MARTINSVILLE, Virginia — More than 10 minutes after the end of Monday’s STP 500, Martinsville Speedway’s pit road was almost vacant of cars and crews.
One of the last drivers remaining was William Byron, deep in conversation with crew chief Darian Grubb and a few members of the No. 24 team debriefing his 20th-place finish.
Have all the post-race debriefs of his rookie season lasted this long?
“No, not normally,” Byron told NBC Sports. “Just trying to figure everything out.”
What’s to figure out?
Through six races in his rookie season with Hendrick Motorsports, the 20-year-old driver has truly looked like a rookie for the first time in his national NASCAR career.
He’s the only Hendrick driver without a top-10 finish after Alex Bowman claimed his first Monday with a seventh-place finish.
While all four HMS cars have struggled, combining for one top five, Byron has finished better than 15th once. That was a 12th-place finish at Phoenix, where he also led the first 15 laps of his Cup career.
Phoenix was also the only time the defending Xfinity Series champion has finished on the lead lap. At Martinsville, Byron ended the day where he started, in 20th, but three laps off the lead.
“I feel like ultimately just got a little bit of work to do to kind of figure out what we need a little better,” Byron said. “I think that if we can hone in on that, especially in the off week and kind of work out the bugs, it’ll be good once we get to Texas hopefully. Just need a little bit to kind of improve. I feel like we’ll be able to get to the shop and be able to work on it a little bit.”
Monday was his first start at Martinsville since two races there in the Camping World Truck Seres in 2016. He finished in the top 10 of both races.
But unlike those races of 255 and 200 laps, Byron had to survive 500 circuits around the half-mile track.
“Your brakes matter more,” Byron said. “The runs are longer, so you’re handling is that much more important. Really doesn’t compare that much to a Truck race other than the same race track. I feel like (in Truck races) you’re always kind of (on) short runs. With 30-lap runs, you don’t really have much of a chance to even see where your car goes after that. This is a lot different. Your handling plays a much bigger role. That’s just part of being in a Cup car as well.”
Through six races, Byron has finished better than where he started three times. The opposite occurred twice.
But he’s faring better than fellow rookie Darrell Wallace Jr, who finished 34th after multiple pit stops and a visit to the garage to repair damage. Wallace is 23rd in points, Byron is 20th.
“We haven’t really been able to show our potential just because we’ve got to have better handling and things like that,” Byron said. “I feel like once we’re able to show our potential, I think we’re right there. We’re just trying to fight through everything right now. That’s the biggest thing.”