LAS VEGAS — Fresh off his first year in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, William Byron has shed his rookie stripe. And when the clock struck midnight to Nov. 29, he removed a different label — the underage one.
That’s right, the 2018 Sunoco Rookie of the Year winner fittingly celebrated his 21st birthday in Las Vegas.
“It’s a trip,” Byron said Wednesday afternoon about his birthday timing. “It’s kind of symbolic of the fact that I’m kind of coming of age and kind of getting the rookie stripes off and everything. It makes sense that going into my second year, growing up a little bit. Started living out on my own and some of the things I’m doing there, so that stuff will help grow up a little bit.”
Indeed, the 2018 offseason is like a transition and growth period for the young driver. He moved into his own place three weeks before the end of the season — “I gotta do laundry and pay my own bills and there’s all these things. And the place doesn’t clean itself,” he said with a smile.
And on Wednesday afternoon, Byron accepted the 2018 Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award in front of his fellow series drivers at the Myers Brother Awards. He earned 10 top-15 finishes in 2018 and paced the field for 61 laps to claim the award.
“I love to race,” Byron said during his acceptance speech. “Six years ago, it would have been crazy to imagine that I would be racing side-by-side with idols of mine. The first race of the year, lining up against Jimmie Johnson in the Duel: the lights, the colors, it was a lot brighter than in an Xfinity car.”
The 2018 season brought plenty of “new” for Byron, who started with a new series, team, crew chief and car number, inheriting the No. 24 driven to fame by Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon.
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“It’s been a lot of growing up,” he told NASCAR.com. “I feel like I’ve learned a ton of things and it’s just been a learning process to understand the Cup Series and understand what makes me tick. So, I’ve enjoyed that part of it. I feel like going into next year, I don’t have to learn all that stuff again. …
“(I’ll be) definitely more aggressive, I would say, and confident and not feeling like I’m being judged as much,” he continued on his approach for 2019. “I feel like in my rookie year, there was a lot of judgement. I feel like I won’t have that as much. I feel like I’ll be able to get past that and not feel like I’m not part of the series.”
The rookie stripe now gone from his No. 24, Byron looks to his sophomore season that will begin in a few months. And maybe while in Las Vegas, he’ll toast (with an adult beverage) to his promising future — and a memorable first year in the Monster Energy Series.
“As I look towards next year, I’m excited and ready to get going,” he said. “No more rookie meetings, and that’s a freedom I haven’t had in my short NASCAR career thus far.
“With that being said, I’m ready to take those rookie stripes off.”