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.
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.
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.
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