For the first time in his career, William Byron begins the NASCAR Cup Series postseason as the No. 1 seed with a series-leading five wins and the most playoff points.
Regardless of how the next 10 weeks play out, it has been a career year for the driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Byron has accomplished multiple firsts throughout the season, from doubling his win total from last year to leading the championship point standings.
“Starting the season, we didn’t expect to win five races, to be honest,” Byron said ahead of the start of the playoffs at Darlington Raceway. “Winning three races was kind of the goal, and as we transitioned throughout the year, the expectations got higher. There was a little slump that came with that because we started to expect to run top three or top five every week, and it’s just not possible with this car. You’ve got way too many challenges.
“I feel like we got into a good place before the playoffs to where we feel like we’re comfortable and have a good mindset. Watkins Glen just felt really good. It felt like we had the right approach.”
In four previous playoff appearances, the highest Byron was ever seeded was fifth (2022) with 14 playoff points. He finished sixth in the overall standings after making it to the Round of 8 for the first time.
Byron and Truex each have 36 playoff points at the top of the playoff grid. The Hendrick driver got the No. 1 seed based on having more wins, though. Truex won the regular-season title, which Byron fell out of contention for because of a 60-point penalty early in the year for a greenhouse violation found on his Chevrolet.
Every driver will admit that playoff points are like insurance and it’s nice to have them to fall back on. Byron is in unfamiliar territory with the amount he has, which should help make the rounds easier if the team continues to execute at a high level.
“It’s nice to have that; what would be really nice is if we build more of them,” Byron said. “Honestly, that’s where my goals come in… How do we build more playoff points? How do we go through the first round? Maybe win a stage or two. Maybe win a race if we have the pace and things line up to happen like that.
“It’d be nice to get to that 40 (playoff points) number. … Talladega is a weak track for us right now, admittedly. We didn’t feel great about how Daytona went. We finished eighth but didn’t have a lot of up-front speed, so we just have to work on Talladega. The Roval I feel good about because we just won a road course race, so it’s just hopefully a steady progression.”
That steady progression is what Byron is counting on. He believes if his team takes a step further than they did last year in the postseason, this one will be his best yet in the series.
“Last year, we had the second-best average finish in the playoffs — finished sixth in the points, we just (were) basically one race shy of making it to Phoenix with a bad qualifying effort at Martinsville,” he said. “If we can build on what we did last year and improve some of the mistakes in the Round of 8 and improve some of the qualifying errors that we had at Martinsville, I think we’d already be ahead. It’s one step at a time, but if we learn from what we did last year, we can be better yet, and last year we were right there on the edge of making the final four.”