Hendrick makes it official: Byron to replace Kahne in No. 5

DOVER, DE - JUNE 03: William Byron, driver of the #9 Liberty University Chevrolet, stands on the grid prior to the NASCAR XFINITY Series OneMain Financial 200 at Dover International Speedway on June 3, 2017 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images)

What had been a rumored for most of the previous day became fact Wednesday, as Hendrick Motorsports officially named teenager William Byron as its fulltime driver for the No. 5 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series team starting in 2018.

The news came only days after the team revealed that after six years, Kasey Kahne will not be a part of Hendrick Motorsports in 2017.

Just a year ago, Byron campaigned the most successful debut season in Camping World Truck Series history with a NASCAR national series rookie record seven victories. This year, the Charlotte, North Carolina, native progressed into the Xfinity Series, and has three wins — Iowa, Daytona and Indianapolis — and currently ranks second in the standings after 20 of 33 races with Hendrick Motorsports affiliate JR Motorsports.

“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” said Byron, who will turn 20 on Nov. 29. “Mr. (Rick) Hendrick has built such a great team. The people at Hendrick Motorsports have dedicated their lives to giving their drivers the best chance to win every weekend. I have a responsibility to them to work hard and put everything I have into this opportunity. They need to know I’m always giving 100 percent because that’s what they do.

“When I told my parents that I wanted to drive race cars, they supported me and believed I could do it. Without them, there’s no way this would be possible. Axalta and Liberty University are awesome partners, and I’m so thankful for their faith in me. I’m going to do all I can to make my family, my sponsors and my teammates proud and represent them all in the right way.”

Hendrick Motorsports signed Byron in August 2016. Next season, he will join drivers Chase Elliott, Jimmie Johnson and Alex Bowman as a member of the four-car NASCAR Cup Series operation.

“At every step, William has proven how quickly he can adapt,” said Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports. “Some drivers have raw talent and some have a strong work ethic. William has both. It’s impressive to see a young guy who never gets rattled and instinctively knows how to communicate with his team. That level of commitment, poise and pure ability is rare at any age. I think he’s just scratching the surface.”

Byron’s No. 5 Chevrolet team will feature sponsorship from Axalta Coating Systems and Liberty University, which currently support the 19-year-old driver in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Beginning in 2018, the two primary sponsors will cover the majority of Byron’s Cup races annually. Additional details of the multi-year partnerships will be announced at a later date.

Axalta has been a Hendrick Motorsports corporate partner since 1992. Liberty University began its support of Byron in 2014 when he drove late models for JR Motorsports and is now in its fourth season sponsoring the driver.

“To have this opportunity with a new partner (to Hendrick Motorsports) in Liberty University and to grow what’s been an incredible long-term relationship with Axalta, it’s very special,” Hendrick said. “These are two sponsors who have already built effective programs around our sport and now see even more possibilities. It’s a big compliment to William, who has been a terrific ambassador for them both, and we look forward to a bright future together.”

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