Ve­gas week­end started on a more op­ti­mistic note. By­ron found speed late in Fri­day’s open­ing prac­tice and posted the fifth fastest lap in qual­i­fy­ing trim at 190.282 mph. In time tri­als later that af­ter­noon, he earned a sea­son-best 17th start­ing po­si­tion for the Pennzoil 400.

Sun­day’s race was an­other mat­ter. By­ron fin­ished 27th, four laps down to race win­ner Har­vick, who drove off into the desert sun­set, leav­ing just eight other cars on the lead lap.

To be fair, By­ron isn’t the only Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports driver who has strug­gled this sea­son. The com­pany is work­ing hard to dis­cover the sub­tleties of the new Ca­maro ZL1 race car while deal­ing with a new organizational model that has all four crew chiefs in the same build­ing.

Be­fore the Day­tona 500, By­ron had never run a Mon­ster En­ergy NASCAR Cup Se­ries race, mak­ing his learn­ing curve as steep as it can pos­si­bly be. Nev­er­the­less, By­ron’s own his­tory of­fers bright prom­ise. Typ­i­cally, he starts slowly—and learns fast.

Two races into his first full sea­son in the NASCAR Camp­ing World Truck Se­ries in 2016, By­ron was 25th in points. He went on to win seven times that year and spent 13 con­sec­u­tive races on top of the stand­ings be­fore a blown en­gine at Phoenix cost him a chance to com­pete for the cham­pi­onship at Home­stead-Mi­ami Speed­way a week later.

Last year, in his NASCAR Xfin­ity Se­ries de­but sea­son, By­ron didn’t win un­til the 14th race of this sea­son. He went on to col­lect four vic­to­ries, in­clud­ing a “re­venge” win in the next-to-last race at Phoenix. By­ron won the se­ries ti­tle with a third-place fin­ish at Home­stead.

The mes­sage is clear. When the switch goes on for By­ron, the per­for­mance es­ca­lates me­te­or­i­cally. And it does so while By­ron stays cur­rent with his on­line cour­ses at Lib­erty.

“I think that, once it clicks, it’s go­ing to be the same as any other se­ries,” By­ron said. “When it clicks, and you know what you need in the car, and you know how to pro­duce that re­sult, it doesn’t mat­ter whether there are 30 good cars or 20 good cars. I think that once it does click for us, and once we know and we show up each week, and we’re very close to how we need to be, it’s go­ing to start to click and rack off those suc­cess­ful fin­ishes.

“But I would say there is a lot of stuff to work on. I mean, there’s the pit road stuff, the green-flag stops, the length of the races and then just learn­ing Dar­rian and my guys to know what to do. I think we’re go­ing to get there prob­a­bly quicker than peo­ple ex­pect, but there might be some rough patches here and there.”

Then again, per­haps By­ron is just get­ting the rough patches out of the way early, as he has done at every pre­vi­ous level of NASCAR rac­ing.


Wil­liam By­ron, driver of the No. 24 AX­ALTA Chevro­let, walks to his car dur­ing prac­tice for the Mon­ster En­ergy NASCAR Cup Se­ries Day­tona 500 at Day­tona In­ter­na­tional Speed­way on Fe­bru­ary 16, 2018 in Day­tona Beach, Florida.

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