Hendrick Motorsports is reportedly staying in-house for another 2018 Cup Series opening.
According to Sports Business Journal, William Byron is expected to be the next driver of the No. 5 car. The team announced Monday morning that Kasey Kahne would be out of the car at the end of the season and said plans for the team’s replacement driver would be announced at a later date
Byron’s rise through the NASCAR ranks is nothing short of meteoric. He’s currently a rookie in the Xfinity Series — and has won three races — and made the move to the Xfinity Series after driving for a season in the Truck Series.
Byron was the favorite for the Truck Series title in 2016 but his truck had an engine issue in the penultimate race of the season at Phoenix and he didn’t make the final four at the Homestead season finale.
Byron won seven of 23 races in the Truck Series a year ago and his plight has been pointed to as a reason for NASCAR’s overhaul of its point system. As part of the changes introduced with stage racing in 2017, drivers in all three NASCAR series can carry over bonus points accrued in the regular season through the first three rounds of the playoffs.
The 19-year-old got his start in iRacing in 2011. After successful simulation racing, he moved to Legends cars and signed to drive a late model for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2014. Byron drove the 2016 truck season for Kyle Busch and signed last summer with Hendrick Motorsports and JR Motorsports to move to Junior’s Xfinity Series team for 2017.
By putting Byron in the car, Hendrick would save significant money in driver salary vs. paying a champion driver like Matt Kenseth or Kurt Busch.
Byron would be the second in-house replacement Hendrick has announced in recent weeks. The team said before the Brickyard 400 that Alex Bowman would take over for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 car in 2018.
Junior is retiring from Cup Series competition at the end of the season and Bowman is currently the test driver for the organization. Bowman drove in 10 races for the team in 2016 while filling in for Junior as Junior recovered from a concussion.
Making the addition of Byron official would also solidify Hendrick Motorsports’ driver lineup through 2020. The team has previously announced contract extensions for seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott this year.