Miami is an international city and a big-time sports town. It often hosts Super Bowls, and the Heat, Marlins and Dolphins keep area fans entertained throughout the year. Professional golf and tennis have Miami area stops.
The sprawling city and its beaches don’t stop for any of those events, and the same is true for NASCAR’s Ford Championship Weekend, held 30 miles south in Homestead at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
NASCAR has made inroads into the Miami sports culture in recent years, trying to spread emphasis on the championship weekend – when its Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series titles are decided – from the Homestead area into the core of Miami and its famous beaches.
Signage announces the arrival of the NASCAR traveling circus, and NASCAR haulers and racing displays have been planted on South Beach to attract notice from curious beach roamers.
How successful the sport has been in convincing Miami that a major national championship has come to town for the weekend is debatable. Track baron Bruton Smith famously referred to the Miami area as “North Cuba” as part of his push to have the sport’s championship weekend moved elsewhere, perhaps Las Vegas Motor Speedway, one of Smith’s tracks.
NASCAR’s sales job will continue this weekend along the south Florida shores as drivers and teams from all three major NASCAR series converge on the area to decide championships. The spotlighted event, of course, will be Sunday’s Sprint Cup title run featuring Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson. Keselowski has a 20-point lead entering the race.
Although it’s outside traditional stock-car country, Homestead-Miami Speedway presents a good landscape for the season finales. The track has produced good racing since its was reconfigured from a relatively flat six-degree banking track in 2003 to one where the turns now are banked progressively from 18 to 20 degrees. Originally, the track was a rectangular miniature of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but that configuration proved to be inappropriate, with the sharp turns leading to bad accidents.
The track is 1.5 miles in length, but it generally produces racing a level above its brethren in the so-called 1.5-mile “cookie cutter” category.
“It is such a cool track to race on because of the progressive banking and the way the racing groove is,” said Martin Truex Jr. “At the start of the weekend, the groove starts out on the middle or top side of the track, which is what I just love about it. It is such a fun place to race on.”
Kevin Harvick, winner last week at Phoenix, said Homestead provides multiple opportunities.
“You can charge turn one a little bit more than you can at most places, because as you get through the corner, the banking seems to get steeper all the way through, and you have options,” he said. “You can run the top, you can run the bottom, you can run the middle or you can split the middle-top or middle-bottom and make your car turn. It's just a unique race track, and it seems to fit the guys that like to move around and make their cars work in different spots."
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.