In the Hot Seat With William Byron

(Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

William Byron enjoys the spoils of victory lane. (Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

As William Byron progresses with his fourth season in the NASCAR Cup Series season, there’s a noticeable wind of change with this young man. By all means, the 23 year old Charlotte, N.C. native races with maximum confidence in his No. 24 Chevrolet.

All things considered, William Byron is firing on all cylinders as he’s reunited with crew chief Rudy Fugle. Together, this combination won seven races and contended for the 2016 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship. Within shouting distance of a title, Byron placed fifth in the points standings.

Afterward, Byron graduated to the NASCAR Xfinity Series in ’17. This time, Byron teamed up with the No. 9 JR Motorsports team with crew chief Dave Elenz. Similarly to his Truck efforts, Byron scored four wins and compiling an average finish of 10.4, the Tar Heel State native won that division’s championship.

Certainly, Byron, who earned his promotion to the Cup Series in ’18, needed time to hit the ground running. Enduring a trying rookie campaign with a 23rd place points finish, Byron has made the Playoffs in the past two years before placing 11th and 14th in the standings.

Sweet victory. (Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Sweet victory. (Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Last year, Byron scored his maiden Cup win in last August’s Daytona 400-miler in exciting fashion, the last Cup victory for the legendary Chad Knaus. Perhaps having an affinity for Florida, Byron recently captured his second premier division win earlier this month at Homestead, Fla.

While it’s been two years since Byron’s last in-depth interview with The Podium Finish, it’s safe to say that this young man has evolved and grown up. Once in need of a GPS, Byron has applied himself, learning from great crew chiefs like Chad Knaus and becoming one of the consistent, frontrunning drivers in Cup.

Ahead of this Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 (Sunday, March 21 at 3 p.m. EDT on FOX/PRN), I caught up with Byron for The Podium Finish. Now, let’s catch up with this talented racer in the latest and much long awaited return of “In the Hot Seat!”

Rob Tiongson : It’s been a really strong start for you and your No. 24 team with the win at Homestead and three top 10 finishes that’s got you currently in the Playoff field. How encouraged are you by this incredible start and being in position to take on more risks and gambles for more wins and playoff points?

William Byron : We’re just excited. We can be more aggressive with our racecars and strategy. We’re excited to continue to try to progress and learn. It’s been an important time to improve our program as a whole so I’m looking forward to continuing that progress.

Reunited and it feels so good. (Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Reunited and it feels so good. (Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Tiongson : You reunited with crew chief Rudy Fugle, the man atop your Truck team’s pit box during your incredible season in 2016. What’s it been like to re-catalyze your strong chemistry with him and what’s he brought to the table to further strengthen your team?

Byron : Well, I feel like he’s brought a level of experience with me that has paid off. We just communicate really well together. We can talk about the racecar openly and honestly and not be worried about whether one of us is going to figure it out. It’s good. We can really have that open dialogue.

I feel like our development is really important over the course of the season. We’ve got to continue to develop the racecars to be faster. I think a lot of these tracks that you run at the beginning of the year are the tracks that you go to at the end of the year. So it’s critical to have a good notebook and I feel like Rudy and I are building that together.

Tiongson : You’ve worked with a lot of various crew chiefs who’ve had success with you and in their careers like Darian Grubb, Dave Elenz, and Chad Knaus. What have you learned about them that’s helped you with your racing efforts?

Byron : I think I’ve learned a little bit from every crew chief I’ve worked with. I’ve had a lot of different ones, to be honest, over the course of my career. So, it’s important that you give them really good feedback during the race so they can adjust on your car and try to be as detailed as possible. You’ve got to go out there and perform. It always helps them with the confidence on the setups. I think it’s critical to give good feedback.

Tiongson : I imagine it has to be a bit tough not being able to have that personal one-on-one time with your Hendrick teammates to collaborate and brainstorm ideas during race weekends. How have you worked with Chase, Alex, and Kyle in terms of remote communication during this pandemic?

Byron : It’s not been that different. We just do everything on Zoom. Everything’s been via Zoom instead of in person. We do have our competition meetings in person. It’s helped us feel more comfortable together and communicate openly. I feel like things have gone well so far. Everyone’s done a good job of working together and getting the most feedback we can to the engineers so they can work on the racecars.

Tiongson : While we are starting to see the possible return to normal in time, how have you kept positive during this pandemic, particularly when last season was on hold for a few months?

Byron : Honestly, we kind of adapted to the new way of doing things. It’s not been that different. Once we got into the rhythm of the schedule and the way that we don’t have practice anymore, it’s even more critical during the week to give those guys the right feedback on the racecars to improve. I honestly enjoy the new system and the way we’ve been doing things.

Walking tall. (Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Walking tall. (Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Tiongson : When your Axalta paint scheme was revealed ahead of this season, it definitely evoked nostalgia with the rainbow stripes. How much input did you have with this particular paint scheme and what’s it mean to you to further Axalta’s rich NASCAR history with this new look?

Byron : I love it. I think it gives a new energy and look to the Axalta scheme. I love it. It looks really nice on the racetrack. And we’ve had success with it already. Hopefully, that continues for us.

Tiongson : You’re also running a refreshed look for Liberty University and I’m sure you’re excited about this car’s scheme as well.

Byron : I’m really excited. The Liberty scheme looks really cool. I was able to have a little bit of say in what it looked like. It’s cool. I love the white look and it’s been really nice. I’ve really enjoyed the way it looks.

Tiongson : Since winning what is now the ARCA Menards East Series championship in 2015, we’ve seen you evolve and grow as a driver and person who’s won races in all of NASCAR’s three national series. How have you viewed your journey in racing in terms of your growth as William Byron, the driver and person?

Byron : I think when you first get into the Cup series, everything is so difficult compared to the other series. It takes a while just to feel comfortable. For me, it’s been about feeling comfortable for a while. But now, as we’re getting, as I’ve been in the series for a while, I’m much more comfortable with the Cup series in general. It’s been great. I love what I’m doing. And I feel like the progression has been nice. I feel like I’ve become a more complete person as I continue to grow personally to get better.

Tiongson : Amanda Wells, one of your biggest fans, wanted to know how you’re getting along with your girlfriend Erin’s puppy Franklin?

Byron : Franklin’s been great! He’s been awesome. I really love being around him. He’s so cool. I’ve never had a dog in general. So it’s cool to be able to spend time with Erin and her dog Franky and get a chance to play around with him. He’s cool. I love being around him.

Tiongson : I imagine you had to be a proud team owner last year with your driver Nick Ottinger winning last year’s eNASCAR championship. As a competitive sim racer yourself, how special was it to see Nick emerge victorious in a year where this form of racing gained new audiences during the early months of the pandemic?

Byron : It was huge. Nick has done such a great job for my eSports team. He’s brought a lot to the table. I feel like he’s been awesome. To have them finish 1-2 last night (at Atlanta) was just amazing. I haven’t experienced that level of joy and excitement in a long time. So, it’s been awesome and hopefully, it continues.

Tiongson : Let’s say NASCAR put you in charge of revising the Cup schedule. What tracks currently not in the Cup schedule would you add and why?

(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Byron : I like the schedule right now. There’s a couple of short tracks that might be fun to add like South Boston. I like the schedule and the direction that they’re really going with adding more road courses and short tracks. I think it’s awesome. I’m looking forward to some of the tracks that we have coming up.

Tiongson : If you could choose any song from any music genre to serve as the definitive William Byron theme song that plays each time you’re at the track, what song would you choose?

Byron : Oh man. I’ve always loved “Radioactive” (by Imagine Dragon). I think it’s a good hype song so I’m going to choose that one.

Tiongson : My last question comes from my four year old nephew Francisco who wanted to know what is your dream car?

Undoubtedly, William Byron's No. 24 car is as winning as a Lamborghini. (Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Undoubtedly, William Byron’s No. 24 car is as winning as a Lamborghini. (Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Byron : Oh man, for my dream car…well, I don’t know. I’m going to go with a Lamborghini. Any of them. They all have a good look to them!

Tiongson : If you get to be in the Championship 4, ask Mr. H to get you one! I don’t know if he’ll take you up on it!

Byron : (laughs) That’s very true!

Editor’s Notes

Special thanks to William Byron and Hendrick Motorsports for their kindness and time with this interview ahead of the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta!  Learn more about William on TwitterFacebook, and his official website!

Rob Tiongson

Rob Tiongson is a 30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught his eyes.

From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat.

Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Communications at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's just as happy to be a Texan.

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