WILLIAM BYRON: No, I was next to Mike Forde. It was a good trip. Yeah, I didn’t want to jinx the whole Phoenix thing, so I had a late plan to come out. I wanted to catch the game last night. It was fun to get out here soon.
Q. How did you get a middle seat?
WILLIAM BYRON: That was all that was left (laughter). I hit the upgrade button, but nothing was available. I was, like, Row 29 with a middle seat. It was a long flight.
Q. You’re in the Championship 4, nobody could give you a ride on their jet?
WILLIAM BYRON: No. Man, I’m soft-spoken. I don’t like to ask. I should have asked somebody, but I just kind of wanted to come out low-key.
Q. TSA Pre?
WILLIAM BYRON: I think Larson and I fly commercial quite a bit. I just had TSA PreCheck. I get from my house to the airport in 10, 15 minutes in Charlotte. I got there 30 minutes before it took off. Middle seat. It was great.
Q. Anybody recognize you?
WILLIAM BYRON: I had one guy in first class, a couple, that wanted to talk my ear off, which is great. They were like, Oh, good luck, you’re going to win. I was like, Okay, I got to keep moving here so I can get back to my seat back there. He was super nice about it.
Q. You really don’t have hometown favorites. Some people have tried to turn this regional. You talk about going into Charlotte Airport. Do you feel like the weight of Charlotte behind you?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I do really. I mean, I feel like the hometown Charlotte kid. I get a lot of recognition when I go around to restaurants in town. It’s really cool because people, it’s very subtle, but words of encouragement. When I go get a coffee in town…
I’m pretty true to my roots, really. I grew up right around there, kind of stay there. It’s nice.
Q. (Question about the Red Rocks.)
WILLIAM BYRON: The Red Rocks menu? I think I’m chicken saltimbocca, which is pretty good. I’m not trying to sell you. It’s pretty solid. If you get it blackened, it’s pretty good.
No, I grew up with the one in Strawberry Hill. I know both Ron and John, so they’re cool.
Q. I want to ask you about Erin has the best odds of all the championship contenders, but what do you think Sunday is going to be like for her?
WILLIAM BYRON: I’m sure she’ll be stressed. She doesn’t lead it on. She’s really good about just kind of hiding it.
I think she’ll really be stressed during the race. It’s going to be fun. I think she’s excited. She’s excited for me. She was really happy that I got in, so it will be cool.
Q. Bell and Larson actually have a rivalry. You and Blaney have this different dynamic. How does that work on track?
WILLIAM BYRON: I mean, I would say we race really hard. We’ve had our battles and had our kind of small run-ins, I would say. We race hard. We’re competitors. At Homestead I think we were battling a lot for the lead.
Yeah, I think when we get on track, we’re pretty comfortable, really comfortable around each other racing.
Q. We contend he races you harder because there’s bragging rights at Thanksgiving dinner.
WILLIAM BYRON: I don’t think he does. I think it’s all what you guys see from the outside. I think we, all four of us, really, kind of race really well together. We’ve had a ton of battles with Larson, all the way back to the Truck Series with Bell, we were teammates. It’s cool.
Q. What was your recovery like this week getting ready for this weekend?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I got an IV Monday night. I felt pretty good Monday night. It was tough, man. I don’t know what we had going on with the helmet fan, but I could not get cool. I was way overheated.
Took a while for my skin to kind of get the redness out, kind of get back to normal body temp.
Q. Prepping for this week at all?
WILLIAM BYRON: I feel pretty good. I put a little more sunscreen on so I wouldn’t get sunburned. I haven’t had issues like that all year. We had that issue at Martinsville in the spring. We thought we made it better. We actually moved where our helmet fans mounted to get some fresher air, like the 5 has it in their car. Hopefully it’s better.
Q. Do you feel like if you could get through Martinsville you can get through anything?
WILLIAM BYRON: Oh, yeah. I feel like the stress level, I listen to Denny’s podcast. He’s like we look nervous. We were, no doubt. We put together such a good year. To make it all the way to Martinsville and feel like your chances are slipping away was definitely kind of demoralizing, depressing.
Now we have a new life for our team. This is what our goal was, to make the Championship 4. I think any team would say that. Now we feel like, I mean, we have nothing to lose.
Q. Did you move your fans for this week to where the 5’s are or was that last week?
WILLIAM BYRON: No, we moved it for this week. The way the helmet fan is mounted is a little bit different, so it hopefully catches some fresher air. I think it’s mostly a Martinsville issue because of how hot it is, how slow the track is. Just with everything being kind of low, getting warm, I think that’s what happened.
Q. Do you give up anything?
WILLIAM BYRON: No.
Q. Specific reason why you had them in that one place before?
WILLIAM BYRON: Every crew chief wants everything low in the car. Nothing new there. It is a little bit higher. It’s not something that we feel like is any performance. Kyle has ran it that way all year.
Q. You said you all race each other well. Can you race each other unwell on Sunday and be forgiven for it because of what’s at stake?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I think we’re all young, right? We’re all kind of experiencing it for the first time besides Kyle and Bell last year.
I feel like we’ll race with respect, but I feel like we’ll all race really hard. If the carrot is out there to go get, you’re going to try to do the best you can, do the best you can for your team.
Whatever’s within limits. I kind of look back at my Xfinity days and how I raced Elliott there. We made some incidental contact and things like that. I would say it was fair.
But you’re definitely going to race harder than you have all year probably.
Q. Dale Jarrett is the last North Carolina-born champion. The 24 has not won a championship in 22 years. You have a shot to knock both of those things out. What does that mean to you?
WILLIAM BYRON: I think it’s awesome. The 24, I mean, we had some pretty rough days there. I remember a lot of people on YouTube questioned me driving the car: I don’t know about this kid. He makes a lot of mistakes.
I read all that stuff. I heard all of it. It took a while for the 24 to kind of get back to prominence in the Cup Series.
It’s back now, so we’re winning six races a year hopefully next year and the years to come. Hopefully a lot more Final 4s.
Q. Does the North Carolina connection mean anything to you?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I think it’s different than everybody else because I feel like I didn’t have to move to be a part of the sport. I grew up really loving the sport and being a fan. I think that’s different than all the other guys.
They can tell you that they watched NASCAR, but they were also watching other racing. For me, I’m true NASCAR fan. I think that gives a lot of hope to guys out there that are trying to get in.
Q. Is there secrecy in the shop between you and Larson? How does that play out?
WILLIAM BYRON: No, not at all. I mean, we share everything about the setups, between Cliff and Rudy, they work pretty close together. I feel like we all work really close. I think we’ll go out there and battle. I don’t feel like there’s any secrecy at all.
Cliff and Kyle are some of the best teammates I’ve ever had.
Q. With the season you’ve had, any added pressure, expectations, to try to cap it off with a championship?
WILLIAM BYRON: I don’t think at all. I mean, no. I feel like last week was the pressure, like trying to get to this spot. I feel like we were under a lot of pressure to get in the Championship 4 ’cause everyone basically said, Hey, they’re a lock to get there. I think since probably June, maybe, people were telling me, Hey, it looks like you’re a lock to make it.
If we hadn’t made it, I think it would have been a lot of disappointment. I think that’s where the pressure came from. For us to win a championship would be just icing on the cake. You got a 1 in 4 chance.
Q. Rick doesn’t think you’ll be rattled at all.
WILLIAM BYRON: I don’t feel nervous at all. I’ve been in these positions to win championships, albeit other divisions with Xfinity and Trucks, and before that K&N. I wasn’t nervous. I was just excited.
I think these are opportunities you get that you look forward to. I’m 25 years old. I hope that I’ll have a lot more Final 4s. But, man, I want to get a first championship. That would be awesome. I want to do that.
I’m looking at what I did in Xfinity when I raced in the Final 4, kind of dug deep and found something to win that one. I’ll be excited.
Q. Do you feel like there’s a changing of the guard? Larson is the oldest guy at 31. This is a new youth movement coming in, especially in the Championship 4.
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, it’s kind of funny because when I came into the Cup Series it was the old versus new, and the old guys ruled with Harvick and Jimmie. Those guys were dominating races. And Truex. It was kind of a joke that — the younger guys, it’s kind of a joke that NASCAR promoted us so much. People were laughing at it.
We’re here now. It’s cool. It’s all the guys I grew up racing against. I think all these guys are going to win multiple races a year for the next few years.
Q. When you talked yesterday about the difficulties last week, some of the guys that were on top of the Playoff seedings with you in maybe wins and seeding didn’t make it this far, but you did. What does that say about either the format or how difficult it is to truly get here?
WILLIAM BYRON: I feel like all these guys got hot at the right time. That’s what the Playoffs are about. I looked at a lot of stats with the Playoffs this year. The Final 4 that we have here are really the top four in all the stats. It’s very interesting how that works out in the fact that you pretty much got the best four teams going at it.
Yeah, it’s not the regular season guys that I kind of battled with necessarily. When the Playoffs started, these guys were the best.
Q. Does it kind of show you that it’s important in the regular season, but at the end of the day what you do in the Playoffs is a big determiner?
WILLIAM BYRON: It’s what counts, for sure. It really showed me this year the season we had throughout the regular season was great, but we had to really reset ourselves and go after it in the Playoffs.
It’s definitely something to think about in the future years of how we approach the season, of just, Hey, look, we want to be good all year, but we definitely want to be good in the final 10.
Q. You said you were getting updates in the race last week. What about this week? Do you want to know? Do you want to hear what’s going on?
WILLIAM BYRON: I’ll know. I’ll know. I’ll see the yellow spoilers and I’ll know.
It’s different this race. There’s no more counting points, none of that kind of BS out there. It’s all about trying to beat all the guys straight up. I like that. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun to battle straight up.
You just got to know that that final run is really what counts.
Q. How much of it is a mental game, not panicking? You started to, but you and your team did not panic. Talk about what it means mentally.
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, it’s just staying cool, staying collected, trying to give the information that we need to be there at the very end. What do we need for the last final run of the race? That’s what is key.
I’m going to talk about that with my crew chief, as we get further in the weekend, how do we position ourselves for that final stop, that final run. That’s all that counts.
If you can lead the last lap, that’s all that really matters. It’s different than the few weeks in the past where there has been panic because you’ve been counting points and looking at stages. Stages mattered probably last week more than the end of the race did.
It’s really an interesting format. I’ve been educated on it this year of just what really matters. But this race is all about the final run.
Q. Rudy said he made more changes during the race at Martinsville than he has done in 20 years in his career. What’s that like for the driver when the crew chief is making more changes during the race? How unnerving is that for the driver?
WILLIAM BYRON: He was scrambling, for sure. That’s why we have such a good relationship because I trust him. I trusted him to make the right decisions and improve the car, and he did.
I mean, I looked at some stats last week. As bad as we were, we were a top-seven car in the final run the race, and finished 13th from 22nd. I think we were a lot better at the end. That’s what I rely on him, is trying to get the car better.
Q. (Question about relationship with Rudy.)
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, we talk about a lot of stuff. We BS a lot. We text a lot. I mean, it’s funny, he’s a funny texter. I’ll send him a long paragraph of things. He’ll say, 10-4.
He’s the kind of guy that takes a lot of information in. We work well together. I can be a sounding board to him. He can learn from what I’m saying and trying to make the car better.
We spend a lot of time during the week just talking about the car, talking about what we need on the weekend.
Q. Who is winning now in Fantasy Football?
WILLIAM BYRON: I don’t know. Let me look.
Q. It was very important to him.
WILLIAM BYRON: I think he’s up in the standings. We’re actually playing this week. That’s actually hilarious. We’re playing against each other, so…
Our league, it looks like I’m third and he’s tied — we’re all tied for second. He’s 5-3, I’m 5-3. There you have it.
Q. Will a championship rectify whether or not you win in Fantasy?
WILLIAM BYRON: No, I mean, if there’s one week that we probably don’t give a hoot about Fantasy is this week. It’s funny we’re playing each other. I’ll have to mess with him about that.
Q. You said your friends did not understand your interest in racing in high school. Have you heard from any of them?
WILLIAM BYRON: My close friends are all coming out to this race. We got an Airbnb in Phoenix. I have three of my best friends coming. I’m excited for that. It’s going to be fun to have them here.
They’ve been to races here and there. I would say the most recent was Charlotte that they came to. It’s going to be cool to have them here. It’s great. I got a lot of support coming for the race. I’d say it’s awesome to have all the people I love and care about.
Q. Did they ever say, We didn’t understand then but we do now and we’re proud?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, they’ve definitely gotten educated on the sport. It took a long time. I get questions about the points system, questions about fuel strategy, tire strategy, all those things, just driving the car.
It’s cool. They’re pretty educated now.
Q. (No microphone.)
WILLIAM BYRON: Why? I think the culmination of a lot of hard work. I feel like the odds were stacked against us and me. The odds are stacked against me, kind of the iRacing kid that comes in, doesn’t know how to drive real cars, hasn’t ever raced till he was 15. I feel like the odds were against me to have this kind of success when I came in the sport. I got a lot of criticism because of how I kind of came in.
I think it will be kind of a prove-it moment to all those critics.
Q. You’ve been a trailblazer in that respect anyway. Now winning the championship kind of solidifies that. What do you think that’s going to do, if you win the championship, for that genre?
WILLIAM BYRON: I think it will inspire kids to go after what they want to do, what they want to achieve.
When I was 11, 12 years old, I told people at my school that I wanted to be a race car driver, they thought I was ridiculous for saying that. Then when I started racing online, people didn’t think I was the best, the best driver. I just kept working at it, kept getting better and better. I felt like I had a natural ability to drive.
When I got into real cars, it showed. At the same time when I kind of worked through the ranks, people in the late model ranks were telling me, He’s not earned it, he’s not done it the way we’ve done it, working in the shop, all those things.
I just kept putting my head down, working, trying to get to this level.
Q. When you won the Xfinity title in 2017, you were the one to win the championship without winning the race in that series. Do you feel it’s going to take a win once again?
WILLIAM BYRON: I think honestly it will take winning the race. It has every year. I don’t expect anything different. It will probably be a very long race. We’ll have to work through a lot of challenges.
I assume that all four of us will be up there with that final run going to the checkered. Last year was different, for sure. I think the first year with the Next Gen, there were a lot of unknowns. You didn’t really have the Final 4 running up front all the time. I think this race you will.
Q. Larson and Bell have had time to prepare with their wins. You didn’t get in until Martinsville. Were you able to do any Phoenix prep prior to that?
WILLIAM BYRON: A little bit. I think we always kind of had an eye on Phoenix based on what we did in the spring. We just tried to continue to perfect what we’ve done. Honestly, the spring we had a really fast car. We just tried to perfect it.
Q. Do you think the lack of application of resin for this race is going to make a difference in the way the track races?
WILLIAM BYRON: Not really. I think the groove will still have some of that resin that was left up top. I think there’s still going to be some grip to go chase up there.
I think you’ll have the bottom be dominant at the start of the race, for sure, then it will kind of migrate up. It will probably be both lanes at the end.
Q. This is the youngest Championship 4. What do you make of that? Will Sunday be a time when the next generation of NASCAR is put on display?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I think it kind of has been that way. I think all these guys have won multiple races for the last couple of years. We’ve all been really competitive. I feel like it’s definitely been that way for a little bit. I’ve been racing these guys for a while. It’s nothing new to be racing them at the front.
Q. Do you feel like a veteran among these guys?
WILLIAM BYRON: I mean, no, not at all. I’m the youngest, so I’m the least experienced.
Q. You’ve been doing it for a long time.
WILLIAM BYRON: I’ve been doing it for a long time. I think definitely, besides Bell, I’ve been in the Cup Series the least amount.
Q. You talked to Ryan quite a bit following his win. You’re close off the track. What does he bring to the table as a competitor?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I think he’s really fast. He does a good job managing his car, managing his race. They’ve done a good job through the Playoffs.
I’d say in the summertime it didn’t look like Penske had a lot of speed. Didn’t look like their team had a lot of speed. Once the Playoffs started, they’ve been on kill. It’s been pretty impressive how fast they were in the last round.
Q. How important is this full practice session coming up this weekend with the new tire, qualifying playing a big role in the race?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I mean, it’s big. It’s big every weekend. Anytime we can get track time is going to help us. I’m confident our team is one of the best when it comes to practicing, getting a good balance in our car.
I look forward to it a lot, being able to sit in the car, describe it to Rudy, him make the right changes. I think we’re good at that.
Q. In the postmortem, did you figure out why the car was so far off at Martinsville?
WILLIAM BYRON: I think we had a really imbalanced car. We were really loose in, really tight center, didn’t have a lot of drive-off. Not a good recipe for success at Martinsville. I think we just missed it, honestly.
Q. (No microphone.)
WILLIAM BYRON: Honestly, I’d say like Tuesday afternoon I started to feel myself again. Monday I felt the adrenaline rush of kind of making the Championship 4, so I was, like, excited for that. I think Monday night I got an IV, then I was feeling good after that. I got a good night’s sleep. My body temp started to come back down.
Q. Any diagnosis as to why?
WILLIAM BYRON: The way we had our helmet fan mounted in the car for Martinsville just seemed like it wasn’t good for the heat exposure. Just not enough air movement inside the car. We weren’t really getting clean air into that helmet fan.
Q. As a driver, what kind of X factor do you bring this weekend compared to the other three?
WILLIAM BYRON: I don’t know. I mean, I feel like I’m aggressive when I need to be. I feel like I’m patient when I need to be. I kind of match whatever my car and situation needs.
I don’t know. I mean, we’ve won the most races this year, so we know how to close the deal. I feel like that’s a good thing to have on your side.
Q. You led a lot of laps in the spring. Obviously you won here. How much can you apply from that weekend into this?
WILLIAM BYRON: We had a really good car. We were really good in the beginning of the race, really good, then we just kind of adjusted ourselves into a spot that wasn’t as good. I feel like just what we had at the start of the race was the best. We kind of got back to that by the end of the race, then we won.
Q. What was the teamwork with the 5 this week?
WILLIAM BYRON: I mean, we honestly communicate the same. We all work really well together. We share notes.
Q. Your relationship with Ryan, it’s unique, a dynamic that a lot of other drivers have to think about. What are the conversations like even with Erin this week? She has a 50% chance of celebrating on Sunday.
WILLIAM BYRON: She has a great chance of celebrating.
We race hard. We talk about it. We discuss things in the past. I feel like we’ve gotten to a really good spot where we race each other hard and fair.
We’re both going to be going for it on Sunday trying to win. Nothing changes there. But, yeah, when we get off the track, we spend time together and hang out. I’d say it’s like two different dynamics.
At the same time that off-the-track relationship allows us to race with good respect, good trust and race hard.
Q. You won the Xfinity Series championship in this sort of a format. You’ve been through that experience. Different from then to now, but how has this experience differed? How valuable is the past experience?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I think it’s really valuable. Obviously Kyle has won a championship in Cup. I don’t know if the other guys have won an Xfinity or whatnot.
It helped me a lot to win that championship, know what the experience was like there at the end. Obviously a different track. Running against the fence there, that’s what I had to do to win.
Here is much different. It’s a different technique, more of that short track technique. It will be interesting to see how it plays out at the end. Just hopefully we can be in that top two, have a shot.
Q. Other athletes look at what you have to do before the race, photos, meet-and-greet. How do you do that and focus on what you’ve got to do? What will that be like on Sunday?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I mean, it’s different, right? I was telling my PR rep that it’s a lot different that we have to go into the race and do all these meet-and-greets, appearances before the race.
I mean, it’s just part of the nature of our sport. It’s what makes it unique. Honestly, once I put the helmet on, I’m a different person altogether. It’s just trying to get in that mindset when I get to the grid, talk to my crew chief and get ready.
Q. What are the nerves like for a typical race and what do you anticipate it might be like on Sunday?
WILLIAM BYRON: I told somebody I feel like the nerves for us in the Round of 8 were way worse than they are now. For us to try to get to the championship race was the goal all year. I feel like now we’ve got a one-in-four chance to win it.
No more counting points, thinking about scenarios. It’s just go out and be the best we can be. I feel a lot of comfort in that. I feel like it kind of brings me back to, like I said, my Xfinity days when I won a championship, how that felt in the Final 4.
Q. A lot of people make a big deal about you and Erin. When you first started dating, was there ever an awkwardness? How did you get over that with Ryan?
WILLIAM BYRON: I think when we started dating, we talked about it. I mean, we got comfortable with it. Ryan and I have raced for years. It really didn’t change how we race each other. I feel like we’ve always raced each other well. We’ve had little run-ins here and there, honestly. We’ve gotten through it, came out better for it.
I feel like we race really well together. We’ll be going for it on Sunday, as all of us will be. I trust kind of how we race each other.
Q. She wears a lot of 24 gear. Is she going to wear loyalty to one or the other?
WILLIAM BYRON: No, she’ll stay out of the mix. She doesn’t want to be the spotlight. She’ll be cheering us on.
Q. (No microphone.)
WILLIAM BYRON: What’s that, sorry?
Q. Whose brains have you been able to pick coming into this week?
WILLIAM BYRON: Just picking Jeff Gordon’s brain. Talking to my crew chief. Honestly, the people I talk to the most all the time. Nothing really changes for this weekend. I’ve been preparing the same way I always do. I’m excited. It’s going to be fun.
Q. If your championship comes down to a critical pit stop, what do you think is so special about your over-the-wall guys that gives you confidence?
WILLIAM BYRON: That’s a great question. They’re some of the best on pit road. They’re the best, in my opinion. They’ve done a great job this year. They work really well under pressure. They’re ready for this moment.
It will be a lot of fun.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports