William Byron knows how to win NASCAR national series races, but it’s been over a year since he’s gone to victory lane.
The Monster Energy Cup Series sophomore hasn’t had much time at the front of the field at NASCAR’s top level. In 44 career starts, Byron has five top-10 finishes with a career-best sixth at Pocono (2018) and Texas (two weeks ago).
On Friday at Richmond Raceway, the 21-year-old North Carolinan was asked if he’s ever struggled with his confidence, and if so, how he combats his doubts.
“Obviously, it’d be great to get in something and win,” Byron said. “It’s been a while since I’ve won, so that’s definitely hard because race car drivers need to win. But, honestly, I do other things, whether it’s going to the karting track or iRacing or just anything that I can do to get in a car and win or have a good result.
“But yeah, you’ve ultimately got to know you’re doing all you can and keep going in that direction.”
Nov. 11, 2017, is when Byron was last a winner. It came at ISM Raceway (Phoenix) in the Xfinity Series where he would be crowned champion a week later. That was a four-win season for Byron, which followed seven wins the year prior in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series. If one wanted to go back further, to 2015, Byron won four races en route to the K&N Pro Series East title.
Byron admits he goes back and watches some of those old races from Xfinity and Trucks where his days were a little sunnier. In doing so, Byron tries not to doubt that he can get the job done “any day of the week.”
Naturally, things are harder in the premier series. Coming off a Rookie of the Year campaign in which he had four top-10 finishes, Byron now is working with seven-time Cup champion Chad Knaus as Hendrick Motorsports shook things up during the offseason, looking to change direction for all its teams.
Of all the things Byron has noticed since being paired with Knaus, it’s how the crew chief calls a “great race” and makes good strategic decisions. Byron said he never has to worry about those things. During the week and leading into a race weekend, Byron said he talks more with Knaus than he has any other crew chief he’s had.
“Gosh, I think he’s just trying to figure out ways that we can improve the cars and also the communication,” said Byron. “When you’re not where you want to be, you definitely have to communicate a lot more to get there. He’s not shy about giving me a call and asking my opinion on stuff, and vice versa.”
Improvement has been there, if only slightly. Byron has already qualified inside the top 10 four times in eight races this season (he did so seven times in all of ’18), including winning the pole for the season-opening Daytona 500 and then two consecutive front row starts in Texas and at Bristol. But a sixth-place finish at Texas is Byron’s best this year.
“It’s [getting] better,” Byron said. “Qualifying has been better for us the last couple of weeks. Texas was a better result. So, I mean, I think it’ll hopefully improve. We’ve still got some work to do. But hopefully, as we get to Kansas and some of these places, we can improve for sure.”