William Byron’s progression in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series this season has a familiar ring to it.
As he did in both the Camping World Truck and Xfinity series, Byron got off to a slow start this year in his rookie Cup season but in recent weeks, he’s clearly becoming more comfortable with the transition.
Saturday night at Richmond (Va.) Raceway, Byron had far his best race yet this season from start to finish.
He finished in the top-five in both stages and his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet appeared capable of contending for the win. But Byron and his HMS teammate, Alex Bowman, were caught speeding on pit road during a round of stop between Stages 2 and 3 and were sent to the rear of the field.
Byron methodically worked his way back and finished 12th – tied for his second-best performance of the season.
“I sped on pit road and I guess I was just pushing the last segment there in the corner and we were a little bit too fast coming onto the straightaway. Overall, a really good night,” Byron, 20, said after the race.
“We got stage points, I think we finished fifth in both stages and I think we finished 12th, but overall learned a lot and can just really build on this. I love racing at short tracks. It’s a blast and definitely learned a lot from this.”
Asked if he felt he was beginning to find his rhythm in the Cup series, Byron said: “Oh yeah, definitely starting to get really comfortable with what is going on. I’m starting to really figure out what I need to be faster and I think this weekend was a good example of that.
“I don’t love the late-race restarts because I felt like we had a good long-run car and I really liked to use some of the tools I was doing on the long runs to beat some guys, but overall a pretty good day.”
Byron, like several others that had good cars on the long runs, thrived in the first two stages, which went caution-free except for the stage breaks.
Byron made up considerable ground from his penalty in the final stage thanks to another long green-flag run, but the final 45 laps of the race were mired by four cautions and an overtime period.
Rebounding from adversity was yet another step for Byron in his crash-course as a Cup series driver.
“I think the biggest thing is that we had a race car that I could do something with that really I could manage the drive and manage my tools inside the car to make it better,” he said. “To finish (in the top-five) in both stages was something to be really proud of and I felt like we ran right around 10th all day.
“It’s frustrating to know that we didn’t get a shot at it and mainly because of the speeding penalty, so I learned from that. Overall I just learned the level of aggression the top-10 guys have.
“I haven’t been around that yet, so that was something to get used to.”