As the NASCAR Cup Series arrives at sunny Homestead-Miami Speedway for Sunday’s Dixie Vodka 400 (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) there will be a distinctively different vibe – drivers establishing early season success versus hoisting a championship trophy.
The facility, which hosted the sport’s championship weekend for 18 years (2002-2019), will now be an important player in setting the stage, not dropping the curtain. And it’s a new challenge the drivers and teams seem eager to take on.
Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. hoisted the most recent series trophy, earning the win in Wednesday night’s race at Martinsville Speedway – the seventh different driver to win through the opening 11 races.
It was especially big for Truex’s No. 19 team as it was the first victory with new crew chief James Small. And Truex is confident that dose of victory will be important in carrying the team toward a title.
“I have confidence in James all year that we can continue what we’ve done,” said Truex, whose previous championship winning crew chief, Cole Pearn, stepped away from NASCAR in the offseason.
“I think this answers a great question for him more than anything, for himself.”
And, he added, “Hopefully, we can thrive from this and move forward and start winning more often.”
On the other side of that, there are still three drivers ranked among the top 10 in the NASCAR Cup Series championship, still looking for their first win – Truex’s Martinsville runner-up Ryan Blaney and brothers Kyle and Kurt Busch.
Kyle Busch is the reigning series champion, having won the 2019 title with a valiant and dramatic drive in last year’s season finale at Homestead. He and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin (a two-time winner this season) are the only active drivers to win multiple times at Homestead-Miami. In fact, there hasn’t been a back-to-back winner since Greg Biffle won three straight from 2004-2006.
Among the trio looking to break into the win column this season and solidify a Playoff position, Kyle Busch, who is ranked ninth in points, boasts the best record at Homestead. The driver of the No. 18 JGR Toyota has eight top-10 finishes in 15 starts with wins in 2015 and 2019 earning him the championship trophies. He’s led laps in the last five races there.
His older brother Kurt Busch, who is ranked 10th in the championship, has seven top-10 finishes in 19 Homestead starts punctuated with a win from the pole position in 2002 (the last time a driver won from the pole at this track). The driver of the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Chevrolet hasn’t led a lap at Homestead, however, since 2014. He finished 21st last November.
Ryan Blaney, who is sixth in the championship standings, probably wouldn’t count Homestead as one of his best tracks historically. The driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Ford has yet to earn a top-10 in five starts there and has never led a lap. However, Blaney’s 11th-place finish last Fall is his best showing to date.
Also among those hovering atop the series championship rankings is another former Homestead winner, Jimmie Johnson – whose 70 laps led at Martinsville Wednesday night were the most in a race for him since 2017. Johnson, who is ranked 11th in the standings, won at Homestead in 2016 to claim his record-tying seventh NASCAR Cup Series championship. The driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet has 11 top-10 finishes in 19 starts at the track, however, the last top 10 came in his 2016 title-making win.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!