Michael McDowell and Christopher Bell have set an early tone for 2021. NASCAR‘s two winners so far are both first-time Victory Lane visitors in the Cup Series, and they just so happened to double-down in Florida at Daytona International Speedway (oval vs. road course). It marked the first time in the sport‘s modern era (1972-present) a duo of first-time winners kicked off a season.
Dating back to the overall start — NASCAR held its first race in 1949 — there have only been two other instances where the schedule opened up with a pair of first-timer winners, and that was in 1949 and 1950, when every winner was basically a first timer.
Fast forward to the present, the series returns to the Sunshine State this Sunday for its Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), and it‘s not out-of-this-world crazy to think yet another first-timer breaks through.
Hey, Tyler Reddick. Pressure is on.
The two-time Xfinity Series champion is in his second season at the Cup Series level, driving the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, and should have all the justifiable confidence heading to Miami. His two titles were won at the 1.5-mile track in back-to-back years (2018-19). His other Xfinity shot there was a fourth-place result in 2017, and he still led a second-best 18 laps.
Then, from his Truck Series days (2014-16), Reddick has two additional top-five finishes (second and third) and then a top-10 finish (sixth, in his first Miami start).
Yes, the Xfinity and Truck Series ranks are very different from the Cup Series.
So, in his one Miami start so far against NASCAR’s best, Reddick accomplished a fourth-place showing, even leading twice for three circuits. Denny Hamlin (first), Chase Elliott (second) and Ryan Blaney (third) — Elliott, the 2020 champion; all, 2020 race winners — finished ahead of him. Reddick‘s average running position was 3.9.
After starting from the 24th position, Reddick was third at the end of Stage 1 and second at the end of Stage 2. That, paired with his final finish, produced his best 2020 points day (50).
Fourth overall matched his second-best performance on the year. His top was a runner-up finish at Texas Motor Speedway, a 1.5-mile track like Miami. Throughout 2020, there were 11 events on that track length. Reddick ranked tied for 12th in top fives (two) and tied for 11th in top 10s (four) among all full-time drivers. He then came in tied for 13th in points (283) and posted an average finish of 14.8.
Reddick‘s odds to win Miami are 25-1, according to BetMGM, which is tied for ninth-best among Sunday’s field. That‘s better than the odds McDowell and Bell faced entering their recent victories. McDowell was 66-1 for the Daytona 500. Bell was 50-1 for the Daytona Road Course.
Again, it‘s not astronomically crazy to think NASCAR could see yet another first-time winner this weekend in the state of Florida. It would just casually be a first since the inaugural season’s completion there are three at the very beginning of the year.