CONCORD, N.C. – William Byron earned a playoff berth for the second year in a row after his win at Daytona International Speedway Saturday night, but he didn’t have long to relish in his first career win.
The driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE now has to focus on the playoffs, which start this weekend at Darlington Raceway.
“It was just excitement more than pressure at that moment – just being part of that conversation and race for possibly a championship appearance,” Byron said of punching his ticket to the postseason. “I look forward to it and the opportunity if we get to that point.”
Even though the 22-year-old driver is in just his third year with the Cup Series, he has the veteran leadership of crew chief Chad Knaus to guide him through each round. Knaus, in his third season working with Byron, has made the playoffs each year since the playoff format was created 17 years ago and won seven titles in that span. No other crew chief has made the postseason each year like Knaus has.
“Chad having been in the playoffs so many times, I think that he thrives in that environment,” Byron said. “Honestly, with the championship experience he’s had, it helps us along in the playoff rounds. I look forward to it and feel like we are ready for any challenge.”
Byron’s playoff experience is limited – he was knocked out of contention in the Round of 12. He said Talladega being in the first-round mix last year made it difficult for him to get past that segment but his superspeedway confidence has grown.
“I think with our Daytona success, hopefully Talladega goes well, although they are quite a bit different,” Byron said. “If we can get through that round, I feel pretty confident that the next round after that is some really good tracks for us.”
This year’s first round will be a little different – the field will head to Darlington, Richmond and then Bristol, all short tracks. Even though there isn’t a superspeedway in the Round of 16, Byron isn’t relaxing.
“I think just having the opening round be mostly short tracks is going to make it intense and I feel like the racing is going to be a lot of action and some contact,” he said. “(You have to try) to keep your car intact in those races - Bristol especially - and try to make it to the finish.”
The Round of 12 will have the only road course in the playoffs - the Charlotte Roval. Byron said he feels he’s gotten in a groove with road courses after his eighth-place finish at the DAYTONA Road Course. Afterward comes the Round of 8, which will consist of the Kansas, Texas and Martinsville tracks - historically strong venues for Byron. However, the Charlotte, North Carolina, native said he’s trying not to focus on making it to the finale at Phoenix and just worry about one round at a time.
“I think we just want to improve on what we did last year in the playoffs,” Byron said. “I think you look at what you did last year and to duplicate or improve that more so than what the regular season is about. We made the Round of 12 last year, so hopefully we can make the Round of 8 this year. I think that would be a good improvement.”
Watch Byron compete for his first championship title starting Sunday at Darlington Raceway. The event will be at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.