24 UP FRONT: Six races into his fourth NASCAR Cup Series season, William Byron is off to the best start of his career. So far, the 23-year-old driver has spent 1,065 laps running inside the top 10 – the third-highest amount in the Cup field. Of those 1,065 laps, 425 were inside the top-five running order, which is the seventh-most by a driver this season. Currently, the pilot of the No. 24 Liberty University Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE has led laps in three races and ranks fourth for most laps led this year with 129. In fact, Byron has the sixth-best average running position of 2021 at 10.29.
KEEPIN’ THE STREAK ALIVE: Despite issues in the first two races of the season, Byron and the No. 24 team have been on a hot streak. For the first time in his Cup career, the Charlotte, North Carolina, native is on a run of four consecutive top-10 finishes that date back to his Feb. 28 win at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
VIRTUAL VIRTUOSO: After its inception last year during the pandemic, the NASCAR Pro Invitational Series on iRacing returns Wednesday night for the first race of 10 in 2021. With a background in iRacing, Byron competed in six of the virtual racing events last year, capturing the checkered flag in three of them. He looks to continue his iRacing success while utilizing the extra practice time when the Pro Invitational Series kicks off on dirt at Bristol prior to this weekend’s real-world dirt event there.
SLINGIN’ DIRT: Sunday’s event at Bristol Motor Speedway will mark the first time the NASCAR Cup Series will race on dirt since 1970. While it’s not prevalent on Byron’s racing resumé, he does have one start on dirt at the national level of NASCAR. In 2016, the driver competed in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at Eldora Speedway. After finishing fourth in his heat race, Byron went on to score a top-15 finish, crossing the finish line in 14th.
DIRT SPECIALIST: While this will be the first time racing dirt for modern-day Cup Series teams, Rudy Fugle has an extensive background in the dirt racing world. Growing up in Livonia, New York, the No. 24 team crew chief got his start on dirt, competing in a 600cc micro sprint and working on a friend’s dirt modified at the local track level. In his time as a crew chief, Fugle has six Camping World Truck Series starts at Eldora Speedway, collecting a track-best finish of fourth in 2015 with Erik Jones.
LIBERTY U IS BACK: When the Cup Series takes on the dirt at Bristol for the first time, Byron will have the new Liberty University paint scheme on board his No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE. Featuring a white base with navy flames and red accents, the Liberty University No. 24 will be sure to stand out on track, especially on the dirt. Liberty University has a long history with Byron starting back in 2014 in the late model ranks. Liberty University has been Training Champions for Christ since it was founded in 1971. Located in the mountains of Central Virginia, Liberty is a liberal arts institution with 17 colleges and schools that offers more than 600 degree programs from the certificate to the doctoral level, on campus and online. Working on an undergraduate degree in business communication, Byron is now in his junior year at Liberty University through its online program. For a better look at Byron’s new Liberty University paint scheme, click here.
CLOSE TO HOME: Chris Burkey, the pit crew coach for the Nos. 9 and 24 teams, hails from Greeneville, Tennessee, which is only 47 miles southwest of Bristol Motor Speedway. Burkey has an extensive background in coaching, getting his start in football. He played football for Wingate University, where he eventually started his coaching career. Burkey coached college football from 1992-2005 for Wingate, East Tennessee and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 2005, he joined the NFL’s Miami Dolphins as a scout. Looking for a new challenge, Burkey made the transition from football to NASCAR when he was hired as a developmental pit crew coach for Hendrick Motorsports in 2009. He moved up to the head coach position for the Nos. 5 and 24 teams in 2014.
William Byron, driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, on the challenges he expects racing on dirt: “This weekend is going to be such a challenge. I’m looking forward to it and I think it will be fun. I just don’t know what to expect, honestly. Luckily, iRacing scanned it and we will race virtually Wednesday night. Hopefully, that will help a bit. I think the guys who run dirt normally will have an advantage. Someone like Kyle Larson is going to be fast. It’s going to be a challenge for us asphalt guys. You’ll have to have your elbows up every lap. It’s going to be challenging physically, too, because you’re going to be driving your car hard constantly. There is no saving equipment in dirt racing.”
Byron on how he plans to prepare for Sunday’s dirt race: “I didn’t do the best at Eldora (Speedway) but Bristol has more banking, which will give it a different feeling. I’m excited to get there and see what it’s like though. I’m obviously going to talk with Kyle (Larson) some beforehand, but he also doesn’t know what to fully expect in a Cup car there. The biggest thing when it comes to dirt is getting to experience it yourself and watching what everyone else is doing and where they are making speed. I plan to really do that during practice on Friday to see what I can learn and apply to the race on Sunday.”
Rudy Fugle, crew chief of the No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, on racing on dirt at Bristol Motor Speedway: “This weekend’s race will be unlike any other that we’re used to. Just about every way the car is set up is the opposite of what we would normally run. You want the car raised up higher to account for the dirt and bumps but also to allow the right side to really roll over and get the rear tire to catch and grip the track. The main thing is we don’t have any notes on what to expect from the track, but at least we do have practice sessions on Friday to help get acclimated. We’ve also been watching the other races that have been taking place there the last few days to try judge some characteristics of the track as runs go on. The good thing is that we’re really all on the same page going into the event.”