For Byron, NASCAR Cup Series success is in the numbers

At 25, William Byron is one of the youngest drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series. Byron’s age, however, becomes irrelevant, as his experience and maturation have taken him to the top of the sport.

Six years after driving for Hendrick Motorsports, Byron and the #24 team have found the right place. Sunday afternoon at Darlington Raceway, Byron won for the third time at the series lead. This is the first season where he will have at least three victories.

Fifth in the championship points standings, Byron also leads the series in laps led (596). He’s a top 10 behind Christopher Bell for the most in the series (seven to Bell’s eight).

As a self-proclaimed statistician, Byron knows his numbers better than anyone. And he also knows those of the competition. So, looking at the Cup Series landscape, does Byron feel like he and his team are getting the respect they deserve for how they rank in the pecking order?

“I’ve heard a lot of different opinions, but I think as a team, and statistically, I feel like we’re exactly where we need to be,” Byron said. “There are a few other guys who are really close or even a bit better in certain categories. Kyle [Larson] was really strong; I feel like he’s really fast on some of the bigger tracks. Ross [Chastain] has good stats.

“I look at all of that: laps led, average race position. All these things. I feel like, in most things I’ve seen, we’re pretty good. I have a few areas where I think we could improve, and we will continue to work on them.

Byron is on track to lead the most laps he has ever done in a single season. Looking ahead later this year, Byron and the No. 24 team are positioning themselves for a deep playoff run with the help of playoff points. In this category, he also leads the series with 16.

Over the past three and a quarter seasons, Byron has won seven games. And not only has he improved his standings in the standings every season, but Byron is improving his consistency every weekend to become a familiar presence for expected finishes, if not wins.

Byron was taken out of the blocks quickly this year, but the mission now is to keep that momentum going throughout the season. John Harrelson/Motorsport Pictures

Does Byron think he’s in the top five drivers in the garage right now?

“It sure is,” he said. “Definitely that. It’s just very difficult to separate at the top, I feel like there are a few guys who could win every week. So to be in that little moment is difficult, but sometimes they follow your path and you’re trying to stay up there in contention.

When Byron entered the Cup Series he was tasked with taking over the famous #24 car and admitted after his win at Darlington that while he was grateful for the opportunity there was a lot of pressure that came with the work.

He’s a different person now, but the growth never stops. Winning is great, but Byron & Co. have already shown they can do it. Continuing to win is key, as Byron also won early last year and then stalled.

“I think we had some kind of chip (on our shoulder) and we were kind of trying not to let that happen again,” Byron says as team leader Rudy Fugle nods next to his driver. “We probably overworked ourselves a bit just to make sure we didn’t repeat.

“Now I think we’re safe in a groove here where we have to continue our processes, continue what got us here, but it definitely feels different from what we had last year where I felt like after having won those two races, we just kind of had a kind of false confidence, I think. We learned from that. I have. I have no intention of doing it again.

Rick Hendrick knows talent, and he sees it with his youngest driver.

“To watch William and see how he’s matured over the years and how good he is now, it’s pretty amazing the lack of turns he has, to be in the position he’s in,” said Hendrick, Hall of Famer. “But he’s smart. He works hard. He is always in the simulator. He puts a lot of effort into the program.

A former No. 24 driver who is no stranger to becoming a contender himself also sees how far Byron has come.

“Leading laps, winning races, competing in the lead almost every weekend, racing with the competitors he races with,” says four-time champion Jeff Gordon. “It builds your confidence in a way where you can be calmer because something can happen that sets you back, but you have confidence in yourself, your pit crew, your team, (that) we’ll get it back. I think that’s what I see, a kind of evolution of William and the whole team this year.

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