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William Byron: 2019 NASCAR Season Preview and Prediction

William Byron

William Byron

Coming off an Xfinity Series championship, William Byron entered the Cup series with considerable pressure on his young shoulders as he stepped into the iconic No. 24 for Hendrick Motorsports. His rookie season was a little rough, with just four top-10 runs and nine DNFs — seven of which came from crashes — leaving some wondering if Byron has what it takes to succeed in the top series with his relative inexperience.

Owner Rick Hendrick has been down this road before, though. He once had a driver who struggled through a rookie season that featured 11 DNFs due to crashes and torn-up cars. That driver turned out alright; his name was Jeff Gordon.

At 21, time is on Byron’s side. He’s shown what he can do in competitive equipment in both the Xfinity and Truck series, posting a top-5 points finish in Trucks a year before winning the NXS title. He came into Hendrick’s Cup fold at a time when the entire organization was uncharacteristically behind the curve, and he wasn’t the only Hendrick driver to underperform in 2018; his seven-time champion teammate Jimmie Johnson didn’t win a race for the first time in his career, so Byron deserves some slack.  

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That said, Byron does need to show some improvement this year. Hendrick is still one of the sport’s top teams with all the resources needed from chassis to the engine shop. One of the few remaining teams building engines in-house, Hendrick boasts power that is solid and durable. Sponsors Axalta, Hertz and UniFirst fill the slate along with longtime Byron backer Liberty University. And then there’s the new crew chief. Byron will be paired with seven-time champion crew chief Chad Knaus, who spent 17 seasons with Johnson and is often credited for much, if not most, of Johnson’s success. If Knaus can execute the same brilliance with Byron as he did with a younger Johnson, Byron should have a much better season in store.

Byron’s biggest obstacle right now is the competition. He finished last among the drivers for NASCAR’s large organizations — but ahead of most of the smaller teams — in points last year. And it’s hard to gain ground among drivers with equal equipment and more experience. Between Byron and 16th place last year were mostly drivers with years of experience and wins under their belts. It isn’t that Byron isn’t good enough to move up; it’s that everyone ahead of him is also good enough to stay there.  

If Hendrick can find something with the 2019 rules package and regain its former edge, there’s no reason Byron shouldn’t improve, especially with Knaus calling the shots. Both driver and crew chief have a lot to prove: Byron must show that he can live up to the hype in the shadow of Gordon and Johnson, and Knaus needs to prove that he hasn’t lost his touch and can succeed without Johnson in the seat. 

That’s still a question of “if” at this point, because HMS was a step behind last year, and perhaps for much of 2017 as well. But if the new rules can give the team new life, you can look for Byron to finish more races, post a few more top 10s and make gains in points. 

If that happens, then you will see the excitement around Byron’s potential come back.

Vegas Betting Odds to win 2019 Cup Championship: 60/1 (per