CONCORD, N.C. – In 2021, William Byron had his best year yet at the highest level of NASCAR competition.
After being reunited with former NASCAR Camping World Truck Series crew chief Rudy Fugle, the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE collected his second Cup Series win, coming in just the third race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway. From there, Byron went on a hot streak of top-10 finishes before progressing his way to the Round of 12 in his third consecutive playoff appearance.
“After Homestead, we went on (a) stretch of really good finishes for 10 weeks in a row, and that really kind of put us up in the top five in points and we kind of stayed there the rest of the year,” said Byron. “I think we had really good moments and we had some moments where we learned some things. But honestly, the consistent thing has been we’ve had the speed to win races. And we’ve had the ability to drive up there to the front and lead laps.”
Let’s take a look back at some of the highlights of Byron’s 2021 season.
For the start of the 2021 season, the No. 24 team had a new crew chief calling the shots – Ryan “Rudy” Fugle. While it was Fugle’s first year at the Cup Series level and with the championship organization, it wasn’t his first with Byron. The driver-crew chief combo previously worked together at the Truck Series level during Byron’s rookie year in 2016. Together, they notched a record-breaking season of seven victories, leading 21 percent of laps run and three pole awards before narrowly missing the driver title, but still collecting the owner’s championship as well as driver rookie-of-the-year honors.
Before joining Hendrick Motorsports, the Livonia, New York, native spent eight seasons at Kyle Busch Motorsports, amassing 28 wins, tying him for second all-time for wins by a crew chief in the Truck Series.
“It’s great to work with Rudy again,” Byron stated. “We had a lot of success together in the Truck Series and since then I have gained a lot of on-track and off-track knowledge. Rudy’s worked hard to get adjusted this off season, and I think all of our efforts will benefit us. We’ve always had a good working relationship and level of communication with each other. I feel like we have basically picked up where we left off and that familiarity will hopefully translate to our on-track performance as well.”
WIN NO. 2
Fugle and Byron were the first duo of Hendrick Motorsports’ four-car contingent to reach victory lane, scoring the checkered flag in just their third Cup Series start together. The win at Homestead-Miami Speedway marked the second win of Byron’s Cup Series career with both wins coming in his last 14 starts.
Not only was this his second win, but it’s easy to say that Byron ran one of the best races of his career. He spent 80 percent of the race running within the top-five running order – his highest percentage ever at that point. In fact, with an average running position of 3.9, he spent 115 laps in the top two – also a career best after 111 starts. Byron went on to lead 102 laps, doubling his most laps led total in any prior race.
“You had to go with the wall at certain times; (Turns) 3 and 4 were really fast up there,” said Byron in victory lane. “I definitely didn’t do it as good as the Xfinity cars do it, but I used it when I had to, and this car was just awesome. It’s really a lot of hard work. I think we went to the simulator four or five times this off-season and it just pays off, man. It’s awesome.”
Little did the No. 24 team know, but that win at Homestead-Miami Speedway would kick off an impressive streak of top-10 finishes. Racking up 11 consecutive top-10 results, Byron became the youngest driver to hold a top-10 streak of 10 or more races at 23 years, one month and 17 days. His 11 consecutive top-10 finishes were also the longest streak by a Hendrick Motorsports driver since Jimmie Johnson’s 13 race streak from 2004 – 2005.
With the streak starting at Homestead-Miami Speedway and spanning across 10 additional races, Byron came up one position short of extending his streak when the Cup Series raced at Circuit of the Americas. Rain ended the event early while the driver of the No. 24 was scored in the 11th position.
“Our goal going into this year was to be a really well-executed race team that could run competitively at a variety of tracks,” Byron said regarding his streak. “The thing I thought about through the off-season was just trying to be part of that group that’s a consistent contender every week; those five to six guys that consistently run up front. And we’ve done that so far.”
THIRD CONSECUTIVE PLAYOFFS
Byron locked himself into the 2021 Cup Series playoffs when he captured the checkered flag at Homestead-Miami Speedway – his third consecutive appearance in the 10-race battle for the championship.
Heading into the first round – the Round of 16 – the Charlotte, North Carolina, native was seeded in the eighth position. After some bad luck in the first couple races of the opening round, Byron and the No. 24 team had a stellar run at Bristol Motor Speedway to lock himself into the ensuing round.
Despite his playoff run ending after the Round of 12, Byron went on to cap off his career-best Cup Series season with one win, two pole awards, 12 top-five finishes, 20 top-10s and 425 laps led.
“Our hope was to be in the Round of 8,” commented Byron after finishing 11th at the Charlotte ROVAL. “As a team, we were definitely trending that way all year. We were top five in points all year and then the playoffs started off really rough. We didn’t really get the results we needed to be in that spot.
“I’m a stats person. I like numbers and I like anything that puts a metric on where you are as a driver and a team. In a lot of categories, we were way up. We just have to work on those categories that we weren’t so good at.”