NASCAR Dixie Vodka 400 recap: William Byron delivers another surprise winner
By Bob Pockrass
FOX Sports NASCAR Writer
HOMESTEAD, Fla. – William Byron isn't a driver many would have pegged to win Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
He started 31st, and he had not had a top-5 finish in his previous 10 starts on 1.5-mile tracks. His career best in three Cup starts at Homestead was ninth.
But he led a race-high 102 laps – 101 of them in the final 112 circuits – to earn his second career Cup victory.
"It was just a really smooth day," Byron said. "And we worked hard in the winter on this track. I can’t believe it."
Here are three takeaways from Byron’s win
Big day for Hendrick
Hendrick Motorsports was inconsistent at the 1.5-mile tracks last year, winning only one with Chase Elliott at Charlotte Motor Speedway, so to have three drivers in the top-10 Sunday could be a sign of team improvement.
"We just had to keep adjusting the car and finding those little bits [of speed]. … It’s cool when you have cars like that where you can make moves and make them stick," Byron said.
When Byron went from starting 31st to finishing fourth in the opening stage 80 laps into the race, he served notice that he could be a factor.
"Pretty early in the race, we knew [Byron] was pretty strong, and it seemed like in general the Hendrick cars were all pretty strong at times," said Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr., who finished third. "It’s not surprising.
"Those guys have been doing a good job, and their cars have been fast."
It was a rare day when Truex was the only JGR driver who seemed happy throughout the race. Kyle Busch finished 10th, and Denny Hamlin was 11th. Christopher Bell, who won last week on the Daytona road course, struggled in 20th.
"We hit it pretty good and made good adjustments and weren’t quite fast enough to win," Truex said. "Maybe we need to be better. ... We probably have got a little bit of work to do [as an organization]."
Reddick second but not happy
Tyler Reddick thought he didn’t get a good restart with 60 laps remaining, and it cost him, as he rallied to finish second, 2.7 seconds behind Byron in seeking his first Cup victory.
Reddick won two Xfinity Series titles, thanks to wins at Homestead, and he considers it one of his best tracks.
With 60 laps remaining, he restarted eighth but dropped to 13th after a few laps before steadily passing some of the best in the series.
"I had just a poor restart, and it was the difference unfortunately," Reddick said. "That’s all there is to it. You need to be able to hold on better at the start, and [we] just didn’t."
Reddick went from 33rd to 23rd in the standings, thanks to the second-place finish, but he knows a win would have been a big relief, as it would have locked him into the playoffs. Even though this was just the third race of the year, Reddick already knows he could face a tough battle to get into the playoffs on points.
"We had a really bad start to the year. Second is great, but we’re still way back in the mess," Reddick said.
McDowell continues to surprise
Maybe even more surprising than Michael McDowell’s Daytona 500 victory (his first in 358 career starts) was his sixth-place finish at Homestead. McDowell is one of two drivers (along with Kevin Harvick) to finish top-10 in each of the first three races of the year.
"I’m very proud of my race team," the Front Row Motorsports driver said. "We have done a great job making big gains.
"To be running down Kevin Harvick with five laps to go for a top-5, that’s stinking awesome for us to even be in that conversation. It just shows how much hard work everyone has done."
Bob Pockrass has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s. He joined FOX Sports in 2019 following stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @bobpockrass.