Monday, May 23

Interview with William Byron -- Martinsville Speedway

THE MODERATOR: We are joined by our race winner, William Byron, who has been collecting clocks here all weekend at Martinsville, his second clock of the weekend here, driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. We will go straight to questions for William.

Q. Can you just talk a little bit about how the car felt tonight? It seemed like a bit of an odd race here at Martinsville in terms of what we usually see and passing seemed pretty low.

WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, the pace was certainly high. I don't think I ever -- I couldn't ever relax. I saved tire by just not sliding the tires, but I never could back up and save tire and things like that.

But I think it's just really cold temps. Anytime it's below 40 degrees I'd say, the tires don't even lay rubber. That was definitely a factor all night.

But normal short track stuff, like take care of your rear tires and all those things, and I felt like we did a good job of that. Rudy made some great adjustments there probably the mid portion of the race, got us a little bit better, and just tried to manage when we got to traffic and had to be aggressive with certain guys to kind of either move them or get them off-line to pass them and set our gap from there.

I thought as soon as we got our car a little bit better we could work through lap traffic and build a lead.

Q. How much could you take from the truck race on Thursday? Obviously this car is very different.

WILLIAM BYRON: It's different, but Martinsville, like any short track you go to, it's rhythms, rhythms. So you find that rhythm, and I felt like in the truck I was able to find that rhythm pretty well on that last long run that we had towards the end of that race, and it's always fun just racing other stuff. I don't know why I didn't do more short track racing throughout the last few years, but it's been a lot of fun to go back to the short tracks and be with great people on the late model side. There's little things here and there that they've taught me that I feel like have helped me, and all those little tidbits pay off.

Q. I asked you Thursday where you're going to put the clock. Have you figured the first one out and what are you going to do with the second one?

WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, probably give one of them to my parents, and yeah, probably just keep the Cup one in the apartment because that one is pretty special.

Anytime you win a Cup race -- these things are hard. I know it might have looked like we had a dominant race, but these Cup wins are really hard, so you cherish them, and definitely going to try to keep all the trophies together.

Q. You were in a similar position to win a clock I think it was 2019, and a late caution kind of made it go away. Jeff Gordon has been so good here for so long; the 24 car is synonymous with modern Martinsville history. Are you aware of any of that and your place now adding to that legacy? Chase wasn't able to do it; he came close, too, but are you aware of your place in history, now the 24 at Martinsville?

WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, because it's special. When I was a rookie, Jeff was like, hey, let's ride up to Martinsville together. It wasn't even a question, it was hey, let's ride up to Martinsville together, I want to show you some things. He walked me through this place. Just the things he told me, I don't know if it really clicked until I ran second that year to Truex, but they started to click, and it was like, all right, that's the way you get around Martinsville.

So just having his history in the 24 car definitely puts an emphasis on being good here because I feel like it's a place that is filled with history, and if you can win here in the 24 car it's going to be something you always cherish.

Definitely is special, and he's got, what, 93 wins and however many clocks. We've got a lot of clocks to chase, but it's cool to get that advice from him. Those little things that I picked up from him in my rookie year that I didn't really use for a few years, and then as soon as I got towards the front I'm like, all right, that makes sense.

Q. I know Jeff has taken a personal investment in you, not just the race craft but the marketing and presenting yourself publicly. What has Jeff meant to you as far as your development as a Cup driver?

WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I think Jeff kind of brought me to the Cup Series. I was a kid in Xfinity that was really raw and didn't know a lot about the world and I felt like Jeff brought me into the Cup world and said here's how things go. I think that that's been key for me because he's probably been the biggest mentor for me in terms of how do I manage the team, how do I talk to the guys, how do I get things done when it comes to inside the shop and how I work with people, hey, I want this on my car or I want this in the interior of the car.

He was very vocal about getting all that stuff right, and I feel like those are the details that now it's kind of paying off for me.

Q. I've got a couple questions. I was talking with Joey Logano after the race. He talked about how you brake checked him. He said, I would have done the same thing. I asked him do you wish now you would have hit him harder, and he said, yes. What were you expecting there? Were you expecting something harder than what he gave you in Turn 1?

WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I just knew from -- just Legend car days, I knew if it comes down to a restart at the end, the second-place guy is just trying to move you off the bottom. Dennis taught me a lot of good lessons back in the day of that stuff, and I felt like that paid off there at the end. I've never really been in a situation like that until tonight, but I was like, man, all right, I guess it's kind of like the Legend cars. You've got to keep the car on the bottom.

Luckily I kind of messed up 3 and 4 and I was able to -- he was right there on my bumper but I was able to manage that.

Q. This is the first time you've had multiple wins in a season. You've done that --

WILLIAM BYRON: That's cool. We've been chasing that.

Q. That's eight races, only eight races into a 36-race season. A, how does that make you feel now? And are you adjusting goals now as far as how many races you think you can win this year?

WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I think I said it a couple times. I felt like last year left us with a pretty bitter taste because I felt like we were so close to a lot of wins in that second half of the year, and man, it just felt like things would happen and things would break down right at the last minute.

It left me with a bitter taste, and I felt like throughout this off-season I was pretty bitter about that stuff, but it was motivation because I felt like we could get into this year -- granted, it's a new car, we had to go through that adaptation process with the new car, but I feel like we're starting to learn now what we need.

It's good to see, and now I feel like all of that desire and passion that we had in the off-season to prove to ourselves that we could win multiple races is there.

Q. Does it change your goals?

WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I think my goals for at least last year and this year have been to win multiple races, so I don't think that's changed, but it's a long season, so we've got to go to Bristol and figure out that and go to Talladega and hopefully build on what we did at Atlanta. I don't know, it's a long season for sure, but I think certainly we have the pieces to do it.

Q. You said it "clicked" when you finished second to Truex a few years ago. We've heard that from drivers before, that there would be a moment where it clicked. What was it about watching Truex or following Truex that it clicked for you?

WILLIAM BYRON: Well, I can't tell you that. I don't know, it's just short track stuff. I think when it clicks, it clicks everywhere. I'd say the mile-and-a-halfs are a little bit different, but they're still -- like grip is grip, so once you figure out what that feeling is that you want in the car, it does click for you.

Yeah, I just think -- I've got great people around me. With Rudy, he's grown up on the short tracks. He worked with Kyle a lot in super late models, and he's got a good idea of these places.

It helps when you have people pulling the rope in the same direction and you have Rudy up there knowing what adjustments to make. He can see the car go around the track, and he probably knows before I say anything what I need.

Just an awesome team, and we've got -- I can't forget to mention Raptor. They're on the car with AXALTA, and their promotion there, so pretty cool to have them on the car. Good to get both sponsors a win, with Liberty a couple weeks ago. Pretty awesome.

Q. You touched on being the first repeat winner of the year and being bitter after losing out on some wins last year. What does it mean now to cross off the box of first season getting multiple wins?

WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I just think it kind of breaks the ice a little bit. I felt like I could win a race a year. We've done that for a couple years. But to get in that multi-win category is hard. You've got to lead a lot of laps.

We were doing that okay, but we were kind of -- I'd say we were probably an eighth to 12th place team before this year, and I just feel like we're -- I just see a difference in the way our guys are this year and kind of the attention to detail. It's been good so far, so -- like I said, it's a long season, so a lot is going to change with this car, and we've got to keep it up.

Q. Is it true that you have an upcoming competition in Lego Masters?

WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I'm doing some stuff with Lego Masters soon. I don't have any idea what it's going to look like or what it's going to be, but I'm supposed to not spoil that, so I'm just kind of wait-and-see.

But yeah, it's been kind of a busy season so far, so the last thing I built was the Titanic Lego set, which was like 9,900 pieces. That was pretty wild. I was pretty exhausted after that. It's hanging up in front of my bed, so it's pretty cool.

Q. Your experience with Kyle Larson on the dirt, how will that help you for some dirt racing?

WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I mean, I'll be honest, I have no idea what I'm doing, but I think iRacing has helped. Their dirt model is pretty good, the way the track changes. I feel like I've been trying to watch a lot of dirt races to kind of see how that all works. Luckily last year with Bristol dirt in the Cup car, it was pretty much like an asphalt track. It was just a slick asphalt track because it got rubbered in and you just had to baby the throttle.

I think this year is going to be a little bit different, so hopefully running the dirt late model will help me a little bit. I want to run a lot more of those because I feel like they're a full-sized car, you can manipulate them, they're not too dangerous I feel like for somebody like me who has no experience, and they've got a ton of horsepower.

My hope would be to run a lot of super late model races on asphalt and some on dirt would be the goal for the future.

Q. After years of declining attendance, short track racing is seeing an amazing regrowth but is now struggling due to the pandemic with supplies and tires. Do you think it's imperative that drivers on your level go to these tracks to help them market and bring in fans?

WILLIAM BYRON: Oh, yeah. I think -- I probably get more fans from going to a race at Hickory or Pensacola or New Smyrna than I do going to do something here at the track. I feel like people see that you're able to do unique stuff and kind of -- those guys are really good at what they do, so the racing is no different than up here, it's just a matter of kind of different cars and different series.

But yeah, I think my next one is Nashville in a couple weeks, and hopefully we can have a good run there and just keep that momentum going. I do think it's cool to -- my wish would be that we had more short track races close by the Cup race, and then we could have guys do that. But hopefully in the next couple years we can kind of get the schedules synced up.

Q. Tell us how important you think short tracks have been in developing talent and growing skills for young drivers to reach this level, including you when you started.

WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I think it's big. Cup is its own beast, so we can't discredit -- like when you get to Cup, there's so much you've got to learn. But you've just got to be versatile. I think Larson showed that last year. It's just about being versatile and being able to adapt. Everyone at this level is so good. It always amazing me when we go out in practice for a new track and you see like 20 guys just figure it out so quick. It's just amazing to see the talent in Cup is pretty cool.

Q. Last year, strong year for you, top 4 in points most of the regular season. You get to the playoffs, one bad run, I think Talladega crash kind of undermines all of it. This year eight races in you've already got more playoff points than you had all year last year. I know you're more concerned about the wins right now, but how important is that for you to make a deeper run when the post-season comes and avoid those kind of pitfalls?

WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, it's all bonus points. Last year we were top 3 in points all year and that was great and we were feeling good and then we get to August and we're like, oh, shoot, we're ninth in playoff points, like where did all that go, or whatever, seventh, eighth, ninth, around there. Yeah, we've got to get those playoff points. We've learned that over the course of being in the playoffs the last three years or four years.

Yeah, it's just all about getting the playoff points so you can be one of those top three or four guys. Ideally you'd try to be like Larson was last year, but yeah, it's really important.

Q. You are a very close family; we talked about that years ago when I wrote about you in the Charlotte observer. Your parents are here and you said this was for your mom. It was a year ago that she had her health issues. Please talk about how much this means a year later to win this race and how you've dealt with this during this year when it's been so tough.

WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I mean, to think back to last year, the race was on a Sunday but it was the same weekend as this, and the first thing that happened was I got back to my bus and we finished fourth, I think, and I was like, thinking about the race, and I opened my phone and my dad is like, call me. I'm like, man, that's weird, he never says that after a race. He usually says something about the race or whatever, but it was like very urgent.

So I called him and he told me what was going on. He told me about it, and he told me what happened at the track and that she was rushed to the hospital.

It all seemed okay, but they were like, yeah, there's this mass in her brain, we're not sure what it is. My heart just stopped. I was just like, man, I couldn't deal with the emotion of that. It was hard to process.

I'd say the next few days after that I didn't think about racing at all. It was all about what was going on.

I think as the next 90 to 100 days progressed, it was still about that, but I somehow had to race, too, and that was a tough challenge, but we worked through it, and it was -- like my dad always says, it was a crazy 100 days or crazy 90 days, and as we got on the other side of that, there was a lot of bright side. Great to have her here and have them here and just see how things have progressed in a year. It's been amazing.

Definitely makes you count your blessings and be thankful for everything, and nothing more special than tonight to kind of cap it all off a year later on the same weekend. Pretty special, and yeah, pretty cool.

Q. Everything is good now?

WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, for sure, so just thankful, and we'll definitely enjoy this win, and it's going to be a lot of fun to celebrate. Yeah, I'm pretty close to them. I've got a great supporting cast with Max and my girlfriend Erin and my sister Kathryn. I have a great group of people around me that I feel like when things were tough in racing and in life, it's easy to go to them and talk to them.

Q. Were you surprised so many other drivers stayed out, or was tire wear and track position so kind of rare for this track that you knew that they were all going to have to stay out?

WILLIAM BYRON: Well, I definitely didn't know what they were going to do. I thought they would do the opposite of us for sure, and Rudy was adamant about that. I think I said something like, I think my tires are okay, or something, because I was trying to encourage that a little bit, but I didn't really want to make his decision. I wanted to see how it played out, and I wanted to stick with whatever he thought was best. But when he said stay out, I was like maybe 60/40 on that decision. I was like, all right, I could see how that could work but I could also see how that could not work, as well.

I think it worked out okay. The 3 had the biggest decision in that he decided to stay out in second and everyone kind of followed suit. Yeah, it could have been interesting if those guys had tires for sure. I kind of would have been the odd man out.

But with how cold it was outside, I don't know if you could have gotten cold tires to take off, it was so cold. They took seven laps to take off.

Q. On the restart where you first took the lead, I think it was with Chase, was there some kind of an agreement or understanding on the restart how you guys would work together, and what was that?

WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, we just -- watching races here throughout the years, it just makes sense for the leader to choose the top and have the -- if you're teammates, if you're lucky enough to be in that position, he takes the bottom and you work it out after Turn 2. It worked out well. I thought it was a little choppy. The Next Gen accelerates kinda weird. Like you have grip and then you -- if you spin your tires you're killed, but as soon as you launch it's really good. The first one we did I spun my tires a bunch and I almost lost second, but yeah, it worked out, and luckily -- I think he had a pretty good run, too. They were really fast. Just kind of all about who got out front.

THE MODERATOR: William, congratulations, and we'll see you next weekend at Bristol.

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