Byron and Fugle Combo Reigned Supreme at Homestead

The final leg of NASCAR’s visit to Florida witnessed Joey Logano leading the field to the green flag after Denny Hamlin failed pre-race inspection (Photo: Michael Reaves/Getty Images).

First-time winner? In the words of Jonathan Frakes, “Not this time.” Instead, it was William Byron scoring the victory in Sunday’s Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, leading 102 of 267 laps.

Hendrick Motorsports had a strong race with all four of its cars finishing in the top-15, but it was Byron who was tough in the final 100 laps. Despite the late rally from Reddick, there wasn’t a lot of sweating from the now two-time series winner.

Part of the credit goes to crew chief Rudy Fugle, who took over the pit box from Chad Kanus after the 2020 season.

William Byron brought himself a second career Cup win at Homestead as his No. 24 crew watches on and celebrate (Photo: Michael Reaves/Getty Images).

“That guy has been huge for my career. He’s the reason I’m here and I’m glad we could get him. He’s just awesome,” Byron on Fugle.

Fugle wasn’t the only person Byron thanked for leading him towards victory.

“This whole team did a phenomenal job. Everybody. The pit crew, over the wall, we’re extremely blessed. Thanks, God, for all the things that it takes to get to this level,” said Byron.

“Great boss in Mr. Hendrick and Jeff Gordon, and Axalta. This car looks really cool. I can’t even believe it, honestly. It was just a really smooth day. And we worked hard in the winter on this track. I can’t believe it.”

Byron’s triumph marked the team’s third-ever win at Homestead with Jeff Gordon (2012) and Jimmie Johnson (2016) being the only winners until Sunday.

Podium Reflections:

Fugle

In just his third Cup race with Byron, Fugle embraced that first win feeling in the sport’s highest level.

Prior to making the move to Hendrick, Fugle spent the past several years calling shots at Kyle Busch Motorsports. In his tenure, he won races with the likes of Byron, Christopher Bell, Kyle Busch, and Greg Biffle.

Despite sacrificing a well-established role at KBM, Fugle’s gamble is already paying off. He’ll forever be known as a Cup Series winning crew chief.

“I had a great job at KBM the past nine years, so it had to be the right situation for sure to move on. HMS is an amazing organization, and it was definitely the right opportunity,” said Fugle.

“I just wanted to prove everyone that I can do it at this level. We want to do a whole lot more. It’s only my first win, so we got to get my next win. As a group, this is just great. Awesome team and they’re helping me get where we need to be.”

Reddick

A rough restart in the final stage proved to be detrimental for Reddick. Even with the late-race rally, the frustration boiled over the radio when he was shouting “dammit” multiple times.

Beforehand, Reddick struggled for much of the race as he wasn’t in the top-10 picture until the final stage. Even with a career equal second, it still wasn’t an ideal outcome for the two-time Xfinity Series champion.

“I didn’t have a very good last restart. We struggled getting going and it was the difference. That’s all there is to it,” said Reddick. “You have to hold on better on the restart and we just didn’t.

“I lost far too many spots and it takes time to get around those cars. That’s just the difference. I don’t know why we were so off at the beginning of the day. I thought we would be better in the day, but it was the opposite.

“When you see how much faster you run around the guys in front of you and run out of time, it gets frustrating,” Reddick added.

“I can’t go back and change it. We’ve had a bad start to the year. Second is great, but it’s not going to put us in a great spot.”

Truex Jr.

Martin Truex, Jr. and Denny Hamlin storming around the 1.5-mile circuit during Stage 2 (Photo: Michael Reaves/Getty Images).

No question, the strongest Joe Gibbs Racing car was Martin Truex, Jr. Despite having a relatively slow start, a third-place result was a step in the right direction for the 2017 champion. Despite missing an adjustment, it was a much-needed performance.

“I felt like that last run, for whatever reason, it just didn’t do what it had done all day. The 24 (Byron) and the 5 (Kyle Larson) got by us on that restart and I was just going to take care of it here and this is going to be a really long run,” Truex on the Hendrick duo’s strengths.

“That’s where we were strong all day and it just never happened. My balance got off there in the last 40 laps or so and the car wouldn’t do what it did earlier. So close,” Truex continued.

“The guys did a great job. It was a good, solid effort for our Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry. Just proud of everybody for working hard. It’s definitely something we can build on.”

Stage 1

Several drivers fought a loose car during the opening 25 laps, but it didn’t stop Team Penske. Their drivers Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski set the pace with the latter taking over on Lap 15. Fortunately for both, no drama escalated in their battle.

After the competition caution, Keselowski continued leading the pack, but two drivers were on the move. Chris Buescher and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. were wowing everyone with their superb Stage 1 performances. Both were running in the top-five with Buescher showing more power, battling for the lead on Lap 48.

Despite reeling Keselowski, Buescher couldn’t quite take the top spot. He didn’t give up whatsoever and made the bottom lane work on Lap 53. Yes indeed, Buescher was leading at Homestead, bringing flashbacks to the days Roush Fenway Racing ruled the 1.5-mile circuit.

Sunday marked Chris Buescher’s best performance in the laps led category, putting his No. 17 Fastenal Ford Mustang in first for 57 laps (Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images).

Buescher had a near three-second lead until James Davison’s engine disintegrated on Lap 64, bringing out the second caution. On the restart, Buescher lost the lead to Keselowski with 8 laps left in the stage.

Five laps later, Buescher rallied back and caught Keselowski. They battled side-by-side on the frontstretch with Buescher regaining the lead and scored the impressive stage victory.

Stage 1 Results: Buescher, Keselowski, Truex Jr., Byron, Bowman, Larson, Logano, Elliott, Ku. Busch, and A. Dillon

Stage 2

The second stage commenced on Lap 88 with Buescher restarting on the inside line, but his moment in the sun ended shortly thereafter. Chase Elliott popped the balloon on Ford’s parade and took the lead on Lap 89 with his teammate Kyle Larson not far behind.

A couple of laps later, Elliott would lose the lead from you guessed it, Buescher. Larson would take second from Elliott as he was looking to finally conquer Homestead after years of shortcomings.

However, the main threat to Buescher wasn’t Larson. Instead, it was Truex, who took the lead on Lap 121, but pitted that very same lap.

Buescher pitted a lap later, but after the cycle of pit stops, Truex officially took the lead for the first time this season. In fact, he had the lead convincingly, leading up to three seconds.

As the laps wound down, Buescher’s long-run performance was vibrant and cut down Truex’s lead. Once Buescher was under seconds behind Truex, nothing happened between them. An engine failure by Corey LaJoie changed that, bringing out the caution with seven laps left in the stage.

Pit stops derailed Buescher, who dropped to fifth while Truex exited out in first. Denny Hamlin, who was supposed to lead the field to the green before failing pre-race tech, would start alongside Truex on the restart.

This set up a single-lap mad dash to the stage finish between the JGR teammates. They were duking it out for the coveted playoff point, but a wild Byron appeared. That’s because Hamlin pinched Truex, giving Byron an opportunity to pass both on the bottom and stole the stage win.

Stage 2 Results: Byron, Hamlin, Ku. Busch, Truex Jr., Larson, Buescher, Harvick, Blaney, Bowman, and Keselowski

Stage 3

The race came down to its final 100 laps as Byron chose the bottom to lead the field. Truex, who pitted after Stage 2, zoomed by the competition like a land speed machine at Bonneville. After one lap, he was already in fifth after restarting 16th.

William Byron was in total control of the competition during the final stage without facing any true hurdles (Photo: Michael Reaves/Getty Images).

No longer in the mix was Buescher, who was barely hanging onto a top-20 spot. He would wind up an agonizing 19th after leading a career-high 57 laps.

The first accident of the race would take place on Lap 200 when Ryan Blaney and Aric Almirola tangled at the exit of Turn 3.

The field made their pit stops that would get them to the finish with Larson exiting out ahead of Truex while Byron dropped to sixth. Hamlin was too fast entering pit road, forcing him to start at the tail end of field (27th) when the race resumed with 60 to go.

Larson chose the bottom on the restart but lost the lead to Truex in the progress. Byron quickly regained lost ground and took the lead again with 58 to go.

The quest of making it on fuel transpired with 30 to go when Keselowski and Logano pitted. Both decided to split the stage in half while eventual sixth-place finisher Michael McDowell was one gallon to the good of making it.

It wouldn’t make a difference as Byron was pulling away from Larson while the Penske duo only mustered poor results.

Meanwhile, the man on the move was Tyler Reddick, who was up to fourth and putting on flying laps coming to 10 to go.

Lap after lap, Reddick was going about a second quicker than Byron. However, he had to get by Larson and Truex to have a sliver of a chance of winning. If not, at least take runner-up honors.

With five to go, Reddick easily caught them, but the challenge only began. While battling Truex for third with four to go, he nearly lost it after nearly losing it in Turn 1.

Eventually, Reddick passed Truex for third and got by Larson for second, a shot of winning expired. Byron cruised towards his second career Cup win by 2.777 seconds.

William Byron joins Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson as the only Hendrick Motorsports drivers to win a Cup race at Homestead (Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images).

Byron said the bottom groove was the way to go if he was in position of winning the 267-lap race. Safe to say, he was right on the money.

“You had to go with the wall at certain times; (Turns) 3 and 4 were really fast up there,” said Byron. “I 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’s really a lot of hard work. I think we went to the simulator four or five times this off-season and it just pays off, man. It’s awesome.”

Final Top 10 Results: Byron, Reddick, Truex Jr., Larson, Harvick, McDowell, Newman, Ku. Busch, Bowman, and Ky. Busch

luisdtorres94@hotmail.com'
Luis Torres

Throughout my young motorsports media career, my number-one goal is to be a personnel that can be flexible with my writing and photography in the world of NASCAR, INDYCAR and ARCA (occasionally F1 and IMSA stuff as well). Whether it's the Daytona 500 or an ARCA Menards Series West race at Evergreen Speedway, content delivery is vital because this is my main passion and what keeps me going.

I've dealt with several challenges in my life, such as autism and making most out of trips despite relying on transportation. Even my quest of finding acceptance in my profession which has been my biggest challenge since graduating from college in 2016. Despite those hurdles with Motorsports Tribune and now The Podium Finish, I promise that you'll see excellence with my content.

Outside of media, I'm super vocal about my musical tastes that goes from Metallica to The Aces. Not only that, expect my social media filled with GIFs about my Seattle Seahawks because they make things a roller coaster experience.

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