DAYTONA BEACH, Fla – Four one hundredths of a second. That’s the difference between owning the distinction of being the Daytona 500 pole winner and not. That’s also the difference that Chad Knaus offers too.
Knaus, joins William Byron’s No. 24 Chevrolet team for the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season. That comes after spending the previous 18 years on top of Jimmie Johnson’s pit box. Between he and Johnson, they won a record tying seven Cup championships to go along with 83 trips to victory lane, 224 top five finishes and 352 top 10’s.
But, with two of his worst statistical seasons coming in back-to-back years, Hendrick Motorsports thought both Johnson and Knaus needed a break from one another. In came Kevin Meendering from JR Motorsports in the NASCAR XFINITY Series for Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet. By virtue of that, youngster William Byron got Knaus.
Last year, Byron struggled in his first year in Cup. He failed to win and only scored four top 10 finishes, none of which resulting in a top five. He led just 61 laps all season too.
But, in their first race together, Knaus helped propel Byron to the pole for Sunday’s Daytona 500. His lap time, 46.319 seconds. Alex Bowman who qualified second, had a time of 46.355 seconds. That’s 0.04 seconds.
Johnson, was third fastest in a lap of 46.438 seconds in his No. 48 Chevrolet.
It’s a huge story that Byron and Knaus topped Johnson and Meendering.
Another huge story is how quickly and how rare Byron’s background to Cup is. Byron’s background isn’t in go karts of quarter midgets. He didn’t come up through late models. He came up on iRacing. He cut his teeth racing on computers.
The first time he raced?
15 years old.
Six years later, he’s on the pole for the Daytona 500. How remarkable is that?
Byron’s rise to the top was quick too. In 2014, he raced his first season with JRM in late models. Most drivers have raced 10+ years before joining those ranks. He finished second in the points as a rookie that season. The next year, he was up in the K&N East Series as well as racing in Late Models again. He won in just his second K&N start which eluded to a four win season and a championship. During that year, he moved up to ARCA too and made his debut at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis. He led 120 of 200 laps in a runner-up effort in his debut.
That led to a deal with Kyle Busch Motorsports in their NASCAR Truck Series program for 2016. In 23 starts, he won seven of them to go along with 11 top fives and 16 top 10’s. If not for a blown engine at Phoenix in the second to last race, he would have won the championship that year.
Those strong results led JRM to signing him to an XFINITY Series deal for 2017. He won four races and had 22 top 10’s in 33 starts en route to the season championship.
The quick rise led him to HMS on the Cup level for 2018. That’s why we had to be patient with him last year. That’s a quick decent to the top. Now, in his first race in his second season, the former computer racer is on the pole.
Oh by the way, he went to college too and is just a sophomore at Liberty University in Charlotte.