It only makes sense that Rick Hendrick would look toward the future by signing William Byron (pictured above) to a Hendrick Motorsports development contract. After all, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is still recovering from a second notable concussion, while Jimmie Johnson is in his 40s and in the penultimate year of a multi-year contract. And then there’s Kasey Kahne, still struggling to find success at the Chevrolet powerhouse.
However, Hendrick says his signing of Byron had nothing to do with his current roster. This was simply an opportunity to sign one of the top prospects in NASCAR with Hendrick unable to pass it up.
“William has nothing to do with Dale at all,” Hendrick said. “William has all to do with our future, down the road. What’s going to happen three to five years from now, nobody knows. But Jimmie Johnson being in the last year of his contract, he plans to retire here and we plan for him to retire here.
“We’re excited about William the same way we were excited about Chase Elliott. If you don’t get someone in your pipeline when it’s time for someone to retire, then you don’t have them. I’d rather bring someone like William along so we know we have the right person for our future and our company.”
Hendrick says he first started to entertain the idea of signing Byron back in May and eventually reached out to his father, North Carolina-based financial advisor Bill Byron, to begin negotiations. Byron had previously driven for Hendrick Motorsports affiliate JR Motorsports during his Late Model career and the two sides stayed in touch even though the 18-year-old started to race in the Truck Series with Kyle Busch Motorsports (pictured).
The deal was signed last Tuesday. Byron will report to JRM next season but full-time in the Xfinity Series.
“This is an incredible opportunity to have JR Motorsports and Hendrick Motorsports support,” Byron said. “Meeting Mr. Hendrick several years ago at JRM set in a goal to someday compete for him. To have that come together was really incredible and I’m impressed and so thankful that Mr. Hendrick is investing in me and wanting to see my success with him.”
Hendrick says he sees a lot of young Jeff Gordon in Byron, regarding his maturity and poise. In fact, Hendrick placed Byron in elite company.
“Jeff Gordon was special,” Hendrick said. “Jimmie Johnson was special. Chase Elliott is special. William … I’ve known and have been amazed by him for quite some time. He’s special. There’s a fit factor with him. There is an ability to work with sponsors and all those things are critical. He has talent and can excel outside of the car. He’s amazing.”