William Byron pulled the rookie stripe off his Chevrolet at the end of last season, but the 21-year-old is again about to experience something new.
With a race to spare, Sunday afternoon at Indianapolis (2 p.m. ET, NBC), Byron has locked up a spot in the playoffs. It will be his first appearance in the postseason after finishing 23rd in the points while winning Rookie of the Year last year.
“I’m excited,” Byron said of the playoffs. “I don’t really know what to do or what to expect or anything, but obviously, having been in the series last year and having seen the way that the races played out, it’s just all about getting down to business and pretty much doing the same thing that you’ve been doing to get here and just try to eliminate mistakes.
“I’m going to try to definitely have really clean races and that starts this weekend for us — just trying to build the momentum for it and make sure we execute a good race.”
Not making mistakes is what Byron anticipates being the key to success in the postseason. Looking ahead to some of the upcoming races, like the first race next weekend in Las Vegas, the Hendrick Motorsports driver expects a tighter race this time around compared to the spring event. The first elimination race on the Charlotte road course then the Martinsville short track are the challenges Byron expects.
With four top-10 and two top-five finishes, Byron is having a career year in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. At 13th in the standings, he and crew chief Chad Knaus — who he was paired with to begin the year — have made progress in all areas, including Byron scoring his first four poles and leading over double the number of laps he did a year ago.
In fact, return visits to these tracks with Knaus is what Byron is looking forward to.
“I think anywhere we’ve been and then go a second time, like Vegas and Richmond come to mind, and that third round, Texas, would be a good track for us,” said Byron. “I think and Kansas would be good too because we’ve been there already this year. Anywhere that Chad and I go for the second time is going to pay off.”
Before the playoffs, however, Byron has the chance to sweep the pole for all four crown jewel events this season with qualifying Sunday morning. Byron already scored the pole for the Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 and Southern 500. Should he do the same for Indianapolis, Byron would be the first driver to have swept the poles for all four races in a season.