No longer home to finale, Miami sure to remain a NASCAR staple

As the sun crept below the horizon on a fall Sunday, team haulers crawled through the Jimmie Johnson Tunnel under Turn 3 of the Homestead-Miami Speedway, marking the end of another memorable NASCAR weekend in South Florida.

It was Oct. 22, smack dab in the middle of the NASCAR Cup Playoffs, Christopher Bell was the weekend’s big winner, and as the circuit prepared to move onto two final rounds of the postseason, Miami’s contribution was complete.

On that weekend, the speedway completed its 28th consecutive year of hosting NASCAR events since the venue’s completion in 1995. This year, in fact, Homestead hosted all three of the national series playoff races for the second year in a row, with each playing a significant role in the chase for the championship.

But it didn’t host the grand finale, the championship event, which belonged to Phoenix Raceway on Nov. 5. And as the NASCAR calendar turns to the 2024 season, the South Florida track faces a unique situation: No longer the staple site of that championship race, is Homestead now simply just another track?

In 2022, for the first time in 21 years, Homestead did not host the championship finale for NASCAR. The series now ends at the Avondale, Arizona venue, but likely not for long. NASCAR is expected to move the title race to a rotation of tracks moving forward, similar to the way the NFL plans Super Bowl sites, and the NCAA plots the Final Four.

“I think it should definitely move around,” Chase Elliott, the NASCAR Cup series champion in 2020, said. “I think that’s kind of why they moved it away from Homestead. People kept saying, ‘Move it around.'”

Other tracks in the title-race discussion include Las Vegas, which welcomed NASCAR the weekend before Homestead-Miami, and Fontana, California. Currently, the Fontana site is converting into a short track after years of rumors surrounding the two-mile oval.

In the last 22 years of NASCAR competition, Fontana’s speedway hosted a race 20 times in the final third of the season. The only two instances where it hosted a race early in the calendar was in 2020 and 2021.

Homestead-Miami is in a similar position, having hosted the championship race for 18 seasons, the most in NASCAR history. Behind the South Florida track is Atlanta Motor Speedway, which has hosted the finale a total of 15 times.

“We’re very, very fortunate just to host a NASCAR Cup race in and of itself,” Homestead-Miami president Al Garcia said. “[It] is just an honor and a huge event.”

Martin Truex Jr. watches during qualifications for a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich., Saturday, Aug. 5, 2023. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Martin Truex Jr., the pole sitter last month of Garcia’s track, concurs. He recalled his elation of coming to the 1.5-miler, and the buzz that surrounds the facility amid palm trees.

“I am always kind of excited to come here,” Truex Jr., the 2017 Cup Series champion, said. “I’ve enjoyed it over the years, and I feel like it’s always been a good track.”

It certainly was for Bell last month, whose win at Miami was his second of the season in the series.

“Thank you to everyone who supported me,” he said after the race. “This is better than a dream come true.”

Next year, it’s more of the same at Homestead. South Florida will host the second race in the Round of 8, on Oct. 27, a pivotal part of the playoffs that decides the four drivers who advance to the November finale. The title event will again be in Arizona.

The 2025 schedule, and where South Florida fits into all of it, remains to be seen.

Kenneth Bueno is a junior majoring in the Digital Broadcasting field. He is a sim racing commentator for Podium eSports and aims to apply his love for sports into the sports broadcasting industry after graduating.