WILLIAM BYRON, NO. 24 AXALTA CAMARO ZL1 1LE, Daytona 500 Media Availability Transcript

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YOU WON YOUR FIRST RACE THERE AT DAYTONA LAST YEAR. WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM YOUR EXPERIENCES AS YOU HEAD INTO THIS WEEK?“Just some of the trends in the racetrack and the way the drafting develops over the course of the race; the intensity how it ramps up later in the race. Honestly, I think it’s just experience and as soon as you get on the racetrack and really start racing, some of those things come back to your mind and you remember what it took in the previous races to make those moves or pull off the moves you need to make in the draft. So, nothing really in terms of the setup or things like that; it’s really understanding the moves you need to make at the right times.”
HOW DO YOU LOOK AT QUALIFYING IN A HENDRICK CAR AT DAYTONA AND WHAT YOU EXPECT FROM YOURSELF?“I think we know the preparation the guys do at the shop is just phenomenal. It’s always exciting to sit in the car for the first time over the off-season and see how much work has been put in, and just how nice the bodies are, how nice the engines are. I feel like more of the same this year and with that comes a little bit more pressure to qualify well, knowing that we have the speed typically to do it. So, that is our goal to go out there and try to qualify on the pole. Hopefully, that happens. If not, you try to race hard in the Duel. Last year, we won the Duel, which is awesome. First and foremost, try to qualify well and secondly try to win the Duel.”
IS QUALIFYING AT DAYTONA AS EASY AS DRIVERS MAKE IT SEEM? “It’s definitely a lot about the car. I’d say it’s 90% car and 10% driver. The driver just has to get through the gears well. There is some speed in that, so not messing that up and make sure you have good shifts and not being lazy with that stuff is really important. And then just holding that wheel. Really, I think it’s about the team. They can make much more of a difference than a driver can at Daytona in qualifying.”
FOR A LARGE PORTION OF YOUR STOCK CAR CAREER, YOU HAD MAX PAPIS WORKING WITH YOU. HOW DID THAT THING ALL COME TOGETHER? WHAT HAS MAX MEANT TO YOU – NOT ONLY YOUR RACECRAFT BUT JUTS YOUR MATURATION AS A PERSON?“Max and I started working together probably in 2015. I met him at MPI, where he built all the wheels. I really liked talking to him and I think I wrote him an email back and we just exchanged phone numbers and started talking. At the end of 2015, we really started having more conversations and for him to take on more of a mentorship role for me, especially as I moved into NASCAR from the K&N Series and the Truck Series, which is a big jump. Honestly, he was a great asset for me to understand the ropes. He got me in touch with a lot of people like Kevin Harvick, Dave Wilson at Toyota – people like that that I would have never met otherwise. That really catapulted my career in getting in with Kyle Busch Motorsports and just kind of progressing throughout the year. We still work well together, though not as hands-on now that I’ve grown up a little bit. But it’s still great to have a mentor in racing because you never know everything by yourself, and it’s really important to have somebody that you can bounce ideas off of and get a perspective from the outside. With the road courses this year, I think it’s going to be really important that he and I bounce ideas off each other and figure out the best approach for those racetracks.”
YOU TESTED THE NEXT GEN CAR. WHAT ARE YOUR REFLECTIONS AND WHAT HAVE YOU HEARD ABOUT WHERE IT’S AT NOW COMPARED TO WHEN YOU DROVE IT?“A lot has changed. I don’t read too much into the tests they do because once the teams get ahold of the car, it’s going to change so much. The setups are going to change, the engineering. It’s going to be similar, but it’s going to be a lot more enhanced once the teams get ahold of it. For me, we didn’t have the best test in terms of my end, but I think they learned a lot. I had just raced at California a couple of days before, so I had a clear idea of what the current car does. I don’t know if that was the best approach to testing because I was expecting a certain grip level and it was never really there. Plus, we had about a 30 mile per hour wind. I’ve heard that it’s great on road courses so far; the ovals are still a struggle from what I’ve heard. It’s going to continue to improve once we get ahold of the car and really fine tune it.”
GIVEN WHAT YOU WERE ABLE TO ACCOMPLISH LAST YEAR, WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS, WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS THIS YEAR?“Goals for us are to go out there and be a consistent threat. I think there are six to eight guys who have a shot to win each race when I look at the guys on the leaderboard who are consistently up there. For us, it’s trying to be part of that consistent threat each week. Having Rudy (Fugle) on board is going to make that process really smooth. We’ve worked together before and we’ve had great success. We’ve really learned a lot while we’ve been away from each other the last few years and been in separate places. I look forward to working with him; I feel like he’s gotten off to a great start. He’s been great with the other crew chiefs and have no reason to expect anything different from us than how we were in the past and what we were able to accomplish.”
DO YOU FEEL MORE COMFORTABLE NOW AS A CUP VETERAN OR DO YOU FEEL YOU’VE REACHED THAT POINT? WHAT IS YOUR CONFIDENE LEVEL TO GO OUT THERE WEEK AFTER WEEK AND BE ABLE TO RUN UP FRONT?“I’m still nervous about going to Daytona like I think you should be every year. But this year I’m not nervous about the same things. I’m more about how’s the car going to drive and less about the event. For me, it’s all about executing how we should and need to. If we can do all the right things, I think we have the right cars to be capable to go out there and win. It’s more about those things and less about the Cup Series anymore.”
IN PREPARATION FOR THE BRISTOL DIRT RACE, ARE YOU GOING TO BE DOING ANY EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITY TO GET READY FOR THAT?“I’m kind of waiting to see how the first little bit of the season goes and what position we’re in going into that race. It’s an important race, but it’s one race. It’s not seven like the road courses. It’s an important race but have to treat it as one race and understand that it is its own animal. There are a lot of things that once you get out there are going to be different. I’ve driven a dirt car before and there is a lot of difference in a proper dirt car as opposed to a Cup car on dirt with an interesting tire. I don’t really know how much preparation is going to apply other than the fact that you know the guys who race dirt all the time are going to be phenomenal. It’s going to be hard to compete with those guys as is, so we’ll see how it goes. As we get closer, there will be a lot more preparation.”
HOW LIBERATING IS IT TO HAVE THE BURDEN OF SEARCHING FOR YOUR FIRST CUP VICTORY OFF YOUR SHOULDERS GOING INTO THE 2021 SEASON?“It’s great that there is not as much attention on that headline and not as much outside noise. For us, the goal is still the same – to win. Our goal has always been to win and now we can do it with some confidence. We can just focus on just doing our jobs.”
WHAT’S THE BIGGEST LESSON YOU’RE GOING TO TAKE AWAY FROM A MOST UNUSUAL SEASON LAST YEAR WHERE YOU MANAGED TO MAKE A NAME FOR YOURSELF?“There we some good parts. The good, I think, was being able to put focus on the task at hand – the driving on the weekends. It was a condensed schedule, so things were happening at a much faster rate. There wasn’t as much time to think between races. All that stuff was different. The unfortunate part was you didn’t have the fans and the excitement built around the races. Sometimes I remember thinking to myself after some of the bad races that it felt like we were out there doing a job because we were out there racing for our own team and reasons, but you didn’t have the excitement of the fans to push it to another level, which is why we do what we do.”
WHAT HAS IT BEEN LIKE REUNITING WITH RUDY FUGLE AND DO YOU SEE A MULTI-WIN SEASON IN 2021?“It’s been awesome reuniting with him; we get along extremely well and I feel like he has a high racing IQ, which is really important in the role he’s in. It’s been a pretty seamless transition since November. Getting closer to the season, obviously our expectations are high, but we have to limit those to the fact that first and foremost we have to execute. I think it’s going to be simple to start off with and once we get in our rhythm, we can click off some really good runs.”
OF THE SCHEDULE CHANGES FOR 2021, WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO THE MOST?“I’m looking forward to some of the new tracks. I think COTA is going to be a fun track. I always look forward to the 600 in my home track.”
HOW HAVE YOU SEEN MR. HENDRICK ALLOWING HIS DRIVERS TO BRANCH OUT AND RACE OUTSIDE OF NASCAR?“I think it’s been much more of an open book from everyone for us to go out and race what we want to race. I’ve really been excited about that. I’ve had a chance this off-season to do some cool things. I’m excited to get to do some more races. If there’s any chance for us to race in the Trucks or Xfinity his year, we’re going to take it. Just depends on the timing, but I do think it’s a good thing to go race. For me, it’s all about the chance to win. I’m not going to go race something just to run 10th. Trying to have a shot to win, knowing that you’re going to be competitive, is important.”
WHAT IS THE KEY FACTOR TO HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS WINNING AT SPEEDWEEKS?“Just goes down to the preparation that the guys put in at the shop. It’s really about the cars that we have to go out and race and they are the best-prepared cars in the garage. It makes our life simpler down there to have a shot at winning something, and you want to be the guy to go out and win that race or whatever event it is.”
HOW ARE THE PLAYOFFS A GOOD WAY TO DETERIME THE CHAMPION?“I wouldn’t agree that the best guy hasn’t won the championship. I think Chase (Elliott) had the best second half of the year last year statistically and was dominate at the right times. I think it’s about performing when the most is on the line. It brings out something different in everybody and it’s really critical to do that. I like the way the format is. I was on the wrong side of it in trucks with having a blown engine the week before the final race and going out and winning the final race, which technically would have won the championship. But it is what it is. You go from those moments and I was fortunate the next year to be in the final four and have the Xfinity championship. I feel the playoffs the way it is now brings out the best in the drivers and the teams. There is the part of racing that is mechanical and you can’t control, but I feel that every sport has some form of that.”
DOES CHASE’S CHAMPIONSHIP MOTIVATE EVERYONE AND SAY OK NOW WE WANT ONE?“Anytime you have the competition from within like we do this year it’s good. It’s better than the alternative of not having the answers. I look for us to have a great year and to build on what Chase did at the end of the year. He’s a couple of years further along than I am, so I have a few years to get to where that 9 team is, but hopefully we’re on the right track this year.”
DO YOU THINK YOUR NEW PAINT SCHEME THAT IS RELATABLE TO JEFF GORDON PUTS MORE PRESSURE ON YOU?“I think it is its own paint scheme and its own theme. For me, the flames were more similar to Jeff’s scheme toward the end of his career than anything. I was more from the flames generation than the rainbow generation, so the so-called rainbow scheme this year with Axalta is going to be awesome. Looks great and it’s something new for me. Now that the first win is out of the way, having the 24 number is a little bit more comfortable. We can start to form our own identity. Jeff won a lot of races in the 24 and now it’s our chance to go out there and do what we can with it.”
HOW MANY HOURS A WEEK ARE YOU IRACING TO PREPARE AND HOW DO YOU USE THAT ON THE TRACK ON THE WEEKEND?“It varies for me. I think iRacing does a great job with the tracks. There are times I use it more and times I use it less. This off-season, I’ve done a lot more sim work with my team using the Chevy sim, which has been a great tool. I’ve done a few races recently to try to get ready for the season and feel comfortable and where I need to be. I use it as much as I need to feel prepared.”  

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