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

Once Byron finished the final lap under the caution flag, by rule he was declared the winner. His crew chief was crying on the radio, so for a few long seconds Byron wasn’t sure he had actually won.

“I hope he’s crying for a good reason,” Byron said he thought to himself.

Others, of course, weren’t as happy with the outcome.

“It’s speedway racing,” said a disappointed Joey Logano on the FOX broadcast. Logano was caught up in the big crash, although he may have had the night’s fastest car. “It’s a lot of fun until it sucks.”

In a larger sense, though, a Byron win is no fluke at all.

Going into Monday, he already had 10 Cup victories in his previous six years driving in NASCAR’s top series, including six wins in 2023, when Byron finished third in the final standings and had a real shot at winning his first Cup championship. He’s one of the best drivers in the Cup Series — not just best young drivers, but all drivers.

“I wanted it so bad,” Byron said of racing in general. “I never grew up around it, but it was something I always loved.”

Byron’s personal story is filled with Charlotte references. He graduated from Charlotte Country Day (he also became an Eagle Scout as a teenager). His parents are both deeply involved in his life and career and his mom was at the race in Daytona. His father, feeling ill, went home before the race began, and Byron said he and his dad would probably go to Eddie’s Place in Charlotte and “have a little breakfast, because that’s our thing.”


When Byron was 12, he visited the Hendrick Motorsports race shop in Concord as a fan. After starting off in iRacing and then Legends Racing, with stops at several other series as he climbed the racing ladder, he drives for Hendrick himself. Byron drives the No. 24 racecar originally made famous by Jeff Gordon.

“It is 2024, and the 24 is always going to be very special to me,” said Gordon, a three-time Daytona 500 winner himself and now the vice chairman of Hendrick Motorsports. “When I finally got to William (after the race), the youthfulness and excitement and exuberance was just off the charts.”

William Byron is the sixth Hendrick Motorsports driver to win the Great American Race. He joins Geoff Bodine, Darrell Waltrip, Gordon, Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“It’s been 10 years, so I forgot how thrilling it really is,” said Hendrick, who last experienced a Daytona 500 win when Earnhardt Jr. won it in 2014.

The race was delayed by a day due to the incessant rain that pelted Daytona International Speedway over the weekend. But most of the grandstands were still full Monday. NASCAR said the crowd exceeded 100,000 fans.

Byron had never previously finished better than 21st at the Daytona 500, had never even finished on the lead lap. But it all came together Monday night, in NASCAR’s biggest single event.

“I grew up,” Byron said, “just dreaming of what this would be like…. I mean no matter what you’re into, it’s all about what gets you up in the morning, what you absolutely can’t go without. And for me, that’s racing.”

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