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Byron another surprise winner

Auto racing

HOMESTEAD, Fla. — After years of seeing a handful of drivers — the same guys, really — dominate NASCAR’s top level nearly every week, the Cup Series is experiencing a little parity to start the season.

It’s a welcome sight for some. Others hope it’s a fleeting moment.

William Byron was the third surprise winner through three races this season with his victory Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Byron joined Michael McDowell and Christopher Bell as unlikely winners to start this season.

Byron controlled most of the final two stages at Homestead to win for the second time in 111 Cup starts. His first one came at Daytona last August and landed him one of the final spots in the playoffs.

No one saw that one coming.

Few had this one on the radar, either.

Byron entered the weekend as a 28-1 shot to win a race many expected would provide a return to normal for the racing series. Instead, McDowell and Bell have company in the relatively odd group of 2021 winners and drivers who have locked up postseason spots.

“A lot of people obviously made some good decisions on how to get better,” said 2017 series champion Martin Truex Jr., who finished third. “The box we have to work is so small … the rules are the rules and they haven’t changed in a while. The smaller teams get to catch up.”

Truex was quick to point out that he still believes the top teams — the heavyweights like himself, so to speak — will find their way back to the top sooner rather than later.

But the first three races have provided plenty of eyebrow-raising moments. Tyler Reddick was second Sunday, nearly 3 seconds behind Byron. McDowell had his third straight top-10 finish. Chris Buescher ran up front for the first part of the race.

“It definitely has closed the gap,” McDowell said.

McDowell and Bell were first-time winners to open the season. This rare run already has tightened the playoff race less than a month into NASCAR’s long season. A victory earns an automatic berth, and it’s unusual to have multiple unique winners in a season.

Few could have predicted this trio would have put a squeeze on some of NASCAR’s top teams. Two-time series champion Kyle Busch currently sits below the top 16 in the standings, as do Alex Bowman, Ryan Blaney and Aric Almirola – all playoff qualifiers a year ago.

Elsewhere:

n Myatt Snider won the Xfinity Series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Saturday, taking the checkered flag in overtime after Noah Gragson slammed into a lapped car with two laps remaining.

n Hannu Mikkola, the 1983 rally world champion and one of Finland’s rally greats who earned the nickname the “Flying Finn” and international renown in a driving career spanning more than 30 years, has died. He was 78.

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