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:
- Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 108.8
- Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Toyota – 107.3
- Matt Kenseth – No. 42 Chevrolet – 105.2
- Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 102.3
- Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 97.4
- Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 94.2
- Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 93.7
- Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet – 91.8
- Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 89.2
- 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.”
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:
- Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
- Joey Logano – No. 22 Team Penske Ford
- Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Team Penske Ford
- Kyle Busch – No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
- Chase Elliott – No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
- Martin Truex Jr. – No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
- Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
- Alex Bowman – No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
- Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
- Kurt Busch – No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
- Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Team Penske Ford
- Clint Bowyer – No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
- Chris Buescher – No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford
- Ryan Newman – No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford
- Erik Jones – No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
- Austin Dillon – No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
- Bubba Wallace – No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet
- John Hunter Nemechek – No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet
- Matt Kenseth – No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
- Aric Almirola – No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
- William Byron – No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
- Matt DiBenedetto – No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford
- Tyler Reddick – No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
- JJ Yeley – No. 27 Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet
- Corey LaJoie – No. 32 Go Fas Racing Ford
- Josh Bilicki – No. 53 Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet
- Brennan Poole – No. 15 Premium Motorsports Chevrolet
- Joey Gase – No. 51 Petty Ware Racing Ford
- Michael McDowell – No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford
- Quin Houff – No. 00 StarCom Racing Chevrolet
- Ty Dillon – No. 13 Germain Racing Chevrolet
- Ryan Preece – No. 37 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet
- BJ McLeod – No. 77 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet
- Cole Custer – No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
- Christopher Bell – No. 95 Leavine Family Racing Toyota
- Daniel Suarez – No. 96 Gaunt Brothers Racing Toyota
- Timmy Hill – No. 66 Motorsports Business Management Toyota