William Byron is quietly having one of the best seasons to date in the NASCAR Cup Series. Is he a legit championship contender right now? – Kyle U., Lincoln, Nebraska
In a word: yes. Byron has 10 straight top-10 finishes this season, breaking Jeff Gordon’s previous record in the same numbered car at the same organization. He also is doing so at 23 years old, setting the record for age as well.
Byron’s average finish this year is 9.7 and he already has a win at Homestead-Miami Speedway, regarded as a driver’s racetrack (even with the 550-horsepower package) and has been in the shadow of Mr. Consistency, Denny Hamlin, this season. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be paying attention to him.
Remember those first couple years of underperformance from Byron? He finished 23rd in points as a rookie, jumped into the playoffs for his sophomore season and scored his first win last year at Daytona International Speedway. It’s just taken some time for Byron to gel with Hendrick Motorsports and for the organization itself to get their equipment right. Oh, by the way, grabbing the crew chief from Byron’s incredible Camping World Truck Series season in Rudy Fugle didn’t hurt matters, either.
It’s no secret Byron and Fugle are a dynamic duo. Seven wins in one year (with a blown engine ruining their chances at a championship) and then *poof* the twosome was separated. Fast forward half a decade and they’re back together.
Yesterday was a fun challenge at Darlington. Honored to carry the Neil Bonnett @Valvoline throwback. Loved the number design. We came home 4th, proud of that considering how tough a place this is. We’ll build for next time when we come back! pic.twitter.com/KrmgTVKqya
— William Byron (@WilliamByron) May 10, 2021
Chad Knaus moving off Byron’s pit box to a senior role at Hendrick has helped, too. He said as much earlier this season on the Frontstretch Podcast.
Kyle Larson has the most speed at Hendrick, but the same amount of wins as Byron to show for it. Byron has more consistency and has been racking up stage points like the quiet, baby-faced assassin he is. He may not be the sexy pick (and it’s entirely too early) but the Hendrick Motorsports driver is definitely a title contender at the moment.
With the result of Sunday’s race at Darlington, do you think NASCAR will go back to the 550-horsepower package for the Southern 500 in the playoffs? – Josh K., Reno, Nevada
*sighs* I really, really wish this wasn’t the main topic of conversation this week. But here we are.
Not every race is going to be a barnburner. If you’re reading this article, you probably know, understand and have lived this phenomenon for years. This Mother’s Day, May 9 wasn’t a great race. It was fine, an enjoyable Sunday afternoon watching 40 of the world’s best stock car drivers wheel it around one of the most unique tracks in the world.
The reason fans are so split between “this was so boring” and “that’s real racing” is because you want what you can’t have and you only realize a good thing once it’s gone.
If the 750-horsepower package had been a mainstay at all 36 races, we wouldn’t miss it and look forward to when it comes back on a limited basis. But because it isn’t prevalent in the top echelon of motorsports anymore, it’s enjoyed (by most) when it comes back.
Personally, drivers slipping and sliding, tires wearing out, feathering the throttle and the best drivers and cars rising to the top of the leaderboard is what I like to see. Not to say I don’t like the type of racing with the 550-HP package, but again, the reason I liked what I saw Sunday was because we don’t see it often.
NASCAR isn’t going back to the 550-HP package (that was in effect at Darlington last year for all three races) for the Southern 500 later this fall. I’d be shocked if they did. Not because they necessarily loved what they saw Sunday, but because continually changing rules during the season ain’t it, chief.
Who’s to say what the specifics of the package at certain tracks will look like for 2022 and beyond with the Next Gen car, but regardless, some races will have good drivers, in good cars, with good teams, spanking the field, just like Martin Truex Jr. did on Sunday.
Learn to live with it and learn to appreciate driver’s full talents being shown when applicable … like on Sunday. It doesn’t have to be so in your face every week. Find beauty in the struggle.
This week on TikTok
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— Davey Segal (@DaveyCenter) May 12, 2021
About the author
Davey is in his fifth season with Frontstretch and currently serves as a multimedia editor and reporter. He authors the "NASCAR Mailbox" column, spearheads the site's video content and hosts the Frontstretch Podcast weekly. He's covered the K&N Pro Series and ARCA extensively for NASCAR.com and currently serves as an associate producer for SiriusXM NASCAR Radio and production assistant for NBC Sports Washington. Follow him on Twitter @DaveyCenter.