Five years ago, William Byron was a senior in high school — still three weeks from graduation — when he claimed the checkered flag in a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at Kansas Speedway.
It was the first victory of his NASCAR career and makes the 1.5-mile tri-oval in Kansas City, Kansas, among his favorite tracks.
“It was kind of the break that I needed to break through and get that first win,” Byron said. “I was really fortunate that it all kind of came together. ... It was good to break through and get that first win and not have to worry about it. So, it was a great feeling and definitely my career kind of took off after that.”
Now, the 23-year-old Byron is pushing to crack into the sport’s elite at the highest level.
He once drove a Kyle Busch-owned truck in 2016, but this year he was pushing alongside Busch for a spot in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs Round of 8.
Byron, who is in his fourth season as a full-time Cup Series driver, was eliminated in the Round of 12, but he’ll try to play spoiler Sunday during the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.
“It’s just a fun track that you can move around and pass guys,” Byron said. “You’re never really stuck. Some mile-and-a-halfs you kind of get stuck where you are and it’s hard to advance through, but with Kansas having the progressive banking on the top groove makes it to where you can move around and pass guys. I like that and it factors into how I like racing there.”
After his breakthrough win at Kansas, Byron went on to win six more Truck Series races that year, giving him four more on the season than eventual champion Johnny Sauter.
Still only 18 years old when the season ended, Byron earned Truck Series Rookie of the Year honors and signed with JR Motorsports to drive in the Xfinity Series in 2017.
Only Busch, who owned the truck he drove the year before, won more than the four races Byron did in his only season driving in the Xfinity Series.
After capturing the 2017 Xfinity Series title, including a fourth-place finish at Kansas Speedway during the playoffs, Byron jumped the Cup Series as the driver of the Rick Hendrick-owner No. 24 Chevrolet once driven by Jeff Gordon. After struggling in his first three Cup Series races at Kansas Speedway, Byron finished fifth during the fall race two years ago and backed that up with a pair of top-10 finishes in 2020.
Byron started second and finished ninth during the Buschy McBusch Race 400 in May at Kansas Speedway — his fourth straight top-10 finish at the track.
“I’ve had a couple (good memories there),” Byron said. Definitely the win was up there, but I had a run there in Xfinity during the playoffs that was a really good race for us. Then, I think about the Cup Series and I’ve had a couple opportunities to win there. It's a fun track. I always enjoy the area and just being around there.”
Kansas Speedway hosts three races this weekend, starting with the Xfinity Series Kansas Lottery 300 at 2 p.m. on Saturday followed by the ARCA Menards Series Reese's 150, which serves as the championship race for the circuit.
The Kansas Lottery 300 will air on KSHB 41.
The weekend concludes with Hollywood Casino 400 at 2 p.m. on Sunday. The race will air on NBC Sports.