NASCAR Transcripts: William Byron and Rudy Fugle – Press Conference – 03.24.24

THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by today’s winning crew chief, Rudy Fugle.

We’ll start with questions.

Q. What is the not so much the secret ingredient but the combination that gets you and William to succeed on road courses?

RUDY FUGLE: Yeah, really the first year with the old car, Hendrick Motorsports was far and above the way to go and the winners of all the road course races when I came in. We switched 2022 with a new car, and that wasn’t the case. We were terrible. Qualified in the 20s and ran there for the most part.

We’ve been working steadily since then and kind of hit it on and off last year. We hit on some things. Obviously Indy road course we started last and hit on some things, and Watkins Glen winning that race. The Roval was second. Just been steadily working on it, learning a little bit week in and week out that we race road courses.

THE MODERATOR: We are also joined by today’s winning driver, William Byron.

We’ll continue with questions.

Q. What can you take away from today’s race and apply to other road courses throughout the rest of this season? Obviously you and the 48 had a lot of speed. The Toyotas were up there as well. What do you feel like you can take away from this?

WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I think it’s just part of process and our evolution for our notebook for these racetracks.

I feel like for us, we can just take from this another data point of what we need to improve. I don’t think anyone’s car was driving perfect there. Just the way that this racetrack is with the ride over the bumps, kind of just the way the curving is, the track is pretty rough. I feel like it drives different than anywhere.

At the same time you can put this one in the notebook and say, Okay, when we go to what’s next, whenever we go to the next one, we know what to work on. We’ll just try to keep building at each one.

I feel like we’ve gotten in a rhythm. We just have gotten a good, good feel for these places.

Q. What is your comfort level and confidence level when it comes to attacking these different road courses in the Cup Series?

WILLIAM BYRON: I mean, I don’t know if I’m the most confident one when I show up, but I feel like I just focus on the details that it takes. Once I kind of find that rhythm and cadence of doing the shifting and the braking, you just start to fall into that place that you’ve been familiar with, it just kind of gets you through.

Each one’s a little bit different. I feel like the quicker we can find that rhythm and kind of find that feel that I need in practice, the quicker we go.

It’s different every week. I think we just put a good week of prep in. It was nice to have another 20 minutes. That first session, I was just getting up to speed at the end of it. It was nice to have another one to kind of get going.

Q. What is your confidence level now? Six wins a year ago, two wins in the opening six races this year. Who knows how this season is going to unfold for you. It seems like now you’re winning more races than anybody at Hendrick Motorsports. Your learning curve is so quick. How do you feel about where you are right now?

WILLIAM BYRON: I just feel like it reaffirms the process that I’m doing during the week is correct. So if I do those things that I know are right and the people around me are there to help me do those things and keep the ship kind of going, I know that that stuff works.

I have a great team. I think when I’m able to plug into what we’re doing as a whole, Rudy and I are able to have conversations during the week, I get to a place where I feel confident, all that stuff clicks.

The sport’s really hard. It’s very easy to get caught up in all the moving parts, all the different challenges. I just know that if I do what is normal for me, it’s good.

Q. What was it like at the end of the race? Christopher has four laps, better tires. That’s 80 turns. That’s a lot of tire wear here at COTA. He was catching you. Are you still like I got enough time, hit your line? What were you thinking at the end as he was catching you?

WILLIAM BYRON: You say that, and Rudy had the right strategy, I guess. That’s what I was thinking in the first stage (smiling). He told me all week the two-stopper was going to be the way to go.

I didn’t realize that at the end, but yeah, I mean, it was just trying to not make mistakes. I felt like I made a lot of micro-errors in the last 10 laps. I have to calm down a little bit, look back at those 10 laps and think about what could I do better in the car to stay mentally locked in and not get flustered by the mirror, seeing him closing in a braking zone?

I just feel like there’s things I can look back on to improve. He definitely had fresher tires. I’m sure that helped a little bit, but yeah…

Q. How satisfying was it to make those micro-mistakes and still win the race?

WILLIAM BYRON: I mean, it’s good. It’s why we try to work harder to improve.

Christopher is really good. It seems like when he gets a taste of the win, at the end he turns it up. I knew that last lap he was going to be pushing hard. Rudy gave me an idea of how much gap I had. I kind of did the math in my head coming off of turn one. If I don’t mess up, I think I’m going to be fine. But yeah, he was pushing hard.

Q. How important is it to have early season success?

RUDY FUGLE: Any time you can collect Playoff points early in the year, confidence, all those things, you just got to do it.

I think, again, this is the process. We work really hard during the off-season and prepare for this first chunk of races. It proves that what we’re doing is correct, like William said.

Anytime you can get momentum going and get the team fired up, get everybody fired up. There’s going to be plenty of ups and downs this year. Anytime you can get them, you got to grab ’em.

WILLIAM BYRON: He said it really well. I feel like it kind of ebbs and flows. We’re on a good flow right now in some ways. In the win category, I’d like to finish better on the off days, too. I’m working on that every week. There’s a few guys in the series, Chase does a really good job when he doesn’t have the day he wants, he still finishes well.

I’m still trying to look at those days and how I can improve, like last week. But I feel like the ups are up right now. We just got to keep it going.

Q. Did you anticipate there was going to be more cautions today? Why didn’t you think there were many cautions?

WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I think reliability is pretty good in this car. I feel like everyone’s gotten pretty familiar with all the parts and pieces. There’s a lot of really good teams and drivers that don’t make a lot of mistakes.

I think that creates it. I think the track is really big, and there’s a lot of runoff here. The runoff is an advantage to not having cautions because you don’t have a wall to hit if you miss a braking zone. I missed turn one on the restart, and all I was worried about was the gravel, not hitting the wall.

I think that’s part of it, for sure. If you look at road course racing in general, watching F1 races, there’s no cautions really, except for the street races where guys hit walls. I feel like that’s part of it.

Q. Did you think there was going to be more?

RUDY FUGLE: Only thing I thought about was the first three or four laps when they were all bunched up and everybody was excited. Somebody makes a mistake. Once they got through that, I felt like it was going to be this way. I thought the racing was pretty dang good around the track. It’s just the way it goes.

Q. Rudy, the strategy played a key role today obviously. As soon as Christopher Bell showed his hand after that first stage break, what were your thoughts?

RUDY FUGLE: Yeah, I kind of expected honestly about six to eight cars to two-stop it. As William mentioned, I kind of was on the two-stop bandwagon for most of the week. He wasn’t feeling it as much. That’s what matters the most.

I knew we wouldn’t be in a bad spot to short the stages. Kind of got into that Bell was going to do the opposite basically of us two. If he could get a stage win and two-stop it, he was going to do it.

Then they had a bad pit stop. It took a while to get fuel in the car, and that really put him back. He did an amazing job. That team did an amazing job coming back through the field. It still worked out for us, though, thankfully.

Q. William, can you take me through the laps, 12 to go, five to go? Obviously the 20 was closing in, but you had a manageable gap. Were you trying to conserve and save as much as you could for the car towards the end?

WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I mean, by brakes were getting pretty hot, so I was pushing pretty hard. Yeah, I mean, it’s just a lot of laps around here. I don’t know, four miles or whatever it is. It doesn’t go by quickly. I wouldn’t say ‘boredom’ is the right word, but it’s taking a long time to get to the checkered. You’re wondering what is going to happen. It’s easy to fall out of the rhythm because of that. This track doesn’t flow a lot. It’s very technical. You go from a very technical S-section, a hard braking zone, another hard braking zone. It’s not similar to anywhere we go, so I feel like it’s easy to get out of rhythm. That’s what I noticed today.

Q. Of your guys’ 12 wins together, seven have come in the first eight races of the season. Is that just coincidence, or is there something special about the start of the season, the tracks on the schedule then?

WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, it’s just a lot of hard work. I know everyone works hard, but I think we really go in the off-season and sometimes we want it a little too much, or I do, make little errors in the beginning of the season. Typically that’s when the desire is high.

So just trying to keep that throughout the summer this year and keep the stamina on my side physically to be able to have that summer that we really want to have.

It’s a long season, so you just got to kind of take it when it comes.

RUDY FUGLE: Yeah, I mean, we never stop. Once Thanksgiving is over, it’s nothing but working on races like it’s going to be next week. That preparation, like he said, everybody works hard, but that preparation and trying to be fast starters. Since the Playoff system was created, that’s huge. You start stacking points, you start doing all the right things to relieve a little pressure so that you race more free. No matter what series it is, it’s always been something I’ve strived for.

Q. You said you felt like you had to worry a little bit. At some point when you’re leading 42 laps out there, don’t you get confident that you’re going to win the race?

WILLIAM BYRON: No, no. Everyone’s too good. The car’s too close. Everyone’s too good. I think even though the gaps might be what they are, it’s really easy for somebody to close.

Really just takes sliding the tire one time, being a little bit looser that run, a little bit tighter, whatever. It’s pretty close.

Q. You’d come over the hill, and you were a second or so ahead of everybody else. Looked like you were dominating. Does it ever weigh on you?

WILLIAM BYRON: I mean, you’re not, like, taking it easy. I think the laps he would tell me that that was a really good lap, sometimes I would slow down the next lap, so…

RUDY FUGLE: For sure.

WILLIAM BYRON: It’s that hard to make pace. You’re not riding around. It’s tough.

Q. You look at the schedule over the next two months, through the 600, and I don’t see a weak track on the schedule for you at all. What do you feel like the ceiling is for this group?

RUDY FUGLE: Richmond and Martinsville, Bud. You haven’t been paying attention. The next two are circled big-time.

We talked about it. There’s different types of wins. We’re going to shoot for the stars, but get a win out of the next two weeks. We have not been good at Richmond. We have not been good at Martinsville. We need to be. Right away. That’s all we’re focused on right now.

Q. Rudy, Richmond, cold there next weekend. Lows at night in the upper 40s. What kind of race are we going to see there?

RUDY FUGLE: Yeah, I mean, we haven’t raced at night there in forever with Next Gen at all. I don’t know. I really don’t. The tire wear is going to be and the falloff is going to be high. Not as much as a summer race at 3:00, for sure. But still going to be sliding around, have some awesome strategy situations, two stop and three stop in stages and all of that. That’s what you have to get amped up about Richmond.

Sometimes you don’t get the side-by-side, but you generally have a heck of a race or a strategy involved in it. That’s what we’re expecting. We just hope to have a car to compete good enough to making those calls that matter.

Q. William, your first Cup win from the pole. Book in the weekend with a pole and a win. Does that play any significance?

WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, 13 poles and never won a race. The expectations get too high, I think.

It’s true, I think this weekend felt like, regardless of where we were starting, we felt like we were going to go out and execute a good race. That is how I tried to stay throughout the weekend. I feel like other times when I qualify on the pole, I get a little excited and start to expect to win.

It’s just a long race. You don’t know until you start.

Q. I believe your dad was here at the race. He missed the Daytona 500. How special was it to win this race in front of your family?

WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, it’s awesome. They got to come out here yesterday, flew in yesterday, got to see the race. It’s cool to have them here. Just got a chance to go to dinner last night. Dennis Lambert, who was my first crew chief, he was on the radio today. He was one of our spotters. It was really cool to have him.

Yeah, kind of felt like a little bit of a homecoming. I think that’s his first Cup win he’s been at. He always joked that he was bad luck. Then Rudy brought him on. Worked out (smiling).

THE MODERATOR: Thank you both. Congratulations again.