chevy racing–nascar–william byron

FIRST OFF, ONE, HOW’S YOUR OFF SEASON GOING? “It’s going good. Just been spending some time with my family. My sister is in town from New York, so I’m trying to spend a little time with them and enjoy a little bit of downtime. And also, get ready for next year. I’ve had a couple meetings with Rudy (Fugle, Crew Chief), so far. Just talking about some of the racing for the start of next year and trying to get prepared.” 
HOW DID THOSE CONVERSATIONS START? DID YOU FIRST REACH OUT TO RUDY (FUGLE)? DID YOU GO TO MR. H WHEN CHAD (KNAUS) WAS ANNOUNCING THAT HE WAS RETIRING, DID YOU GO TO HIM AND SAY ‘I WANT RUDY FUGLE AS MY CREW CHIEF’ OR HOW DID THAT COME ABOUT? “Yeah, so actually, the way it started was Jeff Gordon reached out to me, I think sometime in August, and was just like ‘Hey, we’re looking at Rudy (Fugle) as a possibility for your crew chief next year. Chad (Knaus) is moving onto a different role and they think Rudy would be a good option’. So, it honestly came from them. I know I kind of planted a seed a couple years ago with Chad about the possibility of Rudy being an engineer at HMS, but it never really materialized then. So, I was kind of surprised when they came to me and said that, but I was really excited. I still had to meet with Rudy and kind of figure out where his goals were, his aspirations, and also figure out if we really still mesh together, given a few years away from each other and kind of doing different things. Honestly, we clicked really well. We met at a restaurant in Concord and just really hit it off right where we left off.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU LEARNED FROM CHAD THAT YOU WILL TAKE WITH YOU TO PREPARE YOU FOR RUDY AND WHAT YOU THINK RUDY WILL LEND TO ADD TO WHAT YOU LEARNED FROM CHAD? “I think it’s two very different styles. I’ve worked with a variety of crew chiefs and, for better or worse, I’ve kind of been put with a lot of different crew chiefs because I’ve moved to different teams and I’ve grown up relatively fast in the sport. So, I’ve learned a lot of different styles. I think I’ve learned quite a few things with Chad that were different than maybe what I did with Rudy at KBM. So, it’s kind of meshing the two styles together. Definitely I feel, like Rudy said, that I’ve matured since I worked with him. I was really young and really kind of naive in the Truck Series at 17 or 18 years old. So, I think a lot has changed since then. But, at the same time, we can definitely apply a lot of the things that we did back then in our communication and our style together. So, I don’t think it’s going to take us too long to really kind of hit where we were back then and kind of apply some of the new things, too.”
DO YOU THINK YOU GAINED CONFIDENCE SINCE YOU STARTED IN THE CUP SERIES? THAT LENDS ITSELF TO HAVING RUDY WITH YOU NOW – YOU’RE MORE CONFIDENT NOW AS A LEADER FOR THE TEAM.“For sure. When I was with Rudy in the Truck Series, a lot of the time, it was him telling me ‘here’s how we used to do it’ or ‘here’s how Kyle did it’. Now, it’s more – OK, here’s my experience, here’s the things I focus on. He’s not having to tell me as much about certain things or certain ideas. We’re kind of on the same playing field when it comes to the things that we’re contributing. It was definitely a lot more of him contributing to my learning curve in the past versus, now, I think we’re closer to equal. I think that’s going to be a head start in itself.”
WHAT HAS BEEN THE FOCUS ON YOUR PREPARATION FOR 2021? HAVE YOU SAID GET ME ON EVERY ROAD COURSE SIMULATOR I CAN GET ON? ARE YOU LOOKING FOR ANY DIRT RACES TO DO? WHAT’S YOUR FOCUS?“Yeah, I think the dirt is probably the least important aspect, in terms of preparation, because it’s only one race. We do have to give some thought to it and kind of what I want to do there. But definitely thinking about some road course ideas – how to get a little bit more time in some form or fashion on some road courses in a similar style car. I think the biggest caveat to everything is trying to find a car that’s similar to a stock car on a road course is very hard. So, figuring out that. But yeah, Rudy and I have kind of gone through the first handful of tracks and tried to figure out some of the stuff we want to attack at those tracks. We’ve already talked today about Homestead, the Clash, the Daytona 500, obviously. Just trying to figure out some of the little details and nuances that we want to try to apply to those tracks. So, that’s been the main focus of it and Rudy has done a great job of kind of getting going. I think he’s been in here for two and a half weeks now. He’s done a good job getting going.”
I WANTED TO RE-WIND JUST A LITTLE BIT TO 2016 – THAT FIRST YEAR THAT YOU GUYS WERE PAIRED TOGETHER. YOU WERE JUST 18 YEARS OLD AND ENTERING YOUR FIRST FULL TRUCK SEASON. WHAT SORT OF INFLUENCE WAS RUDY ON THE START OF YOUR CAREER? WAS IT A RE-ASSURING VOICE IN YOUR EAR AS YOU WERE JUST GETTING STARTED?“Yeah, it was. I think, for me, I really have to think back a lot to how that year unfolded. But we had speed at the beginning of the year, which obviously cures a lot of issues and a lot of lack in experience, stuff like that. So, we had that. But I think as the year went on, I really started to develop as a communicator, as a driver and my level of aggression got higher, things of that nature. And then I kind of went out and went a completely different direction – went to Hendrick, JRM, and kind of learning some of the things there and tried to really grow myself. Yeah, I think there’s a lot of experience along the way at each race and each year that you learn and I’m definitely a lot different than I was then. And I’m sure Rudy is, too.”
DO YOU FEEL LIKE A VETERAN AT THE RIPE OF 23 YEARS OLD, GETTING STARTED FOR A FOURTH CUP SEASON?“Yeah, I definitely don’t feel like a rookie or inexperienced. I think there’s a lot less questions than there used to be about certain racetracks and certain things that I want to focus on those tracks. I feel like now is the time to get it together and perform really at a high level every week. That’s the goal this year – just to take a step from winning one race and try to take a step towards winning multiple. And even if not maybe the wins, just being in contention for multiple, which is definitely the next step.”
FOLLOWING UP TO WHAT YOU JUST SAID ABOUT NOW IS THE TIME TO STEP IT UP AND GET IT TOGETHER EVERY WEEK, WHEN YOU LOOK AT YOUR FIRST THREE YEARS AND GOING INTO YEAR FOUR, WHAT ARE SOME OF THE POSITIVES AND NEGATIVES? WHAT’S YOUR SELF-CRITISIM THAT YOU HAVE TO PUT ON YOUR SHOULDERS GOING INTO YEAR FOUR?“I think the positives are easy to kind of identify. I think making the Playoffs the last two years has been great. The pole positions that we had in 2019 when we were qualifying was great. The race win, the Duel win – all those things are good things, which kind of establishes us as a contender. Somebody who can potentially win. But I think now, it’s just being a consistent threat and being somebody that each week and each track we go to is not really a weakness, and we can identify some of those small details that are going to take us to that top five or six group of teams that get to the Final Eight and, hopefully, the Final Four. So, yeah I think just figuring out how to make that next step to not just be kind of a one-time winner each year.”
SECONDLY, YOU SAID YOU AND RUDY SHOULD BE ABLE TO APPLY SOME OF THE THINGS YOU HAD BACK A COUPLE YEARS AGO. WHAT KIND OF AN INFLUENCE ARE YOU EXPECTING HIM TO HAVE ON YOU NOW COMING ON A CUP SERIES PARTNERSHIP AND INFUENCE YOU EXPECT HIM TO HAVE AS THE LEADER OF THIS TEAM?“Yeah, I think the influence has already been noticeable. We’ve met two or three times over the last couple of weeks and the influence has already been there, and we’ve kind of picked up where we left off with communication. We do have to be out on the racetrack to really see kind of the fruits of that, but you can plan accordingly and have a really good plan and that’s a good start. It doesn’t always go that well, but you can kind of plan those things out. I feel good about it. I feel like we’re going to pick up where we left off.”
IT FEELS LIKE OVER THE LAST FIVE YEARS, HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS HAS TRANSITIONED ITSELF TOWARDS ITS FUTURE AND NOW IT FEELS LIKE THAT TRANSITION IS COMPLETE WITH JIMMIE JOHNSON OFF TO NEW ADVENTURES. I’M CURIOUS, HAS IT HIT YOU AND YOUR TEAMMATES THAT THE FUTURE HAS ARRIVED. IT’S DOWN TO YOU GUYS, THE YOUNG BUCKS, TO CARRY ON THE HENDRICK LEGACY. HOW DOES IT FEEL TO HAVE THAT CHAMPIONSHIP LEGACY ON YOUR SHOULDERS NOW?“It’s definitely hit us. I think seeing Chase (Elliott) go out there and win the championship like that was definitely a sign that obviously we’re capable. Yeah, the bar has been set, for sure. Things have really evolved – I think the first year when I was here in 2018, how many growing pains there were for me, but also the race team to kind of find out footing with really three new drivers and one veteran guy. So now, it’s four new guys. I feel like three of us have been here for awhile now and really established kind of our trends, our feelings inside the team and what we want in our race cars. I think the bar has definitely been set now and it’s about just going out there and trying to achieve that.”
WHERE DOES ONE GO WHEN THEY’RE GOING TO HAVE AN INTERVIEW WITH A POTENTIAL CREW CHIEF WHEN THEY’RE LOOKING FOR A RESTAURANT IN CONCORD? “Yeah, we went to TGI Friday’s (laughs). Rudy knows I’m a pretty picky eater, so he chose that one because they have chicken tenders and fries. So, it was perfect.”
BECAUSE THAT WAS AN UNIQUE AND NEW SITUATION FOR YOU AND YOUR CAREER, IN SITTING DOWN WITH A CREW CHIEF, WHAT WERE THE QUESTIONS? WHAT WERE THE THINGS YOU NEEDED TO COME OUT OF THAT MEETING TO KIND OF HAVE THAT COMFORT OR WHAT WERE THE THINGS YOU WERE SEEKING? “Yeah, I think when I was first working with him at KBM, it was more just surface-level questions about just the basics – things I needed to execute well, like getting on pit road. Really, some of the driving stuff was kind of left up to me or I would ask questions to Kyle. But a lot of the setup stuff and kind of the ideas behind it, I never really asked those questions. I wasn’t far enough along to really understand it. So, I feel like this time around, the conversations when we met back at the end of August, were much more detailed and more specific. So, I could ask more pointed questions about what I wanted to understand. We hit it off right away in terms of those things and he kind of opened up to me more about the details. I just wasn’t experienced enough to know that stuff when I was 18 years old. I kind of had to go out on my own, in a sense, and go through Xfinity and a few years of Cup to understand that stuff.”
YOU MENTIONED THE DRIVER STABLE THERE, WHERE YOU HAVE THREE GUYS THAT ARE PRETTY ESTABLISHED AT HMS, AND NOW YOU’RE WELCOMING ANOTHER GUY. THAT OTHER GUY IS OBIVOUSLY KYLE (LARSON) AND KYLE IS A GUY OBVIOUSLY THAT’S HAD A LOT OF SUCCESS, BUT HE ALSO COMES WITH WHAT HAPPENED THIS YEAR. HOW DO YOU GUYS AS A GROUP OF DRIVERS KIND OF WELCOME HIM IN? IT’S A DIFFERENT SITUATION FOR A TEAM IN NASCAR AS OPPOSED TO LIKE A BASKETBALL PLAYER BECAUSE BASKETBALL PLAYERS ARE TOGETHER ALL THE TIME. YOU GUYS AS DRIVERS AREN’T NECESSARILY TOGETHER ALL THE TIME – HOW DO YOU WELCOME HIM IN AND HOW DO YOU GUYS KIND OF DRAW FROM HIS EXPERIENCES AND HIS TALENTS?“I think Kyle (Larson) obviously has a lot of talent, but I feel like he’s going to be easy to work with because he’s pretty much all business, all racing. So, it’s not really going to be hard to pick apart his honest feelings about things. I think he’s going to be pretty honest and pretty upfront about a lot of stuff, so I think that’s going to help us in competition meetings, thinking about ideas for the next race, and stuff like that. Obviously, you’re going to have tracks that you can draw from that he’s always been good at. So, you think about Homestead or Chicago, places that are really good for him. It’s going to be cool to kind of pick his brain on that stuff. Anytime you can bring in somebody new that’s going to continue to push the bar I think is really good. You’re going from Jimmie Johnson to another guy that’s going to have a ton of talent, so it’s going to be a pretty easy transition I think.”
DO DRIVERS IN A MULTI-CAR TEAM NECESSARILY NEED TO BE BUDDIES OR IS IT STRICTLY PROFESSIONAL AND YOU GUYS GO THROUGH THE MEETINGS? IS IT MORE HELFUL MAYBE FOR THE FOUR OF YOU GUYS TO HANGOUT WHEN YOU’RE ALLOWED TO HANG OUT, ONCE WE GET THROUGH ALL THE COVID ISSUES?“Yeah, I might be closer to one or another at certain times, but I feel like we all kind of work pretty well together. Especially the way the meetings are structured, like where we all kind of sit together, you build some similarities between drivers that you might draw from for certain tracks. So, I feel like it’s more professional, for sure. I don’t know if we’d all just go out and have fun together all the time, but we learn from each other, for sure.”
YOU MENTIONED PRACTICE PLANS FOR NEXT YEAR, BUT DID YOU CONSIDER GOING DOWN TO COTA THIS WEEKEND FOR THE ENDURANCE EVENT AS SOME OF THE OTHER DRIVERS ARE DOING TO GET FAMILIAR WITH THE TRACK FOR NEXT YEAR? “I haven’t, but I’ve got some separate plans that are going to be road course related over the next month or so. I think definitely COTA is high on the list to try to get some laps on, but it’s more going to be kind of a one-on-one thing for me, instead of just watching. More kind of hands-on and getting in some kind of car.