Gone for the moment are the days when rookies could win. Joey Logano was the last to do so in 2009. Since then, the freshmen classes have been a little weak. Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney in 2016 plus Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez in 2017 showed promise, but still failed to win.
Often, rookies make a few starts before their official campaign. Byron did not do that and was thrust into the deep end of the pool in the 2018 Daytona 500. He sustained crash damage and finished four laps off the pace in 23rd. Byron got his first top-15 in Week 4 at Ingenuity Sun Media Raceway (formerly Phoenix International Raceway), followed that with another top-15 the next week and inherited a top-10 at Texas Motor Speedway in April after a lot of attrition in that race.
During the summer months, he logged back-to-back top-10s at Pocono Raceway and Watkins Glen International. His fourth and final top-10 came at Phoenix in the fall. None of these were top-fives. During the season, he failed to finish nine of the 36 races; seven of these DNFs were because of accidents.
As part of the Hendrick Motorsports organization, much more was expected of the driver and team than they delivered in 2018. Chevrolet got off to such a slow start last year that nearly every organization struggled. It is fair to say that the result of this was to deny Byron the opportunity to put up solid numbers as a rookie.
The 2019 season could be different. In his second year of Cup competition, Byron does not have a lot of bad habits to unlearn at a time when a new rules package is being ushered in. Moreover, he will have one of the best crew chiefs in the business as Chad Knaus moves over from Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 to mentor the sophomore.
All of Byron’s top-10s last year came on tracks that traditionally reward HMS, so that is where players can expect him to run well again in 2019. Make a mental note to analyze Byron on flat tracks, but also keep a close eye on him when his teammates practice and qualify well. On a week when Elliott or Johnson seem to be on their way to score a top-10, Byron might be capable of earning a top-15 and that could make him a good value in salary cap games.
Three Best Tracks
ISM (105 in 2 attempts)
Pocono (12.0 in 2)
Texas (13.0 in 2)
Three Worst Tracks
Kansas (35.5 in 2)
Las Vegas (32.0 in 2)
Martinsville (29.5 in 2)
Victories: None (Best finish = 6th at Pocono II)
Top-fives: 0 (.000)
Top-10s: 4 (.111)
Top-15s: 10 (.278)
2018 Finishes at or above their rank? = 16 (44.4%)