While Denny Hamlin earned a milestone win in his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday night’s Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the 12th race of the 2020 season, there were a multitude of competitors who earned strong results and left Miami satisfied with their performances.
The first was Tyler Reddick. Coming into Miami, Reddick had earned two top-10 results in the last six Cup races and was situated in 18th in the regular-season standings. The key aspect Reddick and his team had was the speed to run toward the front and it was only a matter of time before he could utilize the speed to earn a strong result. When the race proceeded under the lights in Homestead, the California native shined against the veterans and fellow future stars as he ran within the top five all race long despite starting 24th, led his first three career laps in the series and finished within the top three in both stages while earning valuable stage points in his quest to make the playoffs.
In the final laps, Reddick was within sight of the leaders before he drove his No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE home in a solid fourth-place in his first Cup start at Homestead, a track where he won at the last two seasons in the Xfinity Series that clinched him the overall championships. With his fourth-place result, Reddick notched his first top-five finish in his 14th Cup Series career start along with his fourth top-10 result as he is two points shy of cracking the top 16 in the Cup standings. In addition, Reddick leads the Cup Rookie-of-the-Year standings by 70 points over John Hunter Nemechek, who finished 19th at Homestead. With Reddick’s top-five result, this marked the first time since 2007 where a rookie candidate finished inside the top 10 at Homestead.
“I’m really proud of my Chevy Cares Chevrolet team and the effort we showed today,” Reddick said. “We had really good speed today and were able to run up front pretty much all night long. The men and women of RCR and ECR did a great job preparing us with a fast racecar to bring down to my favorite track on the circuit. We were able to use that speed to our advantage and race into the top 10 within the first 30 laps, and were able maintain that track position…We got a little too tight by the end of the night to really make the fence work like I wanted, but all in all, it was a solid effort tonight. I’ve won the past two times I’ve come here, granted in the Xfinity Series, but it was so fun to be ripping the fence with three of the best tonight in the NASCAR Cup Series. It was a hard-fought battle and one we can build momentum off of.”
For this season, there were two rookies who finished in the top-10 results at Homestead as Christopher Bell also earned a decent result of eighth in Leavine Family Racing’s No. 95 Toyota Camry. For the Oklahoma native, the run at Miami and since NASCAR’s return in May produced a major turnaround from the start of his rookie Cup season. Following the first four races of the season, Bell’s average finish in the Cup Series was 29th to go along with two DNFs and a best result of 21st. The following six races, Bell improved his average result to 20th and he was able to claim his first two top-10 career results in the Cup Series. Starting 36th, Bell methodically carved his way through the field and found himself running inside the top 10 throughout the final stage. When the checkered flag flew, Bell finished eighth for his career-best finish in the Cup Series along with his third top-10 result in his 12th series start. The result allowed Bell to gain one position in the standings from 25th to 24th.
“Our Rheem Camry was really, really loose to start the night and then [crew chief] Jason [Ratcliff] did a great job adjusting on it got it pretty close to where I was happy and then we were able to pick our way though there,” Bell said. “The races are so long – there are so many yellows – that I really wasn’t worried about our starting position. I knew that if we had a car that was good; we were going to get up front. I’m not going to say that we’re ready to make the next step, but at least we are being competitive the majority of weeks and we just have to keep it up.”
Next was Aric Almirola. Prior to Homestead, the Florida native, in his third season driving for Stewart-Haas Racing, had an average-finishing result of 17.5 in the first 11 races and only three top-10 results. In addition, his highest-finishing result in the last four Cup races was a 20th-place finish at Charlotte Motor Speedway despite starting on the front row for three consecutive weeks by virtue of a random draw. At Homestead, Almirola started 21st, but by Lap 40, he proved that he had a strong car as he was in eighth. He finished fifth in the first stage and salvaged a 10th-place run in the second stage, which allowed him to gain valuable points towards making the playoffs. With the race progressing in a long green-flag stretch, Almirola kept his No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang near the front and was able to finish in fifth for his first top-five result in this year’s Cup season and his second at Miami. With his finish, Almirola moved from 14th to 13th in the series standings and sets his sights on next weekend’s race at Talladega Superspeedway, the site of Almirola’s last Cup victory dating back to October 2018.
“Man, we finally had a nice clean day today,” Almirola said. “We really needed that as a team. We haven’t raced a full race yet without having something go wrong. This proves we have the speed we need to compete this season if we continue to run clean with no mistakes. Homestead is not an easy track to earn a top-five at either. To get our first of the season here shows we have a lot of potential.”
Following a difficult midweek race at Martinsville Speedway, where a broken crush panel left him exposed to extreme heat behind the steering wheel and retiring in the closing laps while needing medical attention, Sunday’s run at Homestead felt like a win on a day that was already special for Austin Dillon. Prior to the main event, the Welcome, North Carolina, native and his wife, Whitney, celebrated the birth of the couple’s son, Ace. When the green flag dropped, Dillon, who started 16th, was able to navigate his No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE inside the top 10, where he spent a majority of the race. Despite finishing eighth in the second stage and earning a handful of points towards his quest to make the playoffs, Dillon was running seventh towards the beginning of the final stage when he was penalized following a pit stop and sent to the rear for an uncontrolled tire violation. Despite the penalty, Dillon was able to carve his way through the field and finish in seventh for his fourth top-10 result of this season, his second in a row at Miami and to move from 17th to 16th in the series standings.
“We took our No. 3 Dow / Behr Ultra Scuff Defense Chevy to a top-ten [result],” Dillon said. “That was a fun race for the Dow Coatings team. We were not good to start – we started from the back a couple of times. Made big adjustments – [crew chief] Justin [Alexander] made a good adjustment about halfway through the race to allow us to get some stage points. Things started turning for us and we got a good restart. And then a caution came out, pitted and we had a tire that got away. Unfortunate, but we kept our heads down and dug hard. We were able to come all the way back to P-7. Strong run for our team.”
Four days after finishing in the top 10 at Martinsville Speedway, momentum continues to roll towards the favor of William Byron and the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE team as they capped off their first back-to-back top-10 results of the 2020 Cup Series season. Starting 22nd, Byron’s car came to life under the lights in Miami as he battled inside the top five most of the race along with teammates Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman. He finished eighth in the first stage and fifth in the second stage as he also collected valuable stage points in his quest to make the playoffs. When the checkered flag flew, Byron settled in ninth for his fourth top-10 result of the season and his first at Homestead. With the result, Byron gained one position in the standings from 16th to 15th.
“We had a good and solid night and honestly it was nice to be able to run in the top five,” Byron said. “We continued to adjust on the car as the race went along there. Hopefully we can continue to string runs together like we had tonight and be able make the right adjustments at the right point in the race to be in contention in the end. We’re getting close to that first win we just need to continue working on a couple things to get faster. On to Talladega.”
Last but not least, Bubba Wallace, who has been a key spokesperson in highlighting social injustice treatment/police brutality towards African Americans, raising prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement within the racing community and whose call to have the display of the Confederate flag banned from all NASCAR events approved and granted from NASCAR a few days later, backed up his strong performance at Martinsville Speedway with a decent performance and a late rally at Homestead. Starting 17th, Wallace spent the majority of the race inside the top 20, where he would finish in both stages. With the race progressing towards a long green-flag stretch, Wallace was able to move within the top 15 in the closing laps and settle in 13th for his fifth top-15 finish of the season, third in the last four Cup races, and his best result in Miami, which left the Alabama native situated in 20th in the standings.
The NASCAR Cup Series will return on June 21 to race at Talladega Superspeedway for the second superspeedway event of the season. The race will air at 3 p.m. ET on FOX.