After struggling for the first two races of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season, William Byron rebounded by racing his way to a resounding victory in the late stages of the Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday, February 28. The win marked the second of his Cup career in his 111th career start.
The starting lineup was based on a performance metric formula, weighing the driver’s and owner’s results from a previous Cup event, the owner points position and the fastest lap recorded from a previous Cup race. With that, Denny Hamlin, the reigning winner at Homestead, was due to start on pole position. He, however, dropped to the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments. With that, Joey Logano started on pole position and was joined on the front row with Christopher Bell, winner of last weekend’s event at the Daytona International Speedway Road Course.
Along with Hamlin, Alex Bowman and Corey LaJoie started at the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments. James Davison joined the trio due to multiple pre-race inspection failures.
When the green flag waved and the race commenced, Logano jumped ahead with an early advantage while the field behind fanned out to two and three lanes entering Turn 2 while battling for spots. Logano was able to lead the first lap as Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch moved up while Bell fell back inside the top 10.
By the fifth lap, Logano retained an early advantage by seven-tenths of a second over Harvick with Keselowski behind by nearly a second while closing in on Harvick. Kurt Busch and Bell were in the top five followed by Michael McDowell, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson, teammate Chase Elliott and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Two laps later, Keselowski overtook Harvick for the runner-up spot. Another lap by, Kurt Busch passed Harvick for the third spot. In addition, Larson moved up to sixth while Truex fell back to eight.
By Lap 10, Logano continued to lead, though his advantage shrieked to less than half a second over teammate Keselowski.
Two laps later, Keselowski muscled his way into the lead over teammate Logano. Behind, Larson continued to rim-ride his way to the front after passing Harvick for fourth place. Shortly after, Stenhouse overtook Harvick to move into the top five. Meanwhile, Truex and Elliott were back in ninth and 10th.
By Lap 20, Keselowski stretched his advantage to more than two seconds over teammate Logano as Kurt Busch and Larson remained in pursuit. Stenhouse was in fifth followed by Harvick, Truex, Chris Buescher, Bell and Elliott.
When the field reached Lap 25, a planned competition caution flew. By then, Keselowski extended his advantage to more than four seconds over teammate Logano. Kurt Busch fended off Larson and Stenhouse to remain in third place. Behind, Truex moved into sixth place followed by Harvick, Buescher, Bell and Ryan Blaney.
By then, Elliott and Kyle Busch were in the top 15 while Tyler Reddick was in 17th, one spot ahead of Matt DiBenedetto. Alex Bowman was in 20th ahead of Bubba Wallace and Cole Custer while Denny Hamlin was back in 24th behind Aric Almirola.
Under the competition caution, the leaders pitted and Keselowski retained the lead following a four-tire pit stop. Kurt Busch was able to exit pit road into second place followed by Logano, Harvick and Truex.
When the race restarted on Lap 30, Keselowski and Kurt Busch challenged one another in a side-by-side battle for the lead for nearly one full lap. Entering Turn 4, however, Keselowski gained a run on the outside lane and retained the lead while teammate Logano attempted to pull a three-wide move on Harvick and Keselowski. Logano and Harvick were able to move into second and third while Kurt Busch slipped back to fourth. Shortly after, Buescher moved up to fourth over Kurt Busch as the field continued to battle for spots.
By Lap 35, Keselowski was ahead by nearly half a second over teammate Logano. Behind, Harvick was in third followed by Stenhouse, Buescher, William Byron, Kurt Busch, Larson, Bell and Ryan Newman.
Five laps later, the two Penske drivers led by Keselowski were separated by seven-tenths of a second. Buescher moved up to third place followed by Byron and Stenhouse, who overtook Harvick for position. Larson moved back up to seventh while Kurt Busch fell back to eighth. Newman and Bell remained in the top 10 followed by Kyle Busch, Bowman, Austin Dillon, Blaney, Truex and Elliott.
By Lap 42, Buescher made a move beneath Logano to move into the runner-up spot while Byron started to close in on Logano for third place.
By Lap 50, Keselowski continued to lead by a narrow margin over Buescher. Byron remained in third place followed by Logano and Kurt Busch. Larson moved up to sixth followed by Stenhouse, Bowman and Newman. Harvick, meanwhile, slipped back to 10th followed by Bell, teammate Truex, Newman, Austin Dillon, Elliott and Kyle Busch. Further behind, Hamlin was in 20th and battling with power issues.
Three laps later, Buescher became the third different leader of the day after passing Keselowski.
By Lap 60, Buescher extended his advantage to more than two seconds over Byron while Keselowski fell back to third. Kurt Busch was in fourth followed by Logano while teammates Larson and Bowman were in sixth and seventh. Stenhouse fell back to eighth followed by Newman and Truex. Harvick, meanwhile, was back in 11th.
Four laps later, the caution flew due to fluid on the backstretch coming from the No. 15 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE driven by James Davison, who had smoke and flames erupting beneath the car as Davison made the turn to the garage.
Under caution, the leaders pitted and Buescher retained the lead following a stellar four-tire stop over names like Keselowski, Logano, Truex, Bowman and Kurt Busch. During the pit stops, Byron dropped from second to seventh
The race restarted on Lap 72 with Buescher and Keselowski on the front row. At the start, Keselowski and Buescher battled for the lead followed by Bowman, who muscled his way inside the top three over Logano, as the field fanned out to three lanes through the backstretch.
The following lap, Keselowski was back in the lead followed by Buescher, Bowman, Truex and Logano.
With the laps in the first stage closing, Buescher closed back in on Keselowski in a battle for the lead. After pressuring Keselowski for the top spot, Buescher moved back into the top spot with two laps remaining in the first stage.
Following his late charge and strong start in the early portions of the race, Buescher was able to easily cruise his No. 17 Fastenal Ford Mustang to the first stage victory on Lap 80. Keselowski trailed back by nearly a second followed by Truex, Byron and teammate Bowman. Larson settled in sixth followed by Logano, Elliott, Kurt Busch and Austin Dillon.
Under the stage break, the leaders returned to pit road and Buescher exited pit road in first place following another stellar pit stop. Keselowski exited pit road in second place followed by Bowman, teammate Elliott and Logano
The second stage started on Lap 87 with Buescher and Keselowski on the front row. At the start, Buescher and Keselowski battled for the lead while Logano was mired in a tight battle with all four Hendrick Motorsports competitors.
Shortly after, Elliott mounted his way towards the front after overtaking his teammates, Logano and Keselowski for positions. By Lap 88, Elliott muscled his No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE to the lead after passing Buescher in Turn 1.
With Elliott in the lead, teammate Larson and Buescher, both of whom overtook Keselowski, battled for second place. Byron and Bowman, teammates at Hendrick Motorsports, were in fifth and sixth. Truex was in seventh while Logano dropped back to eighth. Hamlin, who struggled at the start, was up in ninth followed by Austin Dillon, Kurt Busch and Cole Custer.
On Lap 93, Buescher reassumed the lead over Elliott, who led four laps. Two laps later, Buescher stretched his advantage to nearly half a second over Elliott as teammate Larson settled in third. Teammates Byron and Bowman were in fourth and seventh while Keselowski, Truex and Logano were in fifth, sixth and eighth.
Five laps later, teammates Larson, Elliott and Byron were locked in a heated battle for the runner-up spot, with Larson and Byron prevailing and moving up.
By Lap 100, Buescher was leading by more than a second over Larson, who had teammate Byron closing in for more. Behind, teammate Elliott was locked in a battle with Truex for fourth place. Keselowski was in sixth followed by Bowman, Kurt Busch, Logano and Hamlin.
Ten laps later, Buescher stabilized his advantage to more than one-and-a-half seconds. Behind, Truex overtook Larson and Byron for the runner-up spot while Kurt Busch worked his way back into sixth place. Elliott fell back to sixth followed by teammate Bowman, Keselowski, Hamlin and Austin Dillon.
Another five laps later, Byron overtook teammate Larson for third place. By then, Buescher was still in the lead by more than a second over Truex.
Shortly after, the first round of pit stops under green commenced as Newman pitted followed by Ross Chastain, Matt DiBenedetto, Austin Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick. Hamlin, Elliott, Keselowski, Logano, Aric Almirola, Bell, Byron, Bowman, Custer, Michael McDowell, Truex, Kurt Busch, Larson, Erik Jones, Ryan Preece, Corey LaJoie and race leader Buescher pitted in the ensuing laps.
When the majority of pit stops under green were completed, Truex emerged with the lead on Lap 125 moments after Daniel Suarez and Bubba Wallace pitted under green.
By Lap 135, Truex was leading by nearly two seconds over Buescher while Byron was in third, trailing by more than four seconds. Kurt Busch and Austin Dillon were in the top five. Bowman was in sixth followed by Newman, Hamlin, Larson and teammate Elliott while Keselowski was in 11th. Earlier, Elliott, who made a three-wide move on teammate Larson and Keselowski for position through Turns 3 and 4, slipped up and got loose, though he was able to avoid wrecking in front of Keselowski.
Behind the leaders, Logano was in 13th, Harvick was in 14th and Kyle Busch was in 18th.
With the first 150 laps of the race complete, Truex remained in the lead by nearly two seconds over Buescher. Byron continued to run in third place followed by Kurt Busch and Austin Dillon. Bowman remained in sixth place followed by Hamlin, Larson, Newman and Almirola. Behind were Harvick, Keselowski and Elliott while teammates Logano and Blaney rounded out the top 15.
Three laps later, the caution returned when smoke billowed out of Corey LaJoie’s No. 7 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE due to his engine letting go down the backstretch.
Under caution, the leaders pitted and Truex retained the lead after exiting pit road in first place followed by teammate Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Byron and Buescher.
The race restarted with a one-lap dash to conclude the second stage as Joe Gibbs Racing’s Truex and Hamlin were on the front row. At the start, teammates Truex and Hamlin battled dead even through Turns 1 and 2.
Entering Turn 3, Hamlin squeaked ahead and tried to slide in front of teammate Truex for the lead. Byron, meanwhile, had other plans and made the inside lane work to his advantage as he powered through both JGR competitors and came out on top to claim the second stage victory on Lap 160. Hamlin settled in second followed by teammate Kurt Busch, Truex and Larson. Buescher, Harvick, Blaney, Bowman and Keselowski were scored in the top 10.
Under the stage break, some led by Truex pitted while the rest led by Byron remained on the track.
With 100 laps remaining, the final stage commenced with Byron and Hamlin on the front row. At the start, Byron retained the lead followed by Hamlin as the field fanned out to three, four and five lanes through Turns 1 and 2.
When the field returned to the start/finish line, Byron continued to lead by a narrow margin over Hamlin while Larson overtook Kurt Busch for third place. Truex and Harvick were in fifth and sixth while Custer, Keselowski, Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick were in the top 10.
With 90 laps remaining, Byron continued to lead by nearly a second over teammate Larson, who was locked in a heated battle with Hamlin for the runner-up spot. Truex was close behind in fourth while Kurt Busch was in the top five. Custer moved up to sixth place followed by Harvick, Keselowski, Austin Dillon and Reddick. Bowman was in 11th followed by Kyle Busch, McDowell, Ross Chastain and Newman. Bell and DiBenedetto were in 16th and 17th followed by Bubba Wallace, Blaney and Buescher. Elliott was all the way back in 23rd while Logano was in 25th in front of rookie Chase Briscoe.
Twenty laps later, Byron remained in the lead by more than a second over Truex. Larson, Hamlin and Kurt Busch were in the top five followed by Harvick, who overtook teammate Custer for position. McDowell worked his way up to eighth followed by Reddick and Keselowski.
Under the final 70 laps of the race, the caution returned for an on-track incident involving Aric Almirola and Blaney, where Almirola tried to slide up in front of Blaney entering Turn 3 and the two made contact that resulted with both competitors making contact against the outside wall and sustaining damage to their respective machines.
Under caution, the leaders pitted and Larson, whose pit crew struggled throughout the event, emerged with the lead following a stellar pit stop. Truex exited in second place followed by Kurt Busch, Hamlin and Harvick while Byron dropped back to sixth place. Following the pit stops, however, Hamlin was busted with a pit road speeding penalty.
The races restarted with 60 laps remaining. At the start, Truex squeaked ahead while Larson fought back on the inside lane. While Truex and Larson battled for the lead, Byron made a bold three-wide move to overtake Keselowski and Harvick for third place. Byron then went to work on teammate Larson for the runner-up spot, which he prevailed.
Not long after, Byron reassumed the lead with 58 laps remaining after passing Truex with Larson lurking behind. Custer, meanwhile, worked his way into fifth place as he went to work in challenging Keselowski for fourth place.
With 55 laps remaining, a three-way battle for fifth place heated up between Kurt Busch, Harvick and Keselowski. Meanwhile, Byron was leading by nearly half a second over Truex with Larson behind by less than a second and Custer trailing by two seconds.
Five laps later, Byron remained in the lead by over teammate Larson, who prevailed over a late battle with Truex.
Under the final 50 laps of the race and with the lights coming on as the race fell into night conditions, Kurt Busch, who was battling Custer for fourth place, radioed vibration issues to his No. 1 Monster Energy Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE.
With 40 laps remaining, Byron stabilized his advantage to more than two seconds over teammate Larson. Truex remained in third place followed by Kurt Busch and Custer.
Shortly after, Kurt Busch surrendered his top-five spot on the track to pit under green for tires and following his vibration issues.
With 30 laps remaining, Byron’s advantage over teammate Larson remained unchanged as Byron led by more than two seconds. Truex remained in third place, trailing by more than three seconds, while teammates Harvick and Custer trailed by more than eight seconds. By then, Logano made a pit stop under green. Shortly after, teammate Keselowski also pitted under green for four fresh tires.
With 20 laps remaining, Byron stretched his advantage in his No. 24 AXALTA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE to four seconds over Larson’s No. 5 Nations Guard Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE with Truex’s No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry trailing by nearly five seconds.
With 10 laps remaining, Byron remained in the lead by less than five seconds over teammate Larson. Truex was in third place and more than five seconds behind Byron, though he was closing in on Larson for the runner-up spot. Reddick was in fourth followed by Harvick. Teammate Custer remained in sixth followed by McDowell, Newman, Bowman and Kyle Busch.
Under five laps remaining, Byron continued to lead while a three-car battle for the runner-up spot ensued between Larson, Truex and Reddick. Utilizing the outside lane to his advantage while running close to the outside wall, Reddick moved into third place. Entering Turn 4, however, he got loose underneath Larson, though he prevented the car from spinning out.
With Byron long gone with the lead, the battle for the runner-up spot continued to heat up as Reddick overtook Truex for third place and went to work on Larson for more, which he prevailed not long after.
When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Byron was out in front by nearly four seconds over Reddick and Larson. With no challengers coming close, Byron was able to cruise around the circuit for a final time and come back around to claim the checkered flag in first place and with a victory margin of nearly three seconds.
With his second Cup career victory and first since winning at Daytona International Speedway in August 2020, Byron, who led a race-high 102 laps, became the third different winner of the 2021 season. While he snapped a two-race streak featuring first-time Cup winners, he extended the race-winning streak of Hendrick Motorsports to 36 consecutive seasons.
The victory was the first of the season for Hendrick Motorsports and the 95th career victory for the No. 24 car. The victory was also the first in the Cup Series for crew chief Ryan “Rudy” Fugle, who worked and won seven Truck Series races with Byron in 2016.
“That guy [Fugle] has been huge for my career,” Byron said on FOX. “He’s the reason I’m here. I’m glad we could get him [a win]. He’s just awesome and this whole team did a phenomenal job. Everybody, pit crew, over the wall. Extremely blessed…I can’t even believe it. It was just a really smooth day and we worked hard in the winter on this track. I can’t believe it.”
“You had to go with the wall at certain times; (Turns) 3 and 4 were really fast up there,” Byron added. “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.”
Behind, Reddick tied his career-best result after finishing in second place as he fell short in becoming the third first-time winner within the first three Cup races of the 2021 season. Compared to Saturday’s Xfinity Series event at Homestead, where his car failed post-race inspection and the driver was disqualified from his runner-up result to winner Myatt Snider, Reddick’s car passed the Cup post-race inspection process and he was able to remain in second place officially. Despite the result, he was less than pleased in falling short of the win.
“Second place, it’s a good night considering how the first two weekends have went,” Reddick said. “I needed to get this Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen Chevy to Victory Lane because if I would’ve, it would’ve gotten a lot of people in America free chicken tenders on Monday night. Once I really saw how fast we were in clean air, at the end there and I saw how fast we were catching everybody, it’s beyond frustrating. Just two or three different decision on a restart would’ve put me miles ahead and I would’ve been within reach. Second’s great, but I saw how much faster I was than those guys there at the end. Naturally, it’s frustrating.”
Truex, meanwhile, was able to squeak ahead of Larson to take third place while Harvick rounded out the top five.
“I felt like that last run, for whatever reason, it didn’t do what it’d done all day,” Truex said. “[Byron] and [Larson] got by us on that restart, I’m like, ‘Alright, I’m just gonna take care of it here and hope that this is gonna be a really long run.’ That’s where we were strong all day. It just never happened. My balance got off there the last 40 laps or so and the car wouldn’t do what it did earlier. So close. The guys did a great job. It was a solid good effort for our Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry. Just proud of everybody for working hard. It’s definitely something we can build on.”
“That got pretty intense there at the end, “Larson said on MRN. “[I was] Just trying to take care of my tires and was just struggling on the long runs. Loose for the majority of the race and there that last run, [I] actually got tight. But I felt like being tight was better for my long run just because I could be just a little more confident leading with the right front than the right rear. A top-five finish, I would’ve like to finish second, but those guys were better than me at the end and just couldn’t hold them off. I hate that I gave up those spots but all in all, a good day for the Nations Guard team.”
McDowell, Newman, Kurt Busch, Bowman and Kyle Busch completed the top 10 on the track. Hamlin settled in 11th, Elliott was in 14th, Keselowski ended up 16th and Logano finished all the way back in 25th.
There were 20 lead changes for nine different leaders. The race featured six cautions for 36 laps.
Hamlin continues to lead the regular-season standings by 20 points over Harvick, 31 over Logano, 33 over McDowell, 34 over Elliott and 35 over Kurt Busch.
1. William Byron, 102 laps led, Stage 2 winner
2. Tyler Reddick
3. Martin Truex Jr., 37 laps led
4. Kyle Larson, five laps led
5. Kevin Harvick
6. Michael McDowell
7. Ryan Newman
8. Kurt Busch
9. Alex Bowman
10. Kyle Busch
11. Denny Hamlin
12. Austin Dillon
13. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
14. Chase Elliott, four laps led
15. Daniel Suarez, one lap led
16. Brad Keselowski, 47 laps led
17. Ross Chastain
18. Chase Briscoe
19. Chris Buescher, 57 laps led, Stage 1 winner
20. Christopher Bell
21. Ryan Preece
22. Bubba Wallace, two laps led
23. Cole Custer
24. Anthony Alfredo
25. Joey Logano, 12 laps led
26. Justin Haley, one lap down
27. Erik Jones, one lap down
28. Matt DiBenedetto, one lap down
29. Ryan Blaney, one lap down
30. Aric Almirola, three laps down
31. Garrett Smithley, four laps down
32. Cody Ware, six laps down
33. Josh Bilicki, eight laps down
34. B.J. McLeod, nine laps down
35. Quin Houff, nine laps down
36. Corey LaJoie – OUT, Engine
37. James Davison – OUT, Engine
38. Timmy Hill – OUT, Electrical
Next on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule is Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the first of a two-race West Coast swing for the series. The Vegas event in Nevada will occur on Sunday, March 7, at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX.