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William Byron becomes NASCAR’s latest surprise winner

William Byron celebrates after winning a NASCAR Cup Series auto race, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021, in Homestead.
William Byron celebrates after winning Sunday’s NASCAR Cup series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
(Wilfredo Lee / Associated Press)

After years of seeing a handful of drivers — the same guys, really — dominate NASCAR’s top level nearly every week, the Cup Series is experiencing a little parity to start the season.

It’s a welcome sight for some. Others hope it’s a fleeting moment.

William Byron was the third surprise winner through three races this season with his victory Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Byron joined Michael McDowell and Christopher Bell as unlikely winners to start this season.

Byron controlled most of the final two stages at Homestead to win for the second time in 111 Cup starts. His first one came at Daytona last August and landed him one of the final spots in the playoffs.

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No one saw that one coming.

Few had this one on the radar, either.

Byron entered the weekend as a 28-1 shot to win a race many expected would provide a return to normal for the racing series. Instead, McDowell and Bell have company in the relatively odd group of 2021 winners and drivers who have locked up postseason spots.

Christopher Bell manages to pass Joey Logano late in the race to pick up his first NASCAR Cup win and the second win of the weekend for Joe Gibbs Racing.

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“A lot of people obviously made some good decisions on how to get better,“ said 2017 series champion Martin Truex Jr., who finished third. “The box we have to work is so small the rules are the rules and they haven’t changed in a while. The smaller teams get to catch up.“

Truex was quick to point out that he still believes the top teams — the heavyweights like himself, so to speak — will find their way back to the top sooner rather than later.

But the first three races have provided plenty of eyebrow-raising moments. Tyler Reddick was second Sunday, nearly 3 seconds behind Byron. McDowell had his third straight top-10 finish. Chris Buescher ran up front for the first part of the race.

“It definitely has closed the gap,” McDowell said.

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McDowell and Bell were first-time winners to open the season. This rare run already has tightened the playoff race less than a month into NASCAR’s long season. A victory earns an automatic berth, and it’s unusual to have multiple unique winners in a season.

Few could have predicted this trio would have put a squeeze on some of NASCAR’s top teams. Two-time series champion Kyle Busch currently sits below the top 16 in the standings, as do Alex Bowman, Ryan Blaney and Aric Almirola - all playoff qualifiers a year ago.

Byron hardly qualifies as a big a shocker as the previous two because he drives the famed No. 24 for Hendrick Motorsports. But he also hadn’t exactly been a regular in victory lane.

Then again, those inside the Hendrick organization had a feeling he could be in for something big this season since he reunited with former crew chief Rudy Fugle.

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“That guy has been huge for my career,“ Byron said. “He’s the reason I’m here and I’m just glad we could get him. We really think the same way.“

They had their best year together while running the Truck Series for Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2016, even winning at Homestead.


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