When William Byron took over Hendrick Motorsports’ legendary No. 24 Chevrolet in 2018, it seemed like everything changed.
Kasey Kahne’s old No. 5 team was rebranded, and the previous No. 24 team became the No. 9 group with Chase Elliott, who was entering his third full-time season. But as a 20-year-old, Byron faced pressure unlike ever before, coming off successful seasons in the Craftsman Truck Series and winning the Xfinity Series title as a rookie in 2017 with JR Motorsports.
From a different pit crew to completely different paint schemes, Byron entered the sport’s premier level in a comfortably uncomfortable situation.
Slowly, Byron began to gain confidence in his ability behind the wheel of a Cup car. As someone that won a series-high seven times in the Truck Series in 2016 and four times in Xfinity Series the next season, everyone knew he was extremely talented. But to limit the on-track mistakes was the key for the young Cup upstart.
Each year since, Byron has made steady improvements. The goal has never been to be like Gordon or Elliott, but to develop his own reputation as his own racer. That’s why his breakout 2023 season, which boasts five victories throughout the 26 regular-season races, is so important for Byron.
This is Byron’s time to shine and to make a name for himself.
“It looks like we’re tied with Martin [Truex Jr.] for playoff points,” Byron said after the regular season finale at Daytona. “That’s a lot better position than we’ve been in the past, so we’ll try to take advantage of that. Last year, I think we were in the teens for playoff points, so I feel good about it.
“The good thing is we can still get some more in the first round, so hopefully we can maybe get a stage win or a victory in the first couple races and see how it plays out.”
The Cup Series has been an adjustment for Byron, who competed for wins at ease as a prospect. But to win at the Cup level, he had to dig deep to find his true ability. He went through three crew chiefs in his first four Cup seasons, but has found success with Rudy Fugle, who guided him at Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Truck Series.
“I think being with the team is what drives me,” he said after his win at Atlanta in July. “When I get up every day, it’s about how can I get better as a racecar driver. I try to focus on that goal.
“I’m sure a lot of guys have that same goal, but for me, yeah, it’s what I think about. It’s what drove me to get into this sport. That’s really what I follow is just my desire to be a better driver.
Byron’s eyes are now focused on claiming his first Cup Series title. It would be the first for the No. 24 team since Gordon’s final of four championships in 2001.
His 2023 season is certainly one for the books. This season, he’s already won at three of the six tracks the Cup Series returns to in the postseason. The No. 24 team has additional wins on a superspeedway (Atlanta) and a road course (Watkins Glen). He enters the playoffs having led the most laps in the regular season at 877 and tied for second in top fives and top 10s.
Byron enters the playoffs tied with Truex as the No. 1 seed. If he can avoid mistakes and finish races, he will be a threat to capture his first Cup title at Phoenix come November.