AVONDALE, Ariz. — Audio and story by Race Chaser Online Managing Editor Jacob Seelman — Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images North America photo —
The meteoric rise continues for Charlotte, N.C. teenager William Byron.
After parlaying a season that included four wins, five top fives, 11 top 10s and three poles across 14 starts into the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship, the 17-year-old will make his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series start on Friday night when he takes the wheel of the No. 9 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota at Phoenix International Raceway.
That debut (in a fourth KBM entry) will be the first start of a massive partnership between Byron, KBM, Toyota and Liberty University that will see the NASCAR Next class member compete full-time at the Truck level in 2016, looking to replicate his performance in the K&N East ranks where he not only won the title, but claimed Rookie of the Year honors as well.
Byron says he is not only excited, but “ready to jump” at the chance of competing with one of the best teams in Truck Series action and learning from team owner Kyle Busch along the way.
“It’s really awesome [to have] the opportunity at Kyle Busch Motorsports next year that I do,” Byron said recently to Race Chaser Online. “Really, it even includes next week at Phoenix, being in a fourth truck with them. It’s going to be special. I know I’ve got a lot to learn, but it’s going to be a good step, I think, both for me and for my sponsor in Liberty University to jump into the national stage and take in a bit of that spotlight.”
“It’s a good platform for a kid like me, who’s almost 18 years old and ready to race full-time [at that level].”
Byron’s confidence comes from his stellar season in the K&N East ranks with HScott Motorsports with Justin Marks — a performance that now comes as expected for the adaptable racer who began his career on iRacing before first jumping into a Legends car in 2013, when he posted 64 top 10 finishes to score the U.S. Legends Car Young Lions division national championship.
Now, the teenage standout is embarking down the road to national-level success, something he says he feels blessed to be able to be a part of in such a short time since the start of his young career.
“It’s been a blessing to have had the success we’ve had, not just this year but over the last three years. I wouldn’t have imagined it when I was 14 [and just starting out as an iRacer who jumped in a Legends car], but to be out here now with guys that used to be my heroes on TV and to be able to learn from them, have them as mentors — it’s amazing.”
While he knows that 150 miles around the track known as ‘The Jewel in the Desert’ won’t be easy, the reigning K&N East champion says he is up for the challenge. He is also keeping his goals realistic heading into his first weekend at the NASCAR national level.
“My goal for my first NASCAR Camping World Truck start is to get a top 10 and run all of the laps,” Byron admitted. “I can’t wait to get in my Toyota Tundra and be able to see what I can do, or need to work on.”
“I have talked to Kyle (Busch) a little bit about what to expect when I get into a truck for the first time, so I feel well prepared and ready to go. I think the biggest difference for me is going to be the radial tires — I got to race on them at the Kentucky [ARCA] race, and we just didn’t get the finish we wanted. The team will help me out with that transition, though, and I’m sure they will be great resources once we get to the track. Now it’s just about getting in the Liberty University Tundra and seeing what I can do. I really think it will be a great weekend.”
“We believe William is capable of a top-10 finish Friday night,” added his Truck crew chief Wes Ward. “KBM has a good history at Phoenix, so we need to get him acclimated to the race track and the truck. He obviously adapts well from his past series … which will help him get up to speed faster when he climbs into the Tundra. We want him to run all the laps, gain valuable experience and have a clean race.”
Byron will also run the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West Casino Arizona 100 on Thursday night as a precursor to his Truck debut, cites that event as “critical” to being able to learn the tricky one-mile oval prior climbing in the Truck for the first time in race conditions.
“By running the K&N West race, I will be comfortable with the track before I get out there in the truck,” Byron explained. “That, in itself, will make it a lot easier and I can just focus on the differences between the truck and the K&N car.”
Looking ahead to the 2016 season, Byron will partner with dirt midget and sprint car standout Christopher Bell as one of two full-time KBM Toyota Tundras competing for the driver’s championship, and will also have KBM veteran Daniel Suarez and fellow rookie Cody Coughlin as teammates to lean on as well.
The change to Toyota for Byron was one that surprised many people who had him pegged as one of the heirs apparent to a JR Motorsports XFINITY seat, and ultimately, an eventual spot at Sprint Cup powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports — but Byron says the choice to partner with KBM for his Truck Series leap was a fairly simple one.
“To me, it’s important to have a lot of connections [in the garage area],” Byron explained. “My connection with JR Motorsports in the late models may well be one that comes back to serve me well a little bit down the road. Maybe in the next few years I will actually have the opportunity to run an XFINITY car for them, who knows? Right now though, I’ve been keeping all my options open and I feel like going to Toyota and racing a Tundra for them with Liberty University onboard is a great opportunity for me.”
“It’s something that allows me to grow into another market as a driver and build a place in the Toyota family. We’re just looking to see how it goes next year, right now, and trying to get a few wins. That’s really our goal, is just to take things one step and one race at a time, and see what happens from there.”
Based on the way his prior journeys have gone so far? That goal of “a few wins” may be only the beginning of what Byron is able to accomplish in the Camping World Truck Series.
Listen in to an extended cut of Race Chaser Online’s recent conversation with NASCAR NEXT member William Byron:
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network. Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 21-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for both the United Sprint Car Series and the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
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