Kyle Busch’s perspective on William Byron is among the most unique between two of today’s best NASCAR Cup Series drivers.
Busch, a two-time champion at the sport’s highest level, welcomed Byron to Kyle Busch Motorsports when Byron was merely 17 years old, making his NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series debut in 2015.
Since then, Byron went on to set a rookie record in Trucks with seven wins in 2016, win the Xfinity Series championship in 2017 with JR Motorsports and now leads the NASCAR Cup Series with three wins through 13 races in 2023, bumping his Cup total victories to a collective seven, all with the sport’s winningest team in Hendrick Motorsports.
Fair to consider the new face of the No. 24 Chevrolet a championship threat?
“Yeah, I mean, you’d have to,” Busch said in a Tuesday teleconference.
Byron’s progression to Cup is well documented — a journey that began through iRacing and computers that propelled him to real track in legend cars, late models and the ARCA Menards Series East before landing on the national stage.
Now, in addition to his Cup Series-high three wins, the 25-year-old leads the league in top fives (six) and laps led (596); sits second in top-10 finishes (seven); is tied with Kyle Larson and Joey Logano for most poles (two); and sits fifth in points, 42 points behind series leader Ross Chastain. A 60-point penalty after the April 2 race at Richmond Raceway now remains the only thing separating Byron from the top spot in the standings midway through the regular season.
The tracks where Byron has broken through are also critical. The 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway serves as the opening race of the Round of 8 in the NASCAR Playoffs; Phoenix Raceway, the flat 1-mile, D-shaped oval, is where the championship will be decided in November. Darlington Raceway, the site of Byron’s most recent triumph, opens the playoffs in September.
“All of his wins have been pretty diverse at all different race tracks, you know?” Busch said. “I think William is a rare talent. (…) He’s done a great job at driving all the stuff that he’s driven. He’s been in good stuff the entire time, but he’s made the most of that as well.”
Busch, who has welcomed Byron back into the KBM fold for a select number of Truck Series races this season thanks to his return to Chevrolet, pointed to their 2016 romp over the circuit, collecting 11 top fives and 16 top 10s to pair with those record seven wins over 23 events. A failed engine in that season’s penultimate race at Phoenix denied Byron the chance to vie for a championship — one he would have won considering he was victorious at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the season finale.
Atop the pit box was crew chief Rudy Fugle, who now guides Byron and the No. 24 team at Hendrick Motorsports.
“Working with William the time that we did, him and Rudy were amazing here and had great results, and now they’re having great results on the Cup side as well,” Busch said. “It took a couple years of learning the ropes of the Cup Series for William, which, to be expected out of anybody, right? But ever since being paired with Rudy again, it seems like those two really have a knack for one another. And Rudy is really good at what he does. I know that very well, having him be here at KBM for so many years. So that doesn’t surprise me.”
Fugle’s filter for prioritizing information is a significant key to the success he’s had with multiple drivers in the Truck Series — Busch (10 wins), Christopher Bell (five) and Erik Jones (four) to name a few.
“I think he just has a knack for being able to read information and the sim and stuff like that, without there needing to be a full emphasis put on the driver being in the sim, if you will,” Busch explained. “We all go do and run the simulator and everything. And sometimes it works for particular race tracks; sometimes it doesn’t. Like, I felt like Fontana, it was perfect. It was really good. And then I felt like Darlington, it was actually really good for us. But Vegas, it wasn’t even close. And somewhere else we went, it wasn’t even close, you know?
“So we really struggled at a couple of those places trying to rely on that, where Rudy and William, I know they go use it and they run on it. But I think Rudy really looks at numbers, a lot more of just setup things and the stuff that he does on how he picks what springs to run and what setups to go with.”
As for Byron and Fugle’s success, well that just leaves Busch with mixed emotions.
“I’d like to say that I’m happy for him (Fugle),” Busch said. “But on the other hand, I’m not because I’d rather have Rudy here on the Truck Series side with us at KBM and I’d rather be beating William on Sunday.”