As he did on Sunday in Las Vegas, William Byron has shown during his relatively short NASCAR Cup Series career that he can win races for his Hendrick Motorsports team. The 25-year-old driver now has a streak of at least one win in each of the past four seasons. But the bigger questions surrounding the driver who hails from Charlotte are can he become a regular front runner and multiple-time winner during each campaign and can he seriously challenge for a championship at the sport’s top level.
The 2017 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion’s best result in the final series standings at the top level was the sixth place finish he earned last year. In his first five full seasons as a Cup Series driver, it was his first time to make it into the ‘Round of 8’ portion of the NASCAR Playoffs.
Even though 2022 was the first season in which Byron had won more than one Cup Series race(he won two), he actually dropped from the previous year in terms of top-5 and top-10 finishes with those numbers almost being cut in half from 2021’s results. Both of last year’s wins came very early in the season(Atlanta & Martinsville) then the No. 24 Chevrolet fell off during the middle portion of the schedule but returned to early season form in the Playoffs.
Can this driver and team find the consistency needed throughout an entire season to seriously threaten for a title?
“We felt like last year was really topsy-turvy for us,” Byron acknowledged during his post-race press conference in Las Vegas. “We had obviously a couple wins, but then we were really up and down, and just didn’t really understand this car(Next Gen) quite as good as we needed to. We needed to change some of our vocabulary when we talked about this race car versus how he(crew chief Rudy Fugle) 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.”
Finishes of 34th and 25th respectively in the season-opening Daytona 500 and at Auto Club were obviously not what Byron and his team were hoping for. He was glad his fast car was able to earn the result that had not come in the first two races on the schedule.
“Yeah, it’s just good for our team because we can keep building in the future,” he stated. “I think it shows that it’s kind of a measuring stick of where we are. Felt like going into this weekend that we were there, but we haven’t shown that result-wise. Needed to show that with a result to kind of get that satisfaction as a team.”
Byron, Fugle, and all of the No. 24 operation hope to avoid the pitfalls of last season that brought about their inconsistency.
“I think it’s just hopefully more of the same,” Byron declared. “We don’t want to have any slumps this year. We want to just dig all the way to the end of the year. It’s a grind, but we’re going to fight hard all year and try to keep this performance up. We’re going to try to do that 36 weeks and see where that puts us.”
Staying true to the plan will be key for this driver and team if they are to build on last year’s strong points and become serious championship contenders throughout the 2023 season.
“Yeah, for sure. I mean, that’s what we’re focused on is just trying to perform throughout the entire year. 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. 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.”
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Richard Allen has been covering NASCAR and other forms of motorsports since 2008.
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