William Byron caps off XFINITY tenure with a spirited championship drive

Matthew T. Thacker/NKP

By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

Get ready, Hendrick Motorsports fans.

You have another promising young NASCAR XFINITY Series champion heading your way.

One year ago William Byron did everything he needed to to claim a Camping World Truck Series championship, dominating each of the final two races of the year for Kyle Busch Motorsports. But a late blown motor at Phoenix Raceway kept him from capping off his dominant rookie season with a title when he won the following week at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

In his lone full season with JR Motorsports, Byron delivered a similar drive in the No. 9 Chevrolet.

This time the blown motor never came.

Byron won his first NASCAR national series title in Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300, besting teammate and veteran Elliott Sadler in a classic duel to complete his rise in XFINITY Series lore with a third-place finish that clinched his triumph in the Championship 4.

“I don’t know that I took a breath the last 20 laps,” Byron said. “That was incredible.  I just have to thank this team.  This is awesome. Elliott (Sadler, teammate) raced me clean and we just raced hard for it.  I just can’t believe this.  I’ve just got to thank God for giving me this platform to perform.  I can’t believe this.  I’m tired, whew.  Thanks to all the fans here this evening, this is an unbelievable crowd, I just can’t believe it.”

Sadler followed a distant eighth after contact with Ryan Preece left with with a low tire, with Justin Allgaier and Daniel Hemric finishing 12th and 34th, respectively, after the first dealt with handling issues and the latter suffered a dead battery.

With his triumph, Byron became the second rookie to claim an XFINITY Series title for JRM, following Chase Elliott’s 2014 championship run.

The result was fitting, given that Byron is set to join Elliott in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series next season, taking over the iconic No. 24 Chevrolet made famous by another young phenom – four-time champion Jeff Gordon.

But while Byron was older than Elliott during his title run – Byron won at the age of 19 years, 11 months and 20 days, while Elliott’s came at 18 years, 11 months and 18 days – the North Carolinian’s season may have been even more impressive.

First there were the wins. Byron earned a rookie record four wins this season, including triumphs at the legendary Daytona International Speedway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway in addition to wins at Iowa Speedway and Phoenix Raceway.

Then there was the competition the wins and success came against. A total of 18 drivers combined to claim the year’s 33 races this season, including Cup Series veterans, part-time prospects and the occasional XFINITY Series regulars.

The strength of fellow teams Richard Childress Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing among others kept JRM from being comfortable all season, even as Byron, Sadler and Justin Allgaier ran consistently up front. The playoff format, combined with the power of the field, gave Byron a unique test that Elliott never had to face in the XFINITY Series, and the rookie lived up to the moment with an expertise that goes far beyond his age.

All told Saturday will likely be remembered as just another step in Byron’s meteoric ascension through the NASCAR ranks. Just two years removed from a championship in his lone year in the K&N Pro Series East, Byron is a champion of NASCAR’s second series poised to take over one of the sport’s most famous numbers in the Cup Series.

If his results to date are any indication Byron could be poised for years or even decades as a force and championship contender in the Cup Series.

But regardless of how well he ultimately does with Hendrick Motorsports, Byron’s name will now forever be etched in the XFINITY Series history books following one of the best years and championship drives the series in seen.

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