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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

Atlanta Motor Speedway accepting lucky charms to help Chase Elliott earn first Cup win

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The president of Atlanta Motor Speedway is hoping history will repeat.

Ed Clark is doing whatever he can to get Georgia-native Chase Elliott to Victory Lane for the first time in the Cup Series.

To do that, he’s using the same marketing scheme he executed in 1983 in the weeks before Bill Elliott’s first Cup victory.

AMS is asking for fans to send lucky charms to the track, which will be presented to Chase Elliott during a special event there Feb. 13.

There’s no restrictions on what can be sent.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver is winless after 77 starts in NASCAR’s premier series.

Bill Elliott in 1983. (Atlanta Motor Speedway).

His father went winless in his first 155 starts from 1976-83.

Clark put together the original lucky charm drive ahead of the October race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where he served as public relations director.

“The promotion we came up with for Bill in ’83 created an amazing amount of interest and support from fans all over the country,” said Clark in a press release. “We received package after package full of good-luck charms, and it seemed like everybody was pulling for him to get that first win.”

Three races later, in the season finale at Riverside International Raceway, the 28-year-old Bill Elliott claimed his first of 44 Cup victories.

Fans can send their lucky charms to Elliott by shipping them to AMS at 1500 Highway 19/41, Hampton, GA 30228, with attention to “Good Luck, Chase.” Fans can also participate by using the hashtag #GoodLuckChase across the various social media platforms with pictures and messages to Elliott.

The Cup season begins Feb. 18 with the 60th Daytona 500. The following weekend, the series visits Atlanta Motor Speedway.

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Go Fas Racing secures charter by partnering with Circle Sport Racing

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Go Fas Racing has secured a charter for Matt DiBenedetto’s No. 32 Ford by partnering with Circle Sport Racing.

The move comes after Go Fas Racing’s owner Archie St. Hilaire entered into a partnership with the Wood Brothers that allowed the Wood Brothers to retain the charter they leased last year from Go Fas Racing.

That move left Go Fas Racing without a charter. That matter was resolved with the partnership with Circle Sport Racing car owner Joe Falk, who recently split with TMG.

“This deal pretty much fills our plate for the 2018 season,” St. Hilaire said in a statement from the team. “We decided that the best long-term strategy for GFR’s original charter was to strike a deal with our good friends at Wood Brothers Racing, which left us seeking a charter for our own No. 32 car. I think this partnership with Joe Falk is mutually beneficial for both Joe and ourselves going into the future. Joe has been in the business for a long time and will add a wealth of knowledge to our programs in 2018 and beyond.”

Said Falk in a statement: “We have been talking about doing this for over a year and it was a big decision to switch to Ford, but we believe it will pay off. This is a performance business and we have not had the team to get good finishes. We are also working on running the No. 33 car in select events with young drivers such as Joey Gase to help get them prepared for a full Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season going forward.”

CHARTERS THAT HAVE CHANGED TEAMS FOR 2018

— Furniture Row Racing #77 charter sold to JTG Daugherty for No. 37 car

— Roush Fenway Racing #16 charter sold to Team Penske for No. 12 car

— Richard Petty Motorsports #43 charter leased to Rick Ware Racing for No. 51 car

— Wood Brothers Racing forms long-term partnership with Go Fas Racing owner Archie St. Hilaire that grants Wood Brothers full operating control of the No. 32 team’s charter it leased last year.

— Go Fas Racing forms partnership with Circle Sport Racing owner Joe Falk for his charter for the No. 32 team.

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Kasey Kahne looks to run 20-30 races outside NASCAR this year

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Kasey Kahne, who competed in last week’s Chili Bowl Nationals, says he plans to run two dozen or more races outside of NASCAR this season.

Kahne, who is in his first season with Leavine Family Racing, made the comments Wednesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.’’

“I’ve always tried to stay close to the type of racing that I learned how to race in and the type of cars that I learned how to race in and those fans and race tracks that I’ve spent a ton of time at and have really enjoyed over the years,’’ Kahne said of racing sprint and midget cars on dirt. “I’m still a huge fan of that type of racing because that’s where I came from and want to be for a long, long time.

“We have two (World of) Outlaw teams again this year, Daryn Pittman and Brad Sweet, and I feel like I can run 20 to 30 races depending on the schedules and how everything works out. I’m really looking forward to that because that’s something that I wanted to do for a long time and I could do it and then I couldn’t do it.’’

Kahne, who was with Hendrick Motorsports the previous six seasons, was asked if he was prohibited from racing such cars.

“When I signed up, I wasn’t at all and they said I could do whatever I wanted and enjoy it,” Kahne said. “A year later, I was restricted from everything and wasn’t able to do that anymore and then the last year they were pretty cool about it, but it was always kind of feeling like you were making somebody mad. I won’t have that because Leavine … they know that that’s what I love to do and that’s what I want to do. I don’t want it to affect the No. 95 in anyway. That’s the first priority to me. When we’re not doing that, it’s OK, nobody is going to be mad if I go and try to do a little racing. It makes me feel pretty good to be in that situation again.’’

Kahne is just one of a few NASCAR drivers expected to run in other series this year. Kyle Larson, who raced a midget car in New Zealand before competing in Chili Bowl Nationals, has said he’s allowed to run 25 such events a year. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. says he plans to run some midget races this summer.

Kahne also has been busy getting prepared for his new ride. He has a one-year deal with Leavine Family Racing, which is aligned with Richard Childress Racing. Travis Mack, who had been at Hendrick Motorsports, will be Kahne’s crew chief.

Kahne cited performance — he had one win and nine top-five finishes in the past three seasons with Hendrick — and business as a reason for the change.

“I’m perfectly fine with it because I’m glad I’ve moved on and am doing something different at this point and really looking forward to Leavine and my future and the new things that I have going on,’’ said Kahne, who finished 15th in the points last year after making the playoffs with his Indianapolis victory. “I don’t look back on any of it as a bad thing.’’

Asked if he feels reinvigorated with the changes, Kahne told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio: “I feel just to kind of start over is never a bad thing, especially with our performance. I was never happy the last three years, I haven’t been that happy as far as racing went because we could never really figure it out. Just to have a new group, start over, try to do things together and see how good we can do. To me, that’s exciting and new and fresh and I look forward to that.’’

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Todd Gilliland to drive No. 4 for Kyle Busch Motorsports; father to fill-in at Daytona

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Todd Gilliland will get a helping hand driving Kyle Busch Motorsports’ No. 4 Toyota this season before he turns 18 on May 15.

The two-time K&N Pro Series West champion will miss four of the first six races to start the year because of NASCAR’s rule that drivers under 18 years old are restricted to tracks 1.25 miles or less in length or road courses.

Gilliland will miss the season-opener at Daytona (Feb. 16), Atlanta (Feb. 24), Las Vegas (March 2) and Kansas (May 11).

After starts at Martinsville (March 24) and Dover (May 4) to begin his Rookie of the Year campaign, his first race on a 1.5-mile track will be at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 18.

Team owner Kyle Busch will drive the No. 4 at Atlanta and Kansas.

In a video released by the team on Twitter, it announced that Gilliland’s dad, David Gilliland, will open the season at Daytona.

The former Cup driver will make his first NASCAR start since 2016 in the NextEra Energy Resources 250.

A veteran of 398 national NASCAR races, David Gilliland’s last Truck Series start was in 2015. He has 10 Truck starts. One of those was at a restrictor-plate track (Daytona, 2015).

That’s not the only race the elder Gilliland will try to be part of that weekend.

He will attempt to qualify for the Daytona 500 with Ricky Benton Racing, which has fielded the No. 92 in the Truck Series since 2010.

Gilliland will attempt to qualify the No. 92 Black’s Tire and Auto Service/Carquest Auto Parts Ford into the “Great American Race.” If he’s successful, it will mark the Cup debut for the team.

Gilliland made seven starts for the team in 2015.

“After talking with our partners, we felt the time was right to make a move into the Cup Series,” team owner Ricky Benton said in a press release. “Getting David back on board was also key. Having a veteran driver with his experience and success on restrictor-plate tracks – with whom (crew chief Mike) Hester has familiarity – gives us a leg up as we try to make the race.”
Gilliland has made 16 starts at Daytona in the Cup Series, including seven in the Daytona 500. His best finish was third in the 2011 Daytona 500.

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