Veteran Racer Max Papis Is NASCAR Star William Byron’s Secret Weapon

Veteran Racer Max Papis Is NASCAR Star William Byron’s Secret Weapon

07/11/2021

One of the most pleasant performance surprises thus far this season in the NASCAR Cup Series is William Byron.

Now in his fourth full-time season with Hendrick Motorsports in the Cup ranks—yes, time has surely gone by quickly for the young racing prodigy—Byron is enjoying his highest ranking in the standings thus far in his career.

Sporting Maaco colors and sponsorship on his No. 24 Chevrolet, Byron comes into Sunday’s Quaker State 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway ranked an impressive third in the Cup standings (he’s been as high as second for four straight weeks).

He has one win (Homestead), eight top-five and 14 top-10 finishes in the season’s first 20 races. And while it has been Byron who has achieved that on his own, he’s had a great back-up man in his corner.

Well-known veteran race car driver Max Papis has helped shepherd Byron’s career for the past six years, ever since Byron came into the NASCAR ranks in the Camping World Truck Series.

Over that time, Papis has been a key asset in helping Byron learn more about tracks, their nuances and how to race them, and more.

In other sports’ parlance, you might call Papis a “coach” for Byron. But Papis prefers being called a “performance advisor,” and the handle definitely illustrates how much he’s helped Byron’s development over the years.

“I don’t call myself ‘coach,’” Papis told me during a taping of The Racing Beat podcast. “I am a ‘performance advisor’ and I only do it (currently) for William Byron.

“It’s something that I’ve done in the past and I’ve worked with Joey Logano and Austin Dillon. It’s not what I call a job, but it’s more my project that I have William Byron. I met William when he was about 17 years old, helped him to grow within his God gift and his great ability.

“The reason why I don’t like the word ‘coach’ is because you can’t really teach speed. It comes from God. What you can do is advise a driver on how to better approach certain situations, how to grow. But the speed, it’s something that is natural, it’s something inside of you.

“So I like the word ‘performance advisor’ because that really is comprehensive. You make someone that is already great, become excellent. I add my 30 years of experience to the 23-year-old experience of William, to make him better every day.”

Byron, the 2017 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion is appreciative of the advice and guidance Papis has given him.

“Max and I have had a good friendship and over the years, we’ve been able to talk about different things, different ideas, whether it be road courses or just a general perspective on racing,” Byron told me. “I think it’s good to have people around you that have perspective on different aspects of racing and different parts of the sport.

“(Papis has) been in IndyCar and is in IndyCar right now as a steward, and he’s been in a lot of different race cars over the years. He has a good perspective and sometimes I tap into if I need advice on a track or just how to handle different racing situations. I feel it’s never a bad thing to have someone around you who has more knowledge than you when it comes to racing as a whole. I think that’s important.”

Papis is definitely a man on a mission, and that mission is to make Byron a NASCAR Cup champion. He’s already helped Logano achieve that in 2018. And Papis fully believes Byron will soon join Logano as a Cup champion.

“The satisfaction is tremendous,” Papis said of watching Byron’s development. “It’s something that would have been difficult to be done for other people because, again, it’s a unique relationship that I have with William Byron and we have had it for a long time, for over six years.

“It’s a project that I have and we’re getting close to the project will come to a possible conclusion when William wins the Cup Championship—and I don’t think we’re that far.”

Papis is happy for Byron’s success, no question. But if and when Byron wins the Cup championship and Papis has imparted as much of his own knowledge to his young charge as possible, Papis isn’t sure if he would move on to the next young driver and to become his/her “performance advisor.”

“I never say no, but it’s a pretty unique thing that happened with William and was unique as well with Joey Logano in the beginning,” Papis said. “It might happen that in the future I can find another motivation, another person but let’s see what the future holds.”

Follow Autoweek contributor Jerry Bonkowski on Twitter @JerryBonkowski

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