Is William Byron and his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team getting their due?
Outside of regular season points leader Denny Hamlin, Byron’s been the most consistent driver through the first 10 races of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season.
If Byron’s performance hasn’t quite matched Hamlin’s, he’s got a one-up: A playoff berth, courtesy of his February win at Miami. That victory began a streak of eight consecutive top-10 finishes for Byron going into Sunday race at Kansas Speedway (3 p.m. ET, FS1).
Granted, Byron hasn’t been a front-runner during this run (102 laps led in his Miami win; 48 laps led in the seven races since). But reliably knocking out results is impressive in itself.
So… Should we be paying more attention?
“I think yes and no,” Byron said in a Wednesday media teleconference on the subject. “As soon as we win another race – hopefully soon – you guys will be forced to talk about us and the competition will be forced to deal with us.
“But I think we’re running well. We’re in the mix every week. I feel like the competition around us probably knows that and understands that, so I think it’s just a matter of continuing to execute, and put ourselves in position to make ourselves have a chance at winning more races.
“Honestly, I don’t focus much on the other people we are racing against. I just focus on doing what we can to try to win. We’re doing that every week so far.”
No question about that.
From Byron’s perspective, all the elements have been on point for the 24 team – the cars, the engines, the pit crew, and last but not least, the communication between himself and both crew chief Rudy Fugle and spotter Tab Boyd.
It’s all led to a more confident driver, not just behind the wheel but also leading up to the weekend.
“I show up to the track every week now knowing that I can prepare the way that I have been and have success,” Byron said. “…A little bit of iRacing, a little bit of film and talking with my guys. We have great meetings throughout the week. We’ve got a really good system going. I feel like we’re able to go to every race track and kind of build on what we’ve been doing.”
Following his runner-up finish last Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, Byron believed he and his team had cleared some potentially tough tracks in the early schedule and are heading toward tracks that were their “bread and butter.”
The mile-and-a-half at Kansas seems to fit that bill. Byron has finished fifth, 10th and eighth in his last three races there.
“I think it’s just a track that I have good memories on,” said Byron, who earned a Truck win at Kansas with Fugle back in 2016, when they were with Kyle Busch Motorsports.
“It’s a track that’s pretty straightforward. It’s not one of those unique places where experience really matters. I think it’s just all about having the right combination with your car and having the right feel. So, I think it’s just one of those standard 1.5-mile tracks. It’s not anything special, but I feel like we’ve done a good job of trying to identify what we need in the car there and it’s worked the past couple of times.”
Should it work again at Kansas with another top-10 finish, it will give Byron a unique record.
Per Racing Insights, the 23-year-old can become the youngest Cup driver to claim nine consecutive top 10s, eclipsing Hall of Famer and Hendrick legend Jeff Gordon (who was 24 years, 22 days at the time).
Regardless of how Sunday works out, Byron’s on the best run of his Cup career – a long way from when he entered the premier division four years ago.
“I don’t feel uncomfortable at all,” Byron said. “I don’t look at any of the people I race against as any different. I treat everyone the same, I feel like now. Whereas, when I was coming into the series, guys like Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick; I raced for Kyle Busch, so that was nerve-wracking to race against him every week.
“And those things were there and those elements of feeling like I was out of place were there. Once you get past that feeling, which, you have to have those results to have that feeling go away, it comes hand-in-hand with results.”