Homestead-Miami Speedway, Homestead, FL — June 14, 2020
The NASCAR Series stops in Miami this weekend, it must be November and the Championship will be determined. Nope! That location will be Phoenix this year. Succumbing to pressure to move the championship venue around, Homestead-Miami Speedway, after 18 years, lost NASCAR’s culminating event of the year.
The Dixie Vodka 400 was originally scheduled for March 22, a more moderate time of the year in South Florida. But, the COVID pandemic erased that schedule. As NASCAR scrambles to reassemble this year’s race calendar and get in every planned event, Homestead-Miami Speedway’s race fell into the summer season.
Usually, the race is about the Championship 4 battling for the title. Other drivers on the track generally steer clear, not wanting to be the one to take out a contender. Today, it’s anyone’s race. Kyle Busch won last year’s 400, he starts 4th today. Denny Hamlin drew the pole position and Joey Logano will start next to him on the front row.
Stages are 80/80/107 laps to make up the 400.5 miles around the 1.5-mile oval. Just as drivers took the command to start their engines, a pop-up shower wet down Turn 4. For the first time since the virus lockdown began fans were in attendance. Families from nearby Homestead Air Force Base dotted the stands as 1,000 guests were invited to attend. They were content to ride out the shower to see some live racing action.
Austin and Whitney Dillon gave birth to their son, Ace Dillon, early Sunday morning. Austin flew in from North Carolina and was able to make it to the track on-time to sit with everyone else as jet dryers blew the water off the racetrack.
After about an hour-long rain delay, drivers took the green flag and Joey Logano drove into Turn 1 with the lead. His teammate Brad Keselowski found his rear bumper and the two began to pull away. Four laps in the yellow flag waved for lightning in the area. On Lap 6 the red flag was displayed and drivers again exited their cars.
Drivers were called back to their cars, climbed in, and buckled up. Then another lightning strike sent them back to their trailers. After a two-hour red flag, the race finally restarted and it was Logano back to the lead.
Ryan Newman cut down a tire and spun bringing out the caution on Lap 20. NASCAR notified crews that they would consider that yellow flag period as the competition caution and the entire field came to pit road for new tires. The abrasive surface of Homestead-Miami Speedway eats tires and will likely be a factor in today’s race.
After the caution, Logano still led. His pursuers were Chase Elliott and Tyler Reddick. Both drove past before lightning again brought the race to a halt with the red flag again displayed on Lap 34.
Back to Green
The delay this time was only 39 minutes. When the red flag was lifted and the field came around under caution, everyone again pitted for fresh tires. Elliott still led and was now in a battle with Ryan Blaney for the lead. As the fight for positions settled down the top 5 were Blaney, Elliott, Hamlin, Reddick, and Keselowski.
As the race track transitions from day to night the racing surface cools and the handling on some cars begins to be a problem. Crews will have to work hard to adjust to the changing conditions. Nearing the end of Stage 1 some drivers not seen previously work their way into the top 10. Early leader Jowy Logano dropped out of the top 15.
The race to the green and white checkered flag came down to Ryan Blaney and Denny Hamlin. Blaney complaining of his car going loose and Hamlin stalking him in every turn. With Blaney rim-riding around the top of the track inches from the wall, he held off Hamlin until there were 5 laps to go. Hamlin finally made the pass and stretched out his advantage to take the Stage win.
Stage 1 Results
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Logano finished the stage in the 20th position.
Hamlin and Elliott lead the field back to green and run side-by-side for a lap until Elliott prevails. Blaney’s crew was able to fix his ill-handling car and he drove back to the front passing Elliott easily.
Blaney has led more laps than any other driver without a win so far this year. After coming agonizingly close at Daytona, will he be able to get his first win of the year after several strong runs have come up short?
Just like Stage 1, the longer the green flag run the stronger Hamlin’s car gets. He was closing on Blaney as green flag pit stops commenced at the halfway point of Stage 2. After all the drivers had made pit stops, Hamlin was in the lead with almost a two-second advantage over Blaney.
Races become official when they reach the end of the 2nd Stage or half of the scheduled laps are completed. Thankfully, the race reached its midpoint. Another weather issue is likely to end the event, already five and a half hours after the anticipated start time.
Even with fresh tires, Blaney had nothing for Hamlin. Denny pulled away to an easy repeat win in Stage 2. Cup Rookie Tyler Reddick continued his strong run finishing in 2nd.
Five times drivers have swept the first two Stages in 2020. None of the won the race.
Stage 2 Results
|7||19||Martin Truex Jr.|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
The Final Stage
The race off pit road went to Hamlin. He will be followed by Elliott, Reddick, Blaney, and William Byron to the Final Stage restart. Logano and Newman got together bringing out the caution shortly after the race went back to green, with only a few laps on their tires all the leaders returned to pit road for a fresh set of Goodyears.
Martin Truex Jr. replaced Byron as the 5th car inline at the restart. With a strong run on the high side, Blaney drove into second behind Hamlin as Elliott and Reddick going at it for 3rd.
It is likely the final pit stop will determine the outcome of the race. With very few on-track incidents so far, the stop will probably be under green. The pit window is 55-60 laps and with the tire fall-off the car’s experience, as soon as one of the leaders pits the others will follow quickly.
With 74 laps to go Blaney and Hamlin began swapping the lead. The two drivers going at each other allowed Elliott back into the fight for the lead.
Harvick had to pit with 60 laps to go after he hit the wall and flattened the right rear tire. Two laps later Chris Buescher was in, also with a flat right rear. With 51 laps to go, 2nd place Chase Elliott was the first of the top 10 to hit pit road. Hamlin, the leader, followed on the next lap along with everyone else except Reddick. He pitted on the next lap.
Being the first to pit paid off for Elliott. After all the drivers cycled through for their pit stops, Elliott was the leader by a second and a half over Hamlin.
With 30 laps to go Hamlin had driven up to the bumper of Elliott and passed him for the lead. But could not pull away as he had done in the first two Stages.
Elliott’s sponsor for the race, Hooters Restaurants, was on the side of Alan Kulwicki’s car the last time their sponsorship visited victory lane 28 years ago. To get their again, Elliott will need to find some magic in the closing laps to keep Hamlin from becoming the first three-time winner this year.
Elliott caught Hamlin with 15 laps to go and Blaney was inching closer to the top two. With 10 laps to go Reddick had joined the fray, he passed Blaney for 3rd. Performing the cross over move Blaney slid back by on the next lap. Unfortunately, the pair battling each other took them out of contention for the win.
With five laps to go, Elliott scrapped the wall allowing Blaney to close and Hamlin to pull away. Holding on for his 3rd win of the 2020 season Hamlin became the first driver this year to sweep every Stage for the victory. If only he could have done that last November when he was one of the Championship 4. Look for Hamlin to be in that position this year at Phoenix.
Two rookies finished in the top 10, Tyler Reddick 4th and Christopher Bell in 8th place.
Results of the Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead Miami Speedway
|12||19||Martin Truex Jr.||28.603||267|
|19||38||John Hunter Nemechek||-1||266|
|20||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||-1||266|