By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
For this week’s edition of Climbing the Ladder, Seth Eggert sat down with JR Motorsports driver William Byron. Byron is a 19-year-old NASCAR Xfinity Series driver. He drives the No. 9 Liberty University / Axalta Chevrolet Camaro. Byron is campaigning for the both 2017 NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship as well as Rookie of the Year Honors.
Last year in the very first edition of Climbing the Ladder, Eggert spoke with Byron who was then competing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for Kyle Busch Motorsports. That interview can be found here.
Seth Eggert: As you moved up the ladder, how were you found by JR Motorsports?
William Byron: I started racing late models for them when I was 16-years-old. From there I went away to some different teams to do some different things to go into some series that they (JR Motorsports) didn’t have cars in. Ultimately, it leads me to be in this position to be in the Xfinity car for them this year.
I would say that it all started with the late model. Really, to continue to come back around a few years later.
SE: Last year, you told me that Kyle Busch was your mentor. Would that still be true, or would he be one of many mentors that you have now?
WB: Well, I think he is one of many. Obviously being on different teams and different manufacturers now, we don’t talk about racing. But, we still talk every now and then, we’re still friendly. He was a big help to me last year. I learned a lot from him. I’m a very competitive, very driven person, so it was a great year with him. I’ll never forget that, all of the guys that I worked with over there.
But now, transitioning over to this side of the garage, there’s not as much communication with him.
SE: You also told me that it was the competition that inspired you. Is that still the case even with the records that you keep rewriting?
WB: Yeah, absolutely. To be able to beat everyone else that’s out there. That’s kind of the motivation, and you have to try to have fun with it. But, you have to have fun yourself, trying to accomplish some of your personal goals. The best feeling is to go out there and being on top of everybody, kind of being on top of the mountain. It’s hard to stay there, but it’s good when you get there.
SE: You have had your team owners Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Rick Hendrick on top of your pit box, as well as Jeff Gordon. What does it mean to you to be continuing Gordon’s legacy?
WB: It means a lot. Obviously he (Gordon) won a ton of races in Cup obviously and Xfinity as well. Just to carry on that legacy is really special. I’ve grown a relationship with him and he’s been a big supporter of mine. I’m just very thankful that he’s supporting me, that Dale is, and Mr. H as well. I’ve got a great group around me to support me and I’m going to try to make them proud by going out there and doing the best I can.
SE: How are you preparing for next year?
WB: Just by being the best that I can be in the car right now. Obviously I’m racing right now, so I’m just trying to learn and be better than what I did last week. Just to keep progressing so that way I can be prepared. That’s just be best way to do it, to be on offense and try to go win races.
SE: How much do you lean on your teammates, Elliott Sadler, Justin Allgaier, Michael Annett, and Earnhardt for advice?
WB: I would say a lot will Elliott and Justin. I definitely lean on their expertise, talking to them about different racetracks, what we can do better as a group collectively. I think that was the case earlier in the year, and even through the mid-part of the year.
Now at this point, we’re in the Playoffs. We’re all going out there, trying to compete. Now we’re not sharing, we don’t really feel the need to coach each other now. So, I would say sharing notes, talking about our racecars, trying to make us better is what we’re doing now.
SE: With wins at nine different tracks including Daytona and Indianapolis, is there still one track that you want to win at that you have not yet?
WB: Definitely here at Charlotte. I really want to win Charlotte, it’s my home track. If I could do that, it would be super special. It’s always difficult to win here, a lot of competition. A lot of really good cars seem to come out for this race, more so than others. We’re going to have to beat them all and I think that we have the racecar to do it this weekend.
SE: You came within laps of having a chance to win a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Championship. How are you applying that experience to the Xfinity Series?
WB: I would say just keeping myself mentally in check, keeping your focus where it needs to be, giving 100 percent every week, and just going out there, and seeing what it gives you. I feel like it’s worked out really well so far.
We ran in the top-five at Kentucky, had a mishap that put us back. Then we qualified on the pole and finished third last weekend (at Dover). If we can keep that trend going, running in the top-five all day, then we’re going to be in a really good position.
SE: When people say your name, some think about iRacing. Do you think others could make the same jump, following in your footsteps, from simulations to real-world racing?
WB: I don’t know. I think if they really have the passion for it and really enjoy racing and want to be a part of it, and know how to get the most out of themselves, for sure. But, iRacing was a platform that worked for me, it doesn’t mean it would work for everybody. It definitely did work for me. I was able to learn from it and apply what I needed too to the real car. I would say that it’s different for everyone, but it’s a great platform.
SE: With how quick you climbed up the NASCAR ladder, some will compare you to drivers such as Casey Atwood, Joey Logano, among others. Is it fair for those comparisons to be made? Are you going to ignore those comparisons?
WB: I think a little bit. You know, Jeff (Gordon) came up when he was 19-years-old and was racing. I don’t know, I’m just going to take it one step at a time and focus on what’s in front of us this weekend and see where that puts us down the road.
SE: Did you ever expect to be this successful in NASCAR? Three years ago, when you were still in K&N Pro and late models, last year was trucks, did you ever dream that you would be moving up to the Cup Series this quickly?
WB: I didn’t. It’s very surreal to have it all happen this quickly. I’m very thankful for all of the people that have helped me get to this point. I feel like I am where I need to be and that I belong here, so I just try to race as hard as I can, be able to compete really hard for wins.
SE: What are your expectations for next year?
WB: It’s a little bit far away, but I’d say just to run really consistent and definitely try to win a race. If we can do that, I think we’d be right there. Those would be the two things, be consistent and win at least one race.