Listen to this article
Byron entered the Cup series fulltime in 2018 with NASCAR’s most successful organization at the age of 20 with much to learn, including surrounding himself with those who could bring out the best in him as a driver.
Byron earned his first win of the 2022 season on Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway and his third career victory. He led 111 of the 325 laps – not an easy task in a race that featured a record 46 lead changes among 20 different drivers.
Now in his fifth season at HMS, Byron says he’s never felt more comfortable as a Cup driver or in his role at Hendrick.
“I think that comfort has come in the last few years. I would say even back to working with Chad (Knaus) I felt more and more comfortable in the debriefs, more comfortable at the shop, and it was kind of one thing after another,” he said.
“I would say the first thing I felt comfortable was walking into the shop and feeling like I could speak my mind and say what the car did, be critical. Then I think it slowly trickled to Rudy (Fugle, crew chief) coming on board (last season), somebody that I’ve worked with in the past, and then Branden (Lines, his spotter) was a nice addition (this year) to somebody I’ve worked with in the past as well.
“Then ultimately, just having that good group around you and people that you trust and can work with. It’s been a great start to the year. We’ve had a ton of speed. Obviously had some wrecks and things, but I felt like (the win) was due.”
Byron, 24, became the third different Hendrick driver to win in the season’s first five races – a somewhat surprising statistic considering everyone in the series is still learning the intricacies of the Next Gen car.
With the series moving to its first road course race of the season this weekend at Circuit of the Americas, Byron is fourth in the series standings.
Although Byron appeared to have a dominant car on Sunday, the offseason reconfiguration of Atlanta produced racing that was much more reminiscent of the close-quartered pack racing seen at Daytona and Talladega.
For Byron, that made the victory even more special because it the outcome remained up in the air through the final lap.
“Cup races are so hard to win, and I feel like anytime you win one it’s just such an exciting feeling,” he said. “It’s a little bit different, though, when you have a nice lead or you’ve got a dominant car all day.
“But when you come to a speedway, you really don’t know you’re going to win until you come on to the frontstretch and if you are by yourself.
“It’s just a crazy, exhilarating feeling when you win at a kind of superspeedway-style race because you’re constantly working – it’s never really guaranteed.”
A strong superspeedway racer
Fugle, Byron’s crew chief since the start of last season, said he isn’t surprised two of Byron’s three Cup wins have come on superspeedway-style tracks.
“He has become a great restrictor-plate racer,” Fugle said of Byron. “He is really aggressive and knows how to use the runs and take the pushes and give pushes. I mean, it’s hard to say what makes somebody great.
“You know, everybody talks about Denny (Hamlin) when we come to these places, but you have to have good cars, you have to have good engines, and then he has just done an awesome job of learning what makes the car stay up front at these places.
“When we’re not wrecked, he is usually up front.”