CONCORD, N.C. – In 2019, William Byron is looking forward to taking the rookie stripes off his No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.
But as he looked back on the 2018 NASCAR Cup Series, it was a rookie campaign the 21-year-old driver will never forget.
“From driving the No. 24 flames car at Daytona, to racing at my hometown in May, it was surreal," Byron said. "You go from running at the quarter-mile track at Charlotte four years ago to racing in front of tens of thousands of people.”
Let’s take a look back at the moments that defined Byron’s 2018 rookie season.
LAP LEADER AT PHOENIX
In just the fourth race of the season, William Byron led laps in the Cup Series for the first time in his career.
After an 11th-place start at ISM Raceway, he slid back in the pack early on in the race before a two-tire change on pit road when most competitors took four helped Byron climb his way into the top 10. He continued to race there, and another two-tire pit stop helped him charge even closer toward the front of the pack.
The decision ultimately put Byron in lead for the first time in his Cup Series career, and he went on to pace the field for the ensuing 15 laps.
In total, he led 61 laps in his rookie season.
On a day when he started in the rear, Byron battled throughout the April 8 race at Texas Motor Speedway to earn his first career NASCAR Cup Series top-10 result. Within the first three laps of the event, he had already gained seven positions.
He picked up 16th- and 13th-place finishes in the opening stages as he continued to climb, and in the caution preceding the final segment, Byron picked up four more positions to break into the top 10. He raced consistently in the closing laps to take home a 10th-place finish, the first of four top-10 finishes for the rookie in 2018.
Byron’s first career top-10 finish came after starting at the rear, and his career-best sixth-place finish at Pocono Raceway in July did so as well. Rolling off the grid 38th, Byron cracked the top 25 by Lap 5, and he finished the opening segment inside the top 15 in 15th.
He continued to gain positions in Stage 2 to pick up a top-10 finish in the middle segment. The No. 24 team made a strategy call to keep him on track prior to the beginning of the final segment, allowing him to take the restart as the race leader.
He held the lead for a handful of laps before cars with fresh tires passed him, but he remained inside the top 10 before a caution flag allowed him to head to pit road for fresh tires. He continued his solid run all the way through the checkered flag to take home the sixth-place finish. Byron cited the continued improving speed of his No. 24 Chevy as a key factor in helping him earn the result.
“Now, we have the speed to run in the top 10, which makes it a lot easier to do things and allows me to drive the car the way I know how to drive it,” the driver said after the race. “Our speed is starting to get us in a position to be more aggressive, which is really good.”
Clinching the title on points with a ninth-place finish in the penultimate race of the season at ISM Raceway, Byron was named the 2018 Sunoco Rookie of the Year. A few weeks later, on the eve of his 21st birthday, the driver accepted the award in Las Vegas.
“This was a goal of ours, and I’m thankful for all the work that went into getting us to this point," Byron said at the event. "As we set out for 2018, I couldn’t wait to live a dream of mine by competing in the Cup Series."
It was the fourth consecutive season Byron was named the rookie of the year, and he joined Erik Jones as just the second driver to win the award in the NASCAR Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series in back-to-back-to-back seasons. Prior to that he had earned the award in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East.
“I love to race," Byron said in his acceptance speech. "Six years ago, it would have been crazy to imagine that I would be racing side-by-side with idols of mine. The first race of the year, lining up against Jimmie Johnson in the Duel: the lights, the colors, it was a lot brighter than in an Xfinity car. Then, it was time to lock in, and race.”
Now, his sights are set on his sophomore season.
“(I) look forward to next year and what we can do there,” he said.