The fourth seat in Hendrick Motorsports for 2018 has been filled. William Byron will take over the #5 car in 2018, replacing Kasey Kahne, as reported by sources on Tuesday, but confirmed by the team on Wednesday.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” he said. “Mr. (Rick) Hendrick has built such a great team. The people at Hendrick Motorsports have dedicated their lives to giving their drivers the best chance to win every weekend. I have a responsibility to them to work hard and put everything I have into this opportunity. They need to know I’m always giving 100 percent because that’s what they do.”
Byron currently races for Hendrick farm team JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series, where he drives the #9 Camaro. The 19-year-old rookie has made his presence felt among the Xfinity field, leading the series in wins with three and sitting 2nd in the championship to teammate Elliott Sadler. He signed a driver development deal with Hendrick in August 2016.
“At every step, William has proven how quickly he can adapt,” Hendrick stated. “Some drivers have raw talent and some have a strong work ethic. William has both. It’s impressive to see a young guy who never gets rattled and instinctively knows how to communicate with his team. That level of commitment, poise and pure ability is rare at any age. I think he’s just scratching the surface.”
Prior to joining JRM and HMS, Byron was already establishing himself as a rising star. An iRacing driver before moving into real-life cars as a 15-year old, he won the K&N Pro Series East championship in his rookie season in 2015 with four wins. He later joined Kyle Busch Motorsports’ #9 truck in the Camping World Truck Series for the 2016 season, where he recorded a rookie-record seven victories and a 5th-place points finish. Despite missing the Championship Four round due to an engine failure in the penultimate race of the season, his 2016 campaign resulted in the Owner’s Championship for KBM.
“This is a dream come true for me to race at the Cup level. Thank you to everyone @TeamHendrick for believing in me! Ready to make them proud” – William Byron (@WilliamByron)
In joining the #5, Byron is one of two new drivers in the Hendrick stable for 2018. Alex Bowman, who ran a limited schedule in the team’s #88 car as a relief driver for Dale Earnhardt Jr., takes over the ride full-time in 2018 as Earnhardt will be retiring from Cup racing. At just 19 years of age, Byron will be the youngest member of the team, while he, Bowman and Chase Elliott mark a youth movement in HMS as the oldest of the trio (Bowman) is 17 years younger than future teammate and seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson.
Axalta Coating Systems, a longtime Hendrick partner and sponsor of the #88, will also sponsor the #5 in 2018. Liberty University, which Byron currently attends and has been sponsored by for much of his racing career, is also expected to follow him to the #5. Both sponsors have also appeared on his #9 Xfinity car.
Byron had been long-rumored to take over the #5 car. Although he was considered the team’s next young star, Hendrick had stated the team was “not ready to cross that bridge yet,” alluding to Byron joining HMS. Other names like Matt Kenseth were brought up as potential successors in the car, though Byron was ultimately chosen to replace Kahne in the car.
“It’s definitely going to be intense and you’ve got to match that intensity,” Byron commented. “I’ve got a golden opportunity here.”
Featured image by Brian Lawdermilk, Getty Images