Seven months ago, William Byron was a relatively unknown 18-year-old rookie about to embark on his first full Camping World Truck Series season.
Now he’s one of the hottest young names in NASCAR.
Byron also has very realistic hopes of being called a NASCAR Truck Series champion before his 19th birthday, which won’t come until 11 days after the season finale for the series at Homestead-Miami Speedway this Nov. 18.
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Byron heads into the inaugural Chase in the Truck Series as the No. 1 seed and prohibitive favorite after racking up a series-high five victories during the 16-race regular season.
The seven-race Chase begins with Saturday afternoon’s UNOH 175 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (FS1, 1 p.m. ET). And despite being the youngest in the eight-driver field, Byron told reporters at NHMS on Friday that he thinks he’s ready for what lies directly ahead in the elimination-style playoffs.
"I think it’s really exciting to get the Chase started this weekend in New Hampshire," said Byron, who drives the No. 9 Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports. "This is a place I like coming to and I think it’s going to be a solid weekend."
Getting off to a solid start in the Chase is crucial because after every three races, the field will be trimmed by two drivers until only the final four remain to race for the championship in the winner-take-all finale at Homestead. But that doesn’t mean Byron doesn’t plan to be aggressive.
"Ultimately, you just want to have good, solid finishes this first round … but if you can go for a win definitely go for it," Byron said. "We’re planning on going for a win."
Byron said he expects the pressure to ratchet up in the Chase, but added that he feels prepared to deal with it. Of the tracks where he scored his five regular-season wins — Kansas, Texas, Iowa, Kentucky and Pocono â the only one on the Chase schedule is Texas on Nov. 4.
"I think the competition and intensity is going to ramp up here in the last seven races," Byron said. "We’ve seen that in the Cup Series and so now we’re going to be able to experience that here in the Truck Series, so I’m looking forward to it. I think our team is ready for it. We have the right trucks lined up and we’re going to race tracks that we really enjoy coming to, so I’m looking forward to it."
That doesn’t mean the youngster, who signed a multi-year contract with Hendrick Motorsports in August and will drive for the organization in the XFINITY Series beginning next season, isn’t feeling a bit nervous.
"I think there are a little bit of nerves just with the unexpected of what this format is going to be like for us," Byron said. "But honestly it’s exciting and it’s something new and it’s the new era of the playoff-type format, so I’m looking forward to it."
Byron admits he wishes he was carrying more momentum into the Chase. He crashed in the regular-season finale at Chicagoland last weekend and ended up 30th. His only finish worse this season was 32nd in the season race of the year at Atlanta back at the end of February.
"With me being a rookie, there are definitely things to learn every week and that wasn’t something I wanted to learn last week — but it is something that sometimes happens, Byron said. "Now you kind of move on from that, you put the good and the bad together, and we have a good game plan going to this race track and knowing what the mentality needs to be for the next seven races. I think we’ve turned the page."