Seven races into 2021, Byron believes they’ve reached that level.
On-track incidents at the Daytona 500 and Daytona road course led to sub-par results for Byron in the first two weeks. Then at Homestead-Miami Speedway, he enjoyed the most dominant race of his Cup Series career, leading 102 laps on the way to his second career win.
Byron has since put together a career-long streak of five consecutive top-10 finishes that he’ll take into Saturday night’s race at Martinsville Speedway.
“From (Miami), we just tried to execute really clean races and try to get this team … to where we can start to push some of the details, like pit road, restarts and things like that that we can start to be aggressive with,” Byron said Friday during a media teleconference.
“We put together a really good five races in a row here and, yeah, I feel like we are in that category now of being able to contend every week. We just have to make the next step to lead some more laps. It’s been a couple of weeks since we’ve done that, so that’s important to us.”
Byron has never led at Martinsville. In six career Cup starts there, he’s posted four finishes of 20th or worse, including two DNFs.
His best result at Martinsville was a runner-up finish in October 2019. It’s also his lone top five in 17 career Cup starts on short tracks, removing this year’s dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway. He starts third in Saturday night’s race at Martinsville.
When discussing what’s gone wrong for him on short tracks, Byron acknowledged a need to make his equipment last.
“I feel like some of that is how your car is driving, but also just technique and making sure that I’m taking care of my stuff throughout the early part of the race so I can have something good at the end,” he said.
“I think that’s all it is. When we’ve had good handling stuff, then we’ve done well. But you can’t try to crutch it too much with brakes and stuff if you’re not handling well.”
Byron said that the No. 24 team is bringing a somewhat different set-up compared to last year at Martinsville. But with more collective confidence in themselves to push the envelope, he believes his ongoing performance will continue.
“We’re not just trying to string together one good run to kind of get back on track,” Byron said. “I think for us, it’s kind of that slow climb of trying to go from, I feel like, we’re that top-seven to eight team right now, but try to make that next step to be a top-five team.
“It’s kind of an evolution, but I think we’re getting there. It’s awesome to run as well as we have every week and have specific things to work on – not have to worry about big stuff. We can just worry about small stuff to try and get better. I think we’re on the right track.”