JOLIET, Illinois — 2019 proved to be a slow start to the year for William Byron.
Despite the addition of championship-winning crew chief, Chad Knaus, the No. 24 team stumbled out of the gate, with zero top-10’s in the first six races, leaving him 21st in the series standings.
However, since Martinsville, it seems as if the entire Hendrick Motorsports group has stepped up their game, including Byron. The second-year driver has scored four top-10’s and, has inched his way up to 14th in the standings, 29 points above the cutoff.
“It’s been overall good season for us,” Byron told POPULAR SPEED. “14th in points. Hopefully, improve that this weekend, and keep the upper trend that we’ve got going so far.”
In addition, to the second-year driver has unloaded off the truck fast, tallying seven top-five qualifying efforts.
So, what has been the key to the improvement for Byron?
“Just performance,” Byron said. “I mean, you got to perform throughout the stages and throughout the race to truly have a good result. That’s really been the biggest difference is the stage performances and leaving that to the race.”
Stage performance proved to be huge for the No. 24 last week at Sonoma Raceway, where the team used strategy to gain 18 points and one playoff point after winning Stage 1 and finishing third in Stage 2.
The strategy was a risk and did end up effecting Byron’s overall finish, but with the points that they earned, it proved to be worthwhile.
So, will there be more gambling for stage points before the playoffs begin? Outside of Watkins Glen and Pocono, Byron says that it’s not likely.
“It’s really only a factor with the way the stages are at the road courses, and really Pocono’s is the only other one where you can do the strategy because you don’t lose a lap based on how big the track is,” Byron said. “Other places like here, and New Hampshire, and Kentucky, you’re not going to be able to do that strategy because the track’s not big enough to not lose a lap. It really shouldn’t be a big factor in the next couple of weeks.”
While strategy earned him his first stage win, the question had to be asked of how close he believes he is to his first win.
“I hope really close,” Byron said. “You know, it’s just a matter of everything coming together. Restart strategy, pit road, the car performance, just has to all come together. So, I think we’re close though.”
This is a team that missed the playoffs last season, and if 2018 is an indication they could be in for a rough road ahead of them. During this stretch (from Chicagoland Speedway of the season last year, the team only had two top-10’s and three finishes below 30th. However, if Byron is able to keep up this same level of performance, the No. 24 should be in good shape to get back into the playoffs.
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