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Byron, who drives the No. 24 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, has won at least one race in each of the last three years. In each season, Byron’s victories have come during the first 26 races, securing him a spot in the 16-driver playoffs.
However, with limited wins and none in the 10-race playoffs, Byron, 25, has struggled to reach the Championship 4 and a chance to win a series title. His best finish in the series standings came last year when he ended up sixth.
Turning early-season success into a playoff run
Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Byron secured yet another early-season win, coming in the third race of the year. It was also his most dominant.
Byron claimed both stage wins and led 176 of 271 laps (about 65 percent of the race) but had to rally in overtime to edge his HMS teammate Kyle Larson.
“Just happy with getting the first win of the year. It’s been a while since we’ve won. It’s been almost a year (last April), and it’s nice to kind of just get back to what I feel like we’re capable of,” Byron said.
“Yeah, it’s been up and down, but I feel like this is what we’re capable of every week.”
Byron said he put in extra work in the offseason to get more comfortable with Next Gen car and to better communicate with his crew chief Rudy Fugle in order to provide better feedback.
William Byron, Hendrick Motorsports, RaptorTough.com Chevrolet Camaro
Photo by: Matthew T. Thacker / NKP / Motorsport Images
“We felt like last year was really topsy-turvy for us. We had obviously a couple wins, but then we were really up and down, and just didn’t really understand this car quite as good as we needed to,” Byron said.
“We needed to change some of our vocabulary when we talked about this race car. He and I have worked together in the past and we’ve worked on cars that have a different tire and different grip levels, so we just had to change some of the words that we used and kind of talk about the car.”
The two spent multiple hours in the simulator together with Fugle speaking to Byron over radio just as he would during a race.
“Really just working together to solve problems. You get in the season and it’s super-hard to get in there to the simulator and put the time in that we want to,” Fugle said. “In the off-season we put a lot of work in.
“Through these first few races, it showed off last week having speed right away and then showed off this week. Hopefully, it’ll keep paying off and we’ll keep working on it.”
Although Byron didn’t earn a win in last season’s playoffs, he and his No. 24 team were one of the most consistent performers with six top-10 finishes in the final 10 races.
But without any wins in the playoffs nor a lot of playoff points – from race wins and stage wins – collected throughout the year, it was difficult for Byron to advance in the playoffs over drivers who had.
“That’s what we’re focused on is just trying to perform throughout the entire year,” he said. “We know we have the stamina as a team. We know that we communicate well.
“But I think in the past you get that sigh of relief from a win that you’re doing what you need to do, and I think this assures us that we can just keep doing the processes.
“We did a lot of prep work going into this week and woke up on Saturday feeling like we were prepared. That’s a nice feeling. We’re going to try to do that 36 weeks and see where that puts us.”