Scott Fowler: William Byron grew up in Charlotte. Now he has won NASCAR's biggest race, the Daytona 500.

Scott Fowler, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Auto Racing

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — A long time ago in Charlotte, well before William Byron became the 2024 Daytona 500 champion, he was just a kid who went trick-or-treating on Halloween.

Since he knew where NASCAR star Jimmie Johnson lived in Charlotte, Byron went with some friends to knock on Johnson’s door. Johnson turned out to be there. He invited the children inside, gave them some candy and — best of all — autographed the pillowcase Byron was using to carry his haul.

Byron is all grown up now, 26 years old and one of NASCAR’s most unlikely success stories. He didn’t have a famous last name or relative. He grew up both as a Charlotte native and a digital native, first making his name in online iRacing.

Then, on Monday night, Byron won NASCAR’s Super Bowl. Not on a computer. For real.

Jimmie Johnson, who won two Daytona 500s himself and is now still running a handful of races as a 48-year-old part time racer, finished 28th.

“It’s pretty crazy,” Byron said at his post-race press conference Monday. “I feel like I’ve always had a bit of impostor syndrome because like, I raced against Jimmie Johnson?! Dude, this guy was my hero. I literally watched him every Sunday and had his diecast cars in my room.”


The first Daytona 500 win of his career for Byron was huge for him on a number of levels. It came 40 years to the day of his employer Hendrick Motorsports’ first race. Hendrick Motorsports also sported the second-place finisher, Alex Bowman.

Byron got a little lucky Monday, as all Daytona 500 winners must do. There were 41 lead changes in the Daytona 500, which is always something of a high-stakes crapshoot.

Byron also avoided “The Big One” that came with eight laps to go in the 200-lap race on Daytona’s 2.5-mile superspeedway. That wreck ruined acres of sheet metal, as 23 cars were at least somewhat involved (more than half of the cars in the field of 40).

And then Byron again avoided another, smaller wreck that came just as the final lap began, when Ross Chastain tried to pass him for the lead. Byron was leading at the time, by just a few feet, when the crash broke out just behind him.


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