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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

Sponsor expanding its partnership with Danica Patrick’s team

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Stewart-Haas Racing announced Wednesday that Code 3 Associates will partner with One Cure initiative for three races on Danica Patrick‘s car this season and that Code 3 Associates will add another race on Patrick’s car.

Code 3 Associates is using its partnership with One Cure, a project led by the Colorado State University Flint Animal Cancer Center, will be on Patrick’s car at Kansas Speedway (May 13), the Monster Energy Open at Charlotte Motor Speedway (May 20) on All-Star weekend and Aug. 19 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Code 3 Associates will serve as the primary sponsor of Patrick’s car June 25 at Sonoma Raceway.

“We need a new way to find potential cures for cancer, and pets may provide the answer,” said Dr. Rodney Page, director of the Flint Animal Cancer Center. “Cancer is cancer, so what is learned in pets being treated for cancer holds promise to benefit people and vice versa. This approach is known as comparative or translational oncology, and it is the core of the One Cure concept. This partnership helps educate more people about comparative oncology and improves the lives of all cancer patients, whether they have two legs or four.”

“Code 3 Associates has championed animal welfare for more than 25 years, and One Cure allows us to take what’s learned from treating animals that are fighting cancer to people who are fighting the same battle,” added Nan Stuart, founder, Code 3 Associates. “Danica and Stewart-Haas Racing have been strong advocates for animal welfare and this extension of our partnership with them helps more people understand and appreciate One Cure’s mission.”

The car for Kansas will feature the upcoming “Wonder Woman” movie on it. The movie debuts June 2.

 

NASCAR America live at 6 pm on NBCSN: Exclusive Dale Jr. interview

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 6 to 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Krista Voda hosts from Stamford, Connecticut, along with Kyle Petty and Greg Biffle.

Here’s what’s on today’s show:

* We continue to follow up on Tuesday’s major announcement of Dale Earnhardt’s retirement at the end of this season. One of the biggest elements of today’s show is the exclusive interview our Marty Snider had with Junior. Check out the video above for some of that interview.

 Which drivers in the Cup Series’ current crop of young talent could ultimately replace Earnhardt as the face of the sport?

* Xfinity Series points leader Elliott Sadler also joins the show to share his reaction to yesterday’s news. Sadler joined JR Motorsports last season, but his friendship with the Earnhardt family goes back much farther.

* The next stop on NASCAR America’s My Home Track: 50 States in 50 Shows tour of the USA is The Bay State: Massachusetts. This state has seen major success recently with its Boston pro sports teams, and it’s also home to one of New England’s premier short tracks, Seekonk Speedway.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, you also can 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 plug-in that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 6 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s final Cup season could lead to greater ticket sales

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s announcement Tuesday that he will retire from the NASCAR Cup Series after this season could help minimize attendance declines that have become common at tracks.

Asked about the impact Earnhardt could have in the final 28 races of the season, Marcus Smith, chief executive officer and president of Speedway Motorsports Inc., likened Earnhardt to another famous athlete.

“Dale Jr.’s announcement yesterday is significant, it’s similar to when Michael Jordan decided it was time for him to retire from basketball,’’ Smith said Wednesday in a conference call with investor analysts. “The opportunity for fans to see Dale Jr. race one more time is certainly special and something we expect will be inspiring to a lot of fans to come to races.’’

Speedway Motorsports Inc. reported that admissions revenue was down 4.5 percent in the first quarter this year compared to the same time last season. The first quarter covered race weekends for Atlanta and Las Vegas. SMI reported that attendance at Atlanta was “up a little bit” and attendance at Las Vegas was “down a little bit” but did not provide numbers.

Earnhardt will be the fourth major NASCAR driver to leave the Cup series since last year Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart ran their final races last season. Carl Edwards announced before the season that he would not race this year.

International Speedway Corp., which owns tracks such as Daytona, Talladega, Darlington and Homestead-Miami Speedway, cited the absence of Gordon, Stewart and Earnhardt (when he missed the last 18 races of last year) as impacting admission revenue last season.

ISC reported its fourth-quarter admissions revenue was down 9.3 percent last year from the previous season. The company hosted Cup races at Darlington, Richmond, Chicagoland, Kansas, Talladega, Martinsville, Phoenix and Homestead during that quarter.

“The impact of Jeff Gordon’s retirement was underestimated, which was compounded with Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. missing races throughout the season,’’ said John Saunders, ISC president, in January about one of the reasons for the decline.

Earnhardt’s announcement that this will be his last Cup series already has some fans purchasing or looking to purchase tickets.

Richmond International Raceway reported an increase in interest for this weekend’s race after Earnhardt’s announcement. Richmond also is selling tickets to its fall race weekend. Earnhardt is scheduled to compete in both the Xfinity and Cup races there Sept. 8-9.

The series heads to Talladega next weekend and Grant Lynch, chairman of Talladega Superspeedway, anticipates more Earnhardt fans showing up.

“If you’re going to go see him one more time, why wouldn’t you go to the track where he runs the best,’’ Lynch said. “We think that’s the a positive for Talladega. He’s always been great at Talladega. It’s an Earnhardt track. I hope folks will take the attitude that ‘Wow, I’ll get two more chances to see him,’ see him next weekend and come see us again in October.’’

The greatest demands for tickets likely will come for races at the end of the season.

Earnhardt’s final Cup race will be Nov. 19 at Homestead. The track is selling three-day weekend packages. Deposits for single-day tickets, which go on sale May 5, are being taken. That race sold out last year.

The week before Homestead, the series races at Phoenix Raceway. The track is in the renewal process for the Nov. 12 race with fall race ticket holders. The track is selling tickets to its new Club 64 section above Turn 1 now. Grandstand tickets and camping go on sale June 2.

The week before Phoenix, the series races at Texas Motor Speedway. The track is selling weekend ticket packages only at this point. The track will sell individual tickets to its fall Cup race in June. A date has yet to be determined but it will come after the June 10 IndyCar race there.

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Complete list of Dale Earnhardt Jr. retirement NASCAR Talk stories/videos

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There were numerous storylines that emerged from Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s announcement Tuesday that he would retire at the end of the 2017 NASCAR Cup season.

NASCAR TALK was all over the Earnhardt announcement with comprehensive blanket coverage with our team of Nate Ryan, Dustin Long, Daniel McFadin and Jerry Bonkowski.

If you missed one or some of our stories or videos, here’s a convenient list for you to go through and learn everything and anything related to Junior’s announcement:

Follow @JerryBonkowski