NASCAR Cup Series
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Apr 5, 2023
The overall learning curve in the NASCAR Cup Series for sixth-year driver William Byron has been quick and positive – words that also aptly describe Byron’s efforts specifically this season.
Seven races into the 36-race 2023 schedule and Byron is tops among all drivers in several significant competitive categories including race wins. He’s the only driver with multiple victories – at Las Vegas and Phoenix – to date and he nearly hoisted a third trophy last weekend at Richmond (Va.) Raceway after leading the most laps.
You could say, the 25-year-old Byron – who is simultaneously completing a college degree and earning accolades on NASCAR’s biggest stage - is acing all his exams right now.
“It’s definitely been good,” Byron told Racing America this week. “I think that we’d like to have a couple of races, just the results category, be more indicative of how we ran. But I think certainly in terms of laps led and laps inside the top-five and things like that, it seems like we’re up there every week so that’s the great thing that’s going on.
“We just have to keep working hard and trying to keep this up consistently throughout the year.”
The encouraging news is that Byron’s No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet team has already equaled its previous season-high for victories. In only seven races, he’s posted nearly as many top-five finishes (three) as he had all of 2022 (five) and is on a good pace to equal or exceed his previous best mark of 12 in 2021.
Byron’s 385 laps led is the most in the NASCAR Cup Series, and in only seven races he’s halfway to his career-best full-season mark (746 laps led last year). Other than last year, the most laps he’s led in a season is 425 (2021) and he’s well on pace to eclipse that.
And Byron’s five stage wins – including one last week - is most in the NASCAR Cup Series.
“I think I’m really a very analytically-driven person so I kind of look at that stuff as ways to improve, I pay attention to it and it does kind of factor into where I decide to work on certain things,” Byron said. “Like last year, the weaker tracks for me, I circled those and worked on them a little bit harder during the off-time.
“I think it honestly just goes back to kind of the way my mind works. I like to have a method. It makes sense, but certainly, I’m fortunate it is improving and there is that constant evolution because there are setbacks. But certainly, the goal is to improve.”
I think I’m really a very analytically-driven person so I kind of look at that stuff as ways to improve, I pay attention to it and it does kind of factor into where I decide to work on certain things.
Even with all these positive statistics, Byron is ranked fourth in the standings – 35 points behind his teammate Alex Bowman, but only a single point off Christopher Bell in third place. A pair of DNFs – at Daytona and Atlanta; two of only three venues in 2023 where he hasn’t led laps – are the only things separating his top-shelf work from being higher in the rankings. He is the only driver among the top five with a win. And in the early “Projected Playoff” standings, Byron is first with seven Playoff points more than Bowman.
Next week, the NASCAR Cup Series races at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, where Byron is the defending race winner. In fact, last year, he won two of the three spring Martinsville events – claiming the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series trophy too.
Not only will he show up as the defending spring race winner, but his crew chief Rudy Fugle will be back in the garage too – having served a four-race suspension handed down by NASCAR to the Hendrick Motorsports crew chiefs following the Phoenix race.
The good news for the No. 24 team is that Byron has maintained pace despite the challenge. And that momentum even in difficult circumstances has actually resulted in more confidence - and increased expectations when Fugle returns for the Martinsville weekend.
“It kind of proves out that we’ve put in the work in the right areas because you never know, how strong your team is, until you really test it,” Byron said. “This year we’ve been tested and it’s shown how much work we’ve put in and it’s nice to see that .
“I think Rudy is itching to be back and for me, I just try to keep doing the same things [I did before]. We have great engineers so it’s easy to kind of lean on those guys and get the right information.”
Byron, who has improved his position in the final championship standings each year of his career, gives Fugle a lot of credit for the stability and raised expectations. The two worked together when Byron was an 18-year-old competing – winning seven races and finishing fifth in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship that year. Byron had a role in bringing Fugle to the Hendrick team and is confident that reunion is largely responsible for his team’s progress and promise.
“I think honestly, maybe the comfort aspect of it, the consistency of the race team, having the same crew chief again this year,” Byron said of his early success this season. “It’s our third year working with each other and that’s the longest I’ve ever worked with a crew chief in the Cup Series
“Now working with Rudy again … it is just the perfect fit.”
As their results would indicate.
-Photo credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
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