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In year of struggles, Charlotte native William Byron has NASCAR honor within reach

In year of struggles, Charlotte native William Byron has NASCAR honor within reach
18 Jul
1:45

There have been moments — perhaps not as many as he’d like, but still flashes — when William Byron has it all figured out.

Like at Daytona in July, for instance, when Byron led 12 laps before getting caught up in someone else’s wreck. Or at Phoenix in March, when he led 15 laps and finished 12th, still his second-best of the season.

Of course the Charlotte native would love for those efforts to come with more consistency, but now 19 races into his rookie season in the NASCAR Cup Series, Byron can at least appreciate those feats and what it took to acheive them.

“It’s going well. I feel like the last 10 races or so, I have a lot better idea of what I need in the car,” Byron said Tuesday at Charlotte Motor Speedway during testing for the new Roval course. “I feel like right now, it’s just all short-term thinking.”

Byron, who doesn’t turn 21 until after the season, is the youngest regular Cup Series driver on the circuit, but his accolades far outweigh his age. He won the Xfinity Series championship last year in his lone season at that level, and now drives for one of the sport’s largest teams, Hendrick Motorsports.

But all that success doesn’t mean Byron isn’t always still looking for ways to improve.

“I’ve had to learn faster,” Byron said of the comparison between Cup and other levels of racing. “I think learning quicker, but also being the right leader for your team, how to get the most out of your equipment each week is really important.”

Byron is 22nd in the standings, several spots out of playoff contention but still in the lead for Rookie of the Year honors (his chief competitor, Bubba Wallace, is 25th). It would take a tremendous upset for him to realistically make the playoffs this season, but that isn’t to say the rest of this year is for nothing.

Far from it.

Instead, Byron sees the last 17 races as an opportunity. To get better on the track, yes, and to study the courses he is less familiar with (like the Roval, where he later crashed on Tuesday), but also to continue building his entire life as a professional race car driver.

Say, like learning to manage his limited free time.

“I feel like during the week, I really try to get away,” Byron said. “I try to get everything that I want to accomplish done, so that when the weekend comes I’m through with it and don’t have to worry about it.”

And while one of his off-track passions, golfing, is also a favorite of fellow Cup drivers Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Byron said he hasn’t joined in with their golf outings just yet. He still values spending time with his friends from home and Liberty University. Keeping some semblance of distance between his NASCAR life and his personal one, if you will.

“I try to keep my friends from college,” he says with a grin, “away from NASCAR a little bit.”

Byron says his goals for the remainder of the season are to continue finishing races and finishing in the Top 10 when possible. Again, he knows it isn’t an every week thing like it was for him back in the Xfinity Series.

Even at 20 years old, the man is a realist.

“It’s the Cup Series,” Byron said. “It’s always going to be hard, right?”

Source: https://www.charlotteobserver.com/sports/nascar-auto-racing/thatsracin/article215028475.html

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