NASCAR Cup Series

William Byron dominates late laps, wins Dixie Vodka 400

6 Mins read
Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images

William Byron snapped the streak of first-time NASCAR Cup Series race winners when he won Sunday’s Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He led a race-high 102 of 267 laps, including the final 58 laps en route to his second career victory.

Points leader and defending race winner Denny Hamlin initially sat on the pole alongside Joey Logano, but he was sent to the rear for unapproved adjustments. Corey LaJoie and Alex Bowman also dropped back for the same reason, while James Davison did so after failing pre-race inspection twice. With the relegations, last week’s Daytona road course winner Christopher Bell joined Logano on the front row.

Stage #1

Fords took the early lead as Logano pulled ahead with Team Penske team-mate Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick following, while Bell dropped out of the top five after the opening lap. B.J. McLeod hit pit road to address a lost belt on the power steering pump, quickly dropping him laps down.

Keselowski took the lead on lap 13. By lap 20, Tyler Reddick—who finished second in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race prior to disqualification—climbed from his thirty-fifth starting spot into the top twenty, while Kurt Busch battled with former Chip Ganassi Racing team-mate Kyle Larson for third.

The competition caution came out on lap 26 with Keselowski leading Logano, Busch, Larson, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Keselowski was the first off pit road ahead of Busch and Logano, while Larson lost five spots on his stop after adding a packer on the left front. Josh Bilicki was penalised for speeding and Quin Houff for too many crewmen over the wall.

For the first time in 2021, the choose cone was utilised as Keselowski selected the outside and Busch to the inside. The race resumed on lap 31 with the leaders running side-by-side for a lap before Busch was swamped by Harvick and Logano.

Chris Buescher began his climb through the top five before catching Keselowski on lap 40. The two Fords battled throughout the next laps before Buescher cleared Keselowski on lap 53 with a slide up the track. Meanwhile, Timmy Hill retired from the race with an electrical issue while Hamlin’s air conditioning failed.

On lap 64, Davison’s engine expired, ending his day and producing a caution. As Buescher won the race off pit road, he surpassed his previous career best of fifteen laps led in a Cup race (set at the 2020 fall Talladega event). Byron dropped five places with a slow stop.

Buescher and Keselowski led the field to the restart with eight laps to go. Keselowski clleared Buescher for the lead while Alex Bowman and Martin Truex Jr. moved up to third and fourth, though Bowman suffered a tyre rub along the way. Truex subsequently took third.

At the front, Keselowski and Buescher battled for the lead. The latter successfully made the pass on the penultimate lap to score his second career stage win; the first also came at the Talladega race last fall. Keselowski, Truex, Byron, Bowman, Larson, Logano, Chase Elliott, Busch, and Austin Dillon also received stage points.

Credit: Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Stage #2

Buescher was the first out of the pits and he retained the lead as the second stage began. Elliott began the stage in fourth and quickly started a fight with Buescher for the lead, clearing him on lap 90 as his Hendrick Motorsports team-mates stalked the leaders in the top six. Buescher reclaimed the lead two laps later.

Hamlin finally reached the top ten on lap 94. As the race crossed the triple-digit mark, Larson moved up to second.

Green-flag stops began on lap 118 with Buescher’s Roush Fenway Racing partner Ryan Newman being the first to pit. Truex briefly took the lead from Buescher on lap 121 but pitted before the lap’s conclusion, which officially meant he did not lead the lap; Buescher made his stop a lap later. Daniel Suárez and Bubba Wallace both inherited the lead before they pitted, and Truex received the position at the cycle’s completion.

With seven laps remaining, LaJoie brought out the caution for a blown engine and spilled fluid, cutting short interim crew chief and NBC commentator Steve Letarte‘s return to the pit box. Truex was the first off pit road.

Joe Gibbs Racing team-mates Truex (outside) and Hamlin (inside) comprised the front row for the one-lap dash to the green-checkered flag. Hamlin jumped to the outside to block Truex in turn three, on which Byron—who restarted third—capitalised by staying inside to make the pass for the stage win.

Hamlin, Busch, Truex, Larson, Buescher, Harvick, Ryan Blaney, Bowman, and Keselowski closed out the top ten.

Stage #3

Much of the field did not pit between stages, while Truex did so and dropped to seventeenth. Byron and Hamlin paced the grid to the start of the final stage on lap 168, while Truex quickly weaved into the top five.

After staying out, a poor restart by Buescher lost him nearly twelve spots as he sank to nineteenth by lap 175. At the front, Byron led Hendrick team-mate Larson while Hamlin and Truex gave chase. Daytona 500 winner Michael McDowell cracked the top ten shortly after.

On lap 199, Aric Almirola came up on Blaney in turn three but could not clear him, and the ensuing collision led to Almirola hitting the wall and substantial damage to both cars. Yet another bad stop by Byron sank him to sixth. Hamlin suffered a speeding penalty on his stop.

Larson committed to the inside while Truex started opposite when the green flag waved on lap 207. Truex cleared Larson for first exiting turn four, but Byron jumped for the spot with help from his Hendrick ally. Larson passed Truex for second on lap 215.

Busch pitted on lap 228 for a loose left-front wheel. Logano and Keselowski did so on lap 237 to gauge their momentum on fresher tyres. At the front, Byron’s lead grew to four seconds with 25 laps to go; the advantage continued to balloon to over five seconds with 16 left. Behind Byron, Larson, and Truex, Reddick moved into fourth while Cole Custer and McDowell enjoyed strong runs in the top ten.

Credit: Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Reddick, a two-time Homestead Xfinity winner who finished fourth in his Cup début at the track in 2020, caught Truex and Larson with five to go. As the three battled for the runner-up spot, Byron stormed off to win his second career Cup race (first since 2020 summer Daytona) and first of the season. It is crew chief Rudy Fugle‘s first Cup win after joining Hendrick for the 2021 season; he had worked with Byron in the Camping World Truck Series in 2016, a year that saw them win seven races. The victory also marks the first for an Axalta Coating Systems-sponsored #24 car since Jeff Gordon at Michigan in 2014, and extends Hendrick’s streak of seasons with at least one win to thirty-seven, breaking a tie shared with Petty Enterprises (the predecessor to the current Richard Petty Motorsports).

“I can’t even believe it, honestly, just a really smooth day,” Byron said in his post-race interview with Fox. “We worked hard in the winter on this track. Can’t believe it.

“You have to go at the wall at certain times, (turns) three and four, it was really fast up there. 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 really is a lot of hard work. I think we went to the sim four or five times this offseason, and it just pays off, man. It’s awesome.”

Reddick finished second for his best premier series finish.

“Second place is a good night considering how the first two weekends have went, but I need to get this Cheddar’s Kitchen Chevrolet to Victory Lane because if I would have, I would’ve gotten a lot of people in America a lot of free chicken tenders on Monday night,” Reddick told Fox. “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 decisions on a restart would have put me miles ahead and I would have been within reach.

“Second’s great, but I saw how much faster I was than those guys there at the end, so naturally, it’s frustrating.”

McDowell’s magical start to the season continues with his third consecutive top-ten finish in sixth; he is now one top ten away from equalling his career best in 2020, even after just three rounds. In a video posted on social media, McDowell commented he “was catching Harvick, ran out of laps there, but so proud of everybody. Man, this has been such an incredible season. All the hard work’s paying off. Everybody’s done such a great job of elevating this programme.”

At fellow Ford team Roush, Newman finished seventh for his first top ten on a non-superspeedway since the 2019 Homestead event. Buescher, despite leading 57 laps (second most behind Byron), ended his day in nineteenth.

Race results

13124William ByronHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet267Running
2358Tyler ReddickRichard Childress RacingChevrolet267Running
3919Martin Truex Jr.Joe Gibbs RacingToyota267Running
4175Kyle LarsonHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet267Running
544Kevin HarvickStewart-Haas RacingFord267Running
6634Michael McDowellFront Row MotorsportsFord267Running
7236Ryan NewmanRoush Fenway RacingFord267Running
851Kurt BuschChip Ganassi RacingChevrolet267Running
91348Alex BowmanHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet267Running
102418Kyle BuschJoe Gibbs RacingToyota267Running
11111Denny HamlinJoe Gibbs RacingToyota267Running
12223Austin DillonRichard Childress RacingChevrolet267Running
131547Ricky Stenhouse Jr.JTG Daugherty RacingChevrolet267Running
14119Chase ElliottHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet267Running
152199Daniel SuárezTrackhouse Racing TeamChevrolet267Running
1672Brad KeselowskiTeam PenskeFord267Running
173242Ross ChastainChip Ganassi RacingChevrolet267Running
183014Chase BriscoeStewart-Haas RacingFord267Running
191217Chris BuescherRoush Fenway RacingFord267Running
20320Christopher BellJoe Gibbs RacingToyota267Running
21837Ryan PreeceJTG Daugherty RacingChevrolet267Running
221923Bubba Wallace23XI RacingToyota267Running
231041Cole CusterStewart-Haas RacingFord267Running
242738Anthony AlfredoFront Row MotorsportsFord267Running
25222Joey LoganoTeam PenskeFord267Running
262077Justin Haley*Spire MotorsportsChevrolet266Running
271843Erik JonesRichard Petty MotorsportsChevrolet266Running
283721Matt DiBenedettoWood Brothers RacingFord266Running
291412Ryan BlaneyTeam PenskeFord266Running
301610Aric AlmirolaStewart-Haas RacingFord264Running
312853Garrett Smithley*Rick Ware RacingChevrolet263Running
322651Cody Ware*Rick Ware RacingChevrolet261Running
333652Josh BilickiRick Ware RacingFord259Running
343478B.J. McLeod*Live Fast MotorsportsFord258Running
353800Quin HouffStarCom RacingChevrolet258Running
36257Corey LaJoieSpire MotorsportsChevrolet151Engine
372915James DavisonRick Ware RacingChevrolet61Engine
383366Timmy Hill*MBM MotorsportsToyota21Electrical
Italics – Competing for Rookie of the Year
* – Ineligible for Cup points
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About author
Justin is neither a NASCAR nor off-road racer, but he has covered them for The Checkered Flag since 2018.
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