Having not yet worked in a race environment with his new driver, Chad Knaus doesn’t have a full understanding of where William Byron stands going into this season.
“But man, to this point it’s been really pretty seamless,” said Knaus. “Nothing has really been shocking. Nothing has really been smack you in the face, ‘oh my gosh, this is going to be a hurdle.’ He’s really exactly what I had been expecting and hoped for at this point.
“He’s been great. He’s been driving his go-karts, he’s been working out, he’s been training, he’s fitting in with the team, he’s interacting with the team, he’s been here for pit stop practice a couple of times, been here for meetings. He’s done a good job thus far. Real excited about that.”
Knaus made the highly publicized move away from the No. 48 team after 17 seasons, 81 wins and seven championships. With the No. 24 and Byron, there’s a bit of déjà vu as Knaus again feels like he is building something from the beginning with a young driver and having assembled a new team.
It has been a short but busy offseason as Knaus and Byron, who’s going into his sophomore Cup Series season, work on their comfort level among other things. In addition to meetings, team events, pit practices, and dinners, getting used to their communication has been one focus. Whatever Knaus has asked Byron to do, the young driver has done it.
From Byron’s side, working with a seven-time championship-winning crew chief can certainly be intimidating. In meetings, Byron says he knows he must speak up to ensure he gives everything needed and not be “too in your feelings when you’re talking to him … making sure you’re staying objective.”
Still, being paired with someone as successful as Knaus brings the pressure of performing. But Byron is used to that.
“I felt a lot of pressure driving for Kyle Busch and driving for Dale [Earnhardt] Jr. and then driving for Hendrick Motorsports,” he said. “I think the first year was harder in each of those situations, so now, I know the environment around here, and I’m just looking forward to getting out on the track and racing.”
While Byron says there haven’t been many conversations about going out and winning this season, it is everyone’s expectation. A sixth-place finish in the July Pocono race was the best Byron and company did last season, and of all the offseason work, Knaus pointed to his driver’s confidence as an area he knew needed to be addressed.
“He’s moved up so quickly through every division at such a rapid pace and then to get into the Cup Series, kind of have a subpar season by his standards … knowing we need to help him with his confidence and show him that we’re doing everything that we can and need to do to get him the vehicles and the team that he needs to be supported and go out there and be competitive,” said Knaus.
“That’s one thing that we needed to work on. We hit that pretty hard. Unfortunately, we don’t know the fruits of our labor until we get to the racetrack and see how it goes.”