By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
SONOMA, California — William Byron is still trying getting used to Sonoma Raceway as he’ll make his second start at the now 2.52-mile circuit this Sunday.
Even if it’s his second Cup rodeo, Byron learned right away that launching into the corners in “The Carousel” will be key, but his biggest surprise from the two practice sessions on Friday was the amount of grip being different than last year where he finished 25th.
“I’m surprised how much grip the track has lost in areas that we still run. It’s not as black as it was last year,” said Byron. “I feel like there’s less grip up the hill into Turn 1, which is kind of interesting and the track was really dirty to start. Had to clean that up and guys were throwing rocks and stuff in the groove to.
“It was different every lap. Some guy would go through there and throw a dust storm up and kind of peak through where you’re going, but that’s part of it.”
Road course racing requires a lot of patience and the technical track is no different, with Byron explaining that if a competitor doesn’t have the patience, the confidence levels will suffer and resulting a poor run.
“I mean, it’s really tough because you have to be really patient and really confident. Usually, you’re not patient if you’re not confident in what you’re doing,” Byron explained. “You don’t know exactly how deep you should get into the braking zone or how hard you should be on the gas. You have to be really confident here to be successful I think and be really patient. It’s closer to a short track than any of the road courses we run. You got to be extremely good on the throttle and tire management.”
Byron heads into the Toyota/Save Mart 350 14th in points, which puts him in an excellent yet tough spot on making the 16-driver playoffs. With 15 races down, last year’s Sunoco Rookie of the Year winner already has four top-10s, the same he had last year in 36 races. Not only that, he has three poles including the Daytona 500 in February.
This is due in most part with the tremendous chemistry Byron has with seven-time championship winning crew chief Chad Knaus. Byron explained that he’s been surprised how open Knaus has been and willing to help him out to get the most out of his No. 24 Hertz Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.
“He’s really open and honest with me about what were going to face when we get here,” Byron on Knaus. “He always asks me what he can do to help and what things can help me. I’ve been surprised how vocal he’s been and how much we communicate during the week. I think that’s all good for us.”
Their communication was apparent as Byron further elaborated on an example where they’ve discussed what Byron wants in order to perform well at Sonoma.
“He just texted me and said ‘Hey, I want to get out there’, so we stopped and he got in the passenger seat,” said Byron. “Really, he just wants to learn what the car feels like, what I’m asking the car to do and where I want the car to work really well. I think it has helped us this weekend because we know exactly where we want our car to perform well.”
“I would run a lap or so with him and then we’d slow down and talk about it. Talk about each corner and go through exactly what I felt like I needed in each one. I thought it was really good for us to do that and I think it’s just going to help. It kind of makes it more relatable for him when we are talking about the car. He even admitted that it helped just understanding what makes speed and what’s going to make us successful.”
Qualifying for Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will commence at 3:10 pm EST as the 21-year-old eyes for a fourth Busch Pole Award. Byron ended up 14th in opening practice, but improved in the final session and wound up seventh quickest.