Being a rookie in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, many things are new to Byron. Week-in and week-out, the 18-year-old is traveling across America, something he had done previously in the K&N Pro East Series, but not to this extent. Everything is new to him, competing in what he believes is the most competitive series he’s ever run in.
Through 12 races in 2016, Byron leads the series with five victories and sits atop the point standings, 25 makers ahead of two-time series champion Matt Crafton. With his victory at Pocono Raceway, he set a record of most victories by a rookie, previously held by Kurt Busch in 1999.
“I think so, for sure,” Byron told Frontstrech. “In a rookie season, to have five wins is really neat. Our performance has been really strong for us and we’ve had a lot of speed every week.”
With the first ever Truck Series Chase for the championship looming, Byron will go into the seven-race Chase as the No. 1 overall seed and as of now, has 15 bonus points with his five victories. With his early success, the majority of the tracks on the circuit are the first time he’s ever been to the venue.
The 2015 NASCAR Next driver has never competed at Kansas, Texas or most recently, Pocono, and the No. 9 truck found its way to Victory Lane at each of those locations. From now until New Hampshire, it’s all about getting ready for the Chase for Byron.
“I think the 1.5-mile tracks are kind of our strong suit right now,” Byron said of tracks that fit his driving style. “We’ve had three wins at the mile-and-a-halves with Texas, Kansas and Kentucky. If we could get another one of those, that will be our strong suit when we go to Chicago in the fall. Hopefully, we go into Texas and Las Vegas and have good runs also.”
In his first year in one of NASCAR’s top three touring series, Byron has leaned on veterans, such as his truck owner Kyle Busch. Whenever he feels the need of help, he isn’t hesitant of calling the defending Sprint Cup champion.
Busch has 45 victories in the Truck Series, second all-time to Ron Hornaday‘s 51 triumphs. Being the owner, the NASCAR veteran has made an impact on several young drivers going through his developmental program, closely aligned with Joe Gibbs Racing. Last year, it was Erik Jones, who was mentored by Busch en route of winning the truck title.
“Kyle has been very influential,” Byron said. “I can reach out to him whenever I want. He’s always open to answer questions and that’s a really good part about our program. He helps out all the young drivers.”
While driving a Chevrolet, Byron won four victories last season in the K&N Pro East Series, winning the championship by 15 points. Just following the conclusion of his season at Dover in early October was when he knew he was ready to take the next step to the Truck Series.
“He gave me a call in October and left me a message saying ‘Hey it’s Kyle Busch,'” Byron said. “That was pretty neat to be able to talk to him like that and have him congratulate me on what I was doing back then and my opinion on running the trucks.”
2016 is Byron’s fourth season behind the wheel of a racecar. Along the way, he’s been partnered with Liberty University, where he will be attending classes in the fall.
New to the college experience, Byron expects it to be challenging to keep up with his schoolwork as well as competing at a high level in the Truck Series. However, the university and he have scheduled his classes around his racing events, making the best of both situations.
“It’s really difficult.,” Byron said of balancing the two out. “It would be a lot more difficult if I didn’t have the university and if they didn’t work around my racing for my online schooling program. They are able to schedule all my stuff around my races, and that’s the thing that’s most important. I think it’s so unique that they do that and a lot of schools don’t do that.”
As well as being a residential student on campus, Byron will continue to take classes online when he is unable to attend a course due to traveling to races until mid-November, when the season is over. Though he will be the only NASCAR driver on campus, he doesn’t want any special treatment from the rest of the student body.
But a college or university sponsoring a race team full-time is something unheard of.
“It means a ton,” Byron said of the financial backing of Liberty University. “They have fully sponsored everything since late models. When they first came on board, we weren’t sure what they were going to do, whether it was going to be a one-year deal and have to find a different sponsorship. They came on board and wanted to build it from the grass routes and want to see it at the top level. Hopefully, we can see that through and Mr. Falwell [president of Liberty University] will be really happy about that.”
Based out of Lynchburg, Virginia come the fall, Byron will have his hands full in the latter part of the NASCAR season. However, his main goal is to one day be a Sprint Cup driver, something he feels that he is well on his way to achieving.
Over the past five seasons, the generation gap in NASCAR has shifted to younger drivers. Currently, there are nine full-time drivers in the Cup Series that are under the age of 25, including Chase Elliott, who is one of Byron’s role models.
Other drivers such as Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon are all in top rides in the top series. Looking at the XFINIY Series, Jones will make the move to the Cup Series in 2017, with Daniel Suarez, Darrell Wallace, Jr. Ty Dillon and Brennan Poole waiting for an opportunity to move to NASCAR’s premier division.
“I hope so,” Byron said on if he is the leader of the generational movement. “At least I’m in the argument now with Chase and Ryan Blaney and Erik Jones. It’s good to be in that argument and hopefully solidify myself as one of the top guys in that movement.”
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