A year after a "gut punch," William Byron gets his title shot

A year later, William Byron heads to Homestead-Miami Speedway in a much better mood and with much more on the line.

A year after a "gut punch," William Byron gets his title shot
William Byron, JR Motorsports Chevrolet
William Byron, JR Motorsports Chevrolet and Ryan Blaney, Team Penske Ford
Race winner William Byron, JR Motorsports Chevrolet
William Byron, JR Motorsports Chevrolet and Elliott Sadler, JR Motorsports Chevrolet

Byron was a favorite to win last season’s Camping World Truck Series championship but an engine failure in the next-to-last race at Phoenix prevented him from advancing to the Championship 4.

Byron went on to win the Homestead race and finished the year with seven victories but the victory was bittersweet without the chance to race for the championship.

He called the moment a “gut punch.”

“I didn’t really think about what the championship meant until I saw them celebrating and saw the excitement and what it means to win that,” he said.

The 19-year-old native of Charlotte, N.C., won’t have that problem this year.

Byron, now competing in the Xfinity Series with JR Motorsports, won last weekend’s race at Phoenix, cementing his spot in this weekend’s Championship 4.

He will be joined in Saturday’s title bout by JR Motorsports teammates Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier and rookie Daniel Hemric.

“Yeah, last year sucked,” Byron said after his Phoenix victory. “That was terrible. We had great trucks last year. That team had been together for a few years and just kept building. We didn’t expect to have an issue like that, it happened and we didn’t get our shot to get to Homestead.

“This year we made sure that didn’t happen. We’ve executed well. We’ve had a lot of adversity I feel like through the playoffs and we’ve been able to rebound from those. We’ve still been able to get good finishes.”

That adversity included a wild circumstance last weekend when JRM’s pit crews were unable to get to the race after the plane on which they were traveling was forced to make an emergency landing on its way to Phoenix.

The JRM teams, including Byron’s, were forced to throw together a lot of substitutes just to get through the Phoenix race.

“I freaked out when I heard about it,” said team co-owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. “I was assured we had people here who could do the job and to be honest with you, they did. Those guys deserve a lot of credit helping us make the best of it.”

Byron’s four Xfinity wins this season dwarf his fellow title contenders. Sadler and Hemric have not won a race and Allgaier has won twice.

Once again, Byron appears a favorite to win his first NASCAR national series championship but at least this time he will actually have the opportunity to compete for it.

“We’re just going to be sure to execute,” Byron said. “We know we can win and we know we can go out there and compete hard.”

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