NASCAR: First-time winner trend ends at Homestead

William Byron, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
William Byron, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) /

William Byron took the checkered flag to secure his second career NASCAR Cup Series victory, ending the first-time winner trend to start the 2021 season.

The NASCAR Cup Series traveled south to Homestead-Miami Speedway this past weekend after two races at Daytona International Speedway to open up the 2021 season.

For the first time since 1950, two drivers who had never won before opened up the season with victories. In the Daytona 500, it was Michael McDowell who won in his 358th career start in his 14th career season, and in the road course race, it was Christopher Bell who won in his 38th career start in his second career season.

Sunday’s Dixie Vodka 400 at the four-turn, 1.5-mile (2.414-kilometer) oval in Homestead, Florida had the chance to produce a third straight first-time winner to start the season, something that hadn’t happened since the 1949 season.

The 1949 season, of course, was the inaugural season of what is now known as the Cup Series (then NASCAR Strictly Stock).

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It almost happened, but not quite. Tyler Reddick was closing in on race leader William Byron, having taken out more than 10 seconds of his lead in the closing laps thanks to his prowess on the high line, but he was unable to finish higher than second place.

Reddick, who finished in fourth place in last year’s 267-lap race at the same track, entered the race as the favorite to be the man to continue that trend, if it were to continue. His career-high finish entering the race was his second place finish in last July’s race at Texas Motor Speedway as a rookie.

But Byron hung on to win by 2.777 seconds.

Of course, Byron himself had only won one race entering the 2021 season, so this win, which saw him dominate the final stage and lead 102 laps, was only the second of his career. Like McDowell and Bell, he also got his first win in the state of Florida and at Daytona International Speedway, having done so in last August’s regular season finale.

While the first-time winner streak is over to start the 2021 season, one combined win among the season’s first three winners to enter a season is still tied for the lowest total since that inaugural 1949 season, which opened up with five first-time winners in a row.

Ironically, the driver who ended that streak was also named Byron, with that being Red Byron, and he also did it with his second career win.

He won the 1949 season’s second race at the Beach & Road Course in Daytona Beach, Florida and the sixth race at Martinsville Speedway to become the sport’s first ever two-time race winner.

Homestead-Miami Speedway did see the Xfinity Series secure its second first-time winner in a row this weekend, however, with Myatt Snider winning that race after Ty Gibbs won at the Daytona International Speedway road course last weekend in his first career start.

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How many more first-time winners will the 2021 season see, and if any, who will they be?