William Byron being crowned the NASCAR Cup Series champion Sunday at Phoenix Raceway would be “a huge story” according to team owner Rick Hendrick.
Byron, at 25 years old, would be the fourth-youngest Cup Series champion in history. It’s been a career year, as Byron leads the series with six victories and in top-10 finishes and was the No. 1 seed when the postseason started.
“I think William Byron’s story, in general, is just a very impressive one,” Hendrick said. “The fact that he has had the kind of year he’s had, and if he can go out there and win the championship at his age and his level of experience in the sport, shows his talent and Rudy’s [Fugle] talent and their chemistry.”
Hendrick signed Byron, then 18, in 2016, and a year later, he won the Xfinity Series championship with JR Motorsports. In 2018, Byron took over the famed No. 24 car and won Rookie of the Year honors in the Cup Series.
But it was slow going in Byron’s first few seasons. Not until Fugle arrived in 2021 did things pick up. Byron claimed second career win early in the year and then posted a single-season high in top-10 and top-five finishes. Those numbers have since been eclipsed, as has the number of victories Byron has earned in a single season (last year was the first time he won multiple races).
Hendrick praised Byron’s maturity and how far he’s come in a short time. And even though Byron has been one of the best drivers this season, Hendrick feels he’s flown a bit under the radar.
“Nobody has talked about him a lot,” Hendrick said.
It’s not just numbers and talent that have Hendrick believing a Byron triumph would be a good story.
“I think William is a good poster guy for a lot of young people that have ambitions to be in racing or any sport; that you want to work as hard as he’s worked to get there with not a whole lot of help from a lot of different people,” Hendrick said. “He did it on his own. He knew what steps he needed to take, and he did it, and super confident in his ability and just a good person, too. A guy that represents the sponsors well, squeaky clean but aggressive when he needs to be, and just a good person.
“You don’t have to apologize for anything with him, and I think that’s one of the reasons he’s kind of been under the radar. He’s not outspoken. He doesn’t run his mouth. He doesn’t go out and rough people up. He’s done it in a very professional way, and I think it would be a tremendous story if a kid that started at 14 or 15 years old on a computer can end up marching through the Truck Series and Xfinity Series and then the Cup Series and cap off a year where he won more races than anybody did and win the championship. I think it would be a really great story for NASCAR and a lot of the fans.”