HERE TO STAY: Coming off his first NASCAR Cup win and heading into his second series playoff appearance, William Byron confirmed Tuesday that he will continue to bring home the hardware behind the wheel of the No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE for the 2021 and 2022 seasons. While his contract extension was signed in early August prior to Saturday’s win, Byron’s success in the national ranks of NASCAR speaks for itself. Signing with Hendrick Motorsports in August 2016, he climbed the ladder to the Xfinity Series in 2017, winning the circuit championship before making his way to the Cup level in 2018. With a combined 12 NASCAR national series race wins, Byron is the fifth-youngest driver to score a victory in all three major touring levels and is one of only two drivers to be crowned rookie of the year in three consecutive seasons.
WINNER WINNER: With Saturday night’s event at Daytona International Speedway signaling the final race of the 2020 regular season, Byron rolled off from the sixth position in the No. 24 Liberty University Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE but quickly took the lead early on. The Charlotte, North Carolina, native continued to show speed throughout the night and narrowly avoided multiple incidents to position himself on the front row for the final restart heading into overtime. Jumping out to the lead just before taking the white flag, Byron got help from Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott, who gave him the push he needed to maintain the lead and capture the checkered flag for his first career Cup Series win.
THE NUMBER IS 24: The “24” car number, made famous by four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon, has an extensive history in NASCAR. Byron can now add his name to the legacy. En route to his Daytona win, Byron led 24 laps, including the final two in overtime, before capturing the checkered flag – the first time the No. 24 has been to victory lane with someone other than Gordon behind the wheel. Gordon’s first Cup Series win came at the age of 22 years, 9 months and 25 days, while Byron’s first victory came at 22 years, 9 months and 1 day – a difference of exactly 24 days. In fact, Saturday marked the first summer Cup race at Daytona not held on the Fourth of July weekend since 1998 when the event was held in October. The winner was Gordon in the No. 24.
LOCKED IT UP: Not only did his Daytona win signal the first of his Cup career but it also solidified Byron’s position in the 2020 NASCAR playoffs. Making his second appearance during his three-year Cup Series career, Byron is now seeded ninth, three points above the cutline heading into the first of three races in the Round of 16.
NIGHT VISION: While racing under the lights seems to bring a different level of intensity, it also brings success for Byron. In the last four races run at night, including Saturday’s Daytona win, the Charlotte, North Carolina, native has finished in the top 10 – a streak he plans to continue Sunday at Darlington.
DARLINGTON DEETS: With four previous Cup Series starts at Darlington, Byron is looking to capitalize on his strong showings at the track this Sunday and is hoping to find a little luck along the way. Despite running well early in races, Byron only has a track-best finish of 12th, which came earlier this year in the second race of the Darlington doubleheader. Last year in a “Days of Thunder” throwback paint scheme, Byron channeled his inner Cole Trickle and captured the pole for the prestigious Southern 500, becoming the youngest-ever pole sitter at Darlington Raceway at 21 years, 9 months and 2 days.
PLAYOFF MASTER: When the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team solidified its spot in the battle for the championship Saturday night, veteran crew chief Chad Knaus made history of his own. This year’s post-season berth continued his streak of 17 consecutive playoff appearances. Not only does that stat rank first among all crew chiefs – with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alan Gustafson second with 13 appearances – but Knaus has yet to miss the playoffs since the format’s inception in 2004. Through his 17 trips, Knaus has gone on to win an incredible 29 races and seven championships, which are both records in the playoff format.
KNAUS DIGS DARLINGTON: Making his 25th start at Darlington Raceway atop the pit box, Knaus is optimistic that his previous success at the 1.366-mile oval will continue Sunday. With three crown jewel wins at “The Lady in Black,” all with Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team, Knaus also has one pole award at Darlington, which came last year with Byron and the No. 24 team for the Southern 500.
LIBERTY HONORS JOHNSON: On board for his win at Daytona, Liberty University will remain on Byron’s No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE for Sunday’s race at Darlington – but with a different look. Embodying this year’s theme of “past champions” for the Southern 500, Liberty University is honoring seven-time champion Johnson by running his 2013 NASCAR All-Star Race paint scheme. Featuring a red, white and blue design with stars and stripes, the throwback scheme represents Johnson’s fourth and final All-Star Race win – the most of any driver – at Byron’s hometown track of Charlotte Motor Speedway.
SOUTH CAROLINA STATE OF MIND: While the fueler on the No. 24 team hails from North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, Landon Walker has significant ties to the southernmost Carolina state. The former college football player earned a scholarship to Clemson University in 2007 after being named an All-American offensive lineman in his hometown at East Wilkes High School. While playing at Clemson, Walker recorded 3,131 snaps with 49 starts at tackle through four seasons. In 2011, he was named team captain, the same year Clemson went on to win the Atlantic Coast Conference championship. The college football standout was then recruited by Hendrick Motorsports in 2012 and earned a position as a starting fueler for crew chief Gustafson in 2015.
Driver William Byron winning the final race before the playoffs:
"Fortunately, we have pretty long weeks now with no practice or qualifying. We get two extra days, essentially. So we have had a couple days to take everything in and enjoy the win before turning on to Darlington. Darlington is a track that we’ve traditionally run well at and had a decent car in the spring this year. We’ll make some changes off of our previous setup and I think we’ll be in a good place.”
Byron on his feelings of getting his first Cup win:
“It was honestly just a big relief. I’ve been driving the No. 24 car for the last couple years and it was a relief to win that race in that car. There’s a lot of pressure that comes with that and the legacy of the car. These last couple years I’ve been really trying to work on being comfortable in the car and make it my own. I don’t remember much from crossing the finish line, but watching it back it just makes me smile. I’m still on Cloud 9. It’s been pretty special.”
Byron on racing at Darlington:
“Hopefully, we can have a good race and execute really well. Darlington is a really tough racetrack but luckily we’ve been there twice already this year. I have a pretty good idea of what the track is going to feel like and how it’s going to drive and handle. It definitely is a very temperature-sensitive track and it’s going to be warmer than when we were there in May. It rubbers up a lot, especially up by the wall. You have to move your line around and try to avoid the rubber at times until it covers the full track. Once it does, you can run wherever your car handles the best. It’s a balancing act of trying to chase clean track and trying to find good racetrack to run on.”
Crew chief Chad Knaus on the pressure of winning and the playoffs:
“The intensity was way higher and the pressure we felt was high, really high in Daytona. Quite honestly, I love it. That’s why we do what we do. That’s why we compete. If it was easy no one would want to do it. It felt really good after the race to get that checkered flag. Going into the playoffs now, it’s all in the details and we have to make sure that we execute properly. Going to Darlington now, it’s a great racetrack for us. We’ve ran well there. We sat on the pole last year, we ran up front in the first spring race until we had a loose wheel, and we were decent in the second May race. If we look at the details this week, I think we have an opportunity to be really competitive this weekend and run up towards the front.”