The past few weeks have seen a slew of announcements and news that everyone on Twitter has pointed out is less-than-surprising. The most recent of those was this week’s announcement that William Byron will take over the No. 5 car from recently-released Kasey Kahne for next season’s NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series schedule. Amid the congratulations and well wishes, more than a couple of racing writers and fans wondered if the move is too soon. Byron is in the midst of his first NASCAR XFINITY Series season, which came immediately after his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season. By the time Byron races the Daytona 500 next February, only 653 days will have passed since his first truck win at Kansas Speedway in 2016, before the driver had even graduated from high school.
The adage that with age comes wisdom seems to be alive and well in NASCAR; in 2011, drivers under 25 made up only 2.75% of all-time Cup series wins up to that point, according to jayski.com. Of the 13 drivers who have secured wins this season, two of them, Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson, are 25 or younger. That means that the winners circle up to this point is 15% 25 or under. This shift from the average might just suggest that the young guys are catching up more rapidly than they used to, and, in doing so, are finding it easier to convince teams to take a chance on them.
Byron hardly seems like a risky venture; his three XFINITY wins are the most of any driver this season, as are his 17 playoff points. He currently leads the playoff point standings, and is second, just 63 points behind the leader, in the regular season standings. In 2016, his first full year in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Byron took home seven wins, the most of any driver. With the jump to Cup next year, he will follow a similar pattern: spend a year racing a lower series before moving up to the next.
The rapid ascent has yet to slow Byron’s numbers, but as many have pointed out over the past several days, the move to the Cup Series is an entirely different animal. At least, that was the discussion around Larson, who made the same year-after-year leaps as Byron and made his full-time Cup debut in 2014. Larson finished his first two Cup years, 2014 and 2015, 17th and 19th in the final point standings. He took home his first Cup Series win in 2016 en route to a ninth-place finish. This year, Larson boasts two wins and currently sits in third place in both the regular season and playoff point standings. At 25, he is the second-youngest Top 10 driver in a playoff standings field whose average age is 33.6.
As the panic ensues about whether Hendrick Motorsports is rushing Byron to the top series, it seems unwarranted, if Byron’s past success is any indication. Larson is the most recent and closest example, but no two situations or drivers are exactly alike. If Byron can stay the course he has been on since his first full-time series, though, he seems poised for a strong Cup Series debut. One thing is for certain: the NASCAR community will be waiting eagerly to see what he can accomplish on the sport’s biggest stage next season.