William Byron thought winning the NASCAR Camping World Series season finale at Homestead, Fla., last year would help ease the sting from missing out on competing for the championship.
Not for long.
“It was definitely a gut punch going through the final race and not having a chance at it,” Byron said Tuesday during an event kicking off the 2017 Xfinity Series playoffs. “I didn’t really think about what the championship meant until I saw them celebrating and saw the excitement and what it means to win that.”
Byron, who finished last season with a NASCAR rookie record seven wins, was the favorite to win the Truck title but a blown engine in the next-to-last race prevented him from earning one of the four spots to race for the championship at Homestead.
His move this season to the Xfinity Series with JR Motorsports may have changed his racing landscape but not his determination to atone for what he missed out on in 2016.
“Everyone says that, when you lose one, you know how to win it, but I think watching everything unfold and knowing that I wasn’t a part of it was definitely the gut punch I needed to try and win this year,” Byron, 19, said.
“I have some playoff experience and kind of understand the flow of things. Everything is magnified – your mistakes, your weaknesses – so if we can kind of minimize those things, I think we’ll be really good.”
The 12-driver Xfinity playoffs kick off Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway with Byron as the top seed behind three wins this season.
He is moving full-time to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series next season with Hendrick Motorsports but remains focused on what is still possible to achieve this season.
“Really, the best preparation (for Cup) I can do is run hard and really learn the next seven races,” Byron said. “There were a few things out there, whether I was going to run some (Cup) this year, but I feel like, really, we’re focusing on what we have going on here and trying to win a championship.
“That’s what they want me to do, and that’s what, really, I want especially after last year and how that went. So, definitely want to get redemption and try to win a championship.”