Homestead-Miami Speedway: It all comes down to one race

Photo by Harold Hinson/Harold Hinson Photography

By Jerry Jordan, Editor

HOMESTEAD, Fla. – What do you get when you combine south Florida with NASCAR racing action in the fall? The answer: a tripleheader racing weekend where three series champions will be crowned across the sport’s top division and some of the most intense racing of the season.

“I’m pumped this is like Christmas Eve for us,” said Matt Becherer, Homestead-Miami Speedway track president. “It is going to be great. Joey Logano making it into the Championship 4 is huge for our partners and they are the ones that make Ford Championship Weekend possible. Look at 2014, when he had that failure with the jackman toward the tail end of the race when he really had the race in control at that point, so he’s got a chance to redeem himself. Then you look at Carl Edwards and had he passed just one more car at anywhere in The Chase and he would have been our Champion. So, to lose in the tiebreaker to Tony Stewart he feels like this track owes him one.

“You have Kyle Busch going for a repeated championship and Jimmie Johnson going for seven to tie Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, so there are four incredible storylines and all the eyes of the world are upon us. We couldn’t be more excited and you also have this championship format rolled out for the Xfinity Series and the Camping World Truck Series, so it has just been a home run for Homestead-Miami Speedway.”

Logano locked himself into the final round of The Chase last week at Phoenix International Raceway in a dramatic victory. It looked as if Logano would be the odd man out as Matt Kenseth led in the closing laps but when Alex Bowman, Kyle Busch and Kenseth all met in Turn 1 with a handful of laps to go, Kenseth was taken out of contention. That let Logano move on and win, which also shutout Denny Hamlin’s chances at making the final round this week.

Edwards and Johnson won the first two races of the semi-final, Round of 8, and Busch earned a shot to defend his championship based on points.

As Becherer stated, the truck series and the Xfinity Series will tee it up on Friday and Saturday nights, respectively, as rookie Christopher Bell tries to hold off veterans Johnny Sauter, Matt Crafton and Timothy Peters.

“We’re going to have some incredible racing here all weekend, as we always do,” Becherer said. “I actually go out on the track first thing Monday morning after the weekend and I take a look at the turns and what I see if rubber all the way down from the inside groove and all the way up the outside wall from the entrance of Turn 1 and the exit of Turn 2. It’s the same thing down in Turns 3 and 4 and what that tells me is that we have the raciest track on the entire circuit. It is an awesome place to crown champions.

“When you look at the mix of guys we have this weekend it is going to be incredible.”

In the Xfinity Series, Justin Allgaier, Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones and Elliott Sadler will battle for supremacy in the first-ever title decided under the elimination format. For Suarez, he has the weight of a nation on his shoulders hoping to become the first Hispanic champion in the history of NASCAR. And Allgaier has something to prove after dropping down from the Sprint Cup Series this year when his ride at HScott Motorsports went away. Elliott is the veteran and although he has a deal for next season, he could decide to retire over the next few years, so that adds pressure to the championship hunt. On the opposite end of the spectrum, who won’t get another shot at the Xfinity Series title This is a one-and-done year for him as he moves up to the Sprint Cup Series in 2017 for Furniture Row Racing.

“There is a lot of bumping and banging,” Becherer said. “This is a drivers’ track and they can run anywhere they want, so it will just be incredible to see it all play out. It is going to be great.”

With all the racing over the next four days, it’s hard to imagine that Becherer could fit anything else into the schedule but Homestead-Miami Speedway has one of the most fan-friendly schedules on the circuit – complete with activities for kids, camping, concerts, great food and more.

Coming off a major tour including performances in the Olympics, The Band Perry will entertain everyone on-hand performing their hits on the front stretch stage Sunday morning.

Becherer said there are two ways that fans can be up close and personal throughout the weekend, including walking on the racing surface as the countdown to green begins. First, is a three-day ticket pass, which is still available and second is a pre-race pass, which allows access to the front stretch, on Sunday, leading up to the Ford 400.

“I don’t think a lot of people really know about the three-day ticket benefits because fans that buy that get to go out on the racetrack after each nights’ event is over and celebrate with that night’s champion,” Becherer said. “So, literally, if you buy a ticket to all three days, you are down on the track, champagne, confetti, the whole nine yards and that is a pretty cool experience you don’t see in other sports. They are right here in the middle of it.

“Imagine seeing the Super Bowl celebration on the field but being able to be right there in the middle of it as those guys are pulling their T-shirts over their shoulder pads and hoisting the Lombardi trophy in the air. That is exactly what we do here at Homestead-Miami Speedway and it is a huge part of Ford Championship weekend.”

Becherer stressed that despite being only hours away from the green flag flying, fans can still obtain that access. Three-day ticket packages are still available for fans wanting an incredible experience unlike any other in sports. To inquire, Becherer said, go to www.nascar.com/tickets, www.racetickets.com or call 305-230-5255 for more information.

“We also sell pre-race pit passes to get fans close to the drivers and cars before the race,” he said. “There is a ton to do and if fans want to get close to drivers this is the place to do it.”

Becherer said there are also kid ticket prices and those younger than 12 get in free on Friday and Saturday night. But more importantly, he has his own focus group every day when he goes home from work, so he is keenly aware of what kids think about racing and how he can make Homestead-Miami Speedway more kid-friendly.

“I have a 9-year-old daughter and when I was her age, I was going to races with my dad,” he said. “We have a kids zone out here in the midway. It’s one thing to have kids pricing but we also have kid friendly food and a kids zone out on the midway. I am fortunate that I have that focus group when I get home every night and she tells me whether we are doing it right, or not. Kids are absolutely critical to the future of the sport.

“It is a lot of fun for kids, especially on Friday and Saturday when it is a little less intense and little shorter day. That is a great day to go to your first NASCAR event. For the younger kids especially a shorter day might be a little bit easier and we try to do all we can to keep them entertained while they are here.”

Homestead-Miami Speedway marks the final time in 2016 that fans can see the Sprint Cup Series in action, which has many fans loading up their RVs, packing their tents and spending the week in the amazing Florida weather. Becherer said the campgrounds cater to all sorts of fans from the casual to the most hardcore, so the track has a variety of events on tap to suit everyone’s needs.

“There is a whole litany of activity out there when the cars out on the track, so if fans are staying here for the entire week, in addition to all the fun they will have when the cars are on the track, there will also be a lot going on in the campground that we will be doing for them,” Becherer said. “This isn’t your everyday run of the mill race, it is The Championships and we are pumped to host it.

“We are one of many races on the NASCAR calendar but if you have never been to Homestead-Miami Speedway for Ford Championship Weekend, you have never seen a race like this. It has all of what South Florida has to offer and I am sure we are the only racetrack where you can eat conch fritters and a Cuban sandwich and we are proud of that.”

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