Prior to getting on track Wednesday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, William Byron had never been up to speed in a Cup Series car.
Considering he’s getting ready to drive Hendrick Motorsports’ famed No. 24 car this season, there’s a lot for Byron to learn in a very short amount of time.
But on his first day as a Cup driver, the 20-year-old showed promise almost immediately — and left him hardly able to stop smiling after seven hours of testing.
“Just a lot of nerves showing up at the racetrack today and seeing all the cars and the guys you’re used to watching on TV,” he said. “It’s kind of weird being at a test with them or being on the track with them. But once I got in the car, I just kind of trusted what has gotten me here and what I’ve done to this point.”
Those instincts paid off. Byron was initially about a half-second behind the leaders following his first run, but was the fastest driver in the morning session by the time lunch rolled around. His speed was the second-fastest of the day, with Kyle Larson edging him by .012 second.
“Everyone was telling me not to look at the lap times, because they don’t want me to bust my tail or something,” he said with a chuckle. “But the biggest thing for me was once I knew what my comfort level was, I could push the car more and see the lap time kind of result in that.
“Obviously, it’s just a test. You’re not racing guys. I’m sure I’ve got a ton to learn, especially racing around guys. So I’m sure it’s going to be a difficult task to get used to that, but at least we have the speed.”
Until Wednesday, the only seat time Byron had was to practice with the gears (and in the simulator, of course). But he’d never actually made a lap.
He described the experience as like driving a rocket ship.
“The first time, I was just trying to hold on,” he said. “I think each run, I started to get more and more comfortable. But you still never really get comfortable with the speed of it — it’s tremendous, especially in the mid-corners.”
With Day 1 behind him, Byron knows he can at least get up to speed in a Cup car — and that he’ll likely have fast cars to drive this season.
“The new Camaro is good so far, and I think if we can keep building on that on (Thursday) — not crash it or anything — we can get out of here with some good information,” he said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”
Day 1 combined top single-lap speeds (I took the driver’s top speed from the morning and afternoon sessions):
Kyle Larson (Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet) / 188.403 mph
William Byron (Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet) / 188.298
Ryan Newman (Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet) / 188.186
Kurt Busch (Stewart-Haas Racing Ford) / 187.846
Erik Jones (Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota) / 186.722
Brad Keselowski (Team Penske Ford) / 186.574
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Roush Fenway Racing Ford) / 186.245
Kasey Kahne (Leavine Family Racing Chevrolet) / 186.200
Darrell Wallace Jr. (Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet) / 185.970
Paul Menard (Wood Brothers Racing Ford) / 185.701
Chris Buescher (JTG/Daugherty Racing Chevrolet) / 185.631
Ty Dillon (Germain Racing Chevrolet) / 185.052
Drew Herring (Toyota wheel force car) / 184.887 *
Cole Custer (GoFas Racing Ford) / 184.225
Justin Allgaier (Chevrolet wheel force car) / 182.760 *
David Ragan (Ford wheel force car) / 181.971 *
* — Wheel force cars are used by manufacturers to gain additional information through advanced telemetry equipment and have a primary objective of gathering data.