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William Byron named Truck Series Rookie of the Year after historic season

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Ford EcoBoost 200

HOMESTEAD, FL - NOVEMBER 18: William Byron, driver of the #9 Liberty University Toyota, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 18, 2016 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

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When William Byron began his rookie season in the Camping World Truck Series, he was “just hoping for one win.”

It took him four races to get that.

It took 23 races to reach seven wins, a series record for a rookie.

“You never know what’s going to happen,” Byron said after winning the season finale Ford EcoBoost 200 and being named the Sunoco Rookie of the Year.

It’s the second season in a row that a Kyle Busch Motorsports driver has earned the honor. Erik Jones did so in 2015, but that was in a season where he won just three races.

Byron had his third win by the eighth race of the season. Jones’ third came in race No. 21.

“I started out, I was like, ‘man, this is going to be really hard,’” said Byron. “Backing up what Erik did last year in this truck with this team, I knew I wanted (crew chief Ryan) “Rudy” (Fugle).”

The two first sat down to get to know each other at a Buffalo Wild Wings.

“We knew right away that we wanted to work together, and he started coaching me the first ‑‑ probably the week after that,” Byron said. “I went to the Snowball Derby and he was telling me things, and I just knew right away we had that trust level.”

That trust level got the team to within 12 laps of transferring to the championship race last weekend at Phoenix International Raceway. Then while leading, the engine on the No. 9 gave out, giving Byron a DNF and ensuring the season’s winningest team wouldn’t be among the final four.

“We were all pretty down for the ride back to the airplane (after Phoenix),” Fugle said.

A team member then showed the crew chief the owner’s championship standings, which Kyle Busch Motorsports still had a shot at.

“We all started saying things that I can’t say here because we were all pretty bummed about what was going on, but we were all pretty happy we had something to go race for,” Fugle said.

Byron, who had never raced anything before four years ago, gave KBM its fifth owners title and its fourth straight.

“It’s kind of scary to be teaching him all the things that I’m teaching him, but I was done about three weeks ago telling him any more,” Busch joked. “I enjoy coaching up some of these younger guys, although I do tell them an awful lot, but it helps them through the Truck Series, and it’s fun to see their success level be as good as it is in our stuff and to carry us on to championships as well as having the opportunity for William to race for a championship this year, Erik last year, Bubba Wallace a couple years ago.”

Shortly after his fifth win of the year, it was announced that Byron had signed with Hendrick Motorsports. In 2017, he will drive for JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series.

But two wins later, Byron isn’t the Truck champion. That honor went to Johnny Sauter, who claimed his first NASCAR title after breaking into the sport in 2001, when Byron was 3 years old.

“It’s really bittersweet,” said Fugle. “The bitter part is this kid is the champion, and he’s not going to get the big trophy. Sauter is out there; congrats to him. He won the way he was supposed to win it, but (Byron) deserves it. This was his shot at it, and he’s going to progress. He’s going to progress all the way to Cup shortly and he deserves everything he gets.”

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