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In the Hot Seat: William Byron

William Byron has made being “In the Hot Seat” seem easy with his winning ways in 2023. (Photo: John Arndt | The Podium Finish)

LINCOLN, Ala. — William Byron is in the midst of his best NASCAR Cup Series season to date. With six wins and a Round of 8 Playoffs spot clinched after his win at Texas Motor Speedway last Sunday, life is good for the 25-year-old Charlotte, North Carolina native.

No matter the track, tire compound or challenges, Byron and his No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 team consistently bring their A-game. Even if their car may not be the fastest at times, crew chief Rudy Fugle and the over-the-wall crew keep their head up to make things right.

As for the sim to reality racer, Byron has extreme confidence that shows when he is in the driver’s seat. It may have taken time for the young racer to find his groove in stock car’s premier division, but he is flourishing long before he has hit his peak.

Byron and Fugle are communicating efficiently as they compliment each other’s skills and strengths. By far, the combination may remind those of the days when Jeff Gordon and Ray Evernham made the No. 24 car into a winning ride in the stock car world.

These days, Byron may be sporting a beard, but he is still the level headed, humble, grounded racer who, at age 14, met car owner Rick Hendrick at JR Motorsports. Much like Tom Brady’s first meeting with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Byron had the same genuine confidence with Hendrick as Brady with Kraft in 2000.

Stock car pundits have observed Byron’s potential long before it was realized. In late 2021, NASCAR on NBC and USA analyst Kyle Petty predicted Byron’s ascension following the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.

Petty’s observation seems to be unfolding nicely about the Hendrick Motorsports racer. Most of all, Byron believes in himself and his resourceful teammates with getting the job done on a weekly basis.

Prior to Sunday’s YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, Byron shared his thoughts about scoring Hendrick Motorsports’ 300th NASCAR Cup Series win, his relationship with Fugle and his canine companion. Now, it is time for “In the Hot Seat” with William Byron here on The Podium Finish!

Rob Tiongson: Welcome back to a special edition of “In the Hot Seat” here on The Podium Finish! I’m Rob Tiongson and I’m joined alongside today, the most recent NASCAR Cup series winner and the next Round of 8 entry.

That would be William Byron, driver of the No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 fielded Hendrick Motorsports. William, how are you doing today?

William Byron: I’m good. Thanks for having me.

Tiongson: Of course. It’s my pleasure. William is not just the most recent winner at Texas, he is also one of the reasons why Hendrick Motorsports just recently got its 300th Cup series victory as an organization.

How special was it for you to be a catalyst, with your team, to get this milestone victory?

A milestone 300th victory for Hendrick Motorsports was celebrated by William Byron and many happy No. 24 team personnel at Texas. (Photo: Dylan Nadwodny | The Podium Finish)

Byron: Yeah, it was really cool. It was definitely a big day on Sunday and definitely one that we’ve been talking about for a while, I guess since the season started

So yeah, I’m just thankful for everyone’s support and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports, all the work and you know, through the different shops. It’s cool to see people there over the last day or so just be really excited.

Tiongson: And it was exciting to see this little piece because it was not the most easiest way to get to victory. I know that it was a late race restart within the last 10 laps and you pulled alongside Bubba Wallace.

It was kind of a “blink or dare to move out of the way” kind of move, and you got it done. When you were in that moment at Texas, what was in your mind when you’re trying to execute that pass?

Byron: Yeah, there’s really not a lot of thought to it. It’s all instinct… decisions. I didn’t really remember the restart until I watched it back after the race. It’s crazy how you kind process things in the moment. Things seemed to work out.

Watching it back, just the way that I got the run off Turn 1 and then Bubba tried to cover the spot, I just had enough of a nose in there where I was able to disrupt the air and make the pass.

Tiongson: It was certainly one of those breathtaking moments, Not like Talladega craziness, which we’ll talk about in a second. But in terms of what we saw last Sunday at Texas, it was pretty tricky, certainly treacherous for some.

You and your No. 24 team got the job done when it really counted. And knowing that you’ve got this Round of 8 spot, how good is it to feel that you can be on the offensive now?

No doubt, William Byron is appreciative of the support and guidance of team owner Rick Hendrick. (Photo: Dylan Nadwodny | The Podium Finish)

Byron: Oh, it feels good. I think that we still have a lot of goals to accomplish. For the next two races, we just (have to) keep the momentum and learn for next year to learn for these race tracks. Charlotte is a really important race for me because that’s my home race. So it’d be great to have a good run there and then move on from after that.

Tiongson: And I love that because it’s your hometown race. And certainly, I’m sure you want to go and win at the ROVAL knowing that it’s in front of your friends and family. I’ll ask you what I asked Chris Buescher last week at Texas. Do you do you feel a little bit of pressure trying to get that job done?

Byron: I do. I think usually that race weekend, I just have friends and family out. It seems like the last couple of years, not as many people come to the race, but definitely still a lot of people.

It’s really fun and I enjoy racing at Charlotte. It’s honestly one of my favorite tracks, so it makes it fun to go there. And I always feel like I try to give my best effort to get a good finish.

Tiongson: And it’s a pretty short commute for your team because your shop’s literally six minutes away from the racetrack. So, no pressure at all from Mr. H and your team, yeah?

Byron: No, it’s good. When you get a chance to sleep in your own bed, wake up, drive to the track, it really seems like a normal drive to work. So, it’s really fun.

Tiongson: I can relate to that because you guys do it almost every single weekend.

One of the things that you can have at your home that you can bring on the road, I’m sure, is your puppy, Frankie. I’m sure he’s grown up. What’s it been like for you to be a dog parent?

Byron: Yeah, he’s sitting right here, so he’s. He’s been good lately. We traveled to Texas together, and he was really good the whole time. It was really hot, so I felt for him with all his fur. But yea, he’s been good. I don’t know if he’s coming to Talladega… yeah he’s coming to Talladega, so we’re looking forward to that.

Tiongson: He should be your team mascot at this point because he brought you some luck at Texas and you’re having a heck of a season. The No. 24 team, in general… this is the most wins that this team has had since the 2007 season.

Does that kind of moment dawn upon you like, “Whoa, I’m having this kind of run right now?”

Perhaps William Byron and his No. 24 team have an unofficial mascot with Byron’s canine companion, Frankie. (Photo: Teresa Bennink | The Podium Finish)

Byron: Yeah, it’s super cool. I think back to I was a big race fan in 2007. That was really when I was watching a lot of the races and it was really Jeff and Jimmie winning a lot of races.

So yeah, it’s cool. And um, hopefully we keep it up. They started letting me take Frankie on the flight so he comes to about every race now.

Tiongson: Good because as a dog parent, it’s tough when they’re staying at home and you’re at the racetrack so at least you have him to see whether you win or no matter what happens in the race, it’s always fun to have that little jump at home.

It’s great. Let me ask you this, to think ahead of Talladega, which is the last superspeedway race we have this year, I’ve noticed, looking at your statistics this season, William, you are really phenomenal with these tough tracks.

What is it about these superspeedways that has you feeling comfortable and confident at these tracks knowing that some have a little bit of trepidation with it?

Byron: Yeah, I don’t know. I haven’t personally felt that good at the superspeedways this year, but we’ve got the Atlanta win. So, that was good. That’s kind of like a superspeedway. Talladega and Daytona are kind of its own beast.

I feel like personally we’re maybe a little bit better at Talladega than we are Daytona. They’re tough, so we’ve got to show up prepared and hopefully do a good job.

Tiongson: And I’m sure that now that you guys are locked in, with your teammate Kyle Larson’s now in the eighth and precarious spot of trying to make it above the cutoff line, is there likely a conversation to be had to help the No. 5 team during this weekend?

Byron: Yeah, we definitely want to help those guys as much as we as we can. So, it’s kind of all hands on deck to try to help those guys do well. So just the goal first off is to try to get to the front and then race from there.

Tiongson: I’m sure you want to get another victory here and add to your Playoff point total, which is really… it’s incredible.

One of the things that’s been fun to watch with your victories is the big hat, which Kyle somehow did not fit into. But you make it look good. What started the whole big hat routine?

Whenever William Byron wins, the big hats are back in action. (Photo: Dylan Nadwodny | The Podium Finish)

Byron: It just started last year. I saw it on in a few other sports that were going on, and I just thought it was a cool idea. I thought it would be something that is unique and different than the normal victory lane.

It’s definitely taken on a meaning of its own when Mr. H has it on in Victory Lane. And he got his own big hats he wears and meetings and stuff. So I don’t know, it’s too late to go back. But yeah, it’s cool. I think it definitely has its own meaning.

Tiongson: I love the big hat. I hope it doesn’t go away.

It’s obvious that a good driver-crew chief combination is part of the success that race teams need to have to win races and contend for championships. And I know that you and Rudy have worked together since the truck days in 2016 with KBM.

When did you know that the two of you clicked right? Was it a immediate clicking for you guys or was it more of like a gradual relationship that you all built together?

Byron: A little bit of both. I think when we were at the racetrack in the Truck Series, it was pretty evident early at Atlanta that we had a lot of speed. And we were really fast.

We blew an engine in that race. We were running second. And I think from there on, we knew we were really capable of performing.

But yeah, it started before then. We went to Buffalo Wild Wings and sat down and we clicked right away. I had a choice of crew chiefs that year and just Rudy and I clicked so well. So yeah, it really started there.

Tiongson: Imagine that! Buffalo Wild Wings is what catalyzed it. And is it a certain routine that you guys try to have once in a while?

Byron: We don’t really go hang out a bunch, but we talk on the phone. We try to once a week and just make sure we’re on the same page with personal things and things on the race track.

Tiongson: That’s amazing. I never imagined that it could form there. So there you go, people. Buffalo Wild Wings. That’s how you make success.

Let’s just say that Sirius XM Radio approached you and said, “Hey, William, it’s the off season. We need you to be on the air for about a couple of hours in the afternoon.” What kind of music would you be playing for the fans at home?

Byron: Well, my music choice is all over the board. Currently, I just listen to a lot of country music.

So I would say probably that or. Or maybe some, like some, um, oh, what do they call it? Pop rock. I don’t know. But yeah, that would probably be it.

Tiongson: That’s an interesting mix. Is there like a certain artist or just the genre itself that you enjoy?

Byron: Yeah, I’m all over the board, but I’d say Chris Stapleton’s probably one of my favorites right now.

Tiongson: Yeah, he’s got a really cool, distinct voice, to say the least. So good choice for sure.

If you had the chance to talk to yourself back in, say, 2007, when you were a big race fan, liking Jeff Gordon’s efforts, Jimmie Johnson’s efforts, and you get to talk to your younger self… what would what advice would you give to your younger self about what you’ve experienced as a driver and person these last several years?

It is about the journey, not just the destination, for William Byron. (Photo: Teresa Bennink | The Podium Finish)

Byron: Don’t put so much pressure on yourself when you’re younger. I think just trying to learn is the most important thing and just try to really take it all in and learn as much as you can.

So the only way you learn is try to be comfortable and not feel all this pressure and anxiety. That’s probably what I would do.

Editor’s Notes

Special thanks to William Byron for taking time for his latest “Hot Seat” appearance. Also, special thanks to Ashly Ennis for her kindness and guidance as always.

In addition to following stories here on The Podium Finish, keep updated on William’s latest happenings via FacebookInstagram and X!

Be sure to check out William’s interview on YouTube and podcast format now!

Rob Tiongson is a sports writer and editor originally from the Boston area and resides in the Austin, Texas, area. Tiongson has covered motorsports series like NASCAR and INDYCAR since 2008 and NHRA since 2013. Most recently, Tiongson is covering professional basketball, mainly the WNBA, and women's college basketball. While writing and editing for The Podium Finish, Tiongson currently seeks for a long-term sportswriting and sports content creating career. Tiongson 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 is an alum of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and St. Bonaventure University's renowned Jandoli School of Communication with a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism.

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