NASCAR: After bittersweet season, William Byron ready to take next step – Charlotte Observer

William Byron dominated NASCAR’s Truck Series regular season in 2016, winning a rookie-record five races. That success carried over into the playoffs, where he won at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in the first race of the postseason.

Things continued to go well for Byron, a rookie who had only graduated from Charlotte Country Day earlier in the year. He stayed at or near the top of the points standings throughout the playoffs.

Then Phoenix happened.

After leading 112 of the first 141 laps, the engine in Byron’s No. 9 Toyota gave way. Byron would finish 27th, dropping him out of the top four in the standings and out of contention for the championship the following week at Homestead-Miami Speedway, a race he would win but would mean nothing in the title picture.

I’m learning how important it’s going to be to keep cars in one piece early in the season so we’ll have the strongest equipment when we get to the summer stretch. William Byron

“That was an unfortunate situation last year,” Byron said recently. “But we can’t really look at it that way. We’ll have to carry over what we learned and go on from there.”

Byron, 19, has moved up to the Xfinity Series this season, a rapid rise for a driver who only began racing when he was 14 out of his home in southeast Charlotte. Two years ago, he won NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series East championship, then moved to the Truck Series in 2016, where he was so clearly dominant for much of they season.

Now, driving a Chevy for JR Motorsports (in partnership with Hendrick Motorsports), Byron has taken another quick leap.

“I’m learning how important it’s going to be to keep cars in one piece early in the season so we’ll have the strongest equipment when we get to the summer stretch,” Byron said.

Byron said he’s been getting a lot of help from JRM teammate and veteran Elliott Sadler, as well as Hendrick Cup drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Chase Elliott.

One thing remains the same for William Byron: he’s still a student at Liberty University in Virginia, where he is in the middle of his sophomore year.

“They’re helping me learn how to manage the entire season,” Byron said. “But I’ve also got my own experience now (from Trucks), going to the same racetracks again and having good results.”

One thing remains the same for Byron: he’s still a student at Liberty University in Virginia, where he is in the middle of his sophomore year. The school will also continue to sponsor him for 17 of 31 races this season.

Byron said his experience at college allows him to live a normal lifestyle, something that might not be easy for a rising NASCAR star.

“Honestly, people don’t notice me that much,” Byron said. “I’ll walk through the courtyard outside and nobody really knows who I am. It’s a reality check to go through school like a normal kid.”

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