CONCORD N.C. -- William Byron's ascent to the NASCAR Cup Series has been nothing short of impressive.
The 20-year-old driver quickly rose through the racing ranks, earning victories in just about every NASCAR series he's competed in, including the K&N Pro Series East, Whelen All-American Series, Truck Series and Xfinity Series.
And in 2019, the rookie of the year points leader will have veteran crew chief Chad Knaus atop the No. 24 pit box.
"It's a blessing," Byron said of Knaus moving to the No. 24. "This year, I've learned a lot, there's been a lot of things I've had to go through and experience. It's a huge honor and blessing that I get a chance to work with somebody like that. Mr. Hendrick's given me unbelievable opportunities. He's laid it out for me and that's all you can dream of as a driver."
The pairing follows Knaus' 17-year partnership with seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, which began in Johnson's rookie year in 2002.
"I don't think people understand how quickly he (Byron) has risen to where he is," Knaus said of the 20-year-old driver. "This kid has got a boat load of talent. So for me to get the opportunity to work with him is just like getting the opportunity to work with Jimmie back then. That excitement level is very, very similar."
While Knaus will essentially be starting over with a young driver, he did say there's one big difference between this situation and when he started out with Johnson in 2002.
"Back then, we didn't have anything," Knaus said. "We hadn't won a race, we hadn't done much of anything. I'm very fortunate that I've won some races. He (Byron) has already won a championship in the Xfinity Series and the kid is 20 years old. It's exciting for me, it really is."
Thus far in his rookie season, Byron has earned three top-10 finishes and led over 50 laps in his 30 Cup Series starts. While he's looking to add to those statistics in the remaining six races of the season, Byron looks forward to learning from Knaus throughout 2019 and feels as though the pairing will be a fruitful one.
"I'm so geeked up by it. I have goosebumps when I think about it."Chad Knaus
While the rookie didn't deny that Knaus can be intimidating at times, he respects his leadership style and the success he's had throughout his career.
"The results speak for themselves, but in terms of my short racing career, I've worked with a couple people that have similar traits as him (Knaus)," Byron said. "It makes me excited. It makes me look forward to it. I feel like I do well in that environment and it's going to push me to do better. That's what I need and I feel like going into my second year, I've learned the ropes of the Cup Series and I can go out and our goal is to win."
And in order to win, Byron will do whatever it takes.
"I think you've got to have that banter and ability to lean on each other," Byron said of a driver-crew chief relationship. "You have to be honest with each other. That's really important in any competition. I think Chad is going to be brutally honest with me and I'm okay with that. I want to succeed in this sport. That's my No. 1 goal and I'll do whatever it takes to do that."
Current No. 24 team crew chief Darian Grubb, who will move to a technical director role in 2019, voiced his approval of the Knaus-Byron pairing.
"I think it's going to be really good," Grubb said. "One of the reasons they wanted me to come in last year to do that was having that senior crew chief experience to help a young rookie come along. Chad is much more senior than I am so having that experience is going to be another huge wealth of knowledge for William to be able to rely on and kind of get his feet under him as he keeps growing through the sport."
While he admitted that change can be a good thing, Byron said he gleaned a lot of knowledge from working with Grubb this season.
"First of all, I've enjoyed working with Darian a lot," the driver said. "He's given me a new perspective. There's some things he'd had from past experiences working with older drivers, whether it's Tony Stewart or Denny Hamlin, guys like that, that I can look back on that were good for me."
If there's anyone who could give Byron advice about building a strong foundation with Knaus, it's Johnson, who sees similarities between himself and the young rookie.
"I am really excited for William," Johnson said. "We have chatted quite a bit about it and I feel that William is a lot like me. I think there are some personalities that like to be coached and others that don't thrive or succeed in that environment. William is a lot like me in that he likes to be coached and with Chad's wisdom and years of experience, his intensity and desire to win, I think it could do a lot of good for him. I'm really excited for him."
The partnership is not only exciting for Byron, but also for Knaus, who said he's always dreamed of being crew chief for the No. 24 team.
"I'm so geeked up by it," Knaus laughed. "I have goosebumps when I think about it. I told some guys here yesterday, the No. 24 guys, I started here in 1993 and when I walked in the door and I started to work in that little shop up the hill, I wanted to be crew chief on the No. 24 car. It's only taken me 25 years and 17 years with this guy (Johnson) to get the opportunity to be able to do that. I'm really proud of that."