The after parties, the media tour, the hoopla from winning his first NASCAR championship – three days later, it’s all finally winding down for Charlotte’s William Byron.
And that’s in the best way possible. After all, the whirlwind that has been for him, ever since he won the 2017 NASCAR Xfinity Series championship on Saturday evening at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida, has been the culmination of years of hard work and determination.
But now, it’s time Byron gets rest, both figuratively and literally. All the pressure on Byron this season, his first and only in the Xfinity Series, has been building since February, each win focusing the microscope on him a little more intensely. And now he’s heading from a championship run - at age 19 - to replacing Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Hendrick Motorsports?
As for literally, the NASCAR season is one of the longest in professional sports, stretching from February into November with seldom a week off. That means criss-crossing the country almost nonstop, living out of suitcases as much as your own closet.
Never miss a local story.
“It’s been busy, but it’s been good to celebrate everything,” Byron said Tuesday. “I’ve gotten some (sleep). It’s kind of been a whirlwind, what with winning Phoenix and all the things that came with that. It was a lot more going on than I expected.”
It’s time for sleep now, but it wasn’t Saturday when he won his title. That night, he and his family joined Rick Hendrick, the owner of Hendrick Motorsports, for an after party. There, Byron and Hendrick joked about how unlikely that celebration seemed a year and a half earlier when Hendrick first approached Byron about racing for him in the Xfinity Series.
“We joked about not thinking it was going to be a possibility a year and a half ago when we were meeting for the first time,” Byron said. “Definitely didn’t envision it going this far, I don’t think, even if that was the goal, so it was kind of funny to talk about how far it’s come.”
Then Sunday night Byron wasn’t going to get any sleep, not with it being Earnhardt’s last race before retiring and the Cup Series championship. He watched as Martin Truex Jr. celebrated a title, and then joined in on pit road to congratulate Earnhardt, who he will replace next season in the Cup Series.
Finally, Byron flew home with Hendrick and some of Earnhardt’s family (while Byron’s father stayed behind and returned to Charlotte Monday morning), getting in late Sunday night. Not rest time yet – Monday was media day, as Byron took a tour of local radio and television stations in Charlotte, stopping in and showing off his trophy .
At last Tuesday rolled around. This interview was one of Byron’s last. Soon he’ll be on the move again, this time to New York City to visit his sister and spend Thanksgiving there. But for once in the past 10 months, he’ll actually get to sleep a little late, even if not in his own bed. He’ll be able to wake up, not think about racing or cars or pressure or media or any of that stuff, and just focus on the simple things: Family. Tons of turkey. Embracing the holiday – being grateful.
“It’s kind of time to give it a little bit of a rest, and I think I’m shut off a little bit from racing for a while here,” Byron said with a chuckle. “It’s a little refreshing to not be thinking about it and be kind of away from it, even if I’m not sure how long that will last.
“It was a super busy week, but just super thankful for everything that happened.”