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.”
Rudy Fugle is the second-fastest crew chief to win for Hendrick Motorsports.
— Hendrick Motorsports (@TeamHendrick) March 1, 2021
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
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.
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.”
Felt good to be back where we belong yesterday.
— No. 6 Team (@Roush6Team) March 1, 2021
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.
The bad news: bad vibration forced us to pit late. The good news: had a fast race car. And fast race cars are fun. pic.twitter.com/O630nDGwQ4
— Kurt Busch (@KurtBusch) March 1, 2021