William Byron: No Ordinary 21-Year-Old

William Byron is no regular 21-year-old.

Byron, the 21-year-old from Charlotte, North Carolina, won the pole for the 61st annual Daytona 500 on Sunday. But as Chad Knaus told Fox’s Mike Yocum, “He is a man. Not a kid.”

It was business as usual for the Liberty University college student.

“It is a good first start for us, but we got a lot more to do and that starts with the Duels on Thursday.”

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Byron got his start in racing by a man named Dennis Lambert. Lambert was no slouch and challenged William but he also simplified it for him as well.

“He really helped me start my career,” Byron said. “Taught me a lot about driving. Learning from him, he was a challenge to me. He was really good in the cars and I could learn a lot from him. He made it simple and some people make it really complicated but he just made it simple for me and I think that has helped me along the way as well.”

He then moved up to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Series in 2015 where he ran the entire year with Justin Marks and Liberty University. This is the first step for many drivers that are currently in the Cup Series as they start their NASCAR career, and for Byron, it was beneficial beyond belief.

“It kinda taught me how it is to race in a big series for the first time,” said Byron. “Having some televised events and bigger tracks like Bristol, Iowa, Richmond. It kinda taught me the ropes of those tracks so I don’t forget.”

Byron racked up four wins, five top fives and he ran every single lap except for one at Winston-Salem, finishing off the year with his name above everyones on the top of the point standings.

After a K&N Pro Series East championship, it was time to take a step up as Kyle Busch Motorsports offered Byron a full ride in the No. 9 Truck with Liberty University at the helm for the 2016 season. Once again, nothing was stopping Byron as he tallied up his first win at Kansas followed by wins at Texas, Iowa, Kentucky and Pocono. Byron was neck and neck with Johnny Sauter all the way until the final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. And even though he did everything he could do (win the race, and score the most amount of points), it was just not enough as Sauter finished third and won the title by three points. That didn’t discourage Byron. In fact, the defeat did the exact opposite. It encouraged him to want it more.

With a bunch of determination, Byron took the next step toward his destination as JR Motorsports offered him the No. 9 Xfinity Series car with, once again, Liberty University, as his main sponsor. Obviously driving for the 14-time most popular driver in the highest NASCAR series, would be intimidating beyond belief for the average driver but for Byron, only just a tad.

“I mean, only a little at first,” he said. “I think you learn to block out the outside noise. What really matters is what is inside that car, what is inside that team, so if the team is really not letting it get to them I don’t let it get to me. I would say yeah, there is some added pressure but you got to make sure you live up to that by the way you do things and the way you approach things so I think you learn that over time. So, it’s about what is inside that team.”

If you didn’t believe Byron was intimidated driving for Dale Earnhardt Jr., his performance on the track didn’t tell anybody otherwise. Byron received the checkered flag first in Iowa, and seven days later captured another victory at the World Center of Racing, Daytona International Speedway. He followed that up with a win and a kiss at the yard of bricks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. When he needed to win, he succeeded by doing just that at the second to last race of the season at Phoenix and qualifying for the final 4 for the Championship at Homestead.

Nervousness? Hardly any at all. This is nothing new for Byron. Byron finished third in the race, the highest of all the drivers in the final four and won the 2017 Xfinity Series Championship.

So, what was next for Byron? Would he spend another year in the Xfinity Series or move up to Cup? He didn’t know.

There is one thing that will always advance drivers in any sport and that is winning. For Byron, that was no different, as he received the opportunity to move up to the Cup Series.

“Most opportunities came above other people by just winning,” Byton said. “You just need to win races so that is what afforded me to get this chance. That’s really what afforded me the opportunity in the Cup Series was winning and the championship and that’s kinda how it has gotten to me to this point so you really have to win to stay around.”

In what was a rough first season in the series for Byron (by his standards), he had zero wins, but it did seem like he was getting onto a streak toward the end of the year.

Now it is on to the 2019 season for the young Hendrick driver and while he returns to the same car for the season, he has a new superstar in his crew chief and that is Chad Knaus. Knuas has spent the last 17 seasons as the crew chief for Jimmie Johnson, the seven-time champ. It has since been a seamless transition between the two.

When asked if Johnson talked with Byron about working with Knaus and if he has given any advice to the young 21-year-old, Byron said, “We have talked a lot. Chad and I have talked.”

Johnson confirmed this during his media availability at the Daytona 500 Media Day, saying, “William and Chad have talked. I and William have talked. I think the situation that they are in, Chad is going to be able to bring so much to the table for William to make him grow to become the driver that he wants to be.”

What does the future hold for Byron? Time will tell. Many of his competitors agree though, that Byron is definitely one to watch.

“You look at a guy that has probably the best equipment out there in William Byron.” Casey Mears said during Media Day. “I know he sat on the pole here for Daytona. He still has a lot to prove, you know? Watching last season, I don’t think Hendrick Motorsports was really where they needed to be last year as well. I’m really curious as to how he progresses now that he has a year under his belt and hopefully the team being a little down the road.”

This year’s expectations, though?

“Yeah obviously, playoffs, wins, those are great,” said Byron, “but we got to do the work first to get there. We are going to get through the first four and five races first and then once we get through the first four and five races, hopefully we are where we want to be and we can work from there to figure out how we can get better and go from there.”

William Byron is no normal 21-year-old. He is a star in the making.

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