CONCORD, N.C. – When Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick met with William Byron last Sunday night, he asked him a simple question.
Would you like to drive in the NASCAR Cup Series next season?
It took Byron just two words for Hendrick to know the organization was making the right decision.
“I’m ready,” the 19-year-old told him.
“It was no hesitation,” Hendrick recalled. “Just to see his face and the excitement there, those are real special moments when you can break the news.”
Wednesday morning, Hendrick Motorsports announced that Byron will climb behind the wheel of the No. 5 Chevrolet next season in the Cup Series, when he will compete for rookie of the year honors beginning with the 2018 Daytona 500.
The owner knew from the first time he met Byron that he had “it.”
“You can’t teach speed and you can’t train talent,” Hendrick said. “And he’s got all those other qualities – smart, dedicated, cultured, work ethic, he’s got the whole package.”
Still, he couldn’t have foreseen just how quickly the driver would rise through the ranks.
“His rapid rate of success has just blown us all away,” Hendrick said.
As Byron won races in each series that he entered, the driver acknowledged that even he occasionally found himself surprised.
“I didn’t expect it, sometimes, out of myself,” he said. “But I feel like I’ve put the work into it and I feel like I’m learning on the job. That’s been the biggest thing for me, to learn from the best people I can have around me, and I have a lot of good people around me.”
Byron first turned professional in 2014, and by 2016 he had put together the most successful debut season in NASCAR Camping World Truck Series history with a rookie-record seven victories.
That August, he was signed by Hendrick Motorsports.
(Watch Byron's interview after first signing with Hendrick Motorsports in the video above.)
“It’s hard to believe that it was just about a year ago at Bristol that William and I went into the media center and everybody was asking me, ‘You think he’s ready for XFINITY?’” Hendrick said. “Now, we’re here one year later and we’re talking about the Cup Series. I think that just speaks to his talent.”
Byron, currently second in the NASCAR XFINITY Series point standings, has already earned three wins this season, including back-to-back wins at Iowa and Daytona followed by a win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway just three weeks later.
But the wins, while impressive, weren’t what caught Hendrick’s eye as he contemplated Byron’s move to the Cup Series. It was a race just before that first trip to Victory Lane.
“When we first started out the year and I watched him run and be able to compete and lead at Michigan, which is a really high-speed track, and he ran Denny (Hamlin) so close, came within inches of winning that race against one of the best in the Cup Series with a team that’s won a lot of XFINITY races, that sure got our attention,” Hendrick recalled.
“It’s been building since even before the first win.”
“His rapid rate of success has just blown us all away.”Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick
Now, Byron can’t wait to tackle the challenge that awaits him at the sport’s highest level. And he’ll do so with two familiar partners – Liberty University and Axalta Coating Systems, both of which currently support the 19-year-old driver in the XFINITY Series.
“We’re just ready to go,” Byron said. “For me, it’s special to have partners like that, and that’s what makes this sport go around. We’re really excited to have them on the car and carry some familiar colors hopefully to Victory Lane next year.”
The news is still a bit “surreal,” the driver acknowledged, as he can vividly recall years when he was upset not to be able to go to the track and race every week.
He certainly has that chance now, and it will come in NASCAR’s premier series.
“For me, it’s definitely going to be intense and you’ve got to match that intensity,” Byron said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun, it’s going to be challenging at times, but I know that and I’m prepared for that.”
“I’ve got a golden opportunity here at Hendrick Motorsports.”