William Byron has had the rookie tag for a long time. He hasn’t raced like a typical rookie over that time — winning the K&N Pro Series East title in 2015, claiming seven victories in the Truck Series in 2016 and becoming the Xfinity Series champion in 2017 — but his quick rise through the ranks means he hasn’t stuck around in the same series for very long.
The 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season marks the first time in six years that the Charlotte, North Carolina, native will do a repeat series, giving Byron the luxury of not having to adjust to a new level for the first time in a while.
“I feel like last year we weren’t sure what to expect going into Daytona,” Byron said. “So now we have a full year with our equipment, and we can start where we left off, which was pretty good at the end of the year.”
Byron tallied four top-10 finishes in 2018 as he captured the Sunoco Rookie of the Year title, becoming just the second driver to win Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series rookie honors in consecutive seasons.
The series might be familiar this time around, but, as always for Byron, there is change coming. Chad Knaus, who spent the last 17 seasons with Jimmie Johnson and captured seven titles during his time on the No. 48, will move to Byron’s 24 car as crew chief.
The chance to work with a seven-time Cup champion crew chief is one Byron is looking forward to.
“I think it’s a great learning opportunity for me,” Byron said. “His experience is really extensive but he has not been set in his ways. That’s what I’ve noticed with him, he’s open to new things and I feel like that’s important. His work ethic is really high as well. I would say that’s really the biggest thing I’ve taken away from him.
“The difference will be the expertise and his knowledge. He is very motivated to do it and that’s really a great thing. We’ve got a lot of good, young people in our team, a lot of people who are ready to have a shot and win races. I’m looking forward to those things. I think the team is fresh and I think Chad’s expertise and knowledge will help us in the long term. So I’m really looking forward to working with him and the 24 team in 2019.”
“I’m quite satisfied with the results we had last year. We had different things to go through and different challenges, but our goal now is to win races.”William Byron
Being paired up with someone as successful as Knaus could be intimidating for some 21-year-olds, but Byron isn’t feeling the pressure.
“It’s not something you can really worry about,” Byron said. “You just have to do all you can as a driver, and I have confidence in my abilities, which helps. I think it just comes down to confidence level. I know what I can bring to the table, I know Chad can bring a lot to the table, and we just try to apply it to what we’re doing.”
Knaus’ experience paired with Byron’s skill has the potential to be special for the Hendrick Motorsports team. Knaus and Johnson recorded at least two wins every season from 2002 until 2017, racking up 83 total victories in their time together en route to seven titles.
“There’s a lot of things that go into making this next year the best it can be,” Byron said. “This year, obviously working with Chad, is going to be exciting. We’ve started the process back in December, just doing things together as a team. I feel like it’s growing and hopefully by the time we get to Daytona it will be up and rolling. Who knows, it’s a new season and you never know what’s going to happen.
“Our goal now is to win races. And that is the expectation when we go into 2019. We want to go out and win this year.”