INSIGHT: How Byron and Fugle upped their game for 2023

Matthew Thacker/Motorsport Images

INSIGHT: How Byron and Fugle upped their game for 2023

Insights & Analysis

INSIGHT: How Byron and Fugle upped their game for 2023


William Byron trampled the field Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Byron cleared the board with both stage wins, the race win, and the most laps led (176 of 271). Who knows; had it not been for the stage breaks allowing teams the chance to try varying strategies, he could have led nearly every lap.

Hendrick Motorsports swept the top three spots with Byron, Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman. They were in their own ZIP code when they weren’t swarming around the competition. Byron and Larson in particular often separated themselves from the field.

Byron and the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team had an untouchable Chevrolet and according to the critics, they stunk up the show. But it was precisely the type of day a race team hopes for every time they hit the racetrack, and the type of day Byron and crew chief Rudy Fugle spent time in the offseason working toward.

Byron spoke in his Fox Sports television interview about the work he’d done in the simulator. With testing outlawed, simulators have become one of the most important tools for race teams, so that wasn’t out of the ordinary. But his account of all that work done and the continued drive to become a better driver rang loud.

“Honestly, it was nice to have his voice on the radio at the sim,” Byron said of the time spent with Fugle. “Just (to) work through that feedback. It’s really similar to any other sport, just going out and practicing. Getting that feedback correct.

“We felt like last year was really topsy-turvy for us. We had obviously a couple of wins, but then we were really up and down and just didn’t really understand this car quite as good as we needed to. We needed to change some of our vocabulary when we talked about this race car, (whereas) he and I have worked together in the past, and we’ve worked on cars that have a different tire and different grip levels. So we just had to change some of the words that we used and kind of talk about the car.”

The No. 24 team won two races early in 2022 at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Martinsville Speedway. Given the team’s speed on a week-to-week basis, it seemed more would come. Instead, the team cooled off during the summer and struggled to put races together, and while they got some momentum back in the postseason, they were never factors for the championship.

After a solid but inconsistent 2022, Byron and Fugle spent the winter working to streamline their communication, and got a early payoff in Vegas. Nigel Kinrade/Motorsport Images

Fugle’s focus with the offseason sim work was avoiding a repeat.

“We’re just trying to get our setups tuned in better and then try to get our knowledge for changes to what William feels and how that responds,” Fugle said. “Really (it was) just working together to solve problems. You get in the season, and it’s super hard to get in there to the simulator and put the time in that we want to. So in the offseason, we put a lot of work in through these first few races. It showed off last week, having speed right away, and then showed off this week. Hopefully, it’ll keep paying off, and we’ll keep working on it.”

Paired together in 2021, Byron and Fugle have four wins at the Cup Series level. The two aren’t unfamiliar with each other, having worked together previously during the 2016 Craftsman Truck Series season. They won seven races and might have claimed the series title had it not been for a crushing engine failure that kept them from advancing to the Championship 4.

Byron’s success in the Cup Series has increased tenfold since Fugle took over. Jeff Andrews, Hendrick Motorsports president and general manager, said it best when referencing the team’s rapport. Trust and communication, so important within a group, are not an issue with Byron and Fugle.

“That level of communication between Rudy and William has never been higher, and we commend them because they continue to work on it,” Andrews said. “They’re never satisfied with it. They worked really hard on it in the offseason. You heard William talking about how they worked in the simulator together and having Rudy’s voice in his ear during that.

“We commend them, and really all our race teams – couldn’t be more proud of the way our group, our company, is working together as a whole across four race teams. We’ve never had that. It’s never been as good as it is right now with that communication level with all four of our teams.”

Byron got the first one for the company, the offseason work giving him a big cash-out in Sin City.

“I’m just happy with getting the first win of the year,” Byron said. “It’s been a while since we’ve won. It’s been almost a year, and it’s nice to just get back to what I feel like we’re capable of. It’s been up and down, but I feel like this is what we’re capable of every week.”