MARTINSVILLE, Va. – What a difference six months at Martinsville makes for William Byron. 

Byron won Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series race on the 40th anniversary weekend for Hendrick Motorsports, leading 88 of the final 89 laps. It was a far cry from the 2023 Round of 8 elimination race at the end of October, when the Charlotte, North Carolina, native had to grind it out to a 13th-place finish to advance to his first Championship 4. That result served as motivation and character-building for Byron and the No. 24 team to be better when the series returned. 

PHOTOS: Scenes from victory lane | SHOP: William Byron, No. 24 gear

"We had a tough day in the fall," Byron said. One of the worst experiences as a team, but one of the best experiences to realize the resilience that our team has.

"That showed today. It was really hard to pass. Things were tough out there. I knew I had the team behind me. I knew what experience we had been through in the fall with a bad car. To take a good car and still be able to knife through traffic, things of that nature, was definitely rewarding.

"It's really a 180. I think that fall race gave us a lot of fuel to come back here and try to create another good memory."

Throughout the offseason and the early part of 2024, Byron has been open about getting better at short tracks. Of Byron's 13 Cup Series wins, two – both at the 0.526-mile Virginia short track – have come on short tracks. 

RELATED: See all of William Byron's wins at Hendrick Motorsports

"Long term, we knew that the short tracks were a weakness," Byron said. "We started working on that in the offseason. Just like we did on the road courses, we had to take baby steps. We said, 'Okay, can we finish 10th? Can we finish fifth? Can we lead laps?'

"Until we checked those boxes, we weren't going to go to Richmond and win because we weren't there yet. We had a great test (at North Wilkesboro Speedway in March) and a great Phoenix.

"It's tough in this sport. You can't just go from running 12th to winning. You start stacking some things. I feel like our team did that."

RELATED: Hendrick Motorsports scores 1-2-3 sweep at Martinsville

The short-track rules package will play a deciding role in the playoffs as it is used at the final two races (Martinsville and Phoenix Raceway). Crew chief Rudy Fugle didn't mince words about the impact this win has on the team's championship aspirations. 

"These are big steps for us at short tracks," Fugle said. "We stunk here last year. We're working our way to what we need to have for the playoffs, which are the championship short tracks."

RELATED: Rick Hendrick says Martinsville win caps special day'

The Byron-Fugle pairing is in its fourth year and has tallied 12 wins. They are the winningest duo in the Next Gen era with 11 victories. Over the last 15 months, the combo has found another gear with nine wins in their last 40 races. Team vice chairman, NASCAR Hall of Famer and four-time Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon has watched this pairing blossom, push each other and rise to the occasion. 

"The whole team goes deep into the details," Gordon said. "Because William's willing to do that. Rudy pushes him. He pushes Rudy. It goes down the list of the engineers and everybody it takes to bring fast race cars. The pit crew is executing well, too. 

"They're just in sync. They believe in one another. They go to the racetrack to win.

"You just say to yourself, one, he's super talented. He wants it really bad. He works hard at it. He's got a great team around him. As a driver, that's what you hope for, right? You hope you get in that position to showcase what you're capable of doing in the right equipment with the right team."

RELATED: Gordon, Bodine serve as co-grand marshals at Martinsville

Byron has a series-best three wins on the season across all different track types – a superspeedway (the DAYTONA 500), a road course (Circuit of The Americas) and now a short track (Martinsville). 

"I just love their way of going about it," Gordon said of the team's process. It's fun to watch. They're not going to stop until they win a championship and until they win another one after that. I'm really proud of those guys."