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Byron on points buffer: “It can all go away pretty quick”

Byron on points buffer: “It can all go away pretty quick”

Byron has never been a part of the Championship 4, but many still point to this Hendrick Motorsports driver as the title favorite.

One look at his 2023 season and it’s easy to see why. Byron’s five race wins leads all drivers. He also tops the rest of the field in laps led and stage wins. 

With a total of four wins in his previous six seasons, 2023 has been a breakout year for the 25-year-old.

Perhaps the most important aspect of Byron’s year is where he collected those five victories. He won at Darlington, which also opens the playoffs this weekend. He won at Las Vegas, which opens the Round of 8. Most crucially, he won at Phoenix, which hosts the title-decider in November.

One round at a time

Despite all that, Byron doesn’t want to think about the championship … yet. Right now, it’s all about advancing through the first three rounds. 

“I don’t want to think about that until we get to that point,” he said during Media Day on Thursday. “I feel like we have to work our way through the rounds and do the best job we can at all the opening tracks. It’s nice to have good bonus points and it’s nice to have that in our back pocket. But I’ve seen how the playoffs have played out over the last few years, and you can’t get ahead of yourself. We have to do a good job in each round and take it one race at a time.”

Although one should always expect to be a contender when driving for HMS, Byron admitted that five wins after 26 races exceeds any of his expectations going into the year.

“Starting the season, we didn’t expect to win five races to be honest,” he said. “Winning three races was kind of the goal. As we transitioned throughout the year, the expectations got higher. There was a little slump that came with that because we started to expect to run top-three or top-five every week. It’s just not possible with this car especially. You’ve got way too many challenges. I feel like we got into a good place before the playoffs start to where we feel like we’re comfortable and have a good mindset. Watkins Glen just felt really good. It felt like we had the right approach.”

A bit of a points buffer

One thing he has going for him this year is a bit of a safety net. His 36 bonus points — more than double what he had at this point last year — gives him an immediate buffer over the cut-line before cars even hit the track this weekend.

But Byron isn’t about to think he is safe, even in the first round, saying: “It’s a little bit of a safety net, I guess. But it can all go away pretty quick. We can’t really just lean on that all the time. We have to perform well. We have to average 30 points a race in this first round, I think, and continue to work our way toward the second round. Just take it one race a time and a three-race stretch at a time. I feel like it’s pretty simple. It’s just to try and go to Darlington, have a solid race and hopefully unload with good speed. We found a couple of tenths in the simulator this week. I felt like we had a good sim session. The car drove well. Hopefully it drives as good as it did in the simulator.

“We kind of backed it up with what we did in the spring. Honestly on our setup, we haven’t changed a lot at that place in awhile. We have to focus on Darlington and then Kansas, we’ll focus on that Tuesday and get a good baseline for there. We had a good race there in the spring as well, finished third and qualified on the pole. I look at the first two tracks as good places for us.”

Race winner William Byron, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro

Race winner William Byron, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro

Photo by: John Harrelson / NKP / Motorsport Images

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