NASCAR Xfinity title favorite William Byron had a less than stellar start to the 2017 Playoffs. Following a poor performance in Chicago last weekend to close out the regular season, Byron was looking to get lucky in Kentucky. A loose wheel and a 18th place finish derailed that plan. It’s what happened post-race that was the real story.
During the pre-race, we were meandering around pit lane taking pictures and just listening to conversations like big J journalists normally do. Nothing earth-shattering happening, everyone just waiting to go racing. We found ourselves in front of the William Byron car and ran into his father. An incredibly nice guy to everyone around him, willing to talk to anyone and just looked like a dad. Khaki shorts, tucked in polo, high white socks, and new balances. Peak dad apparel for Mr. Byron. While he talked to people William Byron was deep in conversation with his driving coach Max Papis.
Max Papis serving as his driver coach is perplexing, mainly because Max isn’t known as an oval racer. The guy can wheel a race car but there are other guys out there. However, if Byron is comfortable with Papis and trusts him that’s all that matters. Everything seemed great.
Byron brought the car home in 18th. An ok rebound following a loose wheel and what could have been a worse finish. As we headed back to the media center we wandered through the garage. Watched teams remove their transponders and tapered spacers to return to NASCAR, that’s an operation in itself. After that, we walked past the haulers.
William Byron’s hauler happens to be the first hauler in line and that’s where we see Max Papis and William Byron’s dad having a very animated discussion. You know that kind of angry talk you have where you whisper loudly and everyone knows your angry but you don’t think they know? That’s what was happening between the two. We held up and acted like we were checking our phones to see if anything else would happen. Max ended up Dikembe Mutombo finger-wagging Mr. Bryron’s face and walked away. At that moment Bryon saw us standing there walking, went into the hauler before coming back out and apologizing to Papis. Cooler heads prevailed but it was super interesting to see an interaction like that.
Mr. Byron didn’t appear like a satellite dad at all until that moment. What was Papis supposed to do? He can’t control a loose wheel or strategy. William Byron easily had a 5th-10th place car, sure it’s a bad finish but there are more races for him to rebound. The things you see when you’re actually in the garage and not watching from afar.
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