William Byron’s reunion with Rudy Fugle paid off with a win at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday.
Just three races into the 2021 NASCAR Cup season, the driver/crew chief combination picked up where they left off during their 2016 truck campaign finale—in Victory Lane at Homestead.
Under Fugle’s direction, Byron led both a race and career-high 102 laps. He found the perfect balance between push and save over the final 58 laps en route to his second career victory.
“Yeah, that guy has been huge for my career,” Byron said. “He’s the reason I’m here and I’m glad we could get him. He’s just awesome. This whole team did a phenomenal job. Everybody. The pit crew, over the wall, we’re extremely blessed. Thank God, for all the things that it takes to get to this level.
“Great boss in Mr. Hendrick and Jeff Gordon, and Axalta. This car looks really cool. I can’t even believe it, honestly. It was just a really smooth day. And we worked hard in the Winter on this track. I can’t believe it.”
Nighttime was the right time for Tyler Reddick, who came from 25th at the end of the first stage to finish second.
"Well, finishing second is a good night considering how the first two weekends of the season have gone, but I hate that I didn't get this Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen Chevy into Victory Lane because if I would have then I would have gotten a lot of people in America free chicken tenders on Monday night,” Reddick said. “Once I really saw how fast we were in clean air at the end of the race, and I saw how fast we were catching everybody it became beyond frustrating because I know just two or three different decisions on a restart would have put me miles ahead.
“I thought we would be better in the day and everyone would catch up at night, but it was the opposite of that. We tried to work on our Cheddar's Chevy throughout the night. We learned a lot. You have to win these races by being very consistent and making the right calls as a driver and as a team. I'm proud of how fast we were at the end of the race."
Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick, Michael McDowell, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Alex Bowman and Kyle Busch rounded out the top 10. Both Harvick and McDowell have scored top 10s in the first three starts.
“We’re just making huge improvements and to come here to a very challenging mile-and-a-half and run in the top 10 and not luck our way in, we raced there all night long, is super impressive,” McDowell said. “Like I said, this is a win for us to come to Homestead and run in the top 10.”
Chris Buescher won the first stage—the second of his career. The driver of the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford led 57 laps, more than any in a single race. His career total laps led was 64 entering Homestead. He started the second segment on the point and briefly lost the lead to Chase Elliott on Lap 89. Five laps later, Buescher returned to the point until he pitted on Lap 122 When the field cycled out after green-flag stops, Truex took the lead with Buescher in second.
With seven laps remaining in Stage 2, the yellow flag flew for fluid on the backstretch after Corey LaJoie’s engine soured. After pit stops, the field lined up for a green-white green/white checker to decide the stage with Truex in control. As he and teammate Denny Hamlin battled coming out of Turn 4, Byron was able to blow by the Joe Gibbs Racing driver to win the second segment.
Byron retained the lead for the final stage with Hamlin behind him. Truex, who pitted before Stage 3, came from 16th to fifth after the first lap on new tires. Larson passed Hamlin for second on Lap 179. Over the next 10 circuits, Truex passed Hamlin and then Larson for second.
Aric Almirola triggered the sixth and final caution on Lap 199 after he slid into Ryan Blaney in Turn 3. Hamlin was busted for speeding in the pits and dropped to 28th. He’d finish 11th. Larson had the lead for the restart on Lap 208, but was passed by Truex, who was passed by Byron two laps later. Larson kept on Truex and returned to second on Lap 220.
Kurt Busch, who restarted third, developed a vibration. He opted to pit on Lap 228 and dropped to 28th, one lap down. On fresh tires, he was able to pass the No. 24 car and return to the lead lap 12 laps later.
For Reddick, it was too little, too late. He started the final stage 12th and as the track cooled down charged forward. On Lap 250, Reddick finally moved into the top five. Four laps later, he passed Harvick. With five circuits remaining, a three-way battle evolved with Reddick, Truex and Larson. He moved up to third but wiggled and lost the spot. Reddick completed the pass for third with three to go. On the next lap, he moved by Larson but ran out of time to catch Byron.
"We were good enough to win there, damn it, damn,” Reddick told the crew over the radio. “I want first. Not second,”
Byron checked out by four seconds over Larson during most of the final 60-lap run, but Reddick closed the margin to 2.777-seconds at the line.
“You had to go with the wall at certain times,” Byron said. “(Turns) 3 and 4 were really fast up there. I definitely didn’t do it as good as the Xfinity cars do it, but I used it when I had to, and this car was just awesome.
“It’s really a lot of hard work. I think we went to the simulator four or five times this off-season and it just pays off, man. It’s awesome.”