NASCAR & Auto Racing

Charlotte native William Byron is 24 hours out from his life’s biggest race – so far

Charlotte native William Byron is the favorite to win Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series championship, but he isn’t stressed about it.
Charlotte native William Byron is the favorite to win Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series championship, but he isn’t stressed about it. AP

Let the kid take a break and grab some food.

It’s lunchtime on Friday, a little more than 24 hours before the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship race, so there isn’t much time for dilly-dallying. Definitely no time to sit down, spread out, and have a gourmet meal.

Instead, William Byron is doing about what you’d expect – eating on the run. He’s got a paper plate, a handful of brown throwaway napkins, and he’s peeling back the aluminum foil off a food tray to peek inside. French fries, no worries.

Even championship contenders have to eat, so let Byron have his. He may only be 19, but he’s far and away the favorite to take home Saturday’s championship trophy. If he can, Byron, who will jumped to the Cup series in 2018, will have spent roughly the same time in the Xfinity Series as with his lunch.

Looking at the leaderboard, it’s easy to forget that Byron, a Charlotte native, is a rookie in the Xfinity Series. This time last year, he was ... well, in almost the exact same place, physically speaking. He came to Homestead in the Camping World Truck Series and won the race, only he’d been eliminated from the playoffs the week before, so he didn’t get a title trophy. But as is a theme here, Byron didn’t dwell on that finish for long.

“Not really until this week do you really hone in on it,” Byron says. “I just treat it like a normal deal.”

He’s back, only this year he’s bumped up a series – and he’s still in contention for the Xfinity Series trophy.

“I feel like we’re at our best right now,” Byron says. “It’s in our hands, we just have to go out there and race for it.”

But being still in contention means there isn’t much time to rest, leading to paper plates and scarfing down food when he has the chance.

The thing is, conventional wisdom says Byron shouldn’t be so relaxed, so calm. He recognizes the importance of the moment, but he isn’t letting it overwhelm him. He’s chilling in his hauler, talking to his crew and rocking a short-sleeved t-shirt adorned with Liberty University, his primary sponsor.

Maybe that’s just the confidence you have when you’ve won four races this season (the other three Xfinity contenders have a combined two victories, so you do the math), and if so, then that relaxed attitude is warranted.

“I’m probably more nervous for the first lap in practice than I am the race,” Byron said. “Just because you don’t know what your car is going to do ... you get a little sweat, get that nervous tension out.”

Time’s up. Back to work. Byron sneaks his last few french fries, dunks them in ketchup, and he’s headed out the hauler door and back over the garage. There’s still work to do, after all, and only 24 hours to do it.

“There’s been a lot of talking, a lot of thinking,” Byron said, “and I’m just ready to get in the car and see what the result is.”

Brendan Marks: 704-358-5889, @brendanrmarks