Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

Xfinity Series Spotlight: Q&A with William Byron

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Last year, William Byron took the Camping World Truck Series and made it his own with a record seven victories as a rookie before a blown engine eliminated him from the playoffs before the championship round.

Now, the 19-year-old is a rookie again, this time in the Xfinity Series.

He hasn’t had the cannonball entry he had a year ago, but Byron is proving his worth, entering the sixth race of the year at Texas Motor Speedway second in the points standings behind JR Motorsports teammate Elliott Sadler.

The hightlight of his season so far was winning the pole at Phoenix Raceway.

This Q&A has been edited and condensed

NBC Sports: What was your first ‘Welcome to the Xfinity Series’ moment?

Byron: Probably at Daytona, the intensity there at the end of the race and really throughout the race. Then Atlanta, some of the restarts. I don’t know, really racing around guys like Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski. It’s been really interesting to learn from them and see what they do better, see how they maximize their cars. That’s been the biggest challenge — restarts  and just being as aggressive as those guys. It’s been good overall so far. Just continue to learn from those guys. Hopefully, we can improve a few spots and be in contention to win.

NBC Sports: Can you give a specific example of learning something in a race?

Byron: Yeah, probably pushing guys on restarts and getting through the gears and everything. The things that look easy when you’re just watching it, then you get out there with those guys, and they really do a good job of all that stuff, maximizing it. Maybe just the restarts, the intensity of that. How to pick the right lanes, how to keep the guy in front of you moving forward so you can move forward. That’s the biggest thing I’ve learned. (Fontana) was a lesson there and was kind able to lead for a little bit (one lap) … That’s encouraging to know I can get up there and compete. Hopefully, we can continue to translate that into laps led and that’s going to make for wins.

(Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

NBC Sports: The last time we talked like this, we discussed how busy your schedule was with the inclusion of school. How busy is your week now compared to last year in the Truck series?

Byron: There’s a lot more personal things, or not personal, sponsor things and team-related things that are important during the week to make sure you stay on top with our race schedules. There’s a lot more it takes to run well and just continue to build on what you guys have been doing each week. I’d say spending a lot more time at the shop. Been in meetings at the shop each week, sponsor appearances during the week. Last week, even though it was an off week, Monday I had a team meeting. Tuesday, I went up to Axalta in Philadelphia, and Wednesday we were working at the shop all day working on the race seats.

Thursday, we went to Texas with Dale (Earnhardt Jr.), and Friday we were working on the seats as well. It’s always kind of something. I think that’s the difference. Still doing the school work as well, which is definitely a challenge. As long as you make sure to maximize the time that you have … it usually works out OK. Just want to be rested and ready to go when you get to the race track.

NBC Sports: Which teammates have you bonded with the most?

Byron: Probably Elliott Sadler. Justin Allgaier has been a really big help too. Just the age difference between all of us has been really good to see and grow from because we’re all at different stages in our careers, and it’s good to see what each other has to say. I think they’ve been leaning on me for some of the qualifying stuff, and I’ve been leaning on them for race stuff, and they’ve been really fast in races. We’re 1-2-3 in points, which is great. I think it’s great that we’re right there as a team. Hopefully we can continue to build and get there to where we can compete with some of the Cup guys and win races.

NBC Sports: How would you grade yourself through the first five races of the year?

Byron: I’d say we’re probably an A or so. I think we’ve had some different situations that haven’t gone great. We’ve had some bad luck. We had a radio issue at Atlanta and then at Vegas we got put four-wide on the last lap. We were going to get a top 10, probably eighth or ninth and got taken back to 14th. I think probably an A or A -. I think we can continue to get better to where we can get our cars better or whatever. We’re getting there.

(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

NBC Sports: What was your first street car?

Byron: First street car was I think a stick shift Chevy Silverado. I was still trying to learn how to shift … It was a six shift Chevy. I drove that for a few years.

NBC Sports: Have you ever named a car, whether it be a street or race car?

Byron: No, I really haven’t. I’m not too into that part of doing things. I think that’s kind of silly. I guess I kind of stick to just driving them. I found that driving whatever race car it is is good, and you never want to have one special one because you might not get to drive that one that week. I think you kind of keep them equal.

NBC Sports: What was your favorite diecast growing up?

Byron: Really either Jimmie (Johnson) or Jeff (Gordon). I had kind of all the Hendrick cars, I know that sounds funny, but I had even the 25 car and the 5 car. It’s kind of neat to have all that. Overall, I collected a bunch of different diecast. I had Carl Edwards and a lot of different guys.

NBC Sports: You’re racing at Bristol in a few weeks. If you were competing in the Cup night race there, what would be your introduction song?

Byron: Oh man. I’d say probably “Radioactive” or something like that. Something upbeat to get me going for the race.

Previous Xfinity Q&A’s

Justin Allgaier

Darrell Wallace Jr.

Michael Annett

Ryan Reed

Brandon Jones

Daniel Hemric

NASCAR America: Comparing Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s final season to Usain Bolt’s

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With Dale Earnhardt Jr. nearing the end of his Cup Series career, NBC Sports analysts Ato Boldon, a four-time Olympic medalist in track and field, discussed how the twilight of Earnhardt’s career compares to that of Usain Bolt, whose running career recently ended with a hamstring injury in the last race of his career.

“I think there are a lot of similarities,” Boldon said. “I think a lot of people would have loved to have seen Junior having a better year in this his final season. It’s the same thing that happened in London. That place was sold, 60,000 people, because we wanted to see how Usain Bolt would go out. The fans were hoping he would go out with a win.”

Watch the rest of the video for Boldon’s take on NASCAR, which he is discovering this year as a member of the NASCAR on NBC team.

 

Brad Keselowski Racing to cease operations in Truck Series after this season

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Brad Keselowski Racing announced Thursday it will cease operations after this season, ending a run in the Camping World Truck Series that began in 2008.

The two-truck team fields entries for Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric.

“The Truck Series is truly special to me given my family’s ties to the history of the sport, and this decision comes with much contemplation. But, for a number of reasons, and as I plan for the long-term future, I’ve decided not to field a team in 2018,” Brad Keselowski said in a press release.

“My goal with BKR was to create a top-tier team which would allow me to give back to the sport by creating opportunities and quality experience for others, whether they be drivers, mechanics, engineers, or support personnel. With outstanding leadership from BKR GM Jeremy Thompson, assistance from Team Penske, and the support of our long-time partners Cooper Standard and Horizon Global, we were able to successfully achieve this goal. I am very proud of this and intend to do my best to help my BKR team members stay and grow in the sport. I am also incredibly appreciative of the great relationships we have developed with our partners over the years.”

The team has earned nine series wins – none this year.

“The team has also provided me with meaningful experience as a team owner,” Keselowski said. “I’ve never made it a secret that I would eventually like to be an owner at the top-level of the sport. And, while this is many years down the line, I want to start to prepare for that possibility now. Part of that preparation is seeking to develop an advanced engineering and manufacturing company that would be housed out of our 78,000 square foot facility in Statesville and ultimately help to support this vision.”

Soon after the announcement, Keselowski published a blog about the decision. He said having to tell his team it was shutting down was “one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.”

Keselowski went on to share how his time driving for Roger Penske has shaped his outlook on his future ownership goals.

“One of the things I’ve learned from Roger Penske is the importance of having a successful core business outside of motorsports,” Keselowski wrote. “If you have a successful business venture outside of motorsports, you can kind of roll with the ebbs and flows of the sport as an owner. That’s the position I want to be in, and that I’ll need to be in to be an owner who lasts in NASCAR.”

BKR joins Red Horse Racing in ending its operations in the Truck Series. Red Horse Racing competed in the first five races of the season before shutting down. The teams combined to have two of the eight drivers in last year’s Truck playoffs.

Keselowski’s decision comes after he’s repeatedly talked about the costs of owning a Truck team.

“It’s a money loser,’’ Keselowski told NBC Sports earlier this year. “Big time.’’

In 2014, Keselowski told NBC Sports’ Dustin Long his team lost $1 million that season. Keselowski also said when he would know it would be time to no longer own a Truck team.

“I’m not interested in being involved in the Truck Series if I don’t feel like we can be competitive,” Keselowski said. “My breaking point is two areas – it’s going broke and not being competitive. We have to walk that line every day with every decision we make.”

Four drivers have earned BKR’s nine wins. Ryan Blaney (four wins), Tyler Reddick (three wins), Joey Logano (one win) and Keselowski (one win). Keselowski won his only Truck Series race in 66 starts in 2014 at Bristol.

Drivers who have competed for BKR include NBCSN’s Parker Kligerman (37 races), Ryan Blaney (58 races), Dave Blaney (one race), Logano (six races), Reddick (62 races), Ross Chastain (14 races), Daniel Hemric (23 races), Austin Theriault (10 races) and Alex Tagliani (two races).

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Bristol preview and more

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and continues to analyze this weekend’s races at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Carolyn Manno hosts from Stamford, Connecticut. Slugger Labbe joins here from NBC Charlotte and Parker Kligerman and Ato Boldon join from Bristol.

On today’s show:

· From London to Bristol … fresh of his duties at the IAAF Track & Field World Championships, Ato Boldon joins us live from Bristol Motor Speedway. He’ll recap his introduction to NASCAR earlier this year, including a ride along at Daytona. He’ll also share what’s on his docket this weekend in Thunder Valley.

· We’ll recap last night’s Truck Series race won by Kyle Busch, as well as both sessions of today’s Xfinity Series practice.

· American Flat Track star Shayna Texter also stops by to discuss her journey to the top level of flat-track motorcycle racing.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, you can also watch it via the online stream at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com.

If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Kyle Busch fastest in Final Xfinity practice at Bristol (video)

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Kyle Busch was fastest in the final Xfinity Series practice session for Friday’s Food City 300.

Busch posted a top speed of 124.315 mph around Bristol Motor Speedway.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver is attempting to sweep all three NASCAR races this weekend after he won last night’s Truck Series race.

Following Busch were Joey Logano (123.865), Brennan Poole (123.586), William Byron (123.372) and Justin Allgaier (123.308).

Tyler Reddick recorded the most laps in the session with 105.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was 17th fastest in the session.

Click here for the full report.