AVONDALE, Ariz. – It took William Byron eight races to become the first multi-time winner in the Next Gen era last year. For an encore, he did it in half as many races this year (four).
Byron’s victory on Sunday at Phoenix Raceway came on the heels of his win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It also served as the first time he has won back-to-back races at the NASCAR Cup Series level.
PHOTOS: See all of William Byron's wins at Hendrick Motorsports
"Last year, even though we won early, we didn’t really know the car or understand the car," Byron said in his post-race press conference. "We were kind of just adapting to what we had. We were just making the most of an unpredictable situation with the entire field.
"I feel like now its strength on strength. It feels different. It feels like we’re consistently towards the front and we’re leading laps."
The circuits at the front of the field have come in bunches the past two weekends. Byron has led 240 laps – 176 laps at Las Vegas and 64 at Phoenix. During that stretch, he has picked up three stage wins, too. The past three seasons have seen Byron start fast with five of his six wins coming in the opening eight races of the year.
"You got to get the wins while you’re hot," crew chief Rudy Fugle said. "You got to capitalize. Our focus is nothing different now. Hit the reset button and how do we do it again. Put the hard work in every single day. Keep grinding. That’s our focus."
PHOTOS: See William Byron's celebrate in victory lane at Phoenix
Fugle’s aggressive calls have put his driver in a position to capitalize the past two races. At Las Vegas, a two-tire call ahead of the overtime restart got Byron out in front of teammate Kyle Larson. On Sunday at Phoenix, another two-tire call ahead of a restart with three to go in regulation saw Byron move from fourth to second on pit road. An overtime restart some six laps later saw Byron once again get the best of Larson.
Hendrick Motorsports vice chairman Jeff Gordon and Byron are responsible for all of the No. 24’s wins in the Cup Series – Gordon has 93 and Byron has six. At previous levels, Byron proved to be a quick study with a seven-win NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series season and the 2017 NASCAR Xfinity Series championship. His rise to become a Cup race winner took time, even though it frustrated the Charlotte, North Carolina, native.
"I'm very impatient, so I like things to happen quick," Byron said. "That's how it happened for me coming up. This level is so different. Took a lot of homework, a lot of details. I think the fact that I started later than most driving was a little bit -- it took some time to bridge that gap at this level. Now that gap is bridged obviously. It's a constant evolution, just trying to continue to get better."
RELATED: Offseason work pays early dividends for Byron, Fugle
Fugle has seen Byron’s rise up the ranks but also is quick to note how hard his driver works in the offseason, in the simulator and preparing for each track.
"William, he's the guy that has gotten here by being one of the best at preparing during the week," Fugle said. "Then, you add the experience that he's starting to get over and over and over now. You see the fruits of all of his hard work paying off. That's what I'm super proud of."
In their third season together at the Cup Series level, Fugle and Byron are truly coming into their own with a team that the driver says "we’ve really built from the ground up." The trust and support has always been there and the two were extremely successful together in the Truck Series in 2016. At 25 years old, Byron is a youthful veteran with 184 Cup Series starts to his name (he'll make his 200th start over the summer). Gordon has taken notice of the growth that has coincided between driver, crew chief and team.
"It's just really great to see a team mature, a team grow and a team evolve," Gordon said. "You see all the things that they're doing behind the scenes to get there. They didn't just show up at the racetrack and all of a sudden, bam, they clicked on it. These guys have had to work really hard to get there.
"I see a progression with William ever since he came to Hendrick (Motorsports). (We) Got to remember how young he was coming into the Cup Series, so much to learn. Young in racing in so many ways. When Rudy came to Hendrick (Motorsports), the instant connection and chemistry between these two was so obvious. It just took the whole team up to another notch. I think now they're just building on that. It's a lot of fun to watch and see."