AVONDALE, Ariz. – William Byron isn’t letting the disappointment of not taking home the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series championship impact how he views this season for himself and the No. 24 team.
"We had a great season," Byron said. "A lot to be proud of. A lot of really solid races. Communicating well as a team. I feel like all that stuff can just go up a notch. Hopefully, we just have a bit more speed at certain tracks that we know are important."
In his sixth full-time season in the Cup Series, Byron reached the Championship 4 for the first time. He led the series in wins (six), average finish (11.0) and top-10 finishes (21). The 25-year-old also was tied for the most top-five finishes (15) with teammate Kyle Larson and led his single-season high in laps (1,016).
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Byron nabbed the pole position for the championship race at Phoenix Raceway and led the opening 92 laps. For much of the first two stages, he controlled the race within a race among the Championship 4 drivers. At the start of the final stage, Byron restarted second and held that position until he was passed by Ryan Blaney with 101 laps to go. It would be the last time that Byron would be first among the Championship 4 - a position he held for 205 of the 312 laps at Phoenix.
"Before the track rubbered in, I thought we were probably the best, but we had clean air, too," Byron said. "I thought when we had clean air we were trying to perfect our balance out front. Once we got back from second to fifth, we just didn't have the turn. We couldn't keep up with him (Blaney) especially running up the racetrack. We could run lower and kind of get out of the leftover resin up there, but we couldn't rotate up there.
"Before the (final) caution, I thought we had something. There were a lot of lanes. The pace was pretty slow. As soon as we got back going on the restart, that was all we had."
PHOTOS: See scenes from Byron's pole win at Phoenix
After pit stops on lap 277, Byron restarted fifth overall and second among the Championship 4 drivers. Blaney worked around him just after the restart and from there, Byron would finish the day in fourth. Blaney went on to win the championship, while Byron placed third in the final standings.
"Once he got in front of us, it was really hard to chase him back down," Byron said. "With (Kyle) Larson, I thought we were pretty even. We came off pit road and he did a good job on the last run. They had more speed than us on the last run. The last run of the race, we were pretty tight there."
Still, the 2023 season was a big one for Byron in his third season with crew chief Rudy Fugle in the Cup Series. His six victories were the most for the No. 24 car since 2007. The West Coast swing in March was a fruitful one for Byron, who scored back-to-back wins for the first time in his Cup career with triumphs at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Phoenix. In May, he delivered the 100th win for the iconic No. 24 Chevrolet at Darlington Raceway. During the summer, Byron won at Atlanta Motor Speedway and put on a dominating performance at Watkins Glen International. The No. 24 pit crew was atop the board of the fastest average four-tire pit stop time for nearly the whole year.
Entering the playoffs atop the standings, consistency was his calling card with an average finish of 6.1 in the 10 playoff races. After easily advancing to the Round of 12, he locked into the Round of 8 with a win at Texas Motor Speedway. In the three-race Round of 12, Byron posted a 1.66 average finish thanks to the Texas victory and a pair of runner-up finishes at Talladega Superspeedway and the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL. After a solid start to the Round of 8, Byron had a tense race at Martinsville Speedway, but was able to advance.
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"It stinks to come up short," Byron said. "I’d like to think we’re going to be back in this position and we’re going to have more shots at it. We just have to keep working."