Another exciting season of NASCAR is now in the books, and the sport can boast not just three new champions, but also three first-time champions. This esteemed triumvirate consisted of Sheldon Creed in the Gander Trucks Series, Austin Cindric in the Xfinity Series and Chase Elliott in the Cup Series, all of whom won their respective races in Phoenix to claim their titles.
For several years we have been talking about the up-and-coming drivers in NASCAR, in particular on the Cup side. Some of these have been at this level for several years, while others have just recently made the jump after successful stints in one of NASCAR’s leading series.
Chase Elliott’s win last week lent a great deal of credence to this rhetoric. Elliott, who will not turn 25 until November 28, became the third-youngest driver ever to capture a Cup Series championship. He also is now part of only three father-son tandems to win titles at this level, as his Hall of Fame father, Bill, won a championship in 1988. Bill and Chase join Lee (1954, ‘58-59) and Richard (1964, ’67, ’71-72, ’74-75, ’70) Petty and Ned (1961, ’65) and Dale (1999) Jarrett as the only father-son combinations to record Cup Series championships. In fact, Chase’s win in Phoenix came nearly 19 years to the day that Bill won the Pennzoil Freedom 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 11, 2001).
For the seventh straight year – encompassing every year of the Championship 4 format – the champion in the Cup Series was also the race winner. And it continues a trend of the regular season meaning very little once you get to the championship round. While Chase certainly had as good a chance as any of the four to emerge victorious, both Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin had compiled more wins entering last Sunday’s race. Similarly, Kyle Busch did not have the most regular season victories before winning his second title last year, and Joey Logano was the decided underdog in 2018 before winning the Ford EcoBoost 400 to lock up his championship.
I am certainly no prognosticator and can’t predict how many more championships Elliott will win before his career is over, but you’d have to think that he will – at the very least - be in contention for many more years. We already knew he has the pedigree to succeed. And after seeing him secure wins in must-win situations in successive weeks at Martinsville and Phoenix, we all are now fully aware he possesses the composure and talent to thrive as well.
In fact, Elliott won the race after having to start from the rear, similar to what his Hendrick teammate Jimmie Johnson did in 2016 at Homestead-Miami Speedway to capture his record-tying seventh championship.
It was very fitting that shortly following Elliott’s win, Johnson pulled his No. 48 Chevrolet alongside Elliott’s No. 9, in a symbolic passing of the torch in what was Johnson’s final race as a full-time Cup Series driver.
Now we turn our attention to the NASCAR offseason, but for us at Homestead-Miami Speedway, it is a very short one. Difficult as it is to fathom, we are just two race weekends away from hosting our next NASCAR event weekend. It will be here before you know it, as our 2021 race comes on the heels of the season-opening DAYTONA 500, February 19-21. For us, not only will it be a return of NASCAR, but also the opportunity to host fans once again.
The 2020 season was one that was unusual because of circumstances beyond our control. In a way, it was also very gratifying due to the manner in which we all rallied to resume our season, and then see it through to the end. And it was every facet of the industry banding together to make this a reality – especially the fans, who exhibited a tremendous amount of patience and loyalty.
Entering the 2020 season we thought we all had a clear vision of what the season would look like. It might have been going along that path for the first four races, and then we hit pause for 10 weeks because of the pandemic. Upon our return, it was vastly different from what anyone could have imagined.
In the end, though, 36 points races were ompleted in the Cup Series, consisting of things you would have never thought possible.
Sports teams have always had to adjust as a result of injuries. The 2020 season, and likely into 2021, taught all sports entities how to adapt and be flexible in every aspect. Whether it’s a 60-game schedule, playing games on odd nights of the week or hosting races without practice or qualifying, there were many lessons in how to be creative in order for their product to move forward.
While I know that it will still be some time before we are back to where we were previously, I am excited to prepare for the 2021 season because of everything that we went through and learned in 2020.
Homestead-Miami Speedway 2021 NASCAR Dates
Saturday, February 20
NASCAR Xfinity Series Race
Sunday, February 21 NASCAR Cup Series Dixie Vodka 400
*2021 dates for NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
to be announced in the near future