From Catchfence.com - Chris Knight
RIDGEWAY, Va. – Despite a bright yellow stripe across the back bumper of his No. 9 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota Tundra, William Byron has looked more like a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) veteran rather than an inexperienced rookie this season, even if the results don’t show it.
Saturday at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, quite possibly one of the most difficult race tracks on the schedule, Byron continued that persona in the No. 9 Liberty University Toyota Tundra, recording his career-best finish of third in Saturday afternoon’s Alpha Energy Solutions 250.
“It was a long race,” said Byron. “The first thing is we started out really loose and then we made a few adjustments and kinda fell back to 11th or 12th and that was our biggest struggling point was like midway through the race and then we started to really come on strong the last 80-90 laps and really get good to where we could drive up to the front.”
It was the 18-year-old’s first career top-10 finish in just four races.
Byron started seventh and steadily began a climb forward – but an ill-handling truck dropped him back in the running order during the first race run.
The Charlotte, North Carolina native had no reason to worry, though. With Ryan “Rudy” Fugle on the pit box, the changes allowed the rookie to shine.
And to the front, he went.
Staying out of trouble and pressing the issue when he needed, Byron stood his ground during two late race red flags to find himself in position to potentially snooker KBM boss Kyle Busch for the win.
You can dream can’t you?
Despite worn tires, Busch, the classy veteran left the field in the dust, taking the youngsters to work once again scoring his first triumph at Martinsville’s historic paperclip oval as a driver and owner.
“I wish we could have done something on the last couple of restarts, but we were just a little too tight,” added Byron.
Still, the 2015 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion was delighted with his performance in his track debut. Surviving his first truck restrictor plate race with a 13th at Daytona, Byron took the speed from the 2.5-mile superspeedway to Atlanta’s rough and tumble 1.5-mile speedway. Qualifying 15th, the teenager quickly began marching forward, and while running second, the engine seized just before halfway in the Great Clips 200. This left the No. 9 team last in the running order and a gigantic drop in points to 25th.
In typical Byron fashion, his cool-calm-selfless demeanor paid off in a big way on Saturday. The decision to exercise patience and take a third place truck and finish third gives the KBM protégé a bright outlook moving forward compared to just five weeks ago.
Even with his limited experience behind the wheel in any division, Byron is quickly being eyed as a future superstar of this sport. No doubt everyone is seeing it. Including race winner and boss Busch who offered nothing but praise for his young driver.
“I’m really impressed with William Byron,” said the reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion. “For as little experience as he has in race cars, he’s really, really good. I’m pumped to have him on our team. I feel like he’s doing a really good job with Rudy. Rudy is doing a really good job with him. I’m optimistic that that those guys are definitely going to win some races this year and contend for the championship. As crazy as that may sound, he’s a rookie and has a lot to learn, but he races like a veteran.
“He looked good out there. I know there were kinda beating and banging a little bit behind me, I was hoping he could get to second, but overall a good day for him.”
Entering the one-month break, Byron can be satisfied to also know he moved 14 spots in the series standings to 12th ahead of the next NCWTS race at Kansas Speedway on May 6. Byron said he’ll stay busy competing in a Late Model to dwindle some of the down time boredom, but afterwards, he’s making sure his No. 9 team is ready to move into the summer stretch.