Lightning Strikes Three Times for Hamlin at Homestead

HOMESTEAD, FLORIDA - JUNE 14: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on June 14, 2020 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Florida has been good to Denny Hamlin.  The Joe Gibbs Racing driver started the 2020 NASCAR Cup campaign by winning the season opening Daytona 500. He then added a victory at Darlington and dominated at Homestead-Miami Speedway Sunday for his third win in the last 12 races.

Hamlin led a race high 137 of the 267 laps for his third win at Homestead and the 40th of his career.  Hamlin took the lead for the final time with 30 laps to go and was able to fend off a hard charging Chase Elliott to win by .895 of a second.

“Our car was really good,” Hamlin said. “This is a setup based off of what we had in the fall here last year going for the championship. Had a strong car all day. Obviously with the laps led and was able to get around Chase (Elliott) there at the end.”

As for Elliott, he led 27 laps and seemed to the only driver with a chance to best Hamlin in the closing stages, especially after he made his final pit stop under green a lap a head of Hamlin. Elliott was in the lead by 1.6 seconds after the stops cycled through, but Hamlin was able to close the gap and retake the lead with 30 to go.   Elliott stayed close but a scrape with the wall with under 5 laps to go ended his hopes for victory.

“Just need to get through lapped traffic better,” Elliott said. “I thought our Hooters Camaro really was good enough to win and I thought we executed a really nice race and kept it off the wall almost the whole race, kinda got it there at the end. But I’m proud of the effort and we’re bringing fast cars right now.”

Ryan Blaney, who had never led a lap at Homestead, nor finished in the top 10 before Sunday, looked strong early on leading the second most laps of the night, 70. In the end he fell short but leaves with his best career Homestead finish of third.  Rookie Tyler Reddick ran an impressive fourth and Aric Almirola finished a season best fifth.

“When we came off pit road after that last green flag stop we were a ways behind those two guys and we made up a lot of ground, tons of ground on them,” Blaney said. “Just got to them and everyone is running the wall.  You just get tight, especially in three and four.  One and two there are multiple lanes, but three and four if you weren’t on the fence when you got 15 laps on your stuff, you were just tight and gonna hit the fence, so that made it hard for us to kind of go once we got there.”

The race finished late in the evening thanks to two stoppages for lightning and one for rain and lightning which delayed the start of the race.  The light shower came just after the engines were fired and caused a delay of 50 minutes. The first lightning stoppage came at lap 4 and lasted just over two hours. The second at lap 33 lasting just under 40 minutes.

From 2002-2019 this Homestead stop on the schedule was the November championship finale. The race, originally scheduled to be run in March, was added back to the schedule as NASCAR makes up races postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The South Florida venue was the first to host fans as 1000 invited guests mainly service members, first responders and their families were spread out among the speedway’s 46,000 seat grandstands.  The race was the race was the second of the day as the Xfinity Series ran their second race of the weekend earlier in the day as that series races to catchup on its postponed season.

Hamlin became the first driver in 2020 to sweep both stages and win the race.   There were a total of 6 cautions, two for weather, two for Stage breaks and two for minor incidents involving first Ryan Newman who went for a solo spin on lap 22, and the Newman and Joey Logano who nearly took each other out while racing deep in the pack on lap 172.

Kyle Busch was sixth, Austin Dillon whose wife had their first child only hours before was seventh. Christopher Bell, William Byron and Brad Keselowski rounded out the top 10.

The race was the first back for Hamlin’s crew chief Chris Gabehart who had been suspended for four races along with several crewmembers after ballast fell from Hamlin’s car on the pace laps for the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte last month.

“I knew that if I was just patient and ran the pace that I wanted and the pace I was comfortable with, we were going to be hard to beat in the long run,” said Hamlin.

The series heads to Talladega Superspeedway next Sunday when there will be an expected crowd of 5000 fans, the largest gather for NASCAR since March.
NASCAR Cup Series Race Results Dixie Vodka 400

Homestead-Miami Speedway

Homestead, Florida

Sunday, June 14, 2020

1. (1)  Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 267.

2. (5)  Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 267.

3. (11)  Ryan Blaney, Ford, 267.

4. (24)  Tyler Reddick #, Chevrolet, 267.

5. (21)  Aric Almirola, Ford, 267.

6. (4)  Kyle Busch, Toyota, 267.

7. (16)  Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 267.

8. (36)  Christopher Bell #, Toyota, 267.

9. (22)  William Byron, Chevrolet, 267.

10. (3)  Brad Keselowski, Ford, 267.

11. (12)  Clint Bowyer, Ford, 267.

12. (6)  Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 267.

13. (17)  Bubba Wallace, Chevrolet, 267.

14. (23)  Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 267.

15. (30)  Michael McDowell, Ford, 267.

16. (9)  Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 266.

17. (10)  Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 266.

18. (8)  Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 266.

19. (18)  John Hunter Nemechek #, Ford, 266.

20. (19)  Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, 266.

21. (15)  Erik Jones, Toyota, 266.

22. (35)  Cole Custer #, Ford, 266.

23. (13)  Chris Buescher, Ford, 266.

24. (33)  Ryan Preece, Chevrolet, 266.

25. (20)  Matt Kenseth, Chevrolet, 266.

26. (7)  Kevin Harvick, Ford, 266.

27. (2)  Joey Logano, Ford, 265.

28. (32)  Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 265.

29. (26)  Corey LaJoie, Ford, 264.

30. (14)  Ryan Newman, Ford, 263.

31. (37)  Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 263.

32. (28)  Brennan Poole #, Chevrolet, 260.

33. (31)  Quin Houff #, Chevrolet, 259.

34. (38)  Timmy Hill(i), Toyota, 257.

35. (34)  BJ McLeod(i), Chevrolet, 256.

36. (29)  Joey Gase(i), Ford, 255.

37. (27)  Josh Bilicki(i), Chevrolet, 245.

38. (25)  JJ Yeley(i), Ford, Fuel Pump, 211.

Average Speed of Race Winner:  127.751 mph.

Time of Race:  3 Hrs, 8 Mins, 6 Secs. Margin of Victory:  .895 Seconds.

Caution Flags:  6 for 27 laps.

Lead Changes:  18 among 7 drivers.

Lap Leaders:   J. Logano 1-8;D. Hamlin 9;J. Logano 10-21;B. Keselowski 22;J. Logano 23-29;C. Elliott 30-36;R. Blaney 37-75;D. Hamlin 76-87;C. Elliott 88-90;R. Blaney 91-120;T. Reddick # 121-122;D. Hamlin 123-193;R. Blaney 194;D. Hamlin 195-217;T. Reddick # 218;K. Busch 219-220;C. Elliott 221-237;D. Hamlin 238-267.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  Denny Hamlin 5 times for 137 laps; Ryan Blaney 3 times for 70 laps; Joey Logano 3 times for 27 laps; Chase Elliott 3 times for 27 laps; Tyler Reddick # 2 times for 3 laps; Kyle Busch 1 time for 2 laps; Brad Keselowski 1 time for 1 lap.

Stage #1 Top Ten: 11,12,8,9,10,2,88,24,14,17

Stage #2 Top Ten: 11,8,9,12,24,88,19,3,18,10

Greg Engle