Miami Cup takeaways: Familiarity breeds success for William Byron, Rudy Fugle

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Last December, as he settled into his new role as crew chief for William Byron at Hendrick Motorsports, Rudy Fugle said his main goal was learning how Cup cars worked after spending eight years in the Trucks with Kyle Busch Motorsports.

As that process continues, Fugle has leaned on his past experience with Byron from their 2016 season together at KBM. That year, they earned seven wins.

Now, they’ve got one together at NASCAR’s top level after Byron dominated the final stage to win Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“(Familiarity) helped us, especially because of the fact that I’m new to the Cup Series,” Fugle said. “What I brought was a knowledge of William.

“…  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.”

Fugle took over the No. 24 crew chief role for Chad Knaus, who is now Hendrick Motorsports’ vice president of competition after guiding Byron in 2019 and 2020.

When Knaus moved into his new position, Byron knew that having someone on the same wavelength was essential.

“Obviously, you have to back it up with results … But I think the results come when you have people like that to work with,” Byron said. “You think on the same page, and somebody who puts that kind of effort in.

“(Rudy) 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 (No. 9 crew chief) 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.”

Both Byron and Fugle made it clear that Knaus is one of those resources.

While their past history together certainly helped, so too has Knaus’ role in building the No. 24 team for the future.

“Chad prepped William to get to this point,” Fugle said. “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.”

Now, the task turns to making Byron a threat to win on a weekly basis.

“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,” Fugle said. “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.”

Rough restart costs Reddick

Tyler Reddick
Tyler Reddick charged in the final 60 laps of Sunday’s Cup race at Homestead-Miami Speedway to finish second, but an ill-fated restart may have cost him a shot at the win. (Photo: Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Entering Sunday, Tyler Reddick was tabbed as a prime candidate for continuing the trend of first-time Cup winners to open the season. Reddick earned two Xfinity titles at Miami in 2018 and 2019 thanks in part to his ability to make speed everywhere on the 1.5-mile oval, particularly around the top.

That ability was on display in the closing laps. Taking full advantage of a car that came to life as day turned to night, Reddick went toward the front and ultimately finished in second place.

But if not for the day’s final restart with 60 laps to go, Reddick may have gotten to the lead and stayed there.

He lined up seventh for that restart, but through Turns 1 and 2, Kurt Busch and Cole Custer nearly got together ahead of him.

That seemed to blunt Reddick’s momentum. He ended up losing four spots and was 11th when he returned to the start/finish line.

Following the race, Reddick pointed to that restart as to what kept him from challenging for the win.

“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,” he said. “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.

“… 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.”

Another thing that could have? Having a faster car in the day to help him move quicker from 35th on the grid.

Reddick called the lack of speed at that time “odd,” but noted he had faced the same problem in Saturday’s Xfinity race. He took the checkered flag second on Saturday, but was disqualified after his car failed rear heights in post-race inspection.

“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,” Reddick said. “Unexpected, but that helped us get through it.

“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.”

Newman in the lead pack

Prior to Sunday, Ryan Newman‘s last top 10 finish outside the superspeedways had been a seventh-place finish in the 2019 season finale at Miami.

Newman equaled the result at the same track, making his own contribution to a solid afternoon for Roush Fenway Racing that included Chris Buescher winning the first stage and leading a career-high 57 laps before finishing 19th.

Newman hovered around the top 10 for the first half of the race, until the one-lap dash to end the second stage saw him shuffled from eighth to 17th.

Following pit stops, he restarted the final stage in 21st but methodically rose up the scoring pylon. He re-entered the top 10 early in the 60-lap green flag run to the finish.

“More than anything, I’m glad and excited for a good run – it’s what we needed,” Newman said. “Our guys have been working extra hard all offseason, and to come down here and collectively show what we were able to do says a lot about the progress we’ve made.

“We still have work to do yet, but I’m happy with a top 10.”

Another recovery for KB1

Kurt Busch’s solid run on Sunday appeared to go south with 40 laps to go.

After reporting a vibration on his car early in the green-flag run to the finish, he was forced to pit from fourth place for a loose wheel.

But while his chances of winning went away, his long-run speed didn’t. With fresher tires at his disposal, Busch climbed from outside the top 25 to finish eighth.

It was his second recovery drive in as many weeks. Last week on the Daytona road course, Busch spun while leading mid-race and came back to finish fourth.

Now up to sixth in the standings, Busch heads home to Las Vegas, where he won the Round of 12 playoff opener last year.

Long: NASCAR needs to quickly correct officiating issue from Texas

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NASCAR’s admission that it did not see William Byron spin Denny Hamlin under caution during Sunday’s Cup playoff race is troubling.

With video evidence of impropriety and Hamlin’s team vigorously arguing for relief, there were enough reasons for series officials to take a closer look at putting Hamlin back to second before the race returned to green-flag conditions. Or some other remedy even after the race resumed. 

Add the lack of access series officials had to Byron’s in-car camera— something fans could readily see at NASCAR.com and the NASCAR Mobile App — and changes need to be made before this weekend’s playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway.

While NASCAR should make every effort to judge matters between drivers regardless of their playoff status, that it was two playoff drivers involved in an incident demanded greater attention. With three races per round, one misstep can mean the difference between advancing or being eliminated. 

Just as more is expected from drivers and teams in the playoffs, the same should be expected of officials.

“If we had seen that (contact) good enough to react to it in real time, which we should have, like no excuse there, there would probably have been two courses of action,” said Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition Sunday night. “One would have been to put Hamlin back where he was, or the other would be to have made William start in the back.”

Here is how the incident played out:

The caution waved at Lap 269 for Martin Truex Jr.’s crash at 8:19 p.m. ET.

As Hamlin slowed, Byron closed and hit him in the rear. 

Byron admitted after the race the contact was intentional, although he didn’t mean to wreck Hamlin. Byron was upset with how Hamlin raced him on Lap 262. Byron felt Hamlin forced him into the wall as they exited Turn 2 side-by-side. Byron expressed his displeasure during the caution.

About 90 seconds after the caution lights illuminated, the USA broadcast showed a replay from a low angle of Byron directly behind Hamlin’s car and apparent contact. 

Contact can happen in multiple ways. It can come from the lead car hitting the brakes and forcing the car behind to hit them, or it can come from the trailing car ramming into the car ahead. The first video replay did not make it clear what caused the contact, making it difficult for any official to rule one way or the other based solely on that.

This also is a time when NASCAR officials were monitoring safety vehicles on track, checking the lineup and making sure pit road was ready to be open. It’s something NASCAR does effortlessly much of the time. Just not this time. 

A different replay aired on USA 11 minutes, 16 seconds after the caution that showed Byron and Hamlin’s car together. That replay aired about a minute before the green flag waved at 8:31 p.m. ET. Throughout the caution, Hamlin’s crew chief, Chris Gabehart argued that Hamlin should have restarted second.

But once the race resumed, the matter was over for NASCAR. Or so it seemed.

Three minutes after the green flag waved, the NASCAR Twitter account posted in-car video that showed Byron running into the back of Hamlin’s car while the caution was out. Such action is typically a penalty — often parking a driver for the rest of the race. Instead, Byron was allowed to continue and nothing was done during the rest of the event. 

After the race, Miller told reporters that series officials didn’t see the contact from Byron. 

“The cameras and the monitors that we’ve got, we dedicate them mostly to officiating and seeing our safety vehicles and how to dispatch them,” Miller said. “By the time we put all those cameras up (on the monitor in the control tower), we don’t have room for all of the in-car cameras to be monitored.

“If we would have had immediate access to (Byron)’s in-car camera, that would have helped us a lot, being able to find that quickly. That’s definitely one of the things we’re looking at.”

But it didn’t happen that way.

”By the time we got a replay that showed the incident well enough to do anything to it, we had gone back to green,” Miller said.

NASCAR didn’t act. By that time maybe it was too late to do so. But that’s also an issue. Shouldn’t the infraction be addressed immediately if it is clear what happened instead of days later? Shouldn’t officials have been provided with access to the in-car cameras so they could have seen Byron’s actions earlier and meted the proper punishment? Instead, Miller hinted at a possible penalty to Byron this week.

Miller didn’t reveal details but it wouldn’t be surprising to drop Byron in the field, costing him points. He’s 24 points from the cutline, so a penalty that drops him from seventh to 30th (the position ahead of Truex) could be logical and that would cost Byron 23 points, putting him near the cutline. 

Texas winner Tyler Reddick said something should have been done. He knows. He was parked in a 2014 Truck race at Pocono for wrecking German Quiroga in retaliation for an earlier incident.

“In William’s situation, whether he ran him over on accident or on purpose, there should be some sort of penalty for him on that side because he’s completely screwed someone’s race up, whether it was on purpose or not,” Reddick said. “I feel like there should be something done there.

“I’m sure (NASCAR will) make some sort of a decision. I’m sure there will be something they’ll address this week, updates, on NASCAR’s side. I’ll be curious to see what that is. We can’t really have this where you dump someone under caution, they go to the back and you don’t. That could potentially be an interesting situation in the future.”

Texas shuffles NASCAR Cup playoff standings

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Texas marked the fourth consecutive playoff race that the winner didn’t advance to the next round.

All three races in the first round were won by drivers not in the playoffs. Tyler Reddick won Sunday at Texas, a week after he failed to advance from the Round of 16 and was eliminated from title contention.

Texas did shake up the playoff standings. Chase Elliott entered as the points leader but a blown tire while leading sent his car into the wall, ending his race. He falls to the No. 8 spot, the final transfer position with two races left in this round. He’s tied with Daniel Suarez, but Suarez has the tiebreaker with a better finish this round.

Chase Briscoe, who scored only his second top 10 in the last 22 races, is the first driver outside a transfer spot. He’s four points behind Elliott and Suarez. Austin Cindric is 11 points out of the transfer spot. Christopher Bell is 29 points out of a transfer position. Alex Bowman is 30 points from the transfer line.

The series races Sunday at Talladega (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

 

XFINITY SERIES

Noah Gragson’s win at Texas moved him on to the next round. The win was his fourth in a row.

Ryan Sieg and Sam Mayer are tied for the final two transfer spots to the next round. Riley Herbst is one point behind them. Daniel Hemric is eight points from the final transfer spot. Brandon Jones is 13 points from the last transfer spot. Jeremy Clements is 29 points shy of the final transfer position.

The series races Saturday at Talladega (4 p.m. ET on USA Network).

 

 

CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES

The series was off this past weekend but returns to the track Saturday at Talladega. Ty Majeski has advanced to the championship race at Phoenix with his Bristol win.

 

Winners and losers at Texas Motor Speedway

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A look at the winners and losers from Sunday’s marathon race at Texas Motor Speedway:

WINNERS

Tyler Reddick – Reddick isn’t acting like a lame duck. Headed for 23XI Racing in 2024 (if not sooner), Reddick now owns three wins with Richard Childress Racing, the team he’ll be leaving.

Justin Haley – Haley, who has shown flashes of excellence this season for Kaulig Racing, matched his season-high with a third-place run.

Chase Briscoe — Briscoe wrestled with major problems in the early part of the race but rebounded to finish fifth. It’s his second top-10 finish in the last 22 races.

LOSERS

NASCAR Officials – Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, admitted that series officials missed William Byron spinning Denny Hamlin under caution after Martin Truex Jr.‘s crash. Such a situation could have major playoff implications, although Miller hinted that series officials may still act this week.

Christopher Bell – Bell met the wall twice after blown tires and finished a sour 34th, damaging his playoff run in a race that he said was critical in the playoffs.

Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. – Harvick (finished 19th) and Truex (31st) were late-race victims of the day’s tire dilemma. Both crashed while leading.

Track workers  Somebody had to clean up all that tire debris.

Chase Elliott – Elliott remains a power in the playoffs, but he left Sunday’s race in a fiery exit after a blown tire while leading and finished 32nd. He holds the final transfer spot to the next round heading into Talladega.

 

 

Blown tires end race early for several Texas contenders

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FORT WORTH, Texas — A Goodyear official said that air pressures that teams were using contributed to some drivers blowing tires in Sunday’s Cup playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. all crashed while leading after blowing a tire. Among the others who had tire issues were Alex Bowman, Chris Buescher Cole Custer and Christopher Bell twice. 

“We’re gaining as much information as we can from the teams, trying to understand where they are with regard to their settings, air pressures, cambers, suspicions,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing Sunday. “For sure I can say without a doubt air pressure is playing into it. We know where a lot of the guys are. Some were more aggressive than others. We know that plays a part.

MORE: NASCAR says it missed William Byron spinning Denny Hamlin under caution 

“I’m not saying that’s the only thing, but it’s certainly a factor, so we’re just trying to understand everything else that is going on with regard to specific teams. We know a lot of guys have not had issues. We’ve had guys put full fuel runs on tires, but, obviously, other guys have had issues. We’ll be working with them to try to sort through that is.”

Eight of the 16 cautions were related to tire failures that caused drivers to spin or crash.

“It’s not a good look, that’s for sure,” Ryan Blaney said of the tire issues others had. “How many leaders blew tires tonight? Three or four?

“You just don’t understand what is making these things do that. From last week to this week, it’s really unfortunate. It’s just luck now.

“You never know if you’re going to blow one. You go into (Turn) 3 almost every lap with 40 laps on your stuff and I don’t know if one is going to blow out or not. That’s not safe. That’s for sure. Running (180) into (Turn) 3 and the thing blows out and you have no time to react to it. It’s unfortunate. I hope we can figure that out.”

Blaney said he was confused that the tires were blowing partly into a run instead of much earlier.

“It was weird because those tires didn’t blow right away,” he said. “Like the pressures were low. They blew like after a cycle or two on them, which is the weird thing.”

Asked how he handles that uncertainty, Blaney said: “Nothing I can do about it. Just hope and pray.”

After his crash, Elliott was diplomatic toward Goodyear’s situation:

“I’m not sure that Goodyear is at fault,” he said. “Goodyear always takes the black eye, but they’re put in a really tough position by NASCAR to build a tire that can survive these types of racetracks with this car. I wouldn’t blame Goodyear.”

Tyler Reddick, who won Sunday’s race at Texas, said his team made adjustments to the air pressure settings after Saturday’s practice.

“We ran enough laps, were able to see that we had been too aggressive on our right front tire,” he said. “So we made some adjustments going into the race, thankfully.”

This same time was used at Kansas and will be used again at Las Vegas next month in the playoffs. 

Reddick is hopeful of a change but also knows it might take time.

“I just think to a degree, potentially, as these cars have gotten faster and we’re getting more speed out of them, maybe, hypothetically speaking, we’re putting the cars through more load and more stress on the tire than they ever really thought we would be,” he said. 

“I know Goodyear will fix it. That’s what they do. It’s going to be a process. I know they’re going to be on top of it. Hey, they don’t want to see those failures. We don’t want to see them either. They’re going to be working on looking through and trying to find out exactly what is going on. We’ll all learn from it.

“It’s a brand-new car. It’s the first time in the history of our sport we’ve gone to an 18-inch wheel and independent rear suspension. All these things are way different, diffuser. All these things, way different. We’re all learning together. Unfortunately, just the nature of it, we’re having tire failures.”