When Brandon McSwain sits atop the pit box for Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series event at Phoenix Raceway, he expects the nerves to be slightly higher than usual.

That’s because this will be McSwain’s first of four races as the crew chief on the No. 17 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro in the Xfinity events that William Byron will run: Phoenix on March 9, Darlington Raceway on May 11, Pocono Raceway on July 13, and Watkins Glen International on Sept. 14. In total, the No. 17 entry will run 10 races with 2014 championship-winning crew chief Greg Ives leading the way for the six non-Byron races.

Since coming to Hendrick Motorsports before the 2019 season, McSwain has been an engineer on the No. 24 team with Byron in the NASCAR Cup Series. He is currently the lead engineer for the team and crew chief Rudy Fugle. However, McSwain’s history with Byron dates back to 2017 when he was part of Byron’s Xfinity championship-winning team at JR Motorsports (JRM). McSwain went on to win another title there in 2018 with Tyler Reddick.

“It comes full circle for me,” McSwain told HendrickMotorsports.com of his initial races as a crew chief coming with Byron. “When I worked with William (Byron) at JRM, we were both young. I had only been in the sport for three years and was still learning. William, coming to Xfinity, had only been on the NASCAR side for a few years.

“To be able to do it with this organization is extremely humbling. We have high expectations. They have had the Xfinity program back for two years and the elusive win has not come. Selfishly, we both want to check that box for Mr. H. For me, with the Hendrick name, the No. 17 and working with William, this is a no-brainer. It is a home run. I am very grateful for this new challenge, the opportunity to grow professionally and learn a new role.”

Most weekends will see the Xfinity cars on track before the Cup Series. That will not be the case in Phoenix, with the Cup Series teams getting a 50-minute practice on Friday to shake down the new short-track rules package. The Saturday schedule will see McSwain go from Xfinity practice and qualifying to Cup qualifying and then the Xfinity race.

Byron is interested in seeing McSwain in his new role and how their working relationship will evolve in a new way. The duo also believes additional track time should help their efforts on Sundays in the Cup Series.

“I’m excited because Brandon (McSwain) and I, as much as we have known each other, have never worked together from a driver-crew chief standpoint,” Byron told HendrickMotorsports.com. “I’m excited to see how he does. I think he is mature and ready for the opportunity. I know he is looking forward to it. It will give us a chance to have that direct communication and we will hopefully be in contention to win a lot of races.”

Growing up in Auburndale, Florida, McSwain raced in a modified mini-stock and helped people in the local racing community during his teenage years. It was that experience that led him to want to make a career of working in the racing industry. After meeting someone involved in UNC Charlotte’s motorsports program at a Performance Racing Industry show, McSwain decided to move to Charlotte and enroll in the school for mechanical engineering in 2010. Upon his graduation, he went to work as a design engineer for Freightliner but was hoping to find work in the sport he loves. In 2014, McSwain got the call he had been hoping for to work with a NASCAR team. He would work for two other teams before landing at JRM in 2016.

In 2019, crew chief Chad Knaus hired McSwain from JRM to work with him on the No. 24 team. The seven-time championship-winning crew chief was impressed with McSwain from the jump.

“We were in a rebuilding phase for the 24 car at that time,” Knaus, now the vice president of competition, recalled to HendrickMotorsports.com. “We were bringing in a lot of newer people to the environment and trying to build up what the 24 car would be. Brandon (McSwain) was a perfect fit for that.

“He’s extremely detail-orientated. He can take on a lot, prioritize, sort, and get your answers. That is important, especially if you are a crew chief. Having a guy next to you that you can lean on consistently and a lot is invaluable.”

Ahead of the Phoenix race, McSwain is diving into the details. He is reviewing notes on setups and past races at the 1-mile venue and catching up on the rules and procedures for a series he has not been in since 2018. Ives and veteran car chief Josh Kirk are carrying more of the load in the shop during the week and they will both be right by McSwain’s side on race day. That includes guidance on navigating some areas before they happen. McSwain will also be able to draw on the knowledge gained working with a Hall of Fame crew chief in Knaus and the winningest crew chief in the Next Gen era in Fugle.

“Having Greg (Ives) there is having a second opinion,” McSwain said. “His personality is not going to try to take over. I worked with Chad (Knaus) for two years. The way that he leads a team and builds a team around him with the success that he has had. He does a great job of empowering the people around him. He tries to put the best people in place and you’ll always hear him say, ‘You guys are smarter than me. Tell me the answer.’ Rudy (Fugle) complements both sides and is the middle of the road between Chad and Greg. Between the three of them, there are strengths I can pull from and try to manage the weekend as smoothly as possible.”

Knaus wants McSwain to enjoy the moment and have some fun while gaining perspective from a new experience that could pay dividends for him.

“That’s the whole point of what we are trying to do,” Knaus said. “Nurture new talent and allow team members to get exposure to new responsibilities, new roles, and different pressures and see how they react. Bringing in Brandon (McSwain) and giving him an opportunity to see what it is like to be a crew chief and have your name on the line is really cool.”

Byron enters the first of his four starts with four Xfinity Series wins, all coming in his 2017 title season. One of those victories came at Phoenix. On the No. 24 team last year, Byron and McSwain won at the Arizona facility in the Cup Series last spring. The No. 17 Xfinity entry’s most recent start came at Phoenix in November with Ives on the box and driver Rajah Caruth behind the wheel.

“William (Byron) has had a handful of Xfinity races the last two years, so I am leaning more on Greg (Ives) with what they had in the fall,” McSwain said of the Phoenix race. That one will be extremely high on a nerve level, and from there, it will calm down. The first one, you don’t know what to expect. You want everything to go right and Greg is part of that every step of the way.”

As a company, Hendrick Motorsports has tallied 26 Xfinity Series wins, with the last coming in 2009. The team did not run in the series from 2010 to 2021. Since 2022, the organization has fielded an entry in 10 Xfinity races between 2022 and 2023. In those events, the No. 17 has accumulated three pole positions, six top-five finishes (including three runner-up results) and seven top-10s but has not yet won in its return to the series.

“Talk about putting a checkmark on your career,” McSwain said of the prospect of winning a race as the crew chief of the No. 17. “If you are the first one to do it (since the return of the No. 17), that would be awesome. That is the goal and it is an attainable goal. We were fortunate to win Cup races last year and winning is always fun. When you get that first win as a crew chief and to do it on the 17 with the expectations of it, it would be a bigger highlight than the Cup wins last year.”

Watch McSwain, Byron and the No. 17 team pursue victory in the Xfinity race at Phoenix on Saturday, March 9, at 4:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN Radio and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Channel 90).


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