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.
“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.”