For the first time since 2002, we are looking at a championship week in NASCAR with Homestead-Miami Speedway not being a part of it. It is definitely somewhat different, although it is something we have known about for more than a year. When you’ve hosted something for 18 years in-a-row and then it goes somewhere else, it definitely creates a little bit of a void. So instead of the eyes of the racing world being on Miami this weekend, they will be fixed on Phoenix. And I know they will do a great job in the role we formerly held.
As I’ve said on numerous occasions, this is in no way a reflection on the support we received from the community and the fans. In my mind, Miami is the best place to host a championship event of any kind, NASCAR included. This area has done it so many time across all different sports that I’d like to think we perfected it. At the track level, this affirmation was clear by the words of many of the drivers who have raced for a championship at our track.
While we embrace our 2021 weekend of February 19-21 – the weekend immediately following the DAYTONA 500 - I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t getting a little nostalgic this week in reflecting on all of the great moments that have taken place at Homestead-Miami Speedway – in the past 25 years since the opening of our track, and especially during the “championship era” that spanned 2002-19. Certainly there was a lot of satisfaction derived on the part of our entire staff, knowing that we just put on a spectacle for the world to view. More importantly, the gratification that we got was seeing the many drivers and teams who celebrated the finest moments of their careers and lives right here at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
In 18 years, there were nine different champions. Jimmie Johnson accounted for a record-tying seven of those, while Tony Stewart claimed three and Kyle Busch a pair. Tony not only won the first Cup Series race here in 1999, but also the championship in 2002 – the first year we played host to the event. We also were the site of his final Cup Series race in 2016.
We know that memories have been made for all of the fans who have come through our gates over the past 25 years. Similarly, driver careers have been carved as a result of a championship. Whether it was Jimmie’s seven titles, Kurt Busch getting a little lady luck in 2004, Tony Stewart’s epic comeback in 2011 to win the championship on a tiebreaker, Kyle Busch making a miraculous return from a broken leg in 2015, Martin Truex Jr. winning the title in 2017 at the same time his long-time girlfriend was in a battle with cancer, or Joey Logano winning that elusive title as an underdog in 2018, we have seen a wide-range of emotions on that championship stage. They all have affected people in different ways, but for those drivers they will always be able to say they celebrated the pinnacle of their careers right here at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
We also have bid a fond farewell to many of the sport’s greatest drivers. Whether it was Jeff Gordon in 2015, Tony Stewart in 2016 or Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2017, we have been the site as these NASCAR icons have closed out their careers, which were appropriately honored on their respective final days. And we can’t leave out Carl Edwards, who came within 10 laps of winning a championship in 2016, before announcing his retirement a few months afterward.
A lot has changed at our track and in our sport in the 18 years we hosted the championship. Progressive banking was added after 2002 and lights were installed several years later, among many other capital improvements. For a generation, that’s all people knew about Homestead-Miami Speedway – site of the championship race. That’s why it’s so remarkable how long we had it, and that’s why it’s likely it will never be at the same venue for that long of a stretch again.
What will never change is the course of history, what having those championship events meant to the community and how they affected all of the people who were a part of them.
CHAMPIONSHIP FOUR SURPRISE:
I think when we were all filling out our playoff brackets, it was fairly common for most of us to include regular season champion Kevin Harvick among the Championship 4 drivers. Harvick dominated the regular season, winning seven races and accumulating 1,058 points, 105 more than second-place Denny Hamlin.
He even began the Playoffs in solid fashion, winning two of the three races in the Round of 16. But in the six races since the Round of 12, he
finished better than 10th just once – a second-place finish at Kansas top open the Round of 8.
While his regular season points were enough to propel him into the Round of 8, finishes of 16th and 17th in the last two races, respectively, sealed his fate and kept him out of the Championship 4 for just the second time since the format was instituted in 2014 (2016). While he was the champion in that 2014 race, he fell just short on each subsequent attempt, including a second-place finish in 2015. And although he won’t have an opportunity to compete for a second title this year, nine wins is still a successful season by any measure.
This Week’s Racing Schedule – Phoenix Raceway
Friday, Nov. 6 - NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series Lucas Oil 150, 8:00 pm (FS1)
Saturday, Nov. 7 - NASCAR Xfinity Series Desert
Diamond Casino West Valley 200, 5:00 pm (NBCSN)
Sunday, Nov. 8 - NASCAR Cup Series
Season Finale 500, 3:00 pm (NBC)
All races will air on Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90