MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Oct. 25, 2016) – The pressure is back on rookie driver William Byron and he’s happy about it. Byron had been guaranteed to advance to the “Round of 6” following his win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon back in September. Although he tried to win the next two races, he also knew he had nothing to lose if he did not win. This weekend at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway his safety net is gone. As the Round of 6 begins, nobody is safe.
Byron goes into Martinsville as the top seed since he was the only driver to win a race in the first round of the Chase. He has one NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race under his firesuit belt at the half-mile track. He finished third there in April and feels confident he can improve on that this weekend. He will be racing the same Liberty University Tundra he ran in the spring. This particular Tundra also took him to Victory Lane at Iowa Speedway in June.
Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM) knows a thing, or five, about winning at Martinsville. KBM has five wins, 13 top-five, 20 top-10 finishes and led 626 laps in 29 starts at “the paperclip.” Denny Hamlin won in 2011-2012, Darrell Wallace Jr., in 2013-2014 and owner-driver Kyle Busch won a grandfather clock for the first time in April.
If Byron can win his seventh race of the season this weekend, it will advance him to the Round of 4 to compete for the championship at Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway. If not, there is always next weekend at Texas Motor Speedway in Ft. Worth where he already donned a cowboy hat in Victory Lane earlier this year. With such strong performances the first time he raced a Tundra at both of these tracks, it will be interesting to see what Byron can do the second time around.
William Byron, Driver of the No. 9 NCWTS Liberty University Tundra:
What did you learn at Martinsville in the spring that you can apply to this race?
“I think just learning the race track. It’s such a difficult place compared to many of the other tracks, but it also trends toward the things I learned in short track racing with late models. I think we’re going to have a great Liberty University Tundra, continue the upward trend we’ve had at the short tracks this year and improve on our third-place finish at Martinsville in the spring to hopefully get a win there this weekend.”
After knowing you were locked-in to advance the last two races, does it add pressure knowing you aren’t “safe” anymore?
“It’s a little bit hard to remember what that pressure was like in the first round since we only had one race before we won. Now we get to go back and really focus again, which I think is probably more fun and more productive than what we’ve had to do the last two races. I’m looking forward to that intensity being back, having our backs against the wall and needing to perform well again. It’s kind of an adrenaline rush to perform well in those situations.”
If you win Martinsville will the grandfather clock go to your dorm room, or your parents’ house?
“I’d keep it at home – it’s too big for the dorm. It would take up all our snack and microwave space. If I win the grandfather clock, I’ll definitely take it home and maybe put it in place of the Christmas tree this year. We could put the tree outside or something since it would be huge and quite a celebration.”
Rudy Fugle, Crew Chief of the No. 9 NCWTS Liberty University Tundra:
Does it feel like the pressure is back on after being locked into the next round of the Chase for the past two races?
“We really haven’t changed much of anything so it’s back to how we always race. It’s actually a relief to know we are racing for one that actually means something to us again. The way this Chase deal is we try to win every race, but no matter what happened in the last couple races it really didn’t matter for us, so now it’s going to be fun again. We’re competing for the win this week to take the pressure back off us, or at least get the best finish we can.”
William Byron’s No. 9 Liberty University Tundra:
KBM-031: The No. 9 Liberty University team will race KBM-031 for Saturday’s Texas Roadhouse 200. This is the same Tundra Byron won with at Iowa and earned top-five finishes at Martinsville in the spring and Bristol in August.
The Fugle File:
Fugle begins his third season as a crew chief at KBM and fifth overall with the team. Under his tutelage last season, Erik Jones posted three wins, five poles, 925 laps led, 11 top-five and 20 top-10 finishes en route to becoming the youngest champion in Truck Series history and the first driver to collect both the Rookie of the Year and the series title in the same year. The duo also nabbed KBM its record-breaking fourth Truck Series Owner’s championship last season, which was the second with Fugle calling the shots. In 2013, he led KBM’s No. 51 Tundra team to a series-leading six wins and an Owner’s Championship. Entering 2016, the New York native’s Truck Series drivers have totaled nine wins, six poles, 21 top-five and 35 top-10 finishes across his 44 races atop the pit box for KBM.
Fugle has six starts as a crew chief in the Truck Series at Martinsville resulting in two top-five and five top-10 finishes. His drivers have finished third two times, Byron in the spring race this year and Erik Jones in the 2015 spring race.