William Byron continued the 2021 trend of races being won by unlikely drivers with a victory in Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida.
The victory was just the second of Byron's 111-start Cup career. It gave the Hendrick Motorsports driver just his 10thcareer top-five finish.
His first victory came last year in the Daytona summer race, the Coke Zero Sugar 400 in August. He led a race-best 102 of 267 laps.
"I can't even believe it, honestly," Byron said. "Just a really smooth day. We worked hard (on simulated laps) in the winter on this track. Can't believe it."
The win comes a week after Christopher Bell got his first-ever Cup victory at the Daytona International Speedway infield road course and two weeks after Michael McDowell earned his first Cup victory by winning the Daytona 500.
While several drivers attempted to run up near the outside wall and did so successfully, Byron stayed lower as much as he could Sunday.
"You had to go to the wall at certain times," he said. "(Turns) three and four were really fast up there. I used it when I had to."
Second at the 1.5-mile Homestead oval was Tyler Reddick of Richard Childress Racing, who was 2.77 seconds back.
One of the drivers who did a "rim run" near the wall was Reddick. He used that to come on late and get his runner-up finish.
"Once I really saw how fast we were in clean air at the end there," he said, "and I saw how fast we were catching everybody (by running high on the track), it's beyond frustrating to come home second."
Reddick finished 27th and 38th in the Daytona races.
"Second's great, but I saw how much faster I was than was than those guys at the end, so naturally it's frustrating," he said.
Joe Gibbs Racing's Martin Truex Jr. was third.
"My balance just got really off the last 40 laps or so and the car wouldn't do what it did earlier," said Truex, who led 37 laps.
Kyle Larson of Hendrick was fourth and Kevin Harvick of Stewart-Haas Racing was fifth.
The difference between the first two stages and the final stage of the race was night and day, literally. As the heat, sun and humidity of the day was replaced by darkness and cooler temperatures, the running order was significantly shuffled.
Team Penske's Brad Keselowski was fastest early in the race as he led 47 laps in the 80-lap Stage 1. And while he stayed competitive, he wound up 16th.
Chris Buescher of Roush Fenway Racing dominated the mid portion of the race as he led 57 laps -- 24 more than he led in all of 2020. But once the sun went down and the track cooled, he sunk well back into the field and finished 19th.
Denny Hamlin, who led the Cup Series in points after two races, was forced to start from the rear of the field.
Hamlin, who was scheduled to start from the pole position, was moved back because of unapproved adjustments. He drove from the back to the top three, however, but during a pit stop on Lap 199, he was caught speeding and sent to the back again. He managed to salvage an 11th-place finish.
Also forced to the rear were Alex Bowman of Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and Corey LaJoie, driver of the Spire Motorsports entry, who were dropped to the rear for unapproved adjustments. Bowman finished ninth while LaJoie was 36th.
A fourth car, the No. 15 Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet driven by James Davison, also started at the rear for failing pre-race inspection twice. Davison, who was originally supposed to start 29th, finished 37th.
--Field Level Media