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Rick Hendrick playfully deflects questions about William Byron’s future

NASCAR XFINITY Series Alsco 300 - Practice

SPARTA, KENTUCKY - JULY 07: William Byron, driver of the #9 Axalta/Mansea Metal Chevrolet, sits in his car during practice for the NASCAR XFINITY Series Alsco 300 at Kentucky Speedway on July 7, 2017 in Sparta, Kentucky. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

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LOUDON, New Hampshire – William Byron continued on his accelerated learning curve through NASCAR’s national series, but Rick Hendrick still wants to hit the brakes on discussing his bright prospect’s future.

“It’s early,” the team owner said with a broad smile after Byron finished third Saturday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “Man, this is just, what, July? Just July.”

But Hendrick has at least one open seat (the No. 88 Chevrolet being vacated by Dale Earnhardt Jr.) in the Cup Series, and Byron, 19, has four top-three finishes in his past five Xfinity Series starts as a rookie for JR Motorsports. Last year, Byron scored a series-high seven victories as a rookie in the Camping World Truck Series, earning a contract with Hendrick Motorsports.

Is he making the case for being promoted to the premier circuit with Hendrick?

“I think a lot of things have to fall into place,” Hendrick said. “He’s doing a great job.”

So is he still too young or could he be a candidate?

“A candidate for what? Mayor?” Hendrick quipped with a laugh.

While he was reticent to discuss the job prospects of Byron, he gladly discussed his latest sublime performance. Bryon started seventh and finished third in the No. 9 Chevrolet, posting the sixth 10 top in the past seven races.

“That was a good race,” Hendrick said. “He did a great job; very impressive the way he works traffic and the feedback on the radio. Really good.

“The guys are giving him good cars, but he’s got a lot of talent, and he’s a quick learner. He’s fast. He goes right to the edge in a hurry. I’m real proud of him.

In an interview Friday, Jimmie Johnson identified Alex Bowman and Byron as options for Hendrick in replacing Earnhardt. The seven-time series champion expressed reservations similar to Hendrick’s about rushing Byron.

Byron was asked Saturday if he was ready for Cup.

“I have no idea, but it’s just good to be running like this,” Byron said. “It feels really good for our team. It’s cool to have Mr. Hendrick out here supporting us and everyone at JR Motorsports. It’s neat. It’s been a good couple of weeks.

“It’s really something to be proud of. I feel like we’re able to build on that and hopefully take it to Indy and keep progressing.”