NASCAR Cup Series
William Byron Manages Championship 4 Berth After "Hell in A Bottle" Martinsville Race
Oct 29, 2023
Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports praised the work ethic of driver William Byron, who will compete for his first NASCAR Cup Series championship on Sunday, while saying the 25-year-old is flying under the radar.
For the first time in his NASCAR Cup Series career, William Byron is entering the season-finale at Phoenix Raceway with the additional pressure of staring a championship directly in the face, as a member of this year's Championship 4.
At 25 years old, Byron is the youngest of the four championship-eligible drivers, and should he be successful in hoisting the Bill France Cup after Sunday's event, will become the third-youngest champion in the history of the Cup Series.
For Byron, the path taken to advance through the ranks into the NASCAR Cup Series -- much less compete for a championship - was not only vastly different than his three championship rivals but also much more abbreviated.
In a matter of just six years, Byron went from debuting Legends Cars after learning how to race via iRacing, an online simulator, to competing full-time in the NASCAR Cup Series for one of the most decorated teams of all-time.
His path to the top level of NASCAR included championships in the NASCAR Xfinity Series (2017), NASCAR K&N Pro Series East (2014), and Legends Cars (2012), as well as victories in Late Models, and the NASCAR Truck Series.
All the while, although nobody knew it, Rick Hendrick was keeping a watchful eye on the Charlotte, North Carolina-native, as he quickly rose to prominence as one of NASCAR's next stars.
"The thing about William I was so impressed with is how quickly he learned, with what he did in Late Models, what he did in Legends Cars, everything he got in," said Rick Hendrick. "More than anything, to have a determination, have a goal and go after it."
Hendrick says he kept up with Byron's progress through his neighbor, who was friends with William's father. He watched impressed, as Byron won the K&N East title, graduated from one of the toughest private schools in Charlotte, took college classes, and became an Eagle Scout, all in the same year.
"You see him, you think he's a mild-mannered little guy, he's not got a killer instinct. His determination to succeed and willingness to work hard, his willingness to put in extra hours, to spend time in the simulator when nobody else wants to do it, they've done it, the time is open, he'll take it," Hendrick added. "His work ethic is so impressive. I just felt like if he was in the right spot with the right people, he was going to do great things. It’s turned out to be that way."
Singing the praises of his youngest NASCAR Cup Series pilot, the 14-time championship-winning team owner says that although the No. 24 team has put together a fantastic year, it appears they're still being slept on when it comes to winning the championship.
"Everybody gives Kyle [Larson] a tremendous amount of credit as one of the best that ever say in any kind of car," said Hendrick. "William's kind of been under-the-radar. For a guy that's won six races, had a chance to win the regular-season championship, for him to accomplish what he has, he's kind of been under the radar. Nobody has talked about him a lot."
Now, how is possible for Byron, a six-time winner in the NASCAR Cup Series in 2023, to be flying under-the-radar, despite having possibly the most impressive statline heading to Phoenix?
"You don't have to apologize for anything with him. I think that's one of the reasons he's been kind of under the radar," Hendrick explained. "He's not outspoken. He doesn't run his mouth. He doesn't go out and rough people up. He's done it in a very professional way."
At the end of Sunday's 312-lap contest at Phoenix, should Byron be hoisting the championship trophy, Hendrick believes that it would be a fantastic story, not just for Hendrick Motorsports, but the entire industry.
"I think it would be a tremendous story if a kid that started at 14 or 15 years old, on a computer, can end up marching through [Trucks] and [Xfinity], and then the Cup Series, cap off a year where he won more races than anybody did, and win the championship. I think that would be a really great story for NASCAR and a lot of the fans."
"I think William is a good poster [guy] for a lot of young people that have ambitions to be in racing or any sport that you want to, work as hard as he's worked and get there," the Hendrick Motorsports owner added. "Not a whole lot of help from different people. I mean, he did it on his own. He knew what steps he needed to take and he did it. Super confident in his ability and just a good person, too. For a guy that represents the sponsors well, squeaky clean but aggressive when he needs to be, and just a good person."
To win his first NASCAR Cup Series title, Byron will need to dig deep - likely deeper than he did last weekend at Martinsville when he emerged from the other side of a "hell in a bottle" race, to advance to the Championship 4.
He'll be up against some strong drivers and organizations though, competing against Kyle Larson (Hendrick Motorsports), Ryan Blaney (Team Penske), and Christopher Bell (Joe Gibbs Racing).
Photo Credit: Craig White, Racing America