The only lightning that NASCAR fans like is the Cars character.
Sunday’s Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway was plagued by lightning strikes that forced three hour-long delays. Once the skies were finally cleared, Denny Hamlin was in Victory Lane for the third time in the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season.
Hamlin and Joey Logano drew the front row for the duo’s first top-two starts of the year. Quin Houff and B.J. McLeod, the latter making his first start with Spire Motorsports, started at the rear after failing inspection multiple times and making unapproved adjustments, respectively.
The race is the first since the season resumed in May to allow spectators. As part of NASCAR’s reopening plan, 1,000 military personnel and their families were permitted to show up, with one notable attendee being NFL player Alvin Kamara. The New Orleans Saints running back’s interest in NASCAR had been piqued after the sanctioning body banned the Confederate flag from its races earlier in the week.
Rain continued to be a thorn in NASCAR’s backside when it and lightning struck moments after the command to start engines was given, leading to over an hour of waiting. Similar strikes would take place during the day, causing intermittent stops in the race.
Logano led early while Team Penske team-mate Brad Keselowski quickly pounced to take second from Hamlin. After five laps, yet another delay occurred for lightning, this time lasting over two hours.
During the delay, Clint Bowyer‘s spotter Brett Griffin tweeted a photo of a waterspout forming near the speedway.
As the race resumed, so did Logano’s lead after a brief struggle with Hamlin. Meanwhile, rookie Tyler Reddick, who won the Xfinity Series‘ season finales at Homestead to clinch the series championships in 2018 and 2019, entered the top ten.
On lap 22, Ryan Newman spun off turn four after suffering a flat rear tyre. On pit road, an issue with one of Keselowski’s air guns caused him to drop to ninth for the restart, while Ty Dillon was penalised for speeding and Matt Kenseth returned to pit road to tighten a front tyre.
The green flag waved on lap 25 with Logano leading Reddick, though Elliott overtook the former for the top spot five laps later. On lap 33, a third lightning strike led to an additional hour-long red flag.
When the race switched to caution flag conditions, Logano collided with Houff on pit road, with Kevin Harvick and Matt DiBenedetto suffering damage.
Lap 36 saw the next restart with Elliott and Blaney in front. As Reddick climbed to third, Logano fell out of the top ten by lap 40.
With five laps remaining in the stage, Hamlin passed Blaney for the lead and the eventual stage win. Behind the two were Reddick, Elliott, Aric Almirola, Keselowski, Alex Bowman, William Byron, Bowyer, and Chris Buescher.
The second stage began on lap 88 with Hamlin and Elliott occupying the front row. Hamlin sparred with Elliott for two laps before Blaney and Elliott pushed ahead and initiated their own battle. Hamlin eventually claimed second from Elliott.
Green-flag pit stops began as the race crossed the 120-lap mark. Reddick operated on an alternate pit strategy that allowed him to briefly lead his first career Cup laps before relinquishing it on pit road. By the cycle’s completion, Hamlin was back in front.
Hamlin comfortably led en route to the stage victory. Reddick and Elliott respectively finished second and third, though they faced near-incidents when the former made contact with Blaney and the latter faced heavy bumping from behind by Logano, which some speculate stemmed from their wreck together late in the Supermarket Heroes 500 earlier in the season.
Blaney, Byron, Bowman, Martin Truex Jr., Austin Dillon, Kyle Busch, and Almirola also scored stage points. Dillon had celebrated the birth of his son Ace earlier in the day.
Between stages, Kurt Busch was slapped with an uncontrolled tyre penalty. Hamlin won the race off pit road to retain the lead.
The sixth caution came out on lap 170 when Logano blocked Newman entering turn one, causing the latter to ram the #22’s rear. The damage to Newman’s car forced him (and many of the leaders) to pit road, though both drivers saved their cars, prompting questions as to why it warranted a yellow flag. ARCA Menards Series driver Ty Gibbs tweeted, “Nobody spun so why is there a caution?”
As Hamlin beat Elliott out of the pits, Dillon received an uncontrolled tyre penalty. The green flag waved on lap 175.
Behind Hamlin, Blaney, and Elliott a pair of rookies in Reddick and Christopher Bell enjoyed runs in the top ten. Blaney took the lead on lap 195 before losing it to Hamlin. As the final green-flag pit cycle approached, drivers like Harvick and Buescher began experiencing flat tyres that forced them to pit road.
Said stops came with 50 laps remaining. Reddick continued to stay out longer than others, allowing him to hold the lead before pitting, with Kyle Busch also spending time in front until he also went to the pits. Newman suffered a speeding infraction on his stop.
Elliott shuffled back into the lead once stops were completed. However, on lap 239, he had another encounter with Logano when he was boxed in by the lapped car, which Hamlin capitalised on to pass Elliott for first on the outside.
Clean air reigned supreme as Hamlin pulled off to score his third win of 2020, third at Homestead, and first at the track since 2013. It is the 40th Cup win of Hamlin’s career, tying him with Mark Martin.
It is also a strong return race for Hamlin’s crew chief Chris Gabehart, who sat out the last four rounds due to suspension.
“This one is real special,” Hamlin described in a post-race interview.
Elliott and Blaney finished second and third, respectively. Reddick scored his first career top five as he finished fourth, while Almirola secured his first top five of the season. J.J. Yeley was the race’s first and lone retiree when he exited on lap 232 due to fuel pressure loss.