- William Byron – race winner
- Rudy Fugle – Winning Crew Chief
William Byron became the youngest winner in Homestead-Miami Speedway history when he powered his No. 24 Axalta Camaro ZL1 1LE to victory lane, giving Chevrolet its first victory of the NASCAR Cup Series (NCS) 2021 season. The win is Byron’s second-career victory in 112 starts in NASCAR’s Premier Series. Taking the Stage Two win and leading 102 of 267 laps at the Florida 1.5-mile venue, the feat secures Byron’s spot in the NCS Playoffs for his chance to compete for the championship title.
The 23-year-old Charlotte, North Carolina, native’s trip to victory lane gave Team Chevy its sixth win at Homestead-Miami Speedway and 796th all-time victory in the NASCAR Cup Series. The win is the 264th triumph for Car Owner, Rick Hendrick, and Hendrick Motorsports, making the organization only four NCS wins away from tying Petty Enterprises as the winningest team in NASCAR history.
Byron led a strong Team Chevy showing, with the Bowtie Brand capturing five of the top-10 positions in the final running order. The win was celebrated by Byron’s Hendrick Motorsports teammates, Kyle Larson, No. 5 NationsGuard Camaro ZL1 1LE, and Alex Bowman, No. 48 Ally Camaro ZL1 1LE, who crossed the line in the fourth and ninth positions, respectively. Richard Childress Racing’s Tyler Reddick wheeled his No. 8 Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen Camaro ZL1 1LE to a runner-up finish giving Team Chevy three of the top-five finishers of the race. Kurt Busch, No. 1 Monster Energy Camaro ZL1 1LE, came home in the eighth position.
Martin Truex Jr. (Toyota) finished third and Kevin Harvick (Ford) rounded out the top-five finishes in the 267 lap, 400-mile race.
The NASCAR Cup Series season continues next weekend as the Series heads west to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube on Sunday, March 7, at 3:30 p.m. ET. Live coverage will air on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
WILLIAM BYRON AND RUDY FUGLE (CREW CHIEF), NO. 24 AXALTA CAMARO ZL1 1LE, PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT:
THE MODERATOR: William, congratulations on the victory. Why don’t you just give us a quick overview from your point of view on that dominating win there at the end.
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I mean, where do I start? I think honestly the work and the effort goes back a long ways. Getting Rudy on board and just having a guy like that to work with. We really think the same way, and it helps us in a lot of ways to progress through races and communicate well and work through the off-season.
I’d say it’s a lot to do with off-season prep, and as soon as we got into the race the track was super slick to start. We had to start pretty far back but made our way up and just had to keep adjusting on the car and kind of finding those little bits. I think the 19 was really strong to start the race. The 17 was surprisingly really good, so we had to kind of work on that and had a really good restart the last one. The 2 pushed me super hard down the backstretch and the car was just good enough.
It’s cool when you have cars like that and you can make moves and make them stick. Love this racetrack; it’s really fun.
Q: I know before the season started you had certain reasons for wanting to bring Rudy back, but I just wondered after these three races, what is it that you’ve seen in your relationship with him working together now on the track that kind of reinforces why you wanted to make this change?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I mean, obviously you have to back it up with results, so I think for me, I wanted to make sure we had results, but I think the results come when you have people like that to work with. You think on the same page, and somebody who puts that kind of effort in.
He puts a lot of effort in, but he’s obviously very intelligent. I feel like for me, it goes back to the Truck days and what we did there and the feelings that I had in those race cars and the things that I wanted to have in my Cup car and the feelings there. He’s really leaned heavily on Alan Gustafson and all the crew chiefs at HMS to get up to speed and we have the best resources out there, so it’s all about making the most of them.
I feel like for us we just communicate throughout the race. He knows how to push my buttons and get me motivated and get the answers out of me that he needs to make the car better.
Q: There were a lot of comers and goers in this race, including some of your teammates. But when you got up front for the most part you seemed to stay. What is it do you think that — what was it about your car today and you guys’ strategy that allowed you to stay up front in the mix?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, just having a plan, having a plan, an idea of what our car needed to do to be successful here. Rudy has won races here, I’ve won some races here, so trying to find those things in the race car, whether that be through the Chevy sim, whether through just talking about it at the shop, the guys implementing it on the car. I feel like all that stuff adds up. But yeah, we didn’t have everything go our way tonight. We had some trouble — a little bit of trouble on pit road at times. The guys did good at times, too, and then some restarts didn’t go our way, which is kind of typical with this package.
Just was all about having the right restarts at the right time and then saving my stuff and making sure I could make it life, like Rudy says. It was just important to have that towards the end.
Q: Your best finish at Homestead has been ninth in Cup, and as far as mile-and-a-half’s, I think your best finish was eighth in your last 10 starts. How much does Rudy make a difference? Do we attribute it all to Rudy? Do we attribute it half to Rudy? Can you kind of describe?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, it’s all about people in this sport. I’ve heard like Kevin say that and multiple people say that. You’ve got to have the people — I think that with Rudy, we had a lot of success on mile-and-a-half’s. He knows what I want in a race car. I credit a lot to Kyle, working with Kyle Busch for a long time and kind of understanding some of the things there.
I didn’t really — I wasn’t concerned that we were going to struggle at the mile-and-a-halfs. I think it was just doing well at every racetrack we go to. I’ve had success at Homestead in the past with the trucks and then Xfinity, so I wasn’t concerned that Cup I hadn’t gotten the finishes yet because I really like coming here, and its so low grip and each lap is different that it kind of takes adaptation. Sometimes you don’t hit it right, but you’ve got to kind of search and find grip.
I think the biggest weakness for me, I never really ran the wall here in Cup, so kind of understanding how I could do that. I watched some on-boards of Kyle Larson and just kind of trying to see if I could do that if I needed to, and luckily, we were able to do that at times tonight just to kind of keep our gap the way it was.
It was good.
THE MODERATOR: We have now been joined by our race-winning crew chief, as well, Rudy Fugle.
Q: I know it wasn’t the type of start to the season that you wanted and I know it’s still really early in the year, but how much can this maybe jump start your year? It must be huge relief, too, just to get a win so early.
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, it’s huge. In this format with winning being so important, it’s nice to chase points at times, but yeah, no doubt we were in a huge hole. The 500 we had a lot of success going down there for qualifying and was excited about the 500 and then we get crashed early and almost flip over and then we go to the road course and we had probably a top-10 run going, which was going to be good, and we had some issues.
It was a tough start to the season, but we didn’t really think about that going into this week. We just thought about executing a good race. It’s always nice when the speed is there, but I feel like we put in the effort to make sure it was, and it was kind of a flawless weekend really.
Q: I’m curious how this win kind of compares to your win last year. It seemed like last year you really needed it and it kind of came down to the wire to clinch that playoff berth, and this one has come so early. I’m curious how the feeling sort of compares.
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I mean, I think in some ways they’re different but winning is the same, the feeling and the excitement of being on the track and being kind of the last guy out there and doing these interviews and doing all that stuff is all the same. So, I don’t think that’s ever going to change. I never really compare wins in that aspect.
But I do think in a lot of ways this was more indicative I think of the season we can have, and we did our jobs tonight, and it just feels really awesome.
Yeah, it’s going to be fun this year. I think I’ve spent kind of a lot of my Cup Series career kind of on the bubble of the playoffs and now I don’t have to worry about that. It’s crazy; I’m going to take all that stuff in, and just got a great team, got an awesome crew chief. It’s going to be a fun year.
Q: William, was there anything specifically you worked on in the off-season to prepare for this upcoming run? Granted, Rudy is a game changer, but what did you do with yourself to kind of get you into race shape?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I mean, we spent probably four times at the Chevy sim working on various tracks, not just this track but spent a lot of time texting each other, Rudy and I, engineers and I, late at night, stuff like that, just random thoughts that would come up. I’d just send a text or Rudy would send me a text.
Felt good going into this race, but you never know if that’s going to pay off or if you’re going to be way off on speed or way off on handling. You just don’t know. It’s good to see it all come together, kind of one plus one equals two, but sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s really nice to see all the work that we did — I think it really started back in November and just kind of seeing how that pays off.
Q: Rudy, what’s the Hendrick think tank doing about Bristol? Is there somebody you’re relying on? There was speculation going around that maybe Larson’s buddy from the dirt world had come in to give you guys a hand to prepare for Bristol.
RUDY FUGLE: I mean, we’re all putting our heads together. I have the most dirt experience from the seven or eight years in the Truck Series of racing at Eldora. They’ve been leaning on me a lot. We take all our resources and ask questions and try to apply it. We’ve got a committee of people that we meet about once a week trying to come up with how we can go do well.
Q: Rudy, the phrase “make it live,” we’ve heard that on your radio for years now, no matter what the driver. Where did that start? What’s the origin of that, and what does that mean to you because we hear it a lot, especially when your driver is out in the lead?
RUDY FUGLE: Yeah, no, it’s a Tony Hirschman thing with me, and then we’ve just kind of applied it through all the years. It’s a great thing to say because that means you’re leading and that means you’re usually pulling away and that means you just need to drive underneath the tires so that you can deal with anything else that’s going to come across when you’re dealing with lap traffic, whenever somebody is coming from the back of the pack and you’ve got a little bit left. That’s all it’s meaning, just not to push too hard. A lot of it comes from having such young drivers like I’ve been used to; they get the lead and they drive harder than they should. I don’t think William needed that, but it felt good to say it, so we kept going with it.
WILLIAM BYRON: It’s helpful.
Q: You heard that as a young driver, obviously, in the Truck Series. Now you’re hearing it at the top level in Cup. What is that full circle like, and is it effective at the Cup level?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, there’s been a lot of experiences between when Rudy and I worked together in the trucks and now. So, I feel like that — when he used to say that I used to not completely understand because I was so young, but now it makes a lot more sense. Yeah, I mean, he just knows the right thing to say to me. Yeah, I mean, I totally understand what that means, and I guess that’s good.
Q: William, you spoke a moment ago about always being on the bubble. Just how much are you looking forward to the season now without the sword hanging over your head getting down towards the end, am I going to get in on points, am I going to get a late-season win? How much more are you looking forward to the season this way and what do you think it will do for you not having that kind of situation?
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, I mean, I haven’t really ever thought about it because I’ve never been in this position, so I think for us we’re just going to stay attacking each race. I think there’s nothing like running well, but yeah, you’re not going to go to sleep during the regular season at least as nervous and as stressed. I can tell you that leaving Daytona last week was not a good feeling.
So yeah, it’s awesome. I think it’s going to allow us to kind of focus on the right things even more.
Q: Given the situation you talked about, just attacking every race, does it make it easier to attack every race?
RUDY FUGLE: I mean, first of all, with the weird winners we’ve had so far, and I don’t think we’re weird but it kind of is a little bit weird, you have to be careful that you’re not going to get too many one wins, so you want to keep attacking for that reason. Two is we want to learn how to be a winning race team. In the playoffs to win a championship you have to win a lot of races, so we have to learn how to do that now and get used to that to be able to contend for a championship.
We’re not a championship team yet, but over the next 20-some weeks we’re going to become one, so that’s what we’re going to do.
WILLIAM BYRON: Yeah, he said it.
Q: Rudy, this is the second week in a row where the winning team has been a new driver-crew chief combination this season. Certainly, last week it was a combination that hadn’t worked together before. Obviously, you’ve got the familiarity with William. I’m curious how that familiarity helped, and do you feel like there could be one way better than the other moving forward in this sport that we may see, more familiarity between driver-crew chief combinations, or it may not matter as much?
RUDY FUGLE: Yeah, it helped us. It helped us, especially because of the fact that I’m new to the Cup Series. What I brought was a knowledge of William.
But when you have people that are experienced in Cup, it kind of — as long as they pair up and work well together, Adam and Christopher are both great. You put them together, I knew they were going to be great this year, as well.
What helped us about the previous relationship was the fact that we’ve worked together before and I knew him, I knew how to push his buttons, I knew how to motivate him, and that helped buy me some time to learn these Cup cars that I don’t know yet, so I think that’s the biggest thing.
WILLIAM BYRON: I think just to add to that, for us the familiarity is because we did well and we know what we need and what we want in the race cars. A race car is the same, whether it’s a truck or a car. We know what we need.
Q: William, what did you learn about yourself the first couple of years in Cup? You had won so quickly in everything you ever got in, from a legend car, late models, K&N, Truck, Xfinity, and then you come to the Cup Series and it’s a completely different level. Was it hard not to beat up on yourself or were you pretty level? What happened over the last three years psychologically?
WILLIAM BYRON: A lot. I mean, I don’t know where to start really. I think I had to re-learn what things make me tick and what things maybe I took for granted. I took for granted maybe some of the situations that I was in and how well and how simple and how smooth they went. You have to learn how to — when your car is bad then you’re trying to stay on the lead lap. There’s nothing like that at the Cup level when everybody is good.
But I think it was a lot of little things. Really had to go to work and study, and also just kind of wait for the right opportunity. You can’t really get too down on yourself because the opportunity just has to come. I’ve got good people around me that kind of made sure that I stayed focused even if I didn’t want to hear it. My dad is kind of like that, and I feel like he’s pretty objective, and Max, and being able to talk to Rudy off and on throughout the years has been great, too.
I think all that stuff pays off, but it’s tough when you get to this level. I don’t really know the blueprint to tell somebody how to get started, really.
Q: Rudy, how similar is the Cup Series intermediate package to what you’ve been doing in the Truck Series the past couple years, and was that experience you’ve had valuable as you’ve kind of come in and do the Cup Series stuff?
RUDY FUGLE: Yeah, no, the 550 stuff is pretty similar to the trucks. We fight a lot of the same things. You’re trying to balance speed versus handling and drag versus downforce. It’s a lot of the same stuff, which is fun. And then I think most importantly, I think the car needs the same thing that a truck needs to do at a mile-and-a-half. Yeah, that part is fun, getting into this season and fighting the same type of little things in the war rooms, trying to decide on do you need straightaway speed or corner speed that week.
Q: William, you’ve given a lot of credit over the past couple years to Chad Knaus and the relationship that you guys had. I’m curious if you think — obviously you and Rudy have the familiarity here, but I’m curious if you feel like you and Rudy would have had this success so quickly at this level without your past relationship and past influences from Chad. Do you feel like that would have translated as quickly?
WILLIAM BYRON: I mean, I don’t know. You can’t really think about that in that way. I think Chad brought me from running 20th in the Cup Series to making the playoffs two years in a row, and I think that was huge. Gave me a chance to really learn under the fire and kind of put myself in some situations that I could learn from some veteran drivers. I had a couple run-ins with Kyle at one time, Brad. None of that stuff would have happened if I wasn’t up there and fast. That’s a lot of credit to Chad and the preparation.
I think what Chad did well was the preparation side. I mean, the team that he’s put around me with young guys is kind of here to stay, and I credit that to him for finding the right people.
He found a lot of good people that want to come to work every day, want to do a good job, so I credit that to him, but with Rudy and I, yeah, I don’t really compare it to anything. I think it’s just that we have that — we mesh, and it is what it is.
Q: Rudy, you got your first Cup Series victory as a crew chief in just your third outing and first on an intermediate track here. How special is this moment for you to be able to celebrate it, especially with William who you had so much success with a few years ago in trucks?
RUDY FUGLE: Yeah, no, it’s great. There’s nothing like winning no matter what series it is, if it’s late models or legends cars or go-karts. There’s nothing like winning. I’ve got asked already, yeah, a Cup win is pretty amazing and it was a whole lot of fun. Winning is winning, and it’s just awesome.
And to touch on your other point, Chad prepped William to get to this point. I could not have done that three years ago. I couldn’t have prepped to learn how to work on Cup cars and prepped William, and then he built a great team. Not one other person has been changed out on this race team. I came in, and this was an amazing race team. We’ve got all the right pieces, and like I said, William said, they’re young and they’re ready and we should be here for a while. We should be able to go and do the right things, so super exciting.
Q: William, the first win last year to get you into the playoffs, obviously a superspeedway. People can call that what they will, but to dominate the way you did tonight to make it two wins now instead of one, do you feel like this is validation now for you at the Cup level in a way?
WILLIAM BYRON: I think for sure. I mean, I think you don’t want to be kind of like the one-win wonder guy, so I think for me, once you get in that two category, you start building towards the next ones.
I mean, for me I think once I — after the first win, I think what clicked for me was just the hunger to taste the same feeling, like how exciting it is to win and what that means to the guys around you and your family and all the people that kind of put you here.
I think once you get that taste in your mouth, it’s hard to — you can’t really get rid of it. You want that. I think you race a little differently. But the position we were in going into this race, I didn’t really know what to do. I think we were pretty far back in the points. I was just hoping for a good race. I can’t really say any of that stuff came to mind until really the last restart of really going after it.
Q: Rudy, similar take for you. It took a lot, I know, to kind of get you out of your comfort zone and come from the Truck Series up to the Cup Series. Was this about the right situation, the right opportunity for you to make that jump and do you feel like guiding William to a win in just your third Cup race as a crew chief is validation for you, as well?
RUDY FUGLE: Yeah, no, it’s been well-documented. I had a great job. The past nine years at Kyle Busch Motorsports I had an amazing job, so it had to be the right situation for sure to move on, and William being ready and HMS is an amazing organization, Mr. H and great sponsors. It definitely was the right opportunity.
And then I just wanted to prove that I could — to everyone, to myself, to everybody, that yeah, I could do it at this level.
So we want to do it a whole lot more. It’s only my first win, so we’ve definitely got to get my second win and the next one after that. As a group, this is just great. Just an awesome team, and they’re helping me get where we need to be.
Q: Rudy, would there have been any other driver you would have left for Cup for, and how much does chemistry mean because this had not been one of William’s best tracks as far as in Cup.
RUDY FUGLE: Yeah, no, chemistry is huge. Yeah, I think William is really good at measuring the grip of the tire, and I think he’s good at anticipating the grip loss. I always thought Homestead, maybe not on the results, but was good for him. This is a great racetrack for his style. I know he’s had a blown engine and stuff in some of his Cup career; obviously we had one win in trucks and then in the top three, I think, in Xfinity, so this is his style of track, so we definitely attacked and took it and went on with it.
THE MODERATOR: William and Rudy, thank you so much for joining us. Congratulations again on the victory.
TYLER REDDICK, NO. 8 CHEDDAR’S SCRATCH KITCHEN CAMARO ZL1 1LE, PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT:
THE MODERATOR: We are joined by our runner-up of tonight’s race, Tyler Reddick.
Q: I was just wondering if you felt like you had 10 or 15 more laps could you have caught Byron and what was working for you at the end.
TYLER REDDICK: Obviously this was a 400-mile race, and everyone knew that. I just didn’t have a very good last restart. We kind of struggled to get our Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen Chevy going, and I had just a poor restart, and it was the difference, unfortunately. That’s all there is to it. Needed to be able to hold on better at the start and just didn’t.
Q: I’m curious with this being the first mile-and-a-half track but such a unique track at the same time, how much can we take from seeing all the parity that we saw today? Chris, you were up there for a while, McDowell had a strong day, so many different names that we aren’t necessarily used to seeing at mile-and-a-half tracks in recent years. Does that apply going forward?
TYLER REDDICK: I think of Atlanta. Obviously, we don’t go to Fontana. Maybe you’ll see it at Kansas. But those kind of tracks — Darlington is another one where it may not have the size of the other mile-and-a-half’s but you move around and search for grip. I would say those couple tracks you will. But your Vegas, your repaves, those tracks, I think they’ll look a lot different than what we saw tonight because you don’t move around as much and you don’t have the tire falloff.
Q: Tyler, what were the struggles the early part of the race and what turned it around? I think people would understand racers want to win every race. With the start you had, with finishing second, I think some people would be a little bit surprised about how down you seem to be right now.
TYLER REDDICK: Yeah, just because I knew that it was going to take a well-executed restart, which unfortunately I didn’t do the last two, three — maybe it was four or five spots. Five too many. It takes time to get back around those cars. They’re good drivers, they know what they’re doing, and that’s just the difference. I don’t know why we were so off in the beginning of the day here. Last year or in the summer, we took off really, really good in the daytime, so I saw we would be better in the day and everyone is going to catch up at night, and it was the opposite.
Yeah, when you see how much faster you were than the guys in front of you and you know you’re running out of time, it gets frustrating. Really if you go back and look at one or two things that would have changed the outcome. Yeah, I get it, can’t go back and change it, but we had a really bad start to the year. Second is great, but it’s not going to put us in a great — we’re still way back in the mess, in the mix of it.
We’ll look at Darlington and Atlanta maybe — I can’t run the fence at Atlanta but there’s a couple tracks left that what works here you can somewhat apply to those places.
Q: Tyler, can you get anything positive out of this or is the frustration and disappointment of finishing second with a car capable of winning too much for you at this point?
TYLER REDDICK: Well, there’s a lot of positives. I feel like the story of our — of my rookie season and the story of our team last year was start off really good, midway through the race, just go all the — it just blows up in our face and we just don’t get a good finish out of it. Today was the opposite, which was nice. It’s something that we’ve been needing to get, figure out how we can have nights like this and what we can do to continue to stay hungry and keep fighting.
We definitely tried to work on our car a lot throughout the night, but then we just made some choices to just go for track position on the pit stops, and that definitely helped us, too. There are positives, but there isn’t a whole lot you can take away from here and apply at other racetracks as a driver and how you drive the track. But how you execute and all that you can kind of apply going forward.
Q: What are your expectations after a win like this and trying to build on it? Do you feel like you’re going to just jump and go right to the next mile-and-a-half or go right to Vegas, another 1.5-mile track? Do you feel like you guys are just capable of taking this momentum and at least bringing a good car there?
TYLER REDDICK: I don’t think the momentum carries based on how our long-run performance is. The momentum of being able to get out of the hole and being able to fight through that, you know you can carry that. But it’s unrealistic to say that we can go to Vegas and be able to run that much faster than the field. It doesn’t happen there. It doesn’t happen at Texas since it’s been repaved. Doesn’t happen at a lot of the tracks we go to. You have to win these races by being very consistent, making the right calls on pit road, and as a driver, staying up front, keeping your track position. You just can’t — you don’t have the options you do at Homestead and other places that we go.
Q: Tyler, you talked kind of coming into this race that you might be conservative a little bit because of the points hole and everything. I’m wondering if that factored at all in what happened early on in the race?
TYLER REDDICK: No, unfortunately we just were way off. It was very odd. The Xfinity car and the Cup car couldn’t be any different. Our Motorsports car was a GMR Motorsports chassis originally, and it was pretty wild. I fought the same thing in the Xfinity car in the beginning of the race and into the night as I did in our Cup car. I feel like that helped me be able to kind of explain to the team and believe that as it transitioned into night, we were going to get better so that was a positive. Unexpected, but that helped us get through it.
Yeah, we weren’t trying to be conservative. We brought what we thought was a really good race car. It showed up at the end, but it wasn’t there to begin with.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us. We appreciate it.