William Byron admits his move to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series has been a wake-up call, particularly given how close the competition is and the tools he needs to use.
“You may have your car handling well and you have 10 guys that are the same level as you,” Byron said at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. “There’s increments in the Cup Series where there’s five or 10 cars that are really equal, and it’s a margin that is small [to try and capitalize]. It’s a restart. It’s getting on pit road.
“Knowing what things I can work on is going to be critical, and knowing what I need in the racecar to be better.”
It has been a battle thus far. In Atlanta, the reigning Xfinity Series champion ran outside the top 25 early on, and had to fight for an 18th-place finish. It was the hardest, admittedly, that he’s ever worked for a top 20.
“There’s no doubt about it, it was a rough weekend,” Byron said. “We were trying to get something out of the car [and] we couldn’t get a lot of things to work. But I think you learn from those weekends and you learn what it really takes to be successful.
“The margin is so close in the Cup Series, like one adjustment and you’re instantly 10 spots worse. So, it’s important to know what those adjustments are.”
And it’s important to figure out how he can be better behind the wheel. Last weekend was the first time Byron experienced what a 500-mile race feels like. Graduating from the Camping World Truck and Xfinity Series means races at the Cup level are much longer and take a tougher toll on a driver.
Byron was prepared for these challenges, and mentally he knew coming into 2018 there were going to be difficult weekends. Before this season, he had never sat in a Cup Series car. Arriving in the premier series was fast-tracked after instant success in Trucks and Xfinity.
Seven poles. Eleven wins. Almost 1,000 laps led. An Xfinity championship. Two Rookie of the Year titles. It’s worth noting that Byron accomplished all of this in just in 57 races between the two series.
Now after two weeks in Cup, Byron is 24th in points, having finished 23rd in the Daytona 500 before his 18th at Atlanta. While the struggle and competition level has given him a new appreciation for unloading off the hauler fast, Byron is confident that things are going to turn around sooner rather than later.
And when they do, the Cup Series will begin looking awfully familiar.
“Once it clicks, it’s going to be the same as in the other series. When it clicks and you know what you need in a car, and you know how to produce that result, it [won’t] matter whether there’s 30 good cars or 20 good cars,” Byron said. “I think once it does click for us and show up each week and we’re very close to how we need to be, [we’ll] rack off those successful finishes.
“There’s a lot of stuff to work on – there’s pit road, green flag stops, the length of the races, and then learning Darian [Grubb, crew chief] and my guys to know what to do. I think we’re going to get there probably quicker than what people expect, but there’s going to be some rough patches here and there. This weekend we might surprise ourselves, but there might be some races like Martinsville and Richmond that might be tougher.”