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Byron: No. 24 Team Has New Life After Escaping Martinsville Inside Championship 4

William Byron was bubbly at NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 Media Day at Phoenix Raceway on Thursday. The 25-year-old will compete in the Championship 4 for the first time in his young NASCAR Cup Series career, so, understandably he’s a bit happy about it.

But the real reason Byron seems so happy-go-lucky is probably that after a six-win campaign, Byron nearly saw his hopes for a Championship 4 bid evaporate at Martinsville Speedway last weekend. Despite suffering through an ill-handling race car for the entire event, Byron was able to salvage a 13th-place finish, which was enough to secure him the final spot in the Championship 4.

On Thursday, Byron admitted that he wasn’t sure during points of last Sunday’s race if he’d make it to the Championship race, but he feels the race served as a wake-up call to him and his team.

“We were [nervous], no doubt. We put together such a good year. To make it all the way to Martinsville and feel like your chances are slipping away was definitely kind of demoralizing, depressing,” Byron said. “Now we have a new life for our team. This is what our goal was, to make the Championship 4. I think any team would say that. Now we feel like, I mean, we have nothing to lose.”

With nothing to lose, if Byron is able to score the championship on Sunday afternoon, he’ll be the first driver to win a NASCAR Cup Series championship in the No. 24 car since Jeff Gordon, whose slogan was Refuse to Lose, pulled off the feat 22 years ago in 2001.

For Byron, it’s a massive turnaround from his early days in the No. 24 when longtime Hendrick Motorsports fans were questioning why the team selected him for the iconic ride.

“The 24, I mean, we had some pretty rough days there,” Byron recalled. “I remember a lot of people on YouTube questioned me driving the car: I don’t know about this kid. He makes a lot of mistakes. I read all that stuff. I heard all of it. It took a while for the 24 to kind of get back to prominence in the Cup Series.

“It’s back now, so we’re winning six races a year hopefully next year and the years to come. Hopefully a lot more Final 4s.”

With so much on the line, you would expect anxiety or nervousness to once again crop up for Byron, but he says now that he is in the Championship 4, the pressure is off and he can just go to work on trying to win a championship.

“I don’t feel nervous at all,” Byron said of Sunday’s race at Phoenix. “I’ve been in these positions to win championships, albeit other divisions with Xfinity and Trucks, and before that K&N. I wasn’t nervous. I was just excited.

“I think these are opportunities you get that you look forward to. I’m 25 years old. I hope that I’ll have a lot more Final 4s. But, man, I want to get a first championship. That would be awesome. I want to do that. I’m looking at what I did in Xfinity when I raced in the Final 4, kind of dug deep and found something to win that one. I’ll be excited.”

It’s been a big year for Byron as he has scored the most wins of any season in his career this year with six. He is in the Championship 4 for the first time. It truly feels like this season has served as the springboard for what the young racer is capable of going forward.

Heading into Sunday’s race, Byron’s team has adjusted where the helmet fan will be located in his car, as his helmet fan malfunctioned last weekend at Martinsville, which added some driver discomfort on top of the bad race car.

Byron says that he received an IV on the Monday after Martinsville, and it took him a bit to recover from being overheated in the car. As a result, Rudy Fugle has opted to go with the same placement of the fan, a higher location, that Byron’s HMS teammate Kyle Larson has in his car.

You may ask why Fugle had the helmet fan mounted so low, to begin with. The answer to that question is performance.

“Every crew chief wants everything low in the car,” Byron explained. “Nothing new there. It is a little bit higher. It’s not something that we feel like is any performance. Kyle has ran it that way all year.”

Expect Byron to keep his cool, literally, and figuratively this weekend as he attempts to collect his first NASCAR Cup Series championship.

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