PLAYOFF CONTENDER: With the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs set to kick off this Sunday, this will be William Byron’s third appearance in the 10-race battle for the championship. The driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE heads into this year’s playoffs seeded in the eighth position. In the upcoming 10 races, the Cup Series has run on seven of those tracks already this year, and Byron is the only driver to have finished inside the top seven in each of those events.
BEST YEAR YET: With only 10 races left in the 2021 Cup Series season, Byron is continuing to have a career-best season at the highest level of competition in the No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet. So far, Byron has collected one win (Homestead-Miami Speedway), two pole awards (Road America and Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course – the most by a driver this season), nine top-five finishes and 16 top-10s (tied for the third-most by a driver this season) all while leading 276 laps and collecting three stage wins. In his Cup career, these are the most top-five finishes, top-10s, laps led and stage wins the 23-year-old driver has earned in a single season.
DARLINGTON DEETS: With six previous Cup Series starts at Darlington Raceway, Byron is looking to capitalize on his previously strong showings at the South Carolina track this Sunday. Despite running well early on, Byron’s results in his first four starts at the 1.366-mile track don’t accurately represent the strength he had shown. However, in his last two starts at “The Lady in Black,” Byron has started within the top five both times and secured a fifth-place result in the fall of 2020 and a fourth-place result earlier this season in May. Byron also has one NASCAR Xfinity Series start at the southern track where he qualified sixth and raced to a fifth-place result.
THE FUGLE FILES: When the Cup Series returns to Darlington on Sunday, it will mark the second trip to the South Carolina track for crew chief Rudy Fugle at the top level of NASCAR. Earlier this season, Fugle called the shots for Byron at Darlington, starting fifth before racing their way to a fourth-place result. Prior to this season, Fugle had only three previous starts at Darlington Raceway – two in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and one in the Xfinity Series.
ALL ABOUT AXALTA: For the first race of the Round of 16, Byron will climb behind the wheel of the No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE for Sunday’s race at Darlington Raceway. Now in its 29th year of partnership with Hendrick Motorsports, Axalta will return as primary partner on Byron’s No. 24 for 14 races in 2021.
SOUTH CAROLINA STATE OF MIND: While Landon Walker, the fueler on the No. 24 team, hails from North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, he also has significant ties to the southernmost Carolina state, having played football at Clemson University. The former college offensive tackle earned a scholarship to Clemson in 2007 after being named an All-American offensive lineman at East Wilkes High School. While playing at Clemson, Walker recorded 3,131 snaps with 49 starts at tackle through four seasons. In 2011, Walker was named team captain, the same year Clemson went on to win the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship. Walker was then recruited by Hendrick Motorsports in 2012 and earned a position as the starting fueler for the former No. 5 (now No. 24) team in 2015.
‘DESI9N TO DRIVE’: This year, Byron will take part in the Chase Elliott Foundation’s “DESI9N TO DRIVE” shoe program during National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Benefitting Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Byron and his Hendrick Motorsports teammates selected racing shoe designs created by patients of Children’s to wear for Sunday’s race at Darlington. Byron will sport 6-year-old Branson Gibby’s design on his racing shoes, which feature bright colors throughout the design. After the race, the race-worn shoes will be signed by Byron and auctioned off on the NASCAR Foundation online auction site starting on Thurs., Sept. 2 and running though Wed., Sept. 8. All of the proceeds will goto the Chase Elliott Foundation to benefit the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s.
William Byron, driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, on racing at Darlington for the first race of the playoffs: “Darlington is a track that has a lot of character. I feel like you really have to drive your car to its limit all while understanding the grip and limit of your tires. You can’t exceed that level every lap. You have to stay within a certain limit. I think that is a factor at just about every track, but it’s really magnified at Darlington. Any time the drivers are challenged like they are at Darlington, it brings out the desire and passion within all of us. It just makes it that more intense when it’s kicking off the most intense part of our season with the playoffs. It’s definitely a cool race if you can win it track-wise but also because it sets the tone for how the next nine races go.”
Rudy Fugle, crew chief of the No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, on what it will take to be successful in the playoffs: “Daytona was a tough one for us, just because we had a car that could have won and the extra playoff points would have been nice. Unfortunately, preparation doesn’t always equal results, but you can’t get results without the preparation. While we’ve been preparing every week like we’ve already started the playoffs, we’re resetting for the start of the Round of 16 this weekend. The playoffs are a long, hard-fought war, but it starts with small battles. Our team has had the speed all year; we just need to execute and put ourselves in the best position to keep moving forward and get through the rounds. Obviously, the goal is to make it to the final four at Phoenix, but we need to win the small battles along the way to ensure we get there. This team is fully capable of doing that and it starts this weekend at Darlington.”