It’s a quiet track.
The palm trees that line the backstretch sway peacefully. The grandstands remain empty, awaiting the first full crowd to attend since the pandemic. The vibrant walls are silent, a stark contrast from the deafening roar of cars that will soon run just inches away at over 170 miles an hour. The track sits still in anticipation of stock car racing’s exciting return to South Florida with championship hopes on the line.
On Oct. 23, Homestead-Miami Speedway will wait no longer as the NASCAR Cup Series arrives for the Dixie Vodka 400. The 1.5-mile venue will host a playoff event for the first time since 2019.
This date is part of a revamped 2022 schedule that makes Homestead the second race in the Round of 8 during the NASCAR playoffs.
The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs began Sep. 4 at the Darlington Raceway with the top 16 drivers. Every three weeks, the last four drivers in each round are eliminated until only four remain. The final round will feature those last four remaining drivers competing for the title in the final race of the season.
The upcoming race will mark the 27th consecutive year of stock car racing at the Homestead-Miami Speedway since its opening in 1995 with seventeen of those as the season finale. It is regarded as a favorite among drivers and fans alike.
“I had the pleasure of racing there one time in the past,” said NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Ryan Vargas. “Getting to run just a few inches off the wall, even then I wasn’t even high enough. It’s just fun to be able to move around.”
An automatic bid into the championship race is at stake if a playoff driver can win this weekend’s race at Homestead. On Oct. 16, the Cup Series visited Las Vegas Motor Speedway where driver Joey Logano took the checkered flag and locked himself into the championship 4 round.
“I love this track, it’s one of my favorites,” Logano recently told speedwaydigest.com while discussing Homestead. “I remembered that day in 2018 after we won the championship, loading up at the airport to fly home. It’s a special place.”
Numerous playoff contenders, such as drivers Denny Hamlin and William Byron, will be favorites when the Cup Series arrives at Homestead next weekend. Hamlin has amassed three wins over his career at the speedway behind the wheel of the #11 car, including his most recent in 2020. Byron, driver of the #24, comes in as the defending winner of the Dixie Vodka 400 after leading 102 of the 267 laps in 2021.
Previous success may not be the key to victory this race weekend, however. In September, 17 teams took part in a two-day test session to learn more about how the current generation car drives on the track. Dubbed ‘Next Gen,’ the vehicle boasts features never before seen in the sport, such as a symmetrical body, a new steering system and a closer resemblance to the street counterpart. There may be a fair playing field as all of the current round of 8 drivers participated in the test.
One of the drivers involved in the test was 2020 Cup Series champion Chase Elliott, who finished 21st at Las Vegas and is looking to make his third straight championship 4 appearance. He comes into Homestead sitting third in the playoff standings.
“It’s obviously different not being the last race, but there’s still a large amount of significance on the event, just like really all of the last ten are,” Elliott told NASCAR.com. “You’re always trying to win, always trying to bank as many points as you can.”
NASCAR elected this format to create excitement and offer each driver an equal opportunity at winning a title. However, it also comes with chaos during the elimination races.
Chaos came to an all-time high during the final race of the round of 12 at the Charlotte Roval on Oct. 9 where a restart with two laps to go prompted a frenzy of drivers looking to enter the next round.
Defending series champion Kyle Larson was eliminated while sophomore driver Chase Briscoe became the last one to advance by two points. Drivers Chase Elliott and Christopher Bell automatically locked into the round of 8 with wins.
The race weekend begins with a doubleheader on Saturday, when the Camping World Truck Series takes the green flag first for the Baptist Health Cancer Care 200. The Xfinity Series field will race in the Contender Boats 300 shortly after.
For those watching the Dixie Vodka 400 from home, the race will be broadcast live on NBC starting at 2:30 p.m. ET.
Whether it’s the sound of 670 horsepower engines rattling bones in the stands or the action keeping fans at home on the edge of their seats, this high-octane event will be a turning point in how the championship will be decided once the checkered flag waves.
“We’re getting ready to see a really good race. This Next Gen has proven that intermediate tracks like Homestead are its strong suit,” said Vargas. “I think it’s gonna let these guys be a little more brave.”