Homestead-Miami honors a champion as eight drivers race to become one

HOMESTEAD, FLORIDA - JUNE 14: Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Busch Light Ford, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M's Messages Toyota, lead the field during the NASCAR Cup Series Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on June 14, 2020 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Homestead-Miami Speedway hosts the second race of the Round of 8 that determines who gets to advance and fight for a championship in the NASCAR Cup Series, but the track is more concerned with a driver who won his nearly a decade ago. Sunday’s 4Ever 400 Presented by Mobil 1 (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) is named in honor of retiring 2014 champion Kevin Harvick, celebrating his last race at the track he scored that title at.

It’s fitting that the track should honor Harvick this year, since he calls that championship race the greatest in his career.

“I think the single best race has to be Homestead of 2014,” Harvick said, “just with the way everything went and the great call and the race at the end and everything that happened with coming to Stewart-Haas Racing that first year. All the adversity that we had at the beginning of the year, how fast the cars were, and then putting it all together in one day to win the championship, I think that single race is probably the one that I would circle just because of everything that happened and everything that it summarized and wound up, ultimately, with a championship at the end.”

Of his final season, Harvick admitted that, though it’s bittersweet, he’s been able to enjoy the moments rather than getting caught up in the past.

“I’ve been in the fortunate position to be able to go out on my own terms,” he said.

“For me, probably the best piece of advice came from Mark Martin, and it was just to make sure that when you’re done, you’re done, that you’re out of that competitive mindset, you don’t want to go back and forth and back and forth, and just make sure that you’ve had enough of that competitive fulfillment,” he concluded.

Odds via BetMGM
+250 – Kyle Larson
+600 – Tyler Reddick
+625 – Martin Truex Jr.
+700 – Denny Hamlin
+700 – William Byron
+1000 – Christopher Bell
+1600 – Chris Buescher
+1800 – Ross Chastain
+2000 – Kyle Busch
+2000 – Kevin Harvick

But for eight other drivers, retirement is at the very back of their mind. Instead, they’re trying to get that competitive fulfillment that Harvick talked about by winning a championship.

In NASCAR, a championship comes down to one race at the end of the season. The surest way to have a shot? Win at Homestead, which guarantees any of those eight drivers a spot in the Championship 4.

Kyle Larson has already taken advantage. He won the opening race of this round at Las Vegas to lock in his spot, and he has no pressure going into Miami. There are three races in this round, so opportunities to do that are running out.

At least one driver will qualify for the Championship 4 on points alone, though, so a win isn’t everything. As it stands, William Byron has the best shot, but he still has just a nine-point buffer to the cutline, nothing to feel overly comfortable about.

Byron has the most wins of the year, and momentum is certainly on his side. But he admitted that those wins won’t be good enough now.

“Yeah, none of what we did all year matters now, it really is all about what we do in these next two races, and that’s the just the points system we’re in,” he admitted.

But “we know what to do in these situations, we know how to run up front and win races, and we’ll lean on that heavily the next two races,” he added.

Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin both enter behind Byron but still two points to the good.

Truex is certainly confident about racing in Miami.

“That’s the kind of track I really like,” he explained. “You can run all over and it’s really low-grip and it wears tires out. You really have to manage your car and your tires throughout runs. Be able to move around the track and find lines that work for you. It’s a big challenge and I enjoy tracks like that.”

“I love South Florida and love going down there,” Truex added. “A lot of great fans. It doesn’t feel like fall when you go down there, it feels like summer, so that’s an added bonus.”

His teammate Denny Hamlin feels similarly.

“We’re looking forward to this weekend,” Hamlin said. “Obviously, we would have liked to have finished last week a little better to be in a better spot in the points, but we feel good about Homestead. It’s a track we’ve had some success at and feel like we can run up front and score points.”

“That’s the name of the game right now to just qualify up front, score points in the stages and finish as good as we can. It’d be awesome to win the race and lock ourselves in, but if we can’t do that, we need to maximize our day,” he added.

Below the cutline, the points situation is much more dire. Christopher Bell is in fine position, needing to make up just two points, but behind him Tyler Reddick and Ryan Blaney are sixteen and seventeen points below the cutline, respectively.

For Reddick, it’s a good job by his team just to in this position: his 23XI Racing team has exceeded expectations already by reaching this point in the round, although he certainly wants to move forward. He’ll have to beat out six other drivers who still want to do the same though.

“We can learn from our mistakes and certain things that we didn’t like that our car did at Vegas, and, I know they’re different tracks, but we can learn from that as we approach Homestead,” Reddick said.

“We’re certainly trying to make the most of it,” he added. “We’re just focused on Homestead and trying to get the car the best that it can be.”

For Blaney, that’s far better than where he was following the race at Vegas: Blaney was disqualified before NASCAR rescinded the penalty, existing fault with their inspection templates.

Needing to either maximize points or get that win is Chris Buescher, 23 points below, in the worst position of the eight drivers after a poor performance at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Practice followed by Busch Light Pole Qualifying will begin at 9 a.m. ET on Saturday and can be viewed on the NBC Sports App.

No one’s locked in as the Xfinity Series heads to Miami

Saturday’s Contender Boats 300 (3 p.m. ET on USA Network, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) is the second race of the Round of 8 in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs, but no driver has a guaranteed spot in the Championship 4 just yet.

Riley Herbst, who failed to qualify for the Playoffs, picked up his first-ever win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, his home track, in the first race of the round. It was huge for Herbst, who’s been chasing his first victory all season.

“It feels great,” Herbst said. “To get my first victory is more than I could even imagine. On top of that, to get my first win in my hometown just meant that much more. I was in front of all the family and friends who supported me throughout the years, on top of the team that helped me keep my head up when I was down.”

“Everybody said I can’t do it, I wouldn’t do it, that I won’t win in the Xfinity Series, that I wasn’t good enough. I proved them wrong. I just flat out beat them,” he added.

But despite the triumph for Herbst, it’s disappointing for all eight championship-contending drivers not to be locked into the next round already. That’s especially true for John Hunter Nemechek, who finished runner-up to Herbst at Vegas.

However, Nemechek sits comfortably atop the standings with a 47-point gap to the cutline. Though it doesn’t mean Nemechek can fully check out, it’s a healthy buffer. However, the driver with seven wins, the most of any Xfinity Series driver, isn’t one to check out at all.

Justin Allgaier is second in points to Nemechek, with 21 points to the good of the cutline. Austin Hill follows, 19 points above the cutline, and Cole Custer is the final driver to enter Homestead above, by fifteen points in his case.

For Custer, teammate at Stewart-Haas Racing to last week’s winner Herbst, the situation is not particularly concerning, even if the buffer is fairly small.

“I don’t think we’re in a place where we have to win. The No. 00 Haas Automation team has had a ton of speed in the Playoffs,” he said. “I think if we keep managing our races, having good races, and doing what we need to do, then we can make it to the next round. There’s no reason why we can’t be in a good position on points to make it to the Championship 4.”

“You saw that at Las Vegas last weekend, and I think after Homestead that we could be in an even better position. You obviously want to win, but you also want to look at the bigger picture,” he said.

On the other side of the cutline, Chandler Smith is 15 points below, followed by Sam Mayer who trails by 16. Those are reasonable gaps to point in if Smith and Mayer can put together strong runs for the next two races of the round.

Sammy Smith, 35 points below, and Sheldon Creed, 41 points below, are in much deeper holes and need to take chances for that all-important win.

A notable entrant from outside the Playoffs will be Dale Earnhardt Jr. He’ll be making his second Xfinity Series start this season, driving the No. 88 car in a fifth entry for his JR Motorsports team. He last competed at Bristol earlier this year, where he led 47 laps before a fire forced him out of the car.

Practice and then qualifying sessions for the Contender Boats 300 are scheduled to begin at 6:05 p.m. ET on Friday and will be televised on the USA Network and streamed on the NBC Sports App.

Homestead-Miami sets the Championship 4 in the Trucks

Miami is a critical destination for NASCAR’s Craftsman Truck Series drivers. It’s the setting for the last race of the Round of 8, Saturday’s Baptist Health Cancer Care 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Noon, ET on FS1, MRN SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), which will set the field for the championship decider in Phoenix.

Only Corey Heim is locked in, with the other three spots up for grabs.

Carson Hocevar occupies the best position going in, with a 23-point gap to the cutline. Christian Eckes and Nick Sanchez also come in to the good of the critical cutline by nine and three points respectively.

It’s Sanchez’s first-ever Truck Series race at his home track.

Below the cutoff, Grant Enfinger and Ben Rhodes are in range to make it easily on points with a strong run, trailing the cutline by just three and five points respectively.

Needing a particularly strong run, or most likely a win, is Ty Majeski, who enters nineteen points behind the cutline. He’s the only past winner at the track of all the Playoff drivers in the field, though.

Lastly, defending champion Zane Smith enters in eighth, 36 points behind the cutline, and firmly in must-win territory.

One unfamiliar face in the field racing alongside the Playoff drivers will be IndyCar driver Marco Andretti, who will be driving the No. 7 Spire truck at Homestead-Miami and Phoenix Raceway to close out the season. He finished 19th in his first-ever Truck Series start at the Mid-Ohio road course earlier this season.

Practice and qualifying sessions begin at 4:05 p.m. ET on Friday.

HOMESTEAD, FLORIDA – OCTOBER 23: William Byron, driver of the #24 Liberty University Chevrolet, and Christopher Bell, driver of the #20 Rheem – WATTS Toyota, lead the field on a pace lap prior to the NASCAR Cup Series Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on October 23, 2022 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: 4EVER 400 Presented by Mobil 1
The Place: Homestead-Miami Speedway
The Date: Sunday, October 22
The Time: 2:30 p.m. ET
The Purse: $7,634,143
TV: NBC, 2 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 400.5 miles (267 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 80),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 165), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 267)

NASCAR Xfinity Series
Next Race: Contender Boats 300
The Place: Homestead-Miami Speedway
The Date: Saturday, October 21
The Time: 3 p.m. ET
The Purse: $1,433,590
TV: USA, 2:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 300 miles (200 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 45),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 90), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 200)

Next Race: Baptist Health Cancer Care 200
The Place: Homestead-Miami Speedway
The Date: Saturday, October 21
The Time: 12 p.m. ET
The Purse: $689,963
TV: FS1, 11 a.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR (Channel 90)
Distance: 201 miles (134 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 30),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 60), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 134)

Owen Johnson