In a No. 24 Chevrolet that steadily improved its performance as the sun went down, William Byron streaked to a decisive victory in Sunday’s Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
With Tyler Reddick, Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr. battling for second place behind him, Byron cruised to a 2.777-second victory over Reddick, who charged through the field late in the final 60-lap green-flag run to the finish.
Truex ran third, with Larson coming home fourth. The victory was Byron’s first of the season, first at Homestead and the second of his career. The win was the 264th in the NASCAR Cup Series for Hendrick Motorsports, leaving the organization four victories behind Petty Enterprises for most all-time.
“It was just a really smooth day,” said Byron, who won Stage 2 after finishing fourth in the opening 80-lap stage. “We worked hard in the winter on this track. I can’t believe it.”
Though Reddick made his charge by running inches from the outside wall, Byron preferred to maintain a respectful distance from the fence whenever possible.
“You had to go to the wall at certain times,” said Byron, who led 102 laps, a career-best for a single race. “(Turns) 3 and 4, it was 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. This car was just awesome. It was really a lot of hard work. I think we went to the sim (simulator) four or five times this offseason, and it pays off, man. It’s awesome.”
Byron delivered the first Cup victory to crew chief Rudy Fugle, with whom he teamed to great success in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. In fact, the last time Byron and Fugle worked together, they won the 2016 season finale at Homestead.
Reddick didn’t score a point in either of the first two stages, but his No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet was lightning-fast at the end of the race. When Reddick moved into fourth place past Kevin Harvick on Lap 254 of 267, he was nine seconds behind Byron. By the end of the race, despite having to clear both Truex and Larson for second, he had trimmed more than six seconds off Byron’s lead.
“Once I really saw how fast we were in clean air, when I saw how fast we were catching everybody, it’s beyond frustrating,” said Reddick, who matched his career-best finish. “Three different decisions on restarts 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 at the end, so naturally, it’s frustrating.”
Chris Buescher was dominant early, leading a career-high 57 laps in a single race and picking up the second stage win of his career in the opening segment. But as the sunlight faded, so did Buescher’s No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford. He finished 19th.
Truex thought his car capable of maintaining Byron’s pace in the final run and was disappointed when it didn’t.
“On that last run, for whatever reason, I was just babying it,” Truex said. “The 24 (Byron) got the lead from me on that (last) restart (on Lap 208), and then the 5 (Larson) got by us, and I’m just biding my time waiting for them to start coming back to me, and they just never did.
“They obviously were really fast at the end, and we weren’t quite as good that last run. These things are so hard to win. These cars are so touchy and just needed one more adjustment to have a chance.”
Harvick came home fifth, followed by Daytona 500 winner Michael McDowell, as both drivers have scored top-10 finishes in each of the first three races of the season. Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Alex Bowman and Kyle Busch completed the top 10. Denny Hamlin ran 11th, failing to keep his top-10 streak alive because of a late-race pit road speeding penalty.
Hamlin nevertheless retained the series lead by 20 points over Harvick.
Up next, the NASCAR Cup Series heads to Las Vegas Motor Speedway next Sunday for the Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Note: Post-race inspection was completed in the Cup Series garage without major issue. Six cars were each found with one unsecured lug nut in a post-race check: the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet of Reddick, the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet of Chase Elliott, the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Kyle Busch, the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Truex, the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford of Cole Custer, and the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet of Ross Chastain.