One year ago, not many people in the NASCAR world knew who William Byron was. He had just become the K&N Pro Series East champion, winning the 2015 title.
In one year of competition in the Camping World Truck Series while driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports, he became one of the most popular names in the garage.
The Charlotte native dominated the majority of the Truck Series season, winning a series-high seven races, which broke Kurt Busch‘s record for victories by a rookie. He was out front for 727 laps, the most in 2016. The No. 9 truck also had 11 top five-finishes and 16 top 10s.
If it weren’t for a blown engine with 12 laps to go in the penultimate race of the season at Phoenix International Raceway, a race where Byron led 112 of 150 laps, he would have moved onto the championship race. He won the season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, awarding Kyle Busch Motorsports the Owner’s championship.
In August, JR Motorsports announced that it signed Byron to race full-time in the XFINITY Series in 2017. Though he had 11 races remaining with KBM at the time of the announcement, the term excited came up as for his future plans.
“People are caught off-guard when I say I haven’t even thought about next year when the season was going on,” Byron said at the Camping World Truck Series Award Banquet. “We were so focused on this year and our goals. We ended the year off with a win, which I think is the best feeling for us.”
Byron previously drove for JR Motorsports in 2014 and 2015, winning two races. He has a relationship with team owner’s Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Kelly Earnhardt-Miller, also bringing excitement to his camp.
“I feel like it’s a coming home party a bit,” Byron said. “When I see Kelly and Dale, it feels cool because I can talk about how far I’ve been since then and they know that too. The ultimate goal for me when I started racing late models was so that I could race an XFINITY Series car there. In a weird way, I got back to that and it’s going to be really cool to return next year.”
Byron believes that spending just one full-time season in the Truck Series before making the jump to the XFINITY Series has some benefits due to everything he learned under truck owner Kyle Busch.
He also knows that moving up to the next level of the NASCAR touring division will be difficult, especially because he will be competing in many events against Cup Series regulars.
“Kyle was telling me that you’ll at least not win 10 of them because he will be in 10 of them,” Byron said. “It’s going to be really cool to race people like Kyle Busch, my mentor this year. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is going to be in some races. It’s going to be awesome to race some of the Cup guys. I can’t wait. It’s going to be a nice step up and I’m looking forward to it.”
Though Byron is looking forward to the jump, there are many unknowns several weeks into the NASCAR off-season. Byron is unsure of who will be atop the pit box in 2017. No car number has been released yet, either. What he does know is there will be a plethora of current and former premier series drivers on his team.
“I haven’t even been to the shop, so I have to get over there as quick as I can and meet some of those guys and see what Mr. Hendrick wants me to do and what Dale and Kelly feels is the best fit as well,” Byron said. “I’m going to take their lead, but also judge from my experience this year and get someone that I really like.”
After making it to the Championship 4 at Homestead, Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier return to JRM, hopeful of winning a championship. Michael Annett is moving to the XFINITY Series to pilot the No. 5 machine and Earnhardt, Kasey Kahne, among others will be behind the wheel of the No. 88 car.
Liberty University will sponsor the car for 12-16 races. Byron is unsure of other sponsors, but 12-time Cup Series championship car owner Rick Hendrick assured him, he would be taken care of.
As far as moving to the Cup Series is concerned, Byron will follow suit of what Hendrick says.
“I have no idea,” Byron said. “As long as it take me to learn and as long as I can. I’m going to follow the steps that Mr. Hendrick wants me to take.”