AVONDALE, Ariz. – William Byron has rocketed ahead of the field to begin his sixth NASCAR Cup Series campaign.
With two wins and 13 playoff points already in the bank, the 25-year-old Hendrick Motorsports driver appears bound for a deep postseason run and has slotted his name into the hat of championship contenders in 2023.
A win at Phoenix Raceway certainly adds to Byron’s hopes of grasping his first Cup championship in November, a career milestone that has already been accomplished by his teammates Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson at the 1-mile Arizona track.
Given the status Elliott and Larson have earned as not only the class of the Hendrick camp but also the entire Cup field, Byron has fallen under the radar and has tended to not be the center of the conversation around the sport’s elite talents every Sunday. Part of the lack of Byron adulation so far in his career may be partly due to the No. 24 signage that shines right under his window, a number formerly driven to 93 wins and four championships by Hall of Famer and current Hendrick Vice Chairman Jeff Gordon.
Like Byron, Gordon entered the Cup Series at the ripe age of 21 and can correlate his early years to Byron’s.
“The perspective I have now, it’s just really great to see a team mature, a team grow and evolve, and you see all the things that they are doing behind the scenes to get there,” Gordon said. “You can’t just show up to the track and all of a sudden, ‘Bam!’ you clicked on it. These guys have had to work really hard to get there, and I just see a progression of William ever since he came to Hendrick.”
Byron has unique roots in his racing career. Beginning with iRacing, the North Carolinian rose through the ranks fast, trading in the virtual seat for a cockpit and finding himself in NASCAR’s national series just a handful of years after first stepping onto a race track.
Not too much later, Byron became an ARCA Menards Series East champion (2015) and Xfinity Series champion (2017) before his promotion to the premier series.
Part of Byron’s success so far in the Cup Series is due to his pairing with crew chief Rudy Fugle.
In 23 races during Byron’s 2016 rookie season in the Craftsman Truck Series, the two won seven races, finishing fifth in the final standings.
During Byron’s first three Cup seasons without Fugle atop the No. 24 pit box, he only secured one victory at Daytona International Speedway in 108 races. Just three races into the reunion of Byron and Fugle, they were in Victory Lane at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“With William, I guess he’s the guy that’s gotten here mostly by being one of the best at preparing during the week,” Fugle said. “Then, you have the experience that he’s starting to get over and over now, and you’re seeing the fruits of all his hard work paying off, so that’s what I’m super proud of.”
“You gotta remember how young he [Byron] was coming into the Cup Series,” Gordon said. “So much to learn and even young in racing in so many ways, and when Rudy came to Hendrick, the instant chemistry and connection between these two was so obvious, and it just took the whole team up to another notch, and I think now they are just building on that. It’s just a lot of fun to watch.”
Being in his mid-20s, maturity is a virtue that’s still growing for Byron. With all of the winning he’s accomplished, Byron admits that he’s wanted instant gratification during his Cup career.
“The people around me have always kinda helped me understand that, you know, my dad especially, he’s a big stats guy, so he’s always looking at it like, ‘Man, you’re young. Just give it some time,’ and I’m very impatient, so I like things to happen quick, so that’s how it happened for me,” Byron said.
So far, Byron’s averaged one win per season at the Cup level. He’s been unsuccessful in a quest for a Championship 4 bid but was closest to seeking his first title bid last season when he secured his first multi-win campaign. Each year since 2020, Byron has improved his position in the final standings going from 14th in 2020, 10th in 2021 and sixth in 2022.
There are still 32 races remaining on the 2023 circuit, but Byron’s strong start has put him atop the Hendrick camp thus far, which could culminate in a crowning achievement when he looks to defend his Phoenix win in November.
“This level’s so different, and it took a lot of homework, a lot of details,” Byron said. “Really, the fact that I started later than most driving, it took some time to bridge that gap at this level. Now that gap is bridged, obviously, but I just feel like it’s a constant evolution and just trying to continue to get better.”