William Byron, winner of the last two NASCAR Cup Series races, doesn’t think the penalties he suffered for his team’s unauthorized modifications to the hood louvers on his No. 24 Chevrolet will have an effect on the way he races.
True, Byron lost 100 driver championship points and 10 of the 13 Playoff points he accumulated in his two wins at Las Vegas and Phoenix—pending Hendrick Motorsports’ appeal—but his early success hasn’t dulled his motivation to win more races.
“Yeah, certainly the points is something that we just adjust to,” Byron said. “It’s early in the season. The cars are extremely fast. We obviously had the pace last week to win regardless, so I think that’s going to continue. I think with that pace, we’re just going to use that to our advantage to make up points.
“We didn’t intend on really relaxing after a win anyways this year. So I think, going into the next however many weeks that we’ve got until the playoffs, we’re going to push really hard. I think we’re just going to give it everything, every week. We had a good week of preparation; lots of time in the sim (simulator), lots of time at the shop. Just excited for all of that to continue.”
Byron may have lucked into his last wins, but it’s not like he wasn’t a deserving winner in each race either. Byron led a race-high 176 of 271 laps in Las Vegas including sweeping both stages to score his first win of the season. This week in Phoenix, he led 64 of 317 laps and won the first stage while being second in Stage 2.
Yes, the last two races were only won by late race cautions. However, someone had to win and Byron capitalized. He’s finding ways to win.
Now, can he keep this up?
“Yeah, just a little bit of everything,” Rudy Fugle (Byron’s crew chief) said on why the 24 team is clicking so well already. “Specifically 24 team is focused in the simulation program all off-season. We worked really hard, especially on Las Vegas and Phoenix ’cause they’re super important in the Playoffs.
“We had fresh information. Run Vegas with four to go, Phoenix obviously the last race of the year, you race them early in the year. Makes sense to work on those. Most of our focus to start with. Hope to take notes from these two races to propel ourselves to the first third, half of the year.”
Jeff Gordon says that this whole 24 team is deserving of this success.
“First let me say how proud I am of this guy, this team,” said the four-time series champion. “Nobody works harder. All these guys work hard.
“Over the off-season I came in one day, was it right after Christmas. I came to the office, this guy (Rudy Fugle) was there all by himself. I’m so proud of this guy and the efforts they’re putting in, see the results.”
Now, can the 24 team continue this early season success the rest of the way forward?
“Yeah, I think you got to get the wins while you’re hot. You got to capitalize,” Fugle says. “Super good. Our focus is nothing different now. Hit the reset button and how do we do it again.
“Put the hard work in every single day, keep grinding. That’s our focus.”
The 25-year-old hasn’t won in bunches before and now is. This is the first time of his Cup career that he’s won back-to-back races. His first victory came in the 2020 Coke Zero Sugar 400. He had just a pair of top five finishes in the 10 races after. 4 of those 10 races he finished outside the top 20.
His next win came in the third race of the 2021 season at Homestead. He’d not win the rest of the year. In fact, Byron had just 11 more top five finishes in the remaining 33 races.
Last season, Byron won the 5th race of the season in Atlanta. He’d back that up with another win three races later in Martinsville. It was starting to look like Byron was going to be the guy that we all expected him to be. However, that was his final win of the 2022 season.
He had one top five finish the rest of the way. In fact, he went the next 18 races with just one top 10 result in total.
Now, he’s back to victory lane in the third and fourth races of the 2023 season. Last year, he won the 5th race at Atlanta, which just so happens to be the site of next weekend’s race again. Can he use this for more consistency moving forward or is he peaking too soon?
He’s looking to become the 53rd driver to win three straight races in a season.
“Yeah, I mean, I think last year, even though we won early, we didn’t really know the car or understand the car,” Byron said. “We were kind of just adapting to what we had. We were just making the most of an unpredictable situation with the entire field. There was a lot of attrition in the races, a lot of just weird things that were happening.
“I feel like now it’s strength on strength. It feels different. It feels like we’re more consistently towards the front and we’re leading laps.
“We just want to focus on our processes during the week. I think our processes this week were kind of frustrating because we didn’t really get to do the things we wanted to do. Everyone was a little tired. We did that Charlotte test. There was a lot going on on the outside. It was a little frustrating going into today, but it’s cool to see that we can overcome those things and still get a win.”
Also, you have to consider that Byron is still so young at this. He’s only 25 years old and didn’t honestly start racing inside of a race car until 10 years ago. So, while some may say that he should be doing this in his sixth season at Hendrick, others have to realize that he’s only been doing this a decade in total. He just came though the ranks that quickly. It takes time to fully grasp it.
“Yeah, I think people around me have always kind of helped me understand that I’m young,” Byron noted. “Max and my dad, just everyone, my dad especially, he’s a big stats guy. He’s like, Man, you’re young. Just give it some time.
“I’m very impatient, so I like things to happen quick. That’s how it happened for me coming up through.
“This level is so different. Took a lot of homework, a lot of details. I think the fact that I started later than most driving was a little bit — it took some time to bridge that gap at this level. Now that gap is bridged obviously.
“Yeah, I just feel like it’s a constant evolution, just trying to continue to get better.”
“I see a progression with William ever since he came to Hendrick,” he says. “Got to remember how young he was coming into the Cup Series, so much to learn. Young in racing in so many ways.
“When Rudy came to Hendrick, the instant connection and chemistry between these two was so obvious. It just took the whole team up to another notch. I think now they’re just building on that.
“It’s a lot of fun to watch and see.”