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William Byron’s rookie mindset: Race like you’re on borrowed time

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — In 2018, William Byron will be racing like his career is about to end.

“You just never know how long you’re going to race,” Byron told NBC Sports. “I’m going to move up to the Cup Series like it’s my last year.”

That’s the mindset the newly 20-year-old driver will have in his rookie season in the Cup Series.

“I think you gain that (mindset through) advice,” Byron said Thursday during an event for NASCAR’s national touring series champions. “Max Papis had helped me a lot in understanding the role and the person you need to be. Just how special of an opportunity this is.”

If that’s the mentality Byron’s had the last two years in NASCAR, it’s worked.

Byron is weeks removed from winning the Xfinity Series title and five years removed from the start of his career on the iRacing simulator.

In 73 days, he’ll start the biggest chapter of his career driving the No. 24 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports.

The fact he’s a NASCAR champion has “not really” set in for Byron. It might finally do so when he gives his champion’s speech Saturday night at the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series Awards banquet in Charlotte.

With all that going on, Byron doesn’t feel like he’s two decades old.

“I still feel really young,” Byron said. “Everything’s going to happen really fast and I feel like I’ve matured a lot this year.”

How do you measure your own maturity when you’re a college student who spends his weekends at race tracks going 180 mph as a living?

“I don’t know,” Byron admits. “I feel like compared to my peers, I obviously feel quite a bit ahead of the guys my age. But in racing, I feel really young. It’s a little bit of both. I’m surrounded by two different environments, when I’m at home it’s a lot different than when I’m racing the guys on the road. I feel like I’ve got a while, but I think I’m in the right direction and hopefully I can run hard with the Cup guys and the guys I used to watch on TV.”

Part of getting comfortable in the mindset of being a Cup driver is simply being comfortable in his car.

“I think really it involves the pouring the seat (getting his seat fitted) and everything for next year and getting all that stuff aligned,” Byron said. “Those races are really long, so you got to make sure all that stuff is really comfortable. Make sure you’re really ready for that. That’s what we’ve been working on mostly. As well as getting to know my crew chief.”

A winner of 11 NASCAR races in the last two years, Byron has been paired with Darian Grubb as his crew chief.

Grubb has 23 Cup wins as a crew chief and won the 2011 championship with Tony Stewart. But since his start as a full-time crew chief in 2007, this will be his first time working with a rookie driver.

“I think for us, it’ll be key just to start out and be consistent at the beginning of the year and kind of progress and compete for wins as the year goes,” Byron said. “I feel like if we can start out consistent, which I know Darian’s really used to having consistency, it’s going to be successful and hopefully we keep progressing each race.”

When it comes to his transition from JR Motorsports to Hendrick Motorsports, Byron is still getting used to his new home.

“I’m starting to figure out my way around the place,” Byron said. “Hopefully (I’ll) be able to know where I need to go to get all the information I need.”

He’ll have plenty of time to figure it out, even though he’ll be racing like he’s running out of it.

Driver-to-Driver with Jimmie Johnson: ‘I’ve got a lot to prove still’

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Jimmie Johnson is in his 17th year of full-time Cup racing and is in the midst the longest winless streak of his career at 42 races.

But the seven-time champion’s competitive drive is as strong as ever.

Johnson sat down with NBC Sports’ Dale Jarrett to discuss his career at this point in the latest edition of Driver-to-Driver.

“I can honestly say I spend more time now than I did my rookie year focusing on my job,” Johnson said. “I think that the support I have from my wife (Chandra), my kids are 7 and 4, to have them watch me be passionate about something has another meaning I didn’t anticipate coming. I’m lovin’ what I’m doing. I wish the results were a little better than what we have right now, but the process of what I’m going through is really fun.”

Hendrick Motorsports as a whole is in a slump. The team is in the middle of the second longest winless streak in its history at 35 races.

Johnson admits it’s hard to know when the right time will be for him to retire.

“The thing I can pull out of it is, don’t pick a number, make sure that fire’s gone out and that fire hasn’t gone out,” Johnson said. “The other thing that’s weighing on me, I don’t want to go out not at my fullest potential and not on my terms. The last thought that’s going to run through my mind is to walk away or, ‘Oh, it’s not going right, time to stop.’ Uh uh. I know I still got it. I’m going to go down swinging. I’ve got a lot to prove still.”

Watch the above video for more.


New Hampshire Cup race in rain delay

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The Foxwoods Resort & Casino 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway is in a rain delay.

The race was scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. ET. The start time had been moved up from 2 p.m. ET due to the threat of weather.

Kurt Busch is on the pole and Martin Truex Jr. will start second.

Check back for more.

Staff picks for today’s Cup race at New Hampshire

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Here’s a look at who the NBC Sports staff is picking to win today’s Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Nate Ryan

Denny Hamlin. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver rediscovers his magic here and locks into the playoffs.

Dustin Long

Martin Truex Jr. wins back-to-back races for the first time in his career.

Daniel McFadin

Kevin Harvick earns a career-best sixth win of the season.

Dan Beaver

Martin Truex Jr. is getting into the same groove he had last year. This week he catches Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch. Next week, he starts to pull away,

Today’s Cup race at New Hampshire: Start time, lineup and more

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The Cup Series holds its only race of the year at New Hampshire Motor Speedway today with the Foxwoods Resort & Casino 301.

Kurt Busch starts on the pole and Martin Truex Jr. starts second.

Here’s all the info you need for today’s race.

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given by Jean Swift, treasurer of Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Counsel, at 12:51 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 1 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 301 laps (318.46 miles) around the 1.058-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 75. Stage 2 ends on Lap 150.


PRERACE SCHEDULE: Garage opens at 7:30 a.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 11 a.m. Driver introductions are at 12:05 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Vanessa Salvucci will perform the anthem at 12:45 p.m. The Canadian National Anthem will be performed by Kirk Young at 12:42 p.m.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will broadcast the race beginning at 1 p.m. Coverage begins at noon with Countdown to Green on NBCSN. Performance Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at noon p.m. and also can be heard at SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will have PRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: calls for a high of 70 degrees and a 78 percent chance of rain and storms at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Denny Hamlin won this race last year over Kyle Larson. Kyle Busch won the playoff race over Larson.

TO THE REAR: Landon Cassill (backup) and Michael McDowell (backup).

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the complete starting lineup.