Cole's Corner

Under the radar dominance: Byron levels up in 2021

By Cole Cusumano

Early struggles mired by bad luck have painted a false image of William Byron’s talent and place in the NASCAR Cup Series. Seemingly oblivious to most, largely due to his silently yet composed demeanor, the driver of the No. 24 is proving to be one of the most dominant and consistent through the 2021 season.

Since winning at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Byron hasn’t placed below eighth and recently finished runner-up at Talladega Superspeedway. His eight top-10s match Denny Hamlin for most thus far and his 10.3 average finish ties him for second-best with Kevin Harvick

To be on par with the two winningest drivers last season and ranked fourth in the standings through 10 races speaks volumes. With hardly any acknowledgment from the masses for his torrid performance uptick, what’s the next step in captivating the eyes of NASCAR?

“I think we’re already taking it to the next level, the way we’re running,” Byron told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “Even [at Talladega] with the way we fixed the car, finished second. I feel like next week is just hopefully a continuation of what we’re doing.”

Coming out of the first off-week, Byron admitted to circling Richmond Raceway and the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt wildcard as events he didn’t expect to run well at. Instead, the No. 24 team’s resilience awarded them with seventh and sixth-place finishes respectively, and they’re riding an eight-race top-10 streak into what he views as their strength of schedule.

“There’s been a few obstacles that we’ve already cleared,” Byron said. “Now we’re going into the racetracks that are kind of the bread and butter of our team. Kansas (Speedway) has been really good for me in the past. Obviously I’m very biased towards running well at Charlotte (Motor Speedway). I feel like that’s one that is really important for me.

“All these coming up are really good opportunities for us to try to win another race.”

Byron has yet to compile a multi-win season, but there’s no reason to believe that will be an issue this year.

Many felt once Byron scored his first victory, the floodgates would open — and that’s been the case. Since winning the regular-season finale at Daytona International Speedway, the Hendrick Motorsports product added another trophy to his collection and 14 top-10s in 21 starts.

People tend to forget Byron is only 23 years old and in the midst of his fourth full-time season. This is also the same driver who ran one NASCAR Xfinity Series campaign and won a title for JR Motorsports in 2017. It also helps that Hendrick Motorsports has been firing on all cylinders in 2021 and he learned under seven-time champion crew chief, Chad Knaus.

The time has come to understand we haven’t even scratched the surface of seeing Byron’s full potential and he should be considered a Championship 4 contender at this point in 2021. It’s been well documented that Dale Earnhardt Jr. has an eye for excellence with his JR Motorsports pipeline and the driver of the No. 24 could be the next source of validation.

Brad Keselowski and Chase Elliott are among the names who’ve gone on to win Cup Series titles after their tenure driving for Earnhardt in the Xfinity Series — could Byron be next?

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