CREW CHIEF: Rudy Fugle
TEAM: Hendrick Motorsports
POINTS: 10th in NASCAR Cup Series
WINS: One (Homestead-Miami)
LAPS LED: 425
TOP 5s: 12
TOP 10s: 20
WHAT WENT RIGHT: With Chad Knaus becoming Hendrick Motorsports’ vice president of competition, William Byron would have a new crew chief for 2021. As it turned out, his new crew chief was an old one: Rudy Fugle, who guided him to seven Truck Series wins at Kyle Busch Motorsports. The reunion quickly paid off as Byron won in February at Homestead-Miami Speedway to clinch a spot in the Cup playoffs.
The victory was the first of 11 consecutive top-10 finishes for Byron, a streak that propelled him to the best season of his Cup career. He set career-highs across nearly all major categories, including top-five finishes, top-10 finishes, laps led, points finish and average race finish (13.6).
Byron also notched three runner-up finishes at Talladega Superspeedway (April), Michigan International Speedway, and Texas Motor Speedway (October).
WHAT WENT WRONG: Byron and the No. 24 team hit a rough patch at the tail end of the regular season. In the final seven races before the playoffs, Byron suffered five finishes of 20th or worse. He then crashed out of the playoff opener at Darlington and a subpar showing the following week at Richmond put him in danger of early elimination.
A third-place finish in the Round of 16 cutoff race at Bristol saved Byron, but the Round of 12 was also tough. At Las Vegas, an ill-fated strategy play and a flat tire with less than 50 laps to go relegated Byron to an 18th-place finish. The next week, he was caught in a crash at Talladega – which meant a must-win situation at the Charlotte Roval cutoff race.
There, Byron put up a spirited fight, leading 30 laps in the race’s final stage. With 19 laps to go, contact from Tyler Reddick caused Byron to miss the backstretch chicane. That forced Byron to serve a stop-and-go penalty.
Two more yellow flags, however, gave Byron a chance to climb back through the field and he rose to third with five laps to go. But with two laps left, Byron went off course in the track’s infield section. He finished 11th, ending his title hopes.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2022: Byron enters a contract year after signing a two-year extension with Hendrick Motorsports back in September 2020. But his boss, Rick Hendrick, has expressed aims to lock in Byron (and Chase Elliott, also signed through 2022) with a long-term deal. Additionally, one of Byron’s main sponsors, Liberty University, recently signed a new five-year agreement with Byron and HMS.
As for the on-track stuff, Byron and Fugle will look to build upon a solid Year One together at the Cup level. Claiming a fourth consecutive playoff berth is the first item on Byron’s check list. Reaching the Round of 8 for the first time in his Cup career is the next.