By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Editor’s note: Motorsports Tribune will be previewing the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season for the full-time drivers in the series leading into February’s running of the Daytona 500.
Years in Cup: Two
Career Wins: Zero (Four in Xfinity and Seven in Trucks)
Accomplishments: 2017 Xfinity Series Champion
Stability is finally part of William Byron’s vocabulary and it’s for good reason as 2019 marked his fourth full season on the NASCAR national tour and second in the Cup Series, the first time he’s competed in a national series in consecutive years.
However, the center of focus wasn’t necessarily Byron needing a strong sophomore season after quite an underwhelming learning curve that was 2018. The focus starting off was his new crew chief Chad Knaus, who was calling the shots that wasn’t Jimmie Johnson for the first time since Stacy Compton in 2001.
The pairing of Byron and Knaus raised a lot of eyebrows as to how much better the 22-year-old will fare after quickly successfully jumping up the ranks on a yearly basis. End result was beyond captivating, especially when it came to qualifying.
Byron started off the season with a bang by qualifying on pole for the Daytona 500 and while he got collected in a multi-car crash late in the race, it would be far from the last time he shined on the grid.
The No. 24 Chevrolet would win four more poles, including the Coca-Cola 600 and Southern 500 – some of the sport’s iconic races. Byron’s five poles was one shy of Kevin Harvick from being the Busch Pole Award leader.
As for race performance, it was a game of ping pong where Byron either scored top-10s while leading several laps in some races or floundering around mid-pack. That would change once Byron finally scored his maiden top-five at the July Daytona race where he ended up one spot behind Justin Haley from winning.
From that point on, Byron produced stronger results with a pair of fourth-place results at Pocono and Indianapolis. Those performances contributed into Byron making the playoffs for the first time in his career.
Byron would continue to flourish in the playoffs with a sixth at the Roval, but a crash in the Round of 12 race at Talladega (his first DNF since the Daytona 500) dashed his hopes of being a potential dark horse title contender.
While that goal was over, Byron’s next two races were an indication of great things to come in 2020 as he finished fifth at Kansas followed by equaling his career-high of second at Martinsville.
When asked about his season at Texas, Byron credited Knaus for getting him in the right direction as he went from being a mid-pack team to a top-10 season contender.
“A lot of credit goes to Chad for that and the people he’s put around me,” Byron said. “I feel like we’ve really elevated the performance of this team and giving it a good vibe. I’m just excited for what’s ahead for us. I think if we can keep the same group of guys intact for a while, we’ll be really strong.”
While the last three races weren’t what the No. 24 team would’ve liked, Byron’s sophomore year was a drastic improvement as he had five top-fives, 13 top-10s and finished 11th in points, up 12 spots from his rookie year.
Byron said that the playoffs showcased the team’s weaknesses, but also made the most of the accomplishments they were able to provide.
“The whole process of the playoffs really exposes the weaknesses in your team even if it makes you focus on the little things that make you successful,” Byron said. “I think we learned a lot about our team and our pit crew, and we learned a lot about our cars and how strong they are. We competed in really the top 10 for most of the playoffs and that was strong. We kind of learned some of our weaknesses, too, and I think we are going to address them for next year.”
Now heading into his third Cup season, a win is no doubt on the horizon and if he were to be in position to get his maiden win, it won’t be dirty per say but knows something has to give for the sake of the team that hasn’t won since Indianapolis in 2017 when they were the No. 5 team.
“I’m not going to race someone dirty. But, at this point, I’m just trying to get my first win and trying to break the seal is going to be really important to me and my team,” Byron said. “I definitely have to be conscience of the Playoff guys and making sure I don’t interfere with that. At the same time, I’m here to race and try to win. If I get the opportunity to try to win, then I’m going to go for it.”