Even though he’s just 22 years old, William Byron is in his third full-time NASCAR Cup Series season. He hasn’t made it to victory lane yet at the sport’s top level, and driving for Hendrick Motorsports, there’s going to be unavoidable pressure to remedy that if he doesn’t get that first win fairly soon.
In iRacing, though, it’s a different story. Byron has won hundreds of races, often against people as proven at sim racing as he is. When it comes to the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series, Byron is supposed to win.
It’s a much different set of circumstances, but any monkey the Charlotte native was carrying on his back is now gone as he smoked most of the field in the Food City Showdown at virtual Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend. With the race lasting just 150 laps — mercifully, as it turned out, given the frequent cautions — Byron was out front for 116 of them, and never really got challenged in the closing laps.
During his post-race conference call, he admitted to feeling a bit more pressure to win given his vast iRacing experience.
“I’d say so, yeah, just because people are all like, ‘oh this is your thing’ and all that,” Byron said. “I think the first week that kind of showed. I was a little bit overaggressive knowing who I was going to race. This week I just tried to be patient, and it worked out pretty good.”
That calmness was a stark contrast to the majority of the other drivers, who started wrecking early and never really stopped. Daniel Suarez and Kyle Larson both got parked for repeated clashes under green and yellow flags, and there was a definite sense that despite the increasing attention being given to the Pro Invitational Series, maybe not everyone was taking it at the same level of seriousness.
Not so for the eventual race winner, who finds it helpful to approach each sim race the same way he would a normal NASCAR event.
“It’s for fun, so I get that part of it, but for me mentally, I try to treat it as a race when the race is going on,” Byron said.
There was also at least a small question about whether Byron had any lingering resentment over the end of the previous Pro Invitational Series event at Texas. Despite leading late, he was bumped out of the way by Timmy Hill, who went on to claim the checkered flag himself.
Winning cures a lot of what ails anyone, however, and doing so when you are one of the perceived favorites might just fix everything.
“I got over it pretty quick,” Byron said. “It was just frustrating because we hadn’t closed one yet, and we had led the most laps, so to finally close the deal this week was really awesome. It’s cool to see the hard work finally pay off.”