Hendrick Motorsports signs William Byron to multi-year contract

The first bombshell of the NASCAR Silly Season dropped Thursday morning and it's a huge one: Hendrick Motorsports has signed NASCAR Camping World Truck Series points leader William Byron to a multi-year contract.

Just 18 years old, Byron, already has set a rookie record with five NCWTS victories this season while driving a Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports.

Next year, Byron will race full-time in the NASCAR XFINITY Series for Hendrick Motorsports affiliate JR Motorsports.

But what matters most isn't next year, it's the long-term value of this play for Hendrick.

There's no question that the perennial powerhouse has struggled this season, winning just twice, the last time coming in March.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is sidelined while recovering from concussion-like symptoms and both he and six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson are getting up there, age-wise, at least by driver standards. Earnhardt will turn 42 in October, while Johnson will be 41 in September.

Kasey Kahne, meanwhile, is likely to miss the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup for a second consecutive season and hasn't won a race in two years.

The addition of Byron provides the Hendrick organization depth and a huge upside.

Hendrick can afford to bring Byron along at a measured pace, and he gives the team a second young ace to go along with Chase Elliott, who likely will win Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors this year.

And, it takes Byron away from Toyota, which is an added benefit for Hendrick and Chevrolet, especially since Stewart-Haas Racing will break ties with Hendrick and Chevy to move to Ford next year.

"William is a special person and a special talent," said team owner Rick Hendrick. "It's been impressive to watch him come up through the ranks and have success at every level. What he's already accomplished this season has been remarkable. On top of all his ability, he's a terrific young man from a great family, and we think he has a very bright future with our organization."

Byron won the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship last year, earning four victories, three poles, five top-fives and 11 top-10s. He led 43 percent of the laps run in that series in 2015.

"Even before I started racing, it was a dream of mine to drive for Hendrick Motorsports," Byron said. "I have so much respect for the way Mr. Hendrick supports his people and encourages everyone to work together. This is the biggest announcement and biggest opportunity of my life, and I will do everything I can to make the most of it. I'm proud to be part of this team."

Byron drove late models for JR Motorsports in 2014 and '15, so next season will be a homecoming of sorts.

"I owe so much to Dale Jr. and everyone at JRM for taking a chance on me in 2014," Byron said. "Looking back, I know none of this would've happened without that opportunity. I was there during Chase Elliott's championship season and got to learn a lot. I know what they're capable of, and I'm going to work really hard for them."

Byron is a freshman at Liberty University, where he will take classes during the fall semester while racing full-time in the remaining 10 NCWTS events.