BRISTOL, Tenn. – William Byron has pulled off quite the trick this season, winning five times so far as an 18-year-old rookie on the Camping World Truck Series.
This week, he got his treat.
Hendrick Motorsports announced Thursday that it had signed Byron to a contract to drive on the Xfinity Series next year through a partnership with JR Motorsports.
During a news conference Saturday at BMS prior to the Night Race, owner Rick Hendrick said the ascension of the teenager has him excited about the future – and mildly troubled by the rapid passing of time.
“It makes me feel real old to remember when I first met William,” Hendrick said. “He was trick-or-treating at my granddaughter’s house and then he went to Jimmie Johnson’s house right around the corner.”
Byron said he can’t remember the costume he wore that night, but will never forget the autograph he got from Johnson, his soon-to-be teammate at Hendrick.
“I have the pillowcase that has Jimmie’s signature on it,” said Byron, who unabashedly proclaimed Johnson as his favorite driver while growing up.
“I remember going to school the next day and nobody believed me. It was just really cool. Jimmie and I were texting a little bit back and forth about that and he was asking, ‘I think I remember you. Are you really the kid that I met there?’ I was just with a bunch of kids going out trick-or-treating and we walked up to house and didn’t know what to expect. It’s really neat to have this opportunity with Mr. Hendrick and to have him supporting me. I just can’t wait.”
Hendrick said it’s been equally special to watch Byron’s ascension.
“It’s almost like the water boy for a football team that’s ended up being the quarterback,” he said. “… I’ve just been amazed at what he’s accomplished.”
The Battle at Bristol football showdown at Bristol Motor Speedway between the University of Tennessee and Virginia Tech is now less than three weeks away.
A taste of the collegiate clash made its way into driver introductions prior to Saturday’s Night Race at the track.
Knoxville, Tennessee, native Trevor Bayne walked onto the red carpet to “Rocky Top” and needed to utter just two words to draw rousing cheers.
“Go Vols!” Bayne proclaimed.
Ryan Blaney, driving a Ford sponsored by Virginia Tech for the race, provided the balance, sauntering on to the track followed closely behind by the HokieBird mascot.
Overall, the driver intros were a relatively tame lot this time around.
Per usual, Kyle Busch’s entrance onto the track was greeted by a chorus of boos – and per usual Busch reveled in the villain role.
“Ya’ll are ready for the Kyle Busch show,” said Busch, whose intro was accompanied by the song “Welcome to My House” and a mic drop following his statement.
Loud cheers, on the other hand, were given to Jeff Gordon – back at the track in retirement as a sub driving the No. 88 car for the injured Dale Earnhardt Jr. – and Tony Stewart, who has announced plans to retire at the end of the year.
“Thank you fans for 18 great years here,” Stewart said. “I appreciate everything.”
Matt DiBenedetto, meanwhile, provided the laughs, entering in a blonde wig to the Taylor Swift hit “Shake it Off.”
“I’m Matt DiBenedetto, aka Taylor Swift tonight,” he said.
A driver who didn’t run a single lap this week at Bristol Motor Speedway nevertheless made an impact with his presence alone.
Less than two months after undergoing brain surgery to remove a benign brain tumor, Joe Gibbs Racing prospect Matt Tifft will get back behind the wheel today for a Late Model test at Hickory Motor Speedway.
Tifft spoke about his recovery during a news conference at BMS.
“My goal from the get-go has been to get back in the race car,” he said. “Honestly, if you look back at the updates and stuff that I did, the reason I was able to stay so positive and so driven during this whole time was that one goal of getting back in a car.”
Tifft, 20, has run six Xfinity Series races this year, including notching a 23rd-place finish at Bristol in April.