By Dustin Long, NBC Sports /
It is for this type of weekend coming up at Martinsville Speedway that William Byron ran several Late Model races this year.
While there’s plenty of chances to run laps on a simulator or on iRacing, there’s a value in running actual laps in a race car, even if it is different than the Next Gen car. With limited practice in Cup, the more laps the better, especially for the 24-year-old Byron who didn’t begin competing until a decade ago — years after many of his competitors first started.
Byron heads into this weekend on the verge of making the Cup championship race for the first time. He leads Denny Hamlin by five points for the last transfer spot.
Byron’s experience running Late Model races this season gave him extra chances to work on his race craft, whether it was more time on restarts, managing tires or something else. His success this year — which included winning the Slinger Nationals in Wisconsin in July — also provided extra confidence.
“Super proud of him for stepping out of his comfort zone and pushing his limits,” crew chief Rudy Fugle said in July on MotorMouths on Peacock. “That’s what is huge.
“A lot of guys do that in different ways, but they don’t always do it in front of a crowd. You don’t do it in front of everybody who, if you go up there and miss the show … most people that don’t know how hard it is are going to laugh at you. You have to get past that. He’s done that and it has paid off. He’s a way more complete driver this year and is just going to keep growing.”
Byron heads to Martinsville having won the spring race (and the Camping World Truck Series race that weekend), but he faces a tough competitor in Hamlin, who has five Martinsville victories and 16 top-five finishes in 33 starts there. Byron will be making his 10th Cup start at the historic half-mile track. Hamlin has run nearly 16,000 laps in those Martinsville races compared to Byron, who has run just over 4,200 laps there.
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