By Cole Cusumano
Lightning struck three times in the Dixie Vodka 400 from Homestead-Miami Speedway, as did Denny Hamlin, who went on to secure his third victory of the NASCAR Cup Series season. For the first time in 19 years, the race at the 1.5-mile track would not decide the champion. Also intended to be run in the daytime, Mother Nature had other plans after putting a halt in the action for the better part of four hours.
In similar shades of the event held four days prior at Martinsville Speedway, there was an apparent lack in cautions that were once again overshadowed by exceptional racing — as is typically the case at Homestead.
Not quite as eventful as Martinsville, the driver of the No. 11 won his third career race at the Miami-based track in dominating fashion. Crew Chief, Chris Gabehart, returned atop the pit box for the first time in four events and the Virginia-native followed up a poor performance by starting from the pole, sweeping each stage and leading a race-high 137 laps.
While it may look pretty on paper, this statement victory was not without heavy pressure from a trio of young guns – Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney and, especially, Tyler Reddick.
The two-time reigning NASCAR Xfinity Series Champion blew away the competition and validated his frontrunner status for Sunoco Rookie of the Year. Taking the green flag from 24th, the 24-year-old advanced 13 positions by Lap 5 before a weather delay for lightning. Once racing resumed, he advanced his way into the top-five and that was where he stayed the rest of the evening. He ended up finishing fourth behind Elliott and Blaney.
The pair of racing prodigies put on a spectacle for the world to see after challenging for the lead multiple times and pacing the field for a combined 97 laps. It was deja vu for the driver of the No. 12, after he appeared to have the fastest car on the final run, but was mired back as a result of the final wave of green flag pit stops and finished third.
Elliott, who entered the pit lane second to Hamlin, exited with over a two-second lead as a result of a flawless stop by his No. 9 team with just over 35 laps remaining. Sitting pretty in position to secure his first victory since the Charlotte Motor Speedway 500 kilometer contest, the Hendrick Motorsports driver’s bid was cut short by none other than Joey Logano.
Although two laps down after making contact with Quin Houff on pit road during the competition caution, the 2018 Champion may have played a key role in influencing the winner of the race. Firmly in command, Elliott lost the lead with 30 laps to go when Logano threw a block on the preferred lane for the driver of the Hooters Chevy Camaro.
In a post-race interview, Elliott did not attribute Logano to his loss, but his lack of ability to get by “lap traffic.” The Team Penske driver did not have any comments following the race, but one can assume this was payback for the closing laps at Bristol Motor Speedway.
With this win at Homestead, it’s safe to say Joe Gibbs Racing is back. They’ve won the last two races and Kyle Busch also notched a top-10 finish. Erik Jones had rebounded nicely late in the event from a loose wheel and was running near the top of the leaderboard as well before a flat tire derailed his day. Martin Truex Jr. was also a common namesake competing with guys like Aric Almirola and William Byron before fading late in the final stint.
Looking ahead to Talladega Superspeedway, it would not be too premature to say that the top-three finishers could very well be the favorites to win the Geico 500. The trio of drivers have been some of the most dominant cars all season and they account for four of the last five events at superspeedways. Blaney and Elliott enter Dega in a favorable position, as they won both races at the venue last season.