By Michael Guzman, Contributing Writer
Homestead, FL – Roughly 24 hours before legends Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth take their final checkered flag, , 2017 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion William Byron and Ford EcoBoost 300 winner Cole Custer combined to display NASCAR’s youth movement did not stop with drivers such as Erik Jones and Chase Elliott.
Friday night, Christopher Bell continued to announce his presence as one of NASCAR’s future stars. Saturday evening, it was Custer posting the strongest performance of the Xfinity Series season with a perfect 150.0 driver rating while Byron battled past teammate Elliott Sadler for a dramatic third place finish that secured the title.
Byron, who faces incredibly high expectations as he enters the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series next season, knows he will be able to look back on this year as a massive stepping stone as he heads toward lofty expectations next year.
“To come here and there’s a lot more competition, you have to know what you want to see on the race car, and the races are longer,” Byron said. “It helped me understand what it takes to get from point A to point B and end the race how I want to be. (Crew Chief) Dave (Elenz) has helped with that, everyone has, and I think that’s going to be the biggest thing for me.”
“Whatever it is about his mental toughness and his ability to remain calm in a high pressure situation is going to serve him well in this job for sure,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said of Byron. “And I think that you have to give Kyle (Busch) some credit for grooming drivers like William. William has to understand what a great car feels like to know how to find it again and he has to understand what he’s looking for, what he wants in a fast car, sensations and so forth. Being able to get in Kyle’s trucks he’s certainly learned a lot. We’re really, really glad he came back.
“Some people just have ‘that’, and it’s something mentally and he’s just getting started,” Earnhardt continued. “It’s going to be impressive to watch him as he starts to get more and more confidence in himself and people around him.”
Tony Stewart, who stepped away from the driver’s seat last season, has had a front row seat this year, echoed a similar sentiment and is confident that drivers such as Byron and Custer will continue to take over the sport despite their age and limited experience.
“There’s a great crop of young guys coming into the sport. The big buzz,” Stewart explained. “Is what’s going to happen in the sport. Well, the sport is going to be just fine. There’s plenty of good talent that’s coming along that are making names for themselves that will take the places of the guys that are leaving.”