Photo: Stephen A. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead Preview

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

For nearly two decades, Homestead-Miami Speedway has been intertwined with championship weekend, but for the first time since 2002, the NASCAR Cup Series heads to South Florida without a title on the line as it prepares for Sunday’s Dixie Vodka 400.

In addition to the different environment that the drivers will face on the variable banked 1.5-mile oval without the pomp and circumstance of championship weekend, they will also have to deal with a complete 180 when it comes to the weather and how the track will drive over the course of the race.

Instead of a day to night transition into the coolness of a November evening, Sunday’s race, which was originally schedule for late March, will be staged in the middle of the afternoon, with the asphalt baking in the summer sun. The new date will make for a hot, slick race track that will test both man and machine as handling will be a premium as the drivers will have to constantly search for grip as the 267-lap race plays out.

Homestead will be the first track to allow fans to return, albeit in a severely limited capacity, as the track will have 1,000 members of the military in attendance as a first step in returning some normalcy to the race weekend.

By the Numbers

What: Dixie Vodka 400, NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 12 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

2019 Race Winner: Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota (Started fourth, 120 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:

  1. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 108.8
  2. Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Toyota – 107.3
  3. Matt Kenseth – No. 42 Chevrolet – 105.2
  4. Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 102.3
  5. Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 97.4
  6. Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 94.2
  7. Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 93.7
  8. Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet – 91.8
  9. Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 89.2
  10. Clint Bowyer – No. 14 Ford – 85.9

From the Driver’s Seat

“Homestead is a very unique mile-and-a-half track,” said Matt Kenseth. “Turns 1 and 2 have more banking than turns 3 and 4 because the back stretch is elevated, so you kind of drive uphill off Turn 2 and that corner has much more grip. Then you drive downhill off of Turn 4 and that’s a real tricky corner. Both ends are a lot different.

“Seems the good guys can run the bottom-middle early in the run and make some moves, and then the grove kind of migrates towards the top. Then there’s those few guys, though maybe not quite so much last year, that can make the very top work well. Depending on your car’s balance, you can usually move around the track and find something that works well for you.

“It’s usually November when we go there, so it’s going to be totally different conditions during the day and being super-hot down there in June. Should be an interesting race.”

Last Time at Homestead

Kyle Busch entered last year’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway with a 21-race winless streak to his name and without a win at a 1.5-mile track in 2019, but in the end none of that mattered.

Earlier in the week, the 34-year old Las Vegas native lamented the fact that he was behind his own schedule for success in the NASCAR Cup Series, believing he should already have multiple championships to his name.

After adding a second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title to his resume, Busch is now back on track toward his self-imposed goals, given that aside from seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, he is the only driver with more than 50 wins and multiple championships, as well as being the only driver to have won more than one title in the Playoff era.

Fellow Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Martin Truex, Jr. dominated early in the Ford EcoBoost 400, but as the sun set in the South Florida skies, Busch came alive and the driver of the No. 18 Toyota found himself in command. Building a multi-second lead as the race wound down, the other three championship contenders were going to have to come and take it from him.

Ultimately, none of them were able to catch him and Busch crossed the line 4.579 seconds ahead of Truex to earn the right to hoist the championship hardware. In the final tally, Busch led five times for 120 laps.

“Everybody always says you never give up,” Busch said. “We’re no different.  We just do what we can do each and every week.

“Sometimes we may not be the best, sometimes we may not have the right track position.  Today we had a really good car and I could race around and move around.  That’s what’s so special about Homestead-Miami Speedway, is the ability to put on a show.

“I felt like we did that there racing those guys.  I know it kind of dulled out towards the end.  It was exciting enough from my seat.  It was a lot of fun to cap off such an amazing year.”

Starting Lineup

By virtue of a random draw, two-time Homestead winner Denny Hamlin will start on pole, marking the fourth straight season he will roll off from the top spot at the 1.5-mile track. He will be joined on the front row by Joey Logano.

The full starting lineup for Sunday’s race is as follows:

  1. Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
  2. Joey Logano – No. 22 Team Penske Ford
  3. Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Team Penske Ford
  4. Kyle Busch – No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
  5. Chase Elliott – No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
  6. Martin Truex Jr. – No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
  7. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
  8. Alex Bowman – No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
  9. Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
  10. Kurt Busch – No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
  11. Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Team Penske Ford
  12. Clint Bowyer – No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
  13. Chris Buescher – No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford
  14. Ryan Newman – No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford
  15. Erik Jones – No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
  16. Austin Dillon – No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
  17. Bubba Wallace – No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet
  18. John Hunter Nemechek – No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford
  19. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet
  20. Matt Kenseth – No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
  21. Aric Almirola – No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
  22. William Byron – No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
  23. Matt DiBenedetto – No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford
  24. Tyler Reddick – No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
  25. JJ Yeley – No. 27 Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet
  26. Corey LaJoie – No. 32 Go Fas Racing Ford
  27. Josh Bilicki – No. 53 Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet
  28. Brennan Poole – No. 15 Premium Motorsports Chevrolet
  29. Joey Gase – No. 51 Petty Ware Racing Ford
  30. Michael McDowell – No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford
  31. Quin Houff – No. 00 StarCom Racing Chevrolet
  32. Ty Dillon – No. 13 Germain Racing Chevrolet
  33. Ryan Preece – No. 37 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet
  34. BJ McLeod – No. 77 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet
  35. Cole Custer – No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
  36. Christopher Bell – No. 95 Leavine Family Racing Toyota
  37. Daniel Suarez – No. 96 Gaunt Brothers Racing Toyota
  38. Timmy Hill – No. 66 Motorsports Business Management Toyota

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.