It was never a question of if William Byron would compete in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, only a question of when.
That question was answered Wednesday when officials with Hendrick Motorsports announced the 19-year-old would take over the organization’s No. 5 Chevrolet currently being driven by Kasey Kahne beginning in 2018.
“We see he’s got the talent; his character is unbelievable,” Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports, said Wednesday. “He spends all of his time either studying or iRacing or in a simulator or in a race car. His rapid rate of success has just blown us all away.”
Byron won the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East title in 2015, winning four times. The following year he won a series-best seven times in the Camping World Truck Series while driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports.
This year, his first in the XFINITY Series, he has three victories and is second in the points standings, trailing only JR Motorsports teammate Elliott Sadler.
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“You look at the fact that he won all those races in the Truck Series, Rookie of the Year, youngest guy to win those kind of races and then you look at the XFINITY job he’s done this year,” Hendrick said. “Youngest winner at Indy, just how he goes to the front so quick, how he picks up on things.”
According to HMS officials, sponsorship will come from Axalta Coating Systems, a long-time associate of Hendrick Motorsports, and Liberty University, which has sponsored Byron since a 2014 Late Model effort with JRM.
“It’s been an incredible couple of years for me to sign on with Mr. H last year and Hendrick Motorsports and then to race for JRM this year and have good success with them and build that foundation there for the future,” Byron said.
“It’s been a great thing for me and I’m really ready for the future and excited to finish the rest of this year as well.”
Hendrick said he met with Byron and his father Aug. 6.
“He didn’t know why we were meeting,” Hendrick said.
“I said ‘William, are you ready? Would you like to drive in Cup next year?’
“And he said ‘I’m ready.’ I mean there was no hesitation. … To see his face and the excitement there, those are the real special moments when you can break the news.”
This is a dream come true for me to race at the Cup level. Thank you to everyone @TeamHendrick for believing in me! Ready to make them proud
— William Byron (@WilliamByron) August 9, 2017
Byron will join seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson, Chase Elliott and fellow new arrival Alex Bowman at HMS for ’18. Bowman will replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the group’s No. 88 Chevrolet; he made 10 starts in the car in ’16 while Earnhardt was recovering from injury.
Hendrick said Johnson will help mentor the youngsters (Bowman is 24, Elliott 21 and Byron 19), but the group will also lean on four-time champ and former HMS driver Jeff Gordon as well as Earnhardt for support and guidance.
“The main thing is just not putting too much pressure on them, let them go out and learn,” Hendrick said. “If William continues to do what he has done in every series he’s been in he’ll adapt fine. … You might as well let him learn in what he’ll be driving for years to come.”
The driver changes may or may not be the only personnel moves. But Hendrick said the focus is on the remainder of the ’17 season and any movement within the teams would be considered at a later date.
Kahne, 37, has 18 career victories in the MENCS and his win last month in the Brickyard 400 at Indy earned him a spot in the upcoming playoffs. He has 490 career starts and has been at HMS since 2012.
Byron said he feels he is up to the challenge of competing in NASCAR’s premier series.
“It’s the top level of racing and everything that I’ve watched as a kid, I’m starting to race against those guys,” Byron said.
“For me it’s definitely going to be intense and you’re going to have to match that intensity but I feel like I’ve got great people around me and I’ve got really a golden opportunity here at Hendrick Motorsports and it’s something as a kid I grew up aspiring to do this.”