William Byron continuing rapid ascension in NASCAR with JR Motorsports

Charlotte-born driver has only been in the sport for five years, but is already looking ahead to a bright future with Hendrick Motorsports

Jonathan Ferrey—Getty Images via NASCAR Media
William Byronstands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR XFINITY Series DC Solar 200 at Phoenix International Raceway on March 17

CHARLOTTE — William Byron has enjoyed more success in racing in the last five years than many racers see in their entire careers. On Saturday, he’ll return home for his first opportunity to race in Charlotte as a full-time Xfinity Series driver.Byron got his start in racing in Legends cars when he was 14 years old at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Concord Speedway. Racing around the fifth-mile oval in front of the flag stand, Byron quickly made a name for himself and climbed up the racing ladder.Three years later, he won the K&N East title before moving to the Trucks Series and eventually the Xfinity Series at 19 years old. That big of a leap doesn’t happen for a lot of drivers, with several starting in Elementary School and likely never making it to the K&N or even Trucks Series level.”I was pretty late for a racer,” Byron said. “It’s something that’s come quicker and faster than I ever could have expected. I didn’t always race, but it was something I always wanted to do. So being here, at this level, with Hendrick Motorsports is something I could’ve never imagined.”He may have been a late bloomer as a driver, but the Charlotte native grew up with a love for the sport. Throughout his childhood, Byron said he remembers going to Charlotte Motor Speedway for both races every year and often attending the All-Star Race as well.So when he was tapped by Rick Hendrick last Fall to take over the No. 9 car as a development driver for Hendrick Motorsports, Byron knew the full history behind the team and the opportunity he was stepping into.”It was really special to have that support and recognition for what I’ve done in the last year,” Byron said of signing with Hendrick. “It’s a huge blessing, huge opportunity and something I’m still really excited about. I have no idea what the future holds, but being with a team like this is not something I will ever take for granted.”Byron may be climbing up the NASCAR ladder at a rapid pace, but he has done so in rare fashion. Currently in his sophomore year at Liberty University — the main sponsor for his No. 9 Chevrolet — Byron is looking to become one of the very few NASCAR drivers with a college degree.The only current Monster Energy Cup Series driver with a college degree is Ryan Newman. He may not be at the top level yet, but Byron said balancing a full-time schedule as a driver and student is well worth the payoff he will receive later in his career.”It’s not too, too difficult scheduling-wise like it used to be when I was on campus, but I’m able to balance it out better now,” Byron said. “A college education is a great thing for me to have and helps me become independent in case this racing thing didn’t end up working out.”The grades are good, by the way. Byron said he made A’s and B’s both semesters despite driving a full season with Kyle Busch Motorsports last year and taking on a more challenging schedule with JRM in 2017.Byron didn’t just race a full season with KBM last year in the Trucks Series, he broke a record for wins by a rookie with seven. Coming off a championship season at the K&N Pro Series East level in which he won four races in 2015, Byron won Rookie of the Year honors in the Trucks Series.While Byron’s first season at one of the top three NASCAR Series was a massive success, it didn’t end with a championship. Byron was racing up front for 112 of the first 141 laps, but suffered an engine failure that caused him to drop to 27th and out of the NASCAR playoffs with just one race remaining.Byron couldn’t win the championship at Homestead-Miami, but still had something to prove. He did just that with a win in the final race of the season.”It was really difficult to watch another team celebrate a championship I felt I should’ve won,” Byron said. “It was still a great feeling to win that race and prove our strength and what we had done all season. You always want to rebound after a tough race like that, but it was still tough to know we were that close to a title.”Now with JR Motorsports, Byron currently sits third in the Xfinity Series standings heading into Charlotte this Saturday. Ironically enough, he’s also third in the JRM stable behind Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier, who are currently first and second in the standings.Byron may be looking up to both Sadler and Allgaier in the standings, but he’s considered a frontrunner for something much more coveted. With Dale Earnhardt Jr. retiring after this season, Byron has been tabbed as a possible replacement in the No. 88 for next year.Despite being just 20 years old at that point, Hendrick has taken risks on young drivers before. Just two years ago, Hendrick called upon Chase Elliott to take over the No. 24 ride and rolled the dice on Jeff Gordon at 22 in the same car.Byron is elated to be in the No. 9 car for JR Motorsports — a team owned by Earnhardt himself — but said getting to the next level as soon as possible is the ultimate goal.”Any time I can have a chance to get into the Cup Series would be an incredible opportunity,” Byron said. “But I leave those decisions up to Rick. I put full confidence in him and the team because they always make the right decisions. They are championship proven.”I would love to be in the Cup Series, whether that’s next year or a few years down the road. I definitely feel like I’m ready. I don’t know when it will be, but I trust that the right decision will be made.”