By David Morgan, Associate Editor
After two weeks in Daytona Beach, the NASCAR Cup Series packs up and heads south on I-95 for Sunday’s running of the Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The 1.5-mile oval came into existence in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in the early 90’s, with the Cup Series making its first appearance at the track in 1999. Since undergoing a reconfiguration in 2003, Homestead has provided some great racing on its progressive banking on one of the true ovals on the circuit and that has only gotten better as the asphalt has aged.
Though it is no longer the host of the season finale, Homestead has become a favorite of the driver’s that like the high line, with the advantage going to those who can flirt closest with the wall without making contact.
The Cup Series enters the weekend having had two first-time winners in the first two weeks of the 2021 season. History could be made at Homestead if another first-time winner comes out on top, as the series has never started the year with three first-time winners in a row.
Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano will lead the field to the green on Sunday, with Christopher Bell, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Michael McDowell, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Preece, Martin Truex Jr., and Cole Custer rounding out the top-10 starters.
By the Numbers
What: Dixie Vodka 400, NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 3 of 36
Where: Homestead-Miami Speedway – Homestead, Florida (Opened: 1995 – First NASCAR Cup event: 1999 – Reconfigured: 2003)
TV/Radio: FOX, 3:30 pm ET / MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90
Track Size: 1.5 mile oval
Banking: 18 to 20 degrees in turns, four degrees on straights
Race Length: 267 laps, 400.5 miles
Stage Lengths: First two stages – 80 laps each, Final stage – 107 laps
Pit Road Speed: 45 mph
Pace Car Speed: 55 mph
2020 Race Winner: Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota (Started on pole, 137 laps led)
Track Qualifying Record: Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford (29.795 seconds, 181.238 mph – November 14, 2014)
Top-10 Driver Ratings at Homestead:
- Tyler Reddick – No. 8 Chevrolet – 115.5
- Kyle Larson – No. 5 Chevrolet – 107.0
- Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 106.8
- Martin Truex, Jr – No. 19 Toyota – 105.9
- Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 102.1
- Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 100.1
- Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet – 96.9
- Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 91.6
- Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 89.0
- Austin Dillon – No. 3 Chevrolet – 83.4
From the Driver’s Seat
“This weekend, for the Miami race and looking at the weather, it’s going to be the hottest race we’ve ever had down there,” said Kurt Busch. “It’s going to be during the hottest portion of the day. And so, the track is going to seem extremely slow, lack of grip; and we’re already making set-up changes to adjust for that.
“It’ll be a refreshing change to go back to the choose rule. We’ haven’t had that in a while, and here we are back at a 1.5-mile. We’ve haven’t been at one of those since Texas last November. Like everything right now with new protocols, the new schedule, lack of practice, there is a lot of shooting from the hip and reacting in the moment. And that’s where you can’t over-think it and you just have to do it.”
Last Time at Homestead
Denny Hamlin may have led 137 laps en route to the victory last June at Homestead, but he had his hands full with Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney in the closing stages of the race.
The last round of green flag pit stops allowed Elliott to cycle ahead of Hamlin by 1.5 seconds due to Elliott a lap prior to Hamlin, but Hamlin was able to chip away at Elliott’s lead, finally getting past him with 29 laps to go when the two found themselves bottled up behind the slower car of Joey Logano.
Once Hamlin regained the lead, he was able to keep Elliott and Blaney in his rear-view, crossing the line with a .895-second advantage over the two for his third win of the season.
“Our car was really good,” said Hamlin. “This is a setup based off of what we had in the fall here last year going for the championship. Had a strong car all day. Obviously with the laps led and was able to get around Chase (Elliott) there at the end. This whole FedEx team has just done a phenomenal job. This Camry is real special. Have to thank Coca-Cola, Jordan Brand, FedEx and all of our partners. Everyone at JGR for putting together great race cars and keep digging to make ourselves a little bit better.
The win was the 40th of Hamlin’s career, with the Joe Gibbs Racing driver and crew chief Chris Gabehart hitting their stride in recent years and becoming perennial championship contenders.
“We’ve been on a roll these last two years,” Hamlin added. “Myself and Chris have a good thing going. It just works. We have the crazy races like we had last week, but then we come back and do something like this.
“I don’t know. Cars are driving good. I still don’t think we’re at the top of our game with our team yet. I think we’re still got some room to get better. I’m pretty happy that we’re able to reel off some wins right now given the circumstances.”