Friday, March 24, 2023

William Byron Riding Solid Strength Heading Into Third Consecutive NASCAR Playoff Run

William Byron, driver of the #24 Axalta Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, celebrates his victory Sunday, February 28, 2021, after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Dixie Vodka 400 on the Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)

It was nearly this time one year ago that William Byron captured his first NASCAR Cup Series win in Daytona, returning the No. 24 back to its winning glory.

It was his only win of the season, with Team No. 24 making it to the Round of 12 of the championship, finishing the season in 14th.

Then in October, Hendrick Motorsports announced the reuniting of Byron and his 2016 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series crew chief, Rudy Fugle.

Almost instantly, the eyes were shifting towards the rekindling of the duo. Fugle and Byron joined together for seven truck series wins in 23 starts with Kyle Busch Motorsports.

It took only three races of the 2021 Cup Series season before Byron found himself in victory lane for the first time in five years with Fugle on top of the pit box.

Compared to his 2020 season, Byron is almost a completely different driver underneath the helmet.

After 22 starts last season, the North Carolina driver failed to finish in the top five once but notched six top 10 finishes and leading 72 laps.

Compare that to 22 races into the 2021 season; the difference is staggering. One win at Homestead, accompanied by 8 top-five finishes, 14 top 10’s, and 245 laps led. 11 of his top 10 finishes came consecutively, starting at his win in Miami to his fourth-place finish at Dover.

His top-10 consecutive streak is the longest since Jeff Gordon, during the 4-time champion’s impressive 2007 season.

The “Fugle Effect” is prominent in Byron’s fourth full season in the Cup Series.

Hendrick Motorsports as an organization is already putting up what is sure to be their best season statistically since the introduction of the Gen 6 race car.

After 88 races this season between all four drivers, Hendrick Motorsports has visited victory lane ten times, accumulating three poles thanks to the performance matrix and 34 top-five finishes. Even for being in the middle of the season, HMS is only four shy of beating their largest amount of top fives in an entire season since 2015.

Currently sitting third in points, Byron’s skillset at the final four tracks of the regular season vary in performance.

Driver No. 24 only has two starts at the Glen, with a best of eight in his Cup debut at the road course. He has never raced at the Indy road course but does have one win at the hallowed grounds of the Brickyard during his Xfinity time with JR Motorsports in 2017. Byron has six starts at Michigan, with one top ten and five finishes In the top 20.

Statistically speaking, Daytona, the site of his first Cup win, Β is one of the worst tracks on his record. A win and a second-place finish at the World Center of Racing is a positive, but take those away, and the stats are not in Byron’s favor. Three DNF’s and a best finish of 21st showcase that the odds could be stacked against him.

Luckily, thanks to his win at Homestead, Byron is locked into the NASCAR playoffs for the third consecutive season and could very well record his best points finish of his Cup career.

Byron’s stellar performance comes at a time where the 23-year-old is displaying impressive focus, even with a concerning hurdle appearing.

Byron’s mother Dana was diagnosed with MALT Lymphoma earlier this year, and Driver No. 24 has shared his mother’s story on social media.

After months of treatment, Dana’s tumor is no more, giving a sigh of relief to Byron and his fans.

His attention can now turn to his quest for his first NASCAR Cup Series title and settle some unfinished business between lady luck and the duo. Fans will recall the dominant 2016 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title run that ended tragically after an engine failure at Phoenix, one race shy of the season finale at Homestead. Instead, Byron and Fugle had to settle for what would be a second-best finish.

Byron is in his best position yet in the Cup Series to have his name etched in NASCAR Cup Series history, with Fugle by his side.

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