As William Byron took his first quick laps around Sonoma Raceway in Friday’s opening Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice, he got a surprise.
“It was wild,” said Byron, who was 14th fastest in the session. “I was surprised how much grip the track has lost in some areas. It’s not as black as it was last year, for sure. I feel like it has less grip up the hill into Turn 1, which is kind of interesting.
“The track was really dirty to start, so it had to get cleaned up. Guys were throwing rocks into the groove, too.”
If there’s one thing that hasn’t surprised Byron, it’s the no-nonsense relationship he has developed with seven-time champion crew chief Chad Knaus, who moved to Byron’s No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet this season after 17 years with Jimmie Johnson.
“It’s been very similar to what I thought it would be,” Byron said of the interaction with Knaus. “I’ve been around him for about a year now, in the debriefs and knowing how he works with Jimmie and his team. I feel like it wasn’t much of a surprise.
“Honestly, I feel like he’s very direct, so you don’t have to worry about whether he’s trying to send you a message in a certain way or if he’s trying to blow you off. He’ll tell you if you’re doing something wrong.”
That approach seems to suit Byron.
“I think so,” said Byron, who improved to seventh in Friday’s final practice. “I don’t really think there’s any reason to be offended at the track when someone tells you what you’re doing wrong. You have to learn from it. He’s helped me with that by just being really direct and not having to worry about the emotional side of things at the track.”
On Saturday, Byron continued to improve his speed, qualifying second for Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 behind pole winner Kyle Larson.