DAYTONA BEACH, Fla – When William Byron took over the famed No. 24 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports last year, I questioned the move. I’ll admit, I thought he was being moved up way too quickly.
I was fearful that he would get compared to Joey Logano.
Logano, was rushed through the ranks way too quickly as by time he was just 18 years old, he was in NASCAR premiere series. He made three starts as an 18 year old. As a 19 year old, he was full-time with Joe Gibbs Racing in replacing Tony Stewart.
Prior to Logano, Stewart had won 33 times in Cup including taking two championships. In his final season, the Indiana native had one win, 10 top fives, 16 top 10’s and led 633 laps.
That’s a lot to live up to, especially when you’re just 19 years old and being touted as the “Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread.”
Logano, unfortunately didn’t get started on the right footing. The Connecticut native did win a rain shortened race in New Hampshire but overall, struggled. He had three top five finishes and just 10 top 10’s in 2009. He’d go over two years before visiting victory lane again. In his first three combined years, Logano had one win, 10 top five finishes and 23 top 10’s. With being in a top caliber car, a championship level one at that, his job status was rocky.
In 2012, he only had one more win to go along with two top five finishes and 12 top 10’s.
Combined, two wins, 12 top fives and 35 top five finishes with five poles and 337 laps led wouldn’t do the trick. JGR had enough and replaced him with Matt Kenseth for the 2013 season. By age 23, Logano was already old news and unemployed.
Luckily, Team Penske swooped in and saw that untapped potential. Logano, has rewarded them with 21 wins, 101 top five finishes, 156 top 10’s, 17 poles and 5,349 laps led. He also won the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship.
JGR is now in a dire situation again. They’ve already let another potential young superstar go in Daniel Suarez and on the verge of having to figure out what to do with another (Erik Jones).
Meanwhile, HMS had Byron, a teenager ready to come up to Cup. He was touted as the next greatest thing in NASCAR and like Logano, had very minimal experience in the touring series.
After all, Byron had only been racing actual race cars for just six years. Now, he would be a Cup driver?
Byron, grew up racing on the computer. In 2012, he and his dad explored getting into a car. So, at the age of 15, Byron was a race car driver. He won 33 times that season.
In 2014, Byron signed with JR Motorsports for the first time with their late model program. He finished second in points as a rookie. In 2015, he moved up to the K&N Series with HScott Motorsports. Byron, won his second career start which propelled him to four wins and the season championship.
For 2016, he earned a ride with Kyle Busch Motorsports in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Trucks Series. It took him just four races to win. He’d reach victory lane five times in the first 12 races and won seven times overall. The only reason he didn’t win the championship was because his engine blew in the penultimate race at Phoenix. He didn’t advance to the Championship 4 at Homestead as a result. If his engine doesn’t blow, he would have won the title because his seventh win of the season came in the season finale in Homestead.
2017 led him back to JRM for the NASCAR XFINITY Series season. It only took him 14 races to win. He’d win at Daytona and Indianapolis as a rookie that season which ended with him celebrating a championship in Homestead.
As a result of all of that quick success, Hendrick Motorsports came calling. Kasey Kahne would be out with HMS and Chase Elliott would be moving over to replace him but change the number to No. 9. A ride was open. Byron, was their guy.
Now, Byron is driving the No. 24 Chevrolet which was left vacated by Elliott. Before Byron, that car had won four championship, 93 races including six Southern 500’s, five Brickyard 400’s, three Daytona 500’s, three Coca-Cola 600’s and three All-Star races among many others.
Byron, a driver who went from K&N in 2015, Trucks in 2016 and NXS in 2017 would be a Cup driver taking over a car of that caliber. The pressure was on. If you can’t win in the 24, then you’d be unemployed quickly.
Just look at how JGR treated Logano when he couldn’t win in Stewart’s old car. This car is just as good, if not better.
Byron, got off to a slow start too. He finished just 23rd in the Daytona 500. He had four top 10 finishes all year with a best result of sixth in the second Pocono race. Heading into 2019, he got a new crew chief in Chad Knaus. That’s the same Knaus who won seven championships with Jimmie Johnson.
Again, more pressure.
So far, it looks now like a win is on the horizon for Byron. After scoring just one top 10 in the first 10 races, which also tied his best career Cup finish, the Month of May started a new confidence level booster for Byron.
He’d finish eighth at Dover. Two races later, he came home ninth in the Coca-Cola 600. A week after that, he finished ninth again, this time at Pocono. A week after that he struggled a bit in Michigan but after a week off for Fathers Day, Byron won the first stage in Sonoma and played the strategy game perfectly. The box score shows a 19th place finish but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Knaus, put Byron in a perfect situation to score stage points and maximize their day. See, beating the Toyota’s would be difficult that day. So, Knaus put Byron in a scenario would despite finishing 19th, he’d score enough points to land him in the top five for cumulative points scored that day.
A week later, Byron finished eighth. Then, a week after that, Byron finishes runner-up in the rain shortened Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona. That’s four top 10 finishes in his last six starts overall including a career best result of second. A win looks like it’s coming soon as Byron legitimately looks like a contender to make it not only past the first round of the playoffs, but potentially past the second too.
This is who we thought he’d be and he’s close to breaking out in a big way.