AVONDALE, Ariz. – In the span of one lap around Phoenix Int’l Raceway on Friday night, William Byron watched his rookie season in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series – one that produced a record six wins in his first year – go up in smoke.
After leading a race-high 113 of the first 138 laps from the pole in the Lucas Oil 150, appearing to be headed towards his seventh win of the season, Byron’s motor expired on the 139th trip around the one-mile desert oval – releasing a cloud of fire and smoke as the Liberty University freshman’s chance at a championship evaporated in its wake.
For Byron, it was a tumble from a guaranteed spot in the Championship 4 all the way to the bottom of the pile, with the 18-year-old dropping to fifth in the Chase Grid standings and ending the night 15 points shy of transferring on to Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The Charlotte, N.C. young gun was scored 27th in the final rundown, and despite trying to be positive, his disappointment was palpable after he climbed from his No. 9 Liberty University Toyota Tundra.
“It stings bad,” Byron admitted. “It’s jsut really unfortunate. I didn’t want this to end like this at all. I just can’t believe it. We had the best truck, tonight and all season.”
Byron said he had no true warning that the motor was going to go south on his machine, despite the water temperature gauge flashing at him inside of the 20 to go mark.
“There wasn’t really any indication that it was going to blow,” Byron said of the motor in his truck. “We had been running a little bit hot the last run … and kinda all night, really, but it stayed within (the acceptable) temperature range (for the most part).”
“It just started to vibrate the lap before, but I thought it was the tires and it didn’t feel like a big deal. Then it just sputtered and next thing I knew, I had flames coming out of the cowl. It just sucks for this team because they’ve worked so hard all season. These things just happen in racing, I guess.”
Byron’s season scorecard saw 10 top-five and 15 top-10 finishes to go along with his half-dozen wins at Kansas, Texas, Iowa, Kentucky, Pocono and in the Chase opener at Loudon.
However, his 22nd race of the season defined his chances at a championship, despite a season-long body of work that would have put him in control of his championship destiny under the previous Truck Series points format that was replaced prior to this season in favor of the elimination-style playoffs.
And despite the prospect of a NASCAR XFINITY Series ride coming up next season with JR Motorsports, Byron said Friday night it has been hard getting ready to leave the Kyle Busch Motorsports team that has carried him to a record season.
He added that he had hoped to send them out with a championship for their efforts.
“I love this team; they do an awesome job. It stinks that we can’t go to Homestead and be one of those final four to fight for the title, but we’ll just go on to Homestead and try to get a win there to close the season. It’s what we can do and it’s what these guys and Liberty University deserve after how strong we’ve run all year.”
Byron does still have a shot to clinch the owner’s championship for the No. 9 Kyle Busch Motorsports team, advancing to the Championship 4 in that battle even after his 27th-place finish on Friday night.
But for the dominant driver of the season, the emotions of his race were best summed up in two simple words that crackled over his radio courtesy of crew chief Ryan ‘Rudy’ Fugle – piercing the Arizona night in the process.
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 22-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as both the full-time tour announcer for the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series and the co-track announcer at Millbridge Speedway.
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