Rookie William Byron ready for new challenges in Cup
Rookie William Byron would be in the center of that but for all the talk he notes something most should keep in mind when debating this topic:
“We’re ultimately going to have to prove ourselves on the race track and do the things that we’re capable of,’’ he said.
Byron enters this season as among the most fascinating stories in Cup. A20-year-old who learned to race on a computer, he comes off his Xfinity championship season to drive for one of the sport’s top teams and take over the iconic No. 24 car.
“It’s definitely going to be a big challenge,’’ Byron said. “There are a lot of new things that I have to think about and approach differently, but I think this year is going to be a really good year for us. We have a great team, and I feel like everyone at Hendrick is ready to get to the race track. There’s a lot of excitement and new things that we’re approaching.”
Byron joins a youthful Hendrick Motorsports lineup of Chase Elliott (22 years old) and Alex Bowman (24) that will be paired with seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson (42).
“This is really a dream come true to be part of the Cup series and be with a great race team that has a chance to win,’’ Byron said. “I think, for us, we’re going to try to win races. We have all the resources and tools to do that and we’re trying to focus those in the right areas to make sure we’re ready for the season.”
Byron looks to become the first rookie since Chris Buescher in 2016 to win a Cup race. Byron will be paired with crew chief Darian Grubb, who won the 2011 championship with Tony Stewart.
“He’s been with a lot of different drivers and has won with every one of them,’’ Byron said of Grubb. “You don’t find people like that very often, and I feel like he’s an asset to our organization. “I feel he’s pretty aggressive with how he approaches the weekend, and you want somebody like that.”
Byron got off to a good start at this week’s Las Vegas test, his first time in the new Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. Byron was fifth on the speed chart on the final day after pacing the morning session.
Byron also is getting help from Jeff Gordon, who has talked with the youngster throughout the offseason.
“When you have guys like Jeff or Jimmie (Johnson) behind the scenes helping you become a better driver, you can’t ask for much more as a rookie,’’ Byron said. “I think I have all the chances to do it and I have all the resources I need.”
Johnson admits the young group, including Byron, is making an impact on him.
“I’m excited for a fresh perspective,’’ Johnson said. “I find myself going in a cycle of looking what worked in different years, from a driver’s standpoint, there’s only a few things we can do to really be prepared.
“In talking with William, just as an example, he thinks that driving an RC car, seeing it from a different perspective, working on your hand-eye coordination from that vantage point is helpful. Hell, I’ve never thought of that. I haven’t driven an RC car since I was his age. It’s just a different way to look at things.
“I don’t know which ones are going to work for me, but it’s nice to have these different options around. I’ve kind of been through my bag of tricks year after year. Definitely excited to look at some new ideas.’’