William Byron knows whenever he races at his hometown’s Charlotte Motor Speedway, it’s the biggest event of his season.
He grew up racing in Charlotte, N.C., and used his experience there to his advantage last week at the Coca-Cola 600. He won the pole in Thursday’s qualifying session and finished ninth in the race.
“It means a lot to me -- that race was by far the most important race of the season for me," Byron told The Inquirer in an interview this week. “It was great to finish top 10 and that gave us some good momentum going forward.”
Byron now prepares for the Pocono 400 on Sunday at Pocono Raceway. In 2016, Byron set a rookie record for most wins in the NASCAR Truck Series at the “Tricky Triangle."
Last year’s Pocono 400 was just his second start in the NASCAR Cup Series en route to winning the Rookie of the Year Award. In his second season, the 21-year-old is still one of the youngest racers in the field.
But his experience at Pocono has helped him and his team identify the pivotal section of the track for Saturday.
“Turn 3 is the most important corner of that race track,” Byron said. “All the corners are important, but Turn 3 leads to the longest straightaway. It’s a very flat corner, so the car has to handle well, the biggest thing is you have to turn well to get the run down the straightaway.”
In the No. 24 car for Hendrick Motor Sports (Jeff Gordon’s old ride), he’s won two poles and has three top-10 finishes this year, two in the last three weeks after finishing ninth in NASCAR’s All-Star Race on May 18.
“We had a good weekend overall,” Byron said of the Coca-Cola 600. “We got good stage points, which was nice. We can carry that momentum that we had the last couple weeks [into Pocono]."
Byron is a part-time student at Liberty University, which sponsors his car. He recently finished his spring semester taking online courses, and said he takes a lighter course load in the summer.
“I’m pretty much the only [driver] that takes classes,” Byron said. “It’s a challenge going with the racing and going back and forth and managing it. It’s always been a challenge I’ve had.”
Daniel Hemric, in his first season in the Cup Series, is still learning the ropes in NASCAR’s highest level.
For the first time in his career, he can’t spend as much time as he’d like around his craft.
“You have shorter weeks,” the 28-year-old rookie said. “You race on Sundays, you’re held accountable to get your notes together for Monday. ... You have to be way more diligent about how you’re managing your time. Forever in my life, it’s been about racing. At this level, you have to be able to position yourself to take some time to do other things in life, that way you’re 100 percent refreshed.”
Hemric got off to a rough start this season but picked up his first career top-five finish last month, and won the pole at the Monster Energy Open on May 18.
Continued success at Pocono could help him make a run at this year’s Rookie of the Year Award. Plus, he has noticed that Pocono has a history of being friendly to drivers looking for their first win.