NASCAR: William Byron’s win highlights rare trend

William Byron, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
William Byron, Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

The first three winners of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season entered the year with a combined one win. The only time it was ever less? The inaugural season in 1949.

Thanks to Front Row Motorsports’ Michael McDowell winning the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season-opening Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell backing that up with a win at the road course race at the same venue, the 2021 season became the first since 1950 to feature two first-time winners to start the year.

McDowell won in his 358th career start in his 14th career season. Only one driver had ever gone longer before securing his first win. Bell, meanwhile, won in his second start in his second season, his 38th start overall.

The only time that the series had ever seen three consecutive first-time winners to start the season was in 1949, which was the first season of what is now known as the Cup Series (NASCAR Strictly Stock).

There were several drivers who had a chance to make the 2021 season the first in 72 years to do so.

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In fact, one finished in second place in the season’s third race at Homestead-Miami Speedway and was making up about one second per lap on the eventual race winner in the closing laps thanks to his prowess on the high line.

But it was Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron, who had won at Daytona International Speedway last August to secure his first career victory, who took the checkered flag to end this streak. He led a race-high 102 of the 267 laps around the four-turn, 1.5-mile (2.414-kilometer) and won stage two in the process, becoming the first stage winner to win a race this season.

In doing so, he also became the first driver to actually score the most points in a race he won in 2021.

Richard Childress Racing’s Tyler Reddick, who finished in a career-high second place at Texas Motor Speedway last season, tied that mark with a second place effort after passing Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. and Hendrick Motorsports’ Kyle Larson in the closing laps. Truex finished in third ahead of Larson in fourth.

Reddick was able to take out well over 10 seconds of Byron’s lead in the closing laps, but it wasn’t enough. Byron hung on by 2.777 seconds.

But while the 2021 season won’t be the first to see three straight first-time winners to open up the season, we still saw a rare feat pulled off, thanks to Byron’s win.

Entering the 2021 season, the season’s first three winners had a combined one win to their name.

That is tied for the lowest since the 1949 season, at which point nobody had ever even competed.

In the 1950 season, the driver who won the season’s third race to end the first-time winner trend was Curtis Turner, who won at Langhorne Speedway. He entered the season with one career win to his name, with that coming at the same venue in 1949. So the season’s first three winners had entered the year with one win, with the two first-time winners being Harold Kite and Tim Flock.

Seeing that happen again in the 73rd season of Cup Series competition, as opposed to the second when not many drivers had much experience — especially following an inaugural season of only eight races in 1949 — may very well be just as impressive as having three first-time winners in a row to kick off the new year.

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The fourth race on the 2021 schedule is the Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube, which is set to be broadcast live on Fox from Las Vegas Motor Speedway beginning at 3:30 p.m. ET next Sunday, March 7.