NASCAR remains in the Sunshine State this weekend with the Cup and Xfinity Series heading south to Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Homestead-Miami will mark the first of nine Cup races held at 1.5-mile tracks in 2021. Last year, the track held its race weekend in June after the COVID-19 pandemic postponed the March date. Homestead-Miami previously held the final date on the schedule since 2002.
Defending Dixie Vodka 400 winner, and Sunday’s pole-sitter, Denny Hamlin along with Joey Logano led the way with two wins each in the 11 races at 1.5-mile tracks in 2020. Since the start of last season, Hamlin has yet to finish outside the top five in the six points-paying races held in the state of Florida that includes the superspeedway and road course at Daytona.
“We feel good in our efforts through the first two races of the season,” said Hamlin, who will sport a special FedEx Small Business Grant contest paint scheme on Sunday. “Obviously, we wish we could have come out with a victory at either of the Daytona races, but we still had good performances. We’re confident in how we’ll run this weekend and hopefully have a repeat of last year.”
See Also: Starting Lineups and Race Info
While Homestead-Miami has never had a driver score their first career Cup win at the track, a number of drivers are looking to change that stat and, in the process, continue the streak to three to open the season. Both Michael McDowell and Christopher Bell became first-time winners over the past two weeks at Daytona. Tyler Reddick is one of those drivers that has yet to go to Victory Lane in the Cup Series, but has had his share of success at Homestead-Miami with a fourth-place run last year in Cup and a pair of victories that gave him back-to-back Xfinity Series titles.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have some great vehicles at Homestead-Miami Speedway, whether it be in the trucks, Xfinity or Cup cars, so that helps a lot with just overall confidence and feeling comfortable there,” said Reddick, who is also entered in the Xfinity race. “Going there with such strong cars really has allowed me to play into my strengths around that track.”
See Also: Reddick Looks to Bounce Back
Homestead-Miami with its progressive banking, aged surface and oval layout provides drivers with multiple options for racing lines on the track. Reddick and Kyle Larson are among the drivers that like to run the high groove near the wall.
“One of the fastest ways around there, definitely one of the fastest at the end of a run, is getting right up next to the wall and running inches off of it,” Larson said. “I’ve had a lot of success there running that line. I don’t have a win but have led a lot of laps there.”
Running close to the wall could have its consequences with possible contact.
“If you get against the fence, it’s really easy to cut a tire,” said Bell, last weekend’s winner. “That’s going to be something that is definitely going to be talked about amongst all of the teams and it’s going to be fun to see who plays with the razor’s edge. I think we are a team that definitely could play with it more than others, since we’ve already won and locked in, but for me it’s going to be about seeing the checkered flag.”
Kyle Busch is the only other multiple race winner at HMS with two. Other drivers in Sunday’s field that have gone to Victory Lane at the South Florida track are Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch.
MRN’s live coverage of Sunday’s 267-lap race will begin at 2:30 p.m. ET.
Saturday’s Xfinity Series Contender Boats 250 (MRN, 4 p.m. ET) will also be the first of nine races for the series on 1.5-mile tracks. Last year with the change in the schedule, the series held a double header weekend with Harrison Burton and Chase Briscoe, who will make his first Cup start at the track on Sunday, taking the victories.
“We didn’t necessarily have the fastest car there last year, but we were able to get a win on a last lap restart, and that’s a testament to my guys and all the hard work they put into this thing week in and week out,” Burton said.
Noah Gragson was the only driver to finish in top five in both races in 2020 at Homestead-Miami. He combined to lead 164 laps in the two events.
“We ran really well at Homestead last year and we were in contention to win both races by large margins until a late-race yellow came out during both races,” Gragson said. “We’ve struggled this year, and this is the weekend we turn it all around and get some redemption for how the races finished last year.”
Reigning series champion Austin Cindric scored three wins last year on the mile-and-a-half tracks and Burton took two. AJ Allmendinger and Brandon Jones are the other Xfinity regulars that won on a 1.5-mile track in 2020.
Santino Ferrucci, who ran full-time in the IndyCar Series last year – including a fourth-place finish in the 2020 Indianapolis 500, will make his NASCAR debut driving the No. 26 Toyota for Sam Hunt Racing.