Maybe FOX was onto something with the “greatest season ever” campaign.
Sunday marked the conclusion of the Florida swing to start the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season. While the run of first time winners ended at two, the third was a young gun who (possibly) kickstarted his breakout season.
Here’s three big stories from the Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Three big stories: Homestead No. 1
William Byron’s breakout season?
Combined with his win at Daytona last August, William Byron not only stole a stage victory from Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. on the final lap of the second stage, he led a race-high 102 laps* to win his second career race.
*It’s also his career highest laps led in a single race.
After a miserable run of finishes the last two weeks at Daytona, he vaults from 29th to 13th in points.
Would you guess that Byron honed his racing skills from iRacing?
Maybe not when he took the Camping World Truck Series by storm in 2016. And maybe not after his 2017 XFINITY Series championship run.
Was Sunday a sign of things to come? Given that he spent all but seven laps inside the top-15 and maintained an average running position of 3.9, I think you’re safe to bet the mortgage on it.
Three big stories: Homestead No. 2
Michael McDowell’s still running well, and I don’t what to say
We’re three weeks removed from Michael McDowell‘s Daytona 500 victory, and he’s finished top-10 in all three races in 2021. Furthermore, he leaves Homestead-Miami Speedway fourth in points. The three drivers ahead are still winless.
What? You didn’t predict that this would be the way things played out after three weeks?
OK, sarcasm aside, I would’ve lost a bet on this, too.
I don’t know what to make of McDowell’s season.
He ran in the top-15 for roughly half the race. His average running position was 15.8, 14th best.
But I can’t just write off his run of top-10 finishes. Moreover, he didn’t have attrition help him to a sixth-place finish, this week.
If he continues this streak next Sunday at Las Vegas, then we can no longer just write him off as a first round exit. And don’t lie. Most of you expected the same thing, too.
Three big stories: Homestead No. 3
The high-downforce menace returns
When the first caution flew on Lap 26, Brad Keselowski pulled to a four-second lead on the field. Chris Buescher pulled to a three-second lead on the field, when the second caution flew on Lap 64. Truex pulled to a two-second lead on the field, when caution flew on Lap 154.
As I’ve pointed out more times than I can count, last season, far too often, the high-downforce package allows the lead car to simply drive away from the field.
The worn out surface and high tire wear negated this to a small extent, but most tracks don’t have as old a surface as Homestead. Especially when the next race is at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where the effects of the high-downforce package was at its worst.
No, Sunday wasn’t a bad race. In fact, it was one of the better races with the high-downforce package. Furthermore, I’ve seen much worse with this package. But this race is the exception that proves the rule.
Everyone but the heads at NASCAR sees that this package isn’t the right direction. When will the big whigs accept that it’s not?
That’s my view, for what it’s worth.
TOP IMAGE: Sean Gardner/Getty Images