William Byron, the 19 year old phenom from Virginia, will be moving up to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series a little earlier than most expected. It’s only by a year, as most prognosticators said he’d be in the Xfinity Series for one more year before moving up to a full time Cup ride. Hendrick Motorsports and Kasey Kahne announced earlier this week that Kahne wouldn’t be coming back to race for Hendrick in the Cup Series in 2018.
Kahne’s Career Started with a Flurry of Wins
Many people in the NASCAR universe were saying that due to his relatively poor performance over the past couple of years, he wouldn’t be coming back in 2018, although his contract went through the 2018 season. Kahne, 37, burst onto the NASCAR scene in 2004 with high hopes for championship runs in the Ray Evernham Motorsports number 9. He went on a tear his first couple of seasons, winning multiple races each of his first few years in the Cup Series. He won a couple of weeks back at The Brickyard, snapping a three year losing streak and reviving hopes he might at least last out his contract.
Announcement Ends Weeks of Speculation
Pundits on both NBC(SN) and Fox have been speculating for the past two or three months whether Kahne’s contract would be bought out or renewed. Matt Kenseth’s name was bandied about for weeks as a replacement for Dale Junior when he announced his retirement earlier this year. The announcement that Alex Bowman would take Junior’s seat ended that speculation. Word then was that Kenseth would take Kahne’s seat in order to retire in high quality equipment and make a solid run for a championship in his final season or two. Byron will bring Liberty University with him as a main sponsor for the car, with Axalta sharing time as primary sponsor.
Byron Brings Youthfulness to Hendrick
Except for Chase Elliot, team HMS drivers are fairly long in the tooth for NASCAR Cup Series drivers. Kasey’s 37 and we already know he’s on the way out. Junior’s in his mid-forties and also on his last season as a Cup driver. Jimmie’s not very far behind Junior, at 41. The addition of Bowman at 24 and Byron at 19 make the 2018 Hendrick stable the youngest of all four-team shops. Elliot’s 21 years give the four Hendrick drivers an average age of 26 ¼ years of age.
Byron started driving in the NASCAR K&N Pro East Series in 2015, earning himself four wins and five top five finishes in 14 starts. 2016 saw him move up to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series full time, competing in all 23 races and netting seven victories and 11 top five finishes. He’s competing full time in the Xfinity Series this year and in 20 starts has three wins and seven top five finishes, a record that has him sitting in second place in the championship standings, 62 points behind his Junior Motorsports teammate Elliot Sadler.