In the Hot Seat with William Byron

Accordingly, William Byron and his No. 24 team seem ready for a championship run. (Photo: Sean Folsom/The Podium Finish)

Accordingly, William Byron and his No. 24 team seem ready for a championship run. (Photo: Sean Folsom/The Podium Finish)

Immediately, William Byron and his No. 24 Axalta/Liberty University Chevy team prove quite impressive this year. Certainly, the 24-year-old Charlotte, N.C. seems like a solid championship contender with his Homestead win, six top fives and 12 top 10 finishes.

Of course, William Byron compiled an impressive 11 race streak of top 10 finishes from Homestead to Dover. Although an 11th in Austin derailed this incredible run, the fourth year Cup racer is driven, ready to make noise.

Moreover, Byron’s reunion with crew chief Ryan “Rudy” Fugle catalyzed the No. 24 team’s charge in 2021. By all means, Byron acknowledges his strong rapport with Fugle and his crewmates on campus and the track.

In the meantime, Byron seems like a solid championship contender given his consistency and cool demeanor. Simply put, Byron’s a bit like George Russell of Formula 1 when he’s in quality equipment (i.e. witness Russell’s run in the Sakhir Grand Prix last year with Mercedes).

A few days ago, I caught up with Byron ahead of this Sunday’s Ally 400 at Nashville Superspeedway. Now, in text and podcast format, let’s all get “In the Hot Seat with William Byron” here on The Podium Finish!

Rob Tiongson : William, since we last caught up, you and the No. 24 team have established incredible consistency with the 11 consecutive top 10 finishes earlier in the year. When you went on that streak, what was it like to continually get those top 10s and realize your team has yet to hit its peak?

Chiefly, William Byron raced like a Jedi Knight in last month's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. (Photo: Michael Guariglia/The Podium Finish)

Chiefly, William Byron raced like a Jedi Knight in last month’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. (Photo: Michael Guariglia/The Podium Finish)

William Byron : Well, I think it was great. I think honestly, you know, we knew that we were doing all the right things and executing. And I feel like even since then, we’ve had even stronger runs when I look at the 600. And the way we were there and, you know, just in general, how we’ve been.

So, I’m excited for what’s coming up. I feel like Nashville can be a really good track for us. It’s similar to Dover, and we had a great run at Dover, obviously. So I’m excited to see how it goes and kind of see what we can do.

Tiongson : Yeah, you kind of hit upon what I was gonna ask you next about how all across the board, Hendrick Motorsports has consistently battled for wins and front running finishes. So, as a driver, what does it mean to you to know that each week, you’re in the mix, no matter what kind of racetrack you guys are at?

Byron : Well, it’s huge. I think it just gives you the confidence to know that when you show up to the racetrack, you’re going to have, you know, a racecar that’s capable. So it’s, it’s pretty awesome. And I feel like, you know, it definitely is is motivating during the week, just to know that that’s the case and know that you can show up and have a chance to win.

Tiongson : And you definitely would have started to catalyze the Hendrick streak because you were the first one on campus to win a race this year in the Cup series. And then Kyle Larson got his win in Vegas. It’s just pretty much been gangbusters since then for you guys.

Last weekend, even though it was just the NASCAR All-Star Race, I had to imagine it was a lot of fun for you guys. You were able to hold off your teammates, Kyle [Larson] and Chase [Elliott] during the mid portions of the All-Star Race here in Texas.

So, without the points on the line, how fun was it to go battle them hard on the track despite how treacherous the track was not only with the PJ1 substance on the surface, but just how hot and humid it was here?

Undoubtedly, William Byron held his own in last Sunday night's NASCAR All-Star Race at Texas. (Photo: Sean Folsom/The Podium Finish)

Undoubtedly, William Byron held his own in last Sunday night’s NASCAR All-Star Race at Texas. (Photo: Sean Folsom/The Podium Finish)

Byron : Yeah, I think honestly, this shows the talent level in the All-Star Race to see those guys you know, not crash a lot, and not have issues. And you know, I think obviously the track was still just treacherous, but it just shows that, you know, the ability there. So, it was a tough race.

You know, we wish we could have won. But, [it’s] nice to see a teammate win and feel like we’re we’re all on the right path towards toward winning more races. So I hope that we’re next.

Tiongson : And that seems to be a common theme amongst you guys. I mean, Kyle was asked in the post-race Zoom conference if his winning streak is angering you guys. But he said that he’s among the first to be happy for whenever you guys win a race. So, it sounds like to me it’s pretty much a universal feeling, no matter how your race goes.

Byron : Yeah, for sure. I think it’s better because we know what what each other is running and, and you know, how each other’s doing it. And I feel like that’s just better for us to have a teammate win. Because, you know, we know that we’re all capable. So yeah, I definitely feel like it’s better than the alternative and and try to celebrate it when we can.

Tiongson : That’s basically why I think Hendrck has been so strong this series. The genuine rapport, the desire for wins, and just how close you guys are. And I’m sure it’s been a lot easier since the last time we talked because of things with the pandemic lifting. So I’m sure it’s nice to finally you know, get to see each other more face to face versus just doing the team meetings and with most of the Microsoft Team meetings as well. So, finally, things have changed.

But one change we’re all seeing, of course, is we’re heading towards the long hot summer in NASCAR. And we talked about it a little bit about them. But with these hot and humid races coming up, how do you train for these grueling conditions?

William Byron smirks at humidity. (Photo: Sean Folsom/The Podium Finish)

William Byron smirks at humidity. (Photo: Sean Folsom/The Podium Finish)

Byron : Yeah, it’s tough. I mean, you have to manage your hydration during the week and really prepare well. You can easily kind of get off track and and get behind and as soon as you do, it’s really hard to catch up. So, I feel like for me, just staying hydrated, eating the right thing.

You know, just all those things are really important this time of year. So try to do those things and my team helps me with trying to keep me cool and give me ideas of how I can keep my body cool. You know, it’s also heat acclamation too. You’ve got to be out in the heat, somewhat, to really kind of understand it. So, it’s a little bit of both. But I feel like I’ve got a good system now.

We’ve kind of been through the first hot race of the year, which is last week. Again, I already feel a lot better about, about things because of that and feel like it’s going to be a good summer for us.

Tiongson : I would imagine so and you’re already conditioned with it. And you couldn’t have picked a better race than Texas. The races at Nashville and beyond are probably going to be pretty similar, but things that cannot be too challenging. So that’s going to be a threat, for sure, for the competition, to say the least.

Now, of course, last month was pretty tough for you and your family when you shared the news about your mom’s battle with MALT lymphoma. But, how is your mom been doing now? And what does it mean for you to see all the support from the racing community for your family?

Byron : Oh, yeah, it’s been really meaningful, I think, to see everyone, you know, and their support and the way that people have reached out, and be there for me. …so it’s been been really cool. And I feel like she’s, you know, definitely, not out of the woods. But I think that she’s doing well. And, you know, it’s great to spend time with her and kind of see her and, and just, yeah, have those moments together. So it’s been nice the last few weeks. And hopefully, that continues.

Tiongson : I’m sure you brighten her spirits with the fact that you’re having a great year, you’re doing what you love. And I hope you know that the entire Podium Finish team is all pulling for your mom to get better for sure.

Byron : Yeah, no, I really appreciate that. Thank you.

Tiongson : You got it, my friend. Now, of course, last month was Mental Health Awareness Month. But I feel like it’s something that we don’t have to discuss in only the month of May. It should be something that’s discussed all the time. But it’s gained traction in all walks of life.

As a racecar driver, how important is it for you to optimize your mental health, not only with what we went through with the pandemic, but just the demands of your career?

To this end, William Byron values mental health optimization. (Photo: Luis Torres/The Podium Finish)

To this end, William Byron values mental health optimization. (Photo: Luis Torres/The Podium Finish)

Byron : Yeah, it’s really important. I feel like, you know, time management and just understanding your body really well. I’ve been wearing the Whoop band for a couple of years now. And that’s helped me just kind of, you know, stay on a schedule and routine with my sleep and everything.

I feel like I just feel better because of those things. So, it’s been tough with the pandemic, you know, just figuring out ways to stay healthy and mentally healthy is the biggest thing. And yeah, I feel like I’m doing an okay job of it, but definitely could still be doing better. But I just try to keep myself motivated in different ways.

Tiongson : It’s OK, sometimes to know when you’re not OK, like you said. And it’s good that you’re well aware of it and not just kind of like, “Well, you know, it’s just a bad day, so I’m just gonna live with it and be having a bad day.” Sounds like you’re doing what you need to do to keep things just fine.

But I would also have to say, of course, you, the drivers and people in NASCAR certainly get fueled by the passion of the fans. And they’ve been coming back in droves. thankfully, with the country reopening this year. How much do you guys feed off of the energy from the fans versus when it was just you guys on the track?

For sure, Byron loves racing in front of the fans. (Photo: Luis Torres/The Podium Finish)

For sure, Byron loves racing in front of the fans. (Photo: Luis Torres/The Podium Finish)

Byron : Oh, it’s great. I mean, it’s a huge difference really, when we didn’t have fans. I think that you it was really dull and kind of quiet around the track. And it just felt like procedural to show up to the racetracks. And now we have a lot better atmosphere around the track and people are back in the stands and it gives a lot of energy to the drivers.

Tiongson : And I’m sure y’all miss just even interacting with them. And, I’m sure there’s probably a renewed passion for you guys this season again versus when it was during normal times. It’s probably felt like part of the routine but more now it’s like, “Hey, I actually don’t mind doing this.” (chuckles)

Byron : Yeah, definitely. It’s not bad. It’s not a bad problem to have, you know, for sure to have them around. So it’s a good thing.

Tiongson : Absolutely. I’m going to change things up a little bit here, making you go from the driver to the owner’s perspective. So, your drivers Logan Clampitt and Nick Ottinger, they’re in the mix in the eNASCAR top 10 point standings this year. So with five races left in the regular season, how do you feel about your team’s chances to challenge for this year’s championship?

Byron : Well, I think that Logan’s doing extremely well this year. He’s kind of had a breakout year and nice to have him on board this year with Logitech and all of our partners. So it’s been great, you know, to see his success.

I think Nick is coming off the championship last year and doing a great job. He’s had a little bit of a struggle the past few weeks, but I think he’s going to get it back on track and and make the playoffs. So I’m pulling for him for that and know that he’s going to have a week or two here coming up that he’s going to be strong.

So, you just got to keep pushing. It’s really similar to our format. You got to win and and get in the Playoffs. And so, he’s got to do that coming up, but I feel like he’s in good position to do that.

Tiongson : It’s going to be a lot fun to watch these guys duke it out for these remaining regular season races. And maybe you’ll see two of your drivers go for that championship later this year. So, that’s gonna be a fun situation for you and your drivers. Let’s do a very quick round of Free Association where you just tell me the first thing that comes to mind with these following phrases or words. So I’m going to start off with rivalries.

Byron : I’d say Tiger Woods/Phil Mickelson.

Tiongson : Oh, that’s a really good one. And it seems like it’s not going to end anytime soon. Superstition.

Superstition what? (Photo: Michael Guariglia/The Podium Finish)

Superstition what? (Photo: Michael Guariglia/The Podium Finish)

Byron : I don’t have any.

Tiongson : Nice I don’t think I’ve known a driver without one. So that’s a first. (laughter) Remote controlled cars.

Byron : I think about my RC cars I’ve driven in the past.

Tiongson : Is there any any favorite of yours?

Byron : Um, I raced RC cars in 2017. So I’d say the team associated cars were were really good back then.

Tiongson : That’s awesome. I’d love to see that one of these days. Guilty pleasure food.

Byron : Oh man, ice cream.

Tiongson : What flavor?

Byron : I think chocolate chip cookie dough.

Tiongson : I love that. Now I want it now. And I’m not even having my lunch break yet. (laughs) Video games.

Byron : iRacing.

Tiongson : I like that. And my last Free Association word is criticism.

Byron : Oh, a chance to get better.

Tiongson : I like that’s a nice twist on that word. And it’s quite true. There’s a lot of PMA, positive mental attitude, that I can sense here. (laughs) I’m going to put you on the spotlight. And no, this is not the kind of question most drivers like to be asked. But, give me three reasons why you and your No. 24 are the favorites to win the championship.

Without doubt, Byron and crew chief Rudy Fugle enjoy their "reunited and it feels so good" tour. (Photo: Sean Folsom/The Podium Finish)

Without doubt, Byron and crew chief Rudy Fugle enjoy their “reunited and it feels so good” tour. (Photo: Sean Folsom/The Podium Finish)

Byron : Oh, man, I’d say just consistency. Number one. I think that we understand each other and communicate extremely well. And we don’t have breakdowns in communication. I think number three, you know, the team that we’re with, Hendrick Motorsports, and the resources and the tools that we have this year to go and win a championship.

Tiongson : Those are three solid reasons. I’m sold on that. And not to put too much pressure on you and Rudy (Fugle), but I have you guys on my Championship 4 for Phoenix, though. No pressure. But I feel like you guys are among the mix for the championship for sure.

Byron : No, I appreciate it. I appreciate you, sir.

Editor’s Notes

Special thanks to William Byron for taking the time this week for this latest “In the Hot Seat” interview! Also, thanks to Ashly Ennis and Hendrick Motorsports for their assistance with this latest interview on The Podium Finish. You can keep track of William Byron on his Facebook and Twitter accounts and his official website. As stated earlier, The Podium Finish team sends prayers of strength and hope to William’s mother Dana and the Byron family. Lastly, for the podcast version of my interview with William Byron, please feel free to listen to it below.

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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