At the end of the night, youngster William Byron took the checkered flag at Homestead besting a hard charging Tyler Reddick.
Byron joins McDowell and Bell as early winners this season who are payoff bound ahead of the expected veteran racers. Many analysts thought this would be the race for Joe Gibbs Racing with either Bell repeating or seeing one of his strong veteran teammates in victory lane.
How did the Gibbs teams fare you ask?
Martin Truex, Jr. lead 37 laps but lost the balance of his car and finished a disappointing 3rd. Kyle Busch finished 10th and Denny Hamlin 11th and neither led a single lap. Christopher Bell finished 2oth.
In the meantime, Chris Buescher won Stage 1 and led 57 laps before losing the handling and finishing 19th. Tyler Reddick finished 2nd and was coming on at the end as he was the only driver committed to the top side. Kyle Larson finished 5th and led 5 laps, and Daytona 500 winner Michael McDowell finished 6th.
Byron started the night deep in the field in 31st and made his way to the front by Stage 2. Hamlin had the pole but was sent to the rear after making unauthorized changes. I think the money was on Hamlin to make his way to the front, not Byron. But the youngster and his new crew chief had other ideas.
By virtue of consistency, Hamlin is the early points leader with Kevin Harvick in second place, Joey Logano in third, McDowell in fourth and Chase Elliott in fifth. Christopher Bell is in seventh with his win and Byron’s win elevates him to 13th.
What’s surprising to me so far, aside from the veterans not winning, is how poorly Aric Almirola and Ryan Blaney are running. They are mired in 26th and 24th respectively and we saw Almirola running up the track and hitting Blaney making them both scrape the wall. I guess bad performing drivers will find each other at some point.
Kyle Busch got his best finish of the early season and it sure seems that the no practice rule is still affecting him. That will happen again this week at Las Vegas, a track that he has only 4 Top 10 finishes at since 2018.
Las Vegas looks historically strong for Fords, and Penske in particular, having won 5 out of the last 6 races. That might be good news for Ryan Blaney and they need some good news right about now. Kurt Busch won the last race here and Matt DiBenedetto has two straight runner up finishes. He really needs to pull off another Top 5 soon to stay relevant as a driver in 2022.
I fully expect the usual suspects to run up front this week and even on of the veteran drivers to visit Victory Lane. But I wouldn’t count out any of the young guns as Top 10 material, including Austin Dillon, Byron, Buescher or even Chase Briscoe. Wouldn’t it be amazing to see Briscoe besting the other Fords for a win?
Who are you betting on? Leave your picks and thoughts in the comments below.
(Featured Image by Michael Reaves/Getty Images/NASCAR Media)
For more from Chuck Abrams, click here.