BROOKLYN, Mich – There’s no doubt about it, William Byron is really getting a chance to grow up right in front of our faces this season. The second year driver got a brand new crew chief to start the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season off with – Chad Knaus.
Knaus, won 83 races and seven championships with Jimmie Johnson as arguably one of the best crew chiefs to ever sit atop of the pit box started calling the shots for a young 21 year old driver this season.
William Byron drives his No. 24 Chevrolet through the garage area during practice last month at the Kentucky Speedway
Bryon, 21, a North Carolina native and Liberty University student is still just a kid. Last checked, he’s still living with his parents. Granted, that could have changed by now, but you get the point.
Knaus on the other hand knows how to win races as well as championships. He has a fire to him and expects his driver to as well. He knew that 2019 would be a project in the making. He needed to bring more of a fire and passion to a young driver with a ton of skill. Combine both disciplines – and you’ll get a future star.
Knaus, a fiery guy himself got what some people think was a little too emotional following an early race incident between his driver and Kyle Busch last Sunday at the Watkins Glen (NY) International road course. Not only did he have fire, he wanted his driver to show it as well. So, after Busch punted Byron off the track in the bus stop, Knaus gave Byron a direct order – you better not let me see the 18 come by me again if you’re near him and you not wreck the you know what out of him. That was edited a bit for language but again, you get the point.
Byron, did just that. On the cool down lap following the first stage break, Byron got revenge. The only problem was, Busch saw Byron coming and brake checked him. That maneuver caused more front end damage to Bryon’s No. 24 Chevrolet and less damage to Busch’s No. 18 Toyota which showed us that their highly charged emotions got the best of them and cost them a shot at a victory.
A week to reflect on that, Byron is the one who takes full responsibility for that.
“Ultimately I drive the race car, I’ve got to make the right decision,” Bryon said on Friday at the Michigan International Speedway. “Even if he (Chad Knaus) tells me something to do, I ultimately make the decision. It’s up to me. It’s my space and everything. I felt like I was done a little wrong and that’s kind of how I handled it. Unfortunately, it cost me a lot more so I’ll learn from that for sure.
“That was not smart. I know a lot better from my short track days not to do that. You learn from that. I obviously didn’t expect the brake check. People were saying you just ran into the back of him full speed, you know I just need to have better judgement on how to handle that. I’ll learn from that part for sure.
“It’s definitely heat of the moment stuff. Like I said, I’m driving the race car. It’s my space. It doesn’t matter even if someone is encouraging me. He’s an emotional guy. He puts his heart and soul into these race cars and I’d expect him to have some passion when it comes to us overheating and having grass on the grille and losing stage points and that.”
Byron and Knaus just want respect. This isn’t their first run in this season though with a former series champ. Back in July, July 4 to be exact, Brad Keselowski sent Byron spinning on the apron of the Daytona International Speedway during practice in what Keselowski said was sending a message.
See, the Team Penske driver didn’t like the move Byron made on him during last year’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 which sparked a melee in Turn 3. Keselowski warned following that crash that he won’t tolerate any blocking anymore.
During practice, Byron made an innocent move but Keselowski thought it was blocking and dumped him in Turn 3. Now, Busch tries payback on Byron at Watkins Glen. Is this just a sign of the veterans sending messages or is it Byron getting bullied?
“I don’t know you’d have to ask them,” Byron said of the situation. “I feel like there’s a way that it can be handled and not I guess take out not so much on me you know with the brake check and practice crash. But, I don’t know. They’re racing mean how they feel like I need to be raced. I just race them that way as well.”