The defending K&N Pro Series East Champion - and Rookie of the Year - clinched his title at just 17 years of age with his fourth victory of the season in the October finale at Dover. It capped an impressive year for the Charlotte, North Carolina native who got his start playing the iRacing simulator. That same season, he scored a CARS Super Late Model victory at Hickory, finished runner-up in both his ARCA debut at Lucas Oil Raceway and in the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown at South Boston - and signed a deal with Kyle Busch Motorsports to run full-time in the Truck Series.
Byron made his series debut last fall at Phoenix, where he started 5th but was caught in an early crash with Brandon Jones and Cole Custer, leaving him 31st. He returned this season to Daytona where he this time dodged nearly all the wrecks - before his #9 was damaged in the last-lap fracas involving teammate Christopher Bell. Regardless, Byron now had a 13th-place finish in his back pocket heading into his Atlanta debut.
37 trucks showed up to contest the 32 starting spots in Saturday’s field, and among them Byron again qualified 5th with a speed of 136.436 mph. He was also 6th in the opening practice session on Friday, 3rd in the second, and 8th in Happy Hour. Among the five drivers who missed the race were Norm Benning - his second in a row to start the season - as well as popular upstarts Jordan Anderson and Ryan Ellis.
Starting 32nd on Saturday was Jennifer Jo Cobb, who despite being one of three drivers to not complete a qualifying lap was locked into the field on owner points, bouncing back from a DNQ at Daytona. Cobb’s #10 Driven2Honor.org / Westside Vapor Station Chevrolet, which carried the names of several fan supporters on the rear bed, was joined by J.J. Yeley’s #07 Engine PArts Plus Chevrolet and Daytona winner Johnny Sauter in the #21 Allegiant Travel “Back in a Bowtie” Chevrolet, which were sent to the back for the driver missing introductions and pitting before green, respectively. While Yeley, Sauter, Cobb, and several other drivers lost laps in the early going, it wasn’t until Lap 61 that Byron entered the last-place picture. His #9 erupted in smoke coming off Turn 4, signaling the engine failure that ended his day.
Finishing 31st was another KBM truck, this time the #51 ARRIS Toyota of Daniel Suarez. Suarez was racing Matt Crafton for the lead off Turn 2 when contact from Christopher Bell in yet another KBM truck turned him into Crafton, triggering a hard wreck that eliminated both Suarez and Crafton. Bell continued on before losing a right-front tire while leading with just 7 laps to go, wrecking him out of the race and handing the win to John Hunter Nemechek. The crash left Bell just outside the Bottom Five, separated by Cobb’s lapped #10 and Sauter’s #21. In all, the three KBM trucks finished 26th, 31st, and 32nd.
*This marks the first last-place finish for the #9 in a Truck Series race since October 18, 2008, when Sean Caisse’s #9 Germain.com / Lumber Liquidators Toyota crashed after 44 laps of the Kroger 200 at Martinsville.
*This is the first last-place finish for Kyle Busch Motorsports in a Truck Series race since February 24, 2012, when the late Jason Leffler wrecked 17 laps into the season-opening NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
32) #9-William Byron / 59 laps / engine
31) #51-Daniel Suarez / 111 laps / crash
30) #88-Matt Crafton / 111 laps / crash / led 76 laps
29) #10-Jennifer Jo Cobb / 120 laps / running
28) #21-Johnny Sauter / 121 laps / running
2016 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) William Byron, Tommy Joe Martins (1)
2016 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Kyle Busch Motorsports, Tommy Joe Martins (1)
2016 LASTCAR TRUCK SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet, Toyota (1)