From 31st to first: William Byron surges to victory at Dixie Vodka 400

Andre C. Fernandez
·4 min read

William Byron always hears his crew chief Rudy Fugle repeat the phrase “Make it live.”

“It’s a Tony Hirschman thing for me,” Fugle explained. “It usually means you’re leading and you’re pulling away. You just ride beneath the tires and just deal with anything that comes your way.”

Byron did exactly that over the final 57 laps, steadily maintaining and increasing his lead until he crossed under the checkered flag by a comfortable margin to win Sunday’s Dixie Vodka 400 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Byron, who led a race-high 102 laps out of 267, took the lead for good after lap 210 and toward the end cruised to his second victory in a NASCAR Cup Series race and his first at the Homestead track.

Byron’s only other win came in the regular-season finale at the Coke Zero Sugar 400 last year in Daytona.

“We just had to keep adjusting on the car,” Byron said. “We had a really good restart on the last one and the car was just good enough. It’s cool when you have cars like that and make moves like that. This track is really fun.”

A tight pack of four drivers crossed the finish line behind Byron’s No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Axalta Chevrolet led by runner-up Tyler Reddick, who just missed becoming the third consecutive first-time winner to open the Cup Series season — something that hasn’t happened since NASCAR’s inaugural season in 1949.

Reddick edged Martin Truex Jr., who was followed by Kyle Larson and Kevin Harvick, who jockeyed for higher places over the final 10 laps. Michael McDowell, who won the Daytona 500 two weeks ago, finished sixth. Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Alex Bowman and Kyle Busch rounded out the top 10 in that order.

Byron surged from his starting point at No. 31 all the way to victory just one week after a frustrating 33rd-place finish at the Daytona road course and two weeks after placing 26th at the Daytona 500.

It was the 23-year-old from Charlotte’s first victory since Fugle became his crew chief.

“The work and the effort goes back a long way,” Byron said. “We really think the same way. It has a lot to do with offseason prep.”

Byron’s previous best finish on the Homestead track was ninth. His prior best finish on a 1.5-mile track was eighth.

It was Byron’s second Cup Series victory in 111 career starts.

Byron advanced up to second place by Lap 57 and, after restarting third at Lap 160, he capitalized and took the lead when Truex got caught up racing for the position with Denny Hamlin to pick up the Stage 2 victory — the fifth of his career.

After losing the lead briefly under caution at Lap 201, Byron recovered and reclaimed the lead for good nine laps later. His victory in Stage 2 was his fifth career stage win in a Cup race.

“I wasn’t concerned we were gonna struggle on 1.5-mile courses, and I wasn’t concerned that I hadn’t had the finishes here because I have had success here before with the trucks and in Cup,” Byron said.

Hamlin went from being the pole-sitter to dropping back to the rear to start due to a pre-race penalty after his No. 11 car was found to have unapproved adjustments after pre-race inspection.

Hamlin worked his way into the top 10 later in the race and was as high as sixth before committing a pit road speeding infraction that pushed him down the standings again. Hamlin finished 11th.

The race had 19 lead changes among nine drivers.

Joey Logano opened in front and led for the first 12 laps until Ford teammate Brad Keselowski overtook him. He led for 41 laps until Chris Buescher overtook him and held the advantage to win Stage 1. It was Buescher’s second career stage win and surpassed his career-high for laps led in a Cup Series race. Buescher, driving the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford, led for 21 laps over the first 80 and finished 20th.

Chase Elliott, the 2020 Cup Series champion, led briefly after Lap 89, but finished 14th. Christopher Bell, last week’s Daytona Road Course winner, finished 21st.

Daniel Suarez, the 29-year-old driver for Trackhouse Racing Team co-owned by Miami’s own Pitbull, finished 15th. For Suarez, who is of Mexican heritage, it was his best finish in a Cup Series race since he placed 14th at Homestead-Miami in November 2019 at the Ford EcoBoost 400. Suarez also finished 16th last week at the Daytona road course.