Three weeks shy of his high school graduation, William Byron visited Victory Lane on Friday during a caution-filled Toyota Tundra 250 at Kansas Speedway.
Luckily for Byron, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series doesn’t run Memorial Day weekend, so he’ll have a chance to attend his graduation May 27 at Charlotte (N.C.) Country Day School.
“I’m pretty fortunate with that and get to enjoy that, but, my prom, I was racing that weekend,” Byron said.
He was running a Late Modified race in Nashville, Tenn., but whatever he sacrificed back home Friday probably was worth it.
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Surviving a green-white-checkered finish, Byron claimed the first win on a last-lap pass in the series’ 16 races at the track.
“This night is unprecedented for William for sure with the limited experience that he does have in the Truck Series and the limited experience that he has in racing in general,” said reigning Sprint Cup champion Kyle Busch, who owns Byron’s No. 9 Liberty University Toyota. “I’m real impressed. … It’s pretty special to have William being able to win this soon in his career in the Truck Series and, hopefully, there’s many more to come.”
Busch knows the feeling well. He won a Truck Series race at Kansas in 2014 in his third appearance.
Byron, who won the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship last year, only became eligible to drive on Kansas’ 1.5-mile tri-oval when he turned 18 on Nov. 29, so he won in his debut.
“I wouldn’t say I’m jealous,” Busch said, cracking a smile. “This is win No. 1 and I’m up to 161 now, so he’s got a long way ahead of him. But certainly, it’s fun to watch.”
During a restart with 33 laps remaining, Byron checked out on the field, opening a 4-second gap, but Tyler Reddick’s spin with four laps remaining stacked things up again for the overtime restart.
Byron opted to restart outside and was immediately passed by series veteran Johnny Sauter, who appeared destined to reach the finish line first.
“When the restart happened, I saw Christopher (Bell) pulling me and I was banging through the gears as much as I could,” Byron said. “I just didn’t have the run or the push. I saw those guys stacking up on the bottom and I was frustrated.”
Byron kept battling and caught a break coming to the top of the frontstretch on the final lap when Ben Rhodes banged into Sauter’s bumper in a desperate attempt to get around him.
That opened the door for Byron, who avoided the final bit of on-track carnage for a win in his fifth career Trucks Series race. He’s the ninth NASCAR Next driver to win a national tour series race.
“When we got to the final corner, I wasn’t going to give up and I saw (Rhodes) start to go for that move,” Byron said. “I didn’t know after that if Sauter was going to be able to save it, so I just tried to plan to miss them and it worked out.”
What didn’t work out was the postrace celebration — Byron didn’t even know how to do the customary celebratory burnout.
Matt Crafton, who led a race-high 57 laps, moved up for second place, with Daniel Hemric sliding in for third ahead of Bell.
Clint Bowyer — an Emporia, Kan., native and the only Sprint Cup regular in the field — started 16th but drove his No. 24 Georgia Boot Chevy to a fifth-place finish.
The pole-sitter, John Wes Townley, was clipped on the back left quarter panel by John Hunter Nemechek during a pass on the 50th lap coming off turn four.
Townley got sideways on the track and avoided hitting the wall, but overcorrected and smacked Parker Kligerman, turning him sharply up the track and sending him nose-first into the wall.
Townley and Reddick, who led 56 laps before skidding down the backstretch after a spin in turn two late in the race, dueled for the lead through the first 44 laps, swapping first place three times before the wreck took Townley out of contention.
The race didn’t even make it through the first lap under green before Trucks Series rookie Rico Abreu got loose in turn one and hit the wall. That brought out the first of 11 cautions for 47 laps.