William Byron’s Duel victory brings optimism to No. 24 team

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 13: William Byron, driver of the #24 Axalta 'Color of the Year' Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Bluegreen Vacations Duel 2 at Daytona International Speedway on February 13, 2020 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

In winning Thursday night’s Bluegreen Vacations Dual 2 race, 22-year old Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron hoisted the first trophy of his burgeoning three-year NASCAR Cup Series career.

After celebrating in Daytona International Speedway’s famous Victory Lane, Byron and crew chief Chad Knaus came into the Media Center to discuss the big accomplishment and both Byron and Knaus – who led Hendrick driver Jimmie Johnson to seven Cup championships  – shared that the victory felt like a turning point in their relationship—not to mention Byron’s career.

“I think it’s all about working with Chad and feeling like I can go to him with any question I have and give him an honest answer on any answer that he needs,” Byron said. “That’s a big step in the relationship right here.

“There’s really no other relationship out there besides you and your guys and your crew chief. I think that’s where the confidence for me comes from. What he said about it being a journey, we just don’t stop here. This is kind of a result that we can put up on the board now in the shop and say, ‘Okay, now we actually have something to show for what we think we’ve been able to do lately.'”

Knaus came over to Byron’s No. 24 team last season, and the performance curve was immediately affected. In their very first outing together, Byron won the 2019 Daytona 500 pole position, then earned his first-ever Cup Series top five, a runner-up showing in the July Daytona 400-mile race. Byron finished with five top fives on the season – including another second-place effort at Martinsville, Va., during the Playoffs; the first time he qualified for the Playoff field.

His 13 top-10 efforts last year was three times the number he earned in his 2018 rookie season. Four times he earned back-to-back top-10 finishes in races. And his five pole positions were bettered only by veteran champion Kevin Harvick.

Knaus was as encouraged by Thursday’s night’s Duel win as Byron. The standards for this team have always been high, but realistic. But in the wake of Thursday’s accomplishment, there is an unmistakable air of optimism and can-do heading into this week’s Daytona 500, and beyond.

“Whenever you win, you’re excited, right?” Knaus said. “I don’t know if it’s validation. I think validation will be when we go out there and we’re battling consistently for wins and top fives. That’s what we’re after, right?

“It’s real easy to make the checkered flag the goal in this sport. That’s just a part of the journey, right? The goal is to really get the team working correctly, give William the confidence level, performing where he needs to.”

“And that there,” Knaus said of the exuberance in Victory Lane, “Was a little bit of happiness we got a flag.”

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