Darian Grubb prepared William Byron well for next big step with Chad Knaus

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Like the commercials from a famous insurance company, Darian Grubb left William Byron in good hands.

As crew chief, Grubb shepherded Byron through his rookie season in Cup in 2018. Now Byron will go forward with seven-time Cup championship crew chief Chad Knaus.

Byron had a difficult rookie campaign at times, yet he still captured Rookie of the Year honors. He earned four top-10s, with a season-best showing of sixth in the second Pocono race. He had an average start per race of 17.7 and an average finish of 22.1.

In addition, Byron recorded nine DNFs, including seven crashes and two engine failures.

Still, Grubb – who has shifted this season to a technical director role at Hendrick Motorsports – sees a lot of upside that came from Byron’s first season.

Darian Grubb was William Byron’s crew chief last season. Grubb has turned over the reins to Chad Knaus for 2019. (Getty Images)

“He still has a lot of up potential but he learned a lot last year, just learning how to set his expectations and learning how competitive the Cup series is vs. the other series he had been in,” Grubb said earlier this week at a Hendrick media session.

“You have to take those small wins,” Grubb added. “If you have a 15th-place car, if you can finish 10th with it, that’s a good day. It’s a long season, much more grinding than the other series, so you have to have those positives to take.

“It’s not just going to be about a win all the time. You can see him really progress through that through the season. He got a much more of a broad perspective of what Cup racing is all about.”

Prior to moving to Cup, Byron enjoyed significant success, including winning the 2015 K&N Pro Series East championship, barely missed a bid for the Truck Series title in 2016 (he finished fifth), and then rebounded to win the Xfinity Series championship in 2017.

In a way, it was good for Byron to have struggles and learn lessons in 2018 in his first season in Cup that will likely go a long way toward making him a better driver  in 2019 and beyond, Grubb said.

“You have to go through all those trials and tribulations of coming home and having to be happy with a 21st because you had a crashed race car,” Grubb said. “You’re not going to be a winner, you’re not going to be top five, but we finished 21st instead of 32nd.

“Those are the type of things, you take a positive out of it. You can’t just come in and say we should have finished top 10. Yes, we were able to make the best out of what we had leftover because the whole season result rides on that.”

As he enters his sophomore season in Cup racing, Byron may not be the next Jimmie Johnson, but he certainly will receive much of the same knowledge and wisdom Knaus imparted upon Johnson in their 17-year tenure together, particularly their first several seasons as they laid the foundation for five consecutive Cup championships in a row (2006 through 2010) and a record-tying seven titles overall.

Grubb pointed particularly to the communication and how it will develop and improve in time between the two.

“Just look at what (Byron) learned last year about the Cup Series period and now leaning on Chad and developing that communication skill set with him,” Grubb said. “Chad has known only one style of communication for one time and William is kind of new at that, as well.

“That’s what we worked on a lot last year. So as he develops that communication with Chad, I think it is going to determine how well they perform right off the bat. I think they’ve got a lot of up potential.

“I think you’re going to see them grow and learn very quickly. He’s a great kid, he’s going to be a quick learner and he’s going to study really hard. He did that a lot last year and I think you’re going to see a lot of growth quickly.”

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Cup drivers are for changing Texas but leery about making it another Atlanta

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FORT WORTH, Texas — Some Cup drivers are concerned that a reconfigured Texas Motor Speedway could create racing similar to Atlanta, adding another type of superspeedway race to the NASCAR calendar.

While Texas officials have not stated publicly any plans to make changes, some competitors feel Sunday’s playoff race (3:30 p.m. ET on USA Network) could be the final event on this track’s current layout. 

With the All-Star Race moving from Texas to North Wilkesboro next year, Texas Motor Speedway’s lone Cup race will take place Sept. 24, 2023. That could provide time for any alterations. Work on changing Atlanta began in July 2021 and was completed by December 2021. 

Reigning Cup champion Kyle Larson said work needs to be done to Texas Motor Speedway.

“I would like them to demolish this place first and then start over from scratch,” Larson said Saturday. “For one, they did a very poor job with the reconfiguration, initial reconfiguration. 

“I would like to see them change it from a mile-and-a-half to something shorter. I don’t know if that means bringing the backstretch in or whatever. 

“If I could build a track, it’d be probably a three-quarter mile Bristol basically, pavement and progressive banking. But I don’t know if that’s even possible here. I’m not sure what they have in mind, but anything would be better than what they did.”

Former Cup champion Joey Logano worries about another superspeedway race with such events at Daytona, Talladega and now Atlanta. 

“Do we need more superspeedways?” Logano asked Saturday. “Is that the type of racing fans want to see? Because when you look at the way that people have finished up front in these superspeedways lately, (they) are the ones that are riding around in the back. 

“Do you believe that you should be rewarded for not working? Because that’s what they’re doing. They’re riding around in the back not working, not going up there to put a good race on. They’re riding around in the back and capitalizing on other people’s misfortune for racing up front trying to win. I don’t think it’s right. That’s not racing. I can’t get behind that.”

Logano said he wants to have more control in how he finishes, particularly in a playoff race. 

“I want to be at tracks where I can make a difference, where my team can make a difference, and we’re not at the mercy of a wreck that happened in front of us that we couldn’t do anything about,” he said.

Discussions of changing the track follow complaints about how tough it is to pass at this 1.5-mile speedway.

“Once you get to the top, it’s almost like the bottom (lane) is very, very weak,” Daniel Suarez said.

Suarez has mixed feelings about the idea of turning Texas into another Atlanta-style race.

“Atlanta was a very good racetrack, and then they turned it into a superspeedway and it’s a lot of fun,” Suarez said. “I see it as a hybrid. I don’t think we need another racetrack like that, but it’s not my decision to make. Whatever they throw out at us, I’m going to try to be the best I can be.”

Suarez hopes that Texas can be like what it once was.

“Maybe with some work, we can get this race track to what it used to be, a very wide race track, running the bottom, running the middle, running the top,” he said.  

“As a race car driver, that’s what you want. You want that ability to run around and to show your skills. In superspeedways … everyone is bumping, everyone is pushing, and you can not show your skills as much.”

Chase Briscoe would be OK with a change to Texas, but he wants it to be more like a track other than Atlanta.

“If we’re really going to change and completely start from scratch, I would love another Homestead-type racetrack,” Briscoe said. “The problem is any time you build a new race track, it’s not going to be slick and worn out for a while. It’s trying to figure out what’s best to maximize those first couple of years to get it good by the end. 

“I think Homestead is a great model, if we’re going to build another mile and a half. I think we’re going to have to look at what they have, the progressive banking, the shape of the race track is different. I just think it’s a really good race track, and I think it always puts on really good racing. Anything we could do to try to match that, that would be my vote.”

Denny Hamlin just hopes some sort of change is made to Texas.

“I’d rather have another Atlanta than this, honestly,” Hamlin said. “Anything will be better than kind of what we have here.”

NASCAR shares prayers for Stewart-Haas Racing engineer

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FORT WORTH, Texas — The NASCAR garage is sharing its prayers for Stewart-Haas Racing engineer DJ VanderLey, who was injured Thursday night in a crash during a micro sprint Outlaw race at the Texas Motor Speedway dirt track.

He suffered several fractured vertebrae and has a spinal cord injury, according to a post from his wife Jordan on her Facebook page. 

Two GoFundMe accounts have been set up to help the family with medical costs. 

VanderLey was Chase Briscoe’s engineer for four years, and they are good friends.

“I hate that it happened to anybody,” Briscoe said Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway, “but for it to hit close to home has definitely been tough for me.”

Briscoe said he planned to visit VanderLey in the hospital on Saturday and that “I just hope that everybody continues to pray. That’s really all we can do at this point, trying to hope he gets better.”

Christopher Bell calls VanderLey among his best friends. VanderLey was Bell’s engineer at Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2016. 

Bell spent the night at the hospital and also picked up Jordan VanderLey at the airport when she arrived. 

Stewart-Haas Racing had a decal for VanderLey on Riley Herbst‘s No. 98 Xfinity car for Saturday’s race.

Starting lineup for Texas Cup race: Brad Keselowski wins pole

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Brad Keselowski will be at the front of the field to start Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway (3:30 pm ET, USA Network).

Keselowski, who is not a part of the 12-driver playoff group, won the pole Saturday afternoon with a speed of 188.990, edging Joey Logano‘s 188.805.

MORE: Texas Cup starting lineup

The race is the first of three in the second round of the Cup playoffs. Round of 12 races will follow at Talladega Superspeedway Oct. 2 and the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval Oct. 9.

MORE: Waffle House a headquarters for race winners

Also starting in the top five Sunday will be William Byron, Tyler Reddick and Michael McDowell. It is McDowell’s best oval start of the season and his ninth top-10 start of the year.

Brad Keselowski wins Cup pole at Texas Motor Speedway

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Brad Keselowski, hoping to extend Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing’s turnaround, won the pole Saturday for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway.

It was the second piece of good news for RFK Racing in two weeks. Chris Buescher,  Keselowski’s teammate, won last week’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway, the first victory for the team under the RFK banner.

Keselowski, who ran 188.990 mph, is not a part of the 12-driver playoff group. Nine of the first 14 starting positions were filled by playoff drivers.

MORE: Texas Cup qualifying results

Following in the top five Saturday were Joey Logano, William Byron, Tyler Reddick and Michael McDowell. Playoff point leader Chase Elliott will start sixth.

“Texas is a really tough track,” Keselowski told NBC Sports. “As hot as it’s going to be, that will be even tougher.”

Race-time temperatures are expected to be in the mid-90s Sunday.

The race (3:30 p.m. ET), the first event in the second round of the playoffs, will be televised by the USA Network.