Homestead, FL – On a hot and humid weekend in South Dade, NASCAR was back in action as Homestead – Miami Speedway played home to the second race of the Round of 8 in the playoffs, with a trip to the 2023 Championship Round in Phoenix on the line in the Cup Series.
The 1.5-mile oval circuit at Homestead reprised its role as one of the final races of the NASCAR Cup season, with only Martinsville and Phoenix left.
The marquee race on Sunday also had a new sponsor – the 4Ever 400 sponsored by Mobil 1, which is a nod to the NASCAR veteran, #4 Kevin Harvick. The former 2014 champion is racing in his final season, with HMS being one of many tracks honoring the legend of the sport.
#20 Christopher Bell, who was under the cut line heading into Homestead, had a sluggish start to the race but found success in the latter end as he ultimately pulled away and secured the win, securing himself a spot to compete for the championship.
Baptist Health 200
In addition to Sunday’s race, there were also two races on Saturday, with the Craftsman Truck Series and Xfinity Series also nearing the end of the season.
The Baptist Health 200 was won by #42 Carson Hocevar, who clinched a spot in the Championship 4 in the truck series. It continues to be a fabulous season for Hocevar, with all of his four career NASCAR wins coming this year.
“It kills me I can’t do a burn-out but we have to take this truck to Phoenix,’’ said Hocevar postrace. “This truck was so good. We just got behind on pit stops and just lost track position which was unfortunate, but man, it’s so good to feel like this.”
Last year’s truck series champion, #38 Zane Smith, gave up the lead to Hocevar with 11 laps to go and was 2.7 seconds behind him on the final lap.
However, his second-place finish was eventually disqualified after it was revealed that his Ford had an unapproved windshield support, disqualifying him from the race.
Contender Boats 300
Later in the day, the Contender Boats 300 was decided by #1 Sam Mayer, who won his first-ever race on an oval track by holding off Riley Herbst by a mere .227 of a second.
Much like Hocevar, Mayer redeemed a spot to compete in the Xfinity Series championship with the win. He led 46 total laps including the final 30 of the race.
A late tap into the wall on Turn 3 by Mayer gave Herbst an opportunity to catch up, but it was too little, too late. Herbst was dominant up until the end, leading 114 of the 200-lap race.
Dale Jr. casually running top 10 right now pic.twitter.com/H2oXReUCsK
— Rubbin is Racing (@rubbinisracing) October 21, 2023
Maybe the biggest headline of this race was the return of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Despite retiring as a full-time driver years ago, he found an open seat in the #88 car and pleased viewers with a fifth-place position.
Setting Up The 4Ever 400
Heading into the premiere race on Sunday, there were eight drivers in contention for a spot in the final round of the playoffs at Phoenix Raceway in two weeks. Based on both wins and placements through all of the playoffs, the standings entering the Homestead race were as follows:
1. #5 Kyle Larson (2022 Winner @ HMS) (Clinched a spot in the Championship 4)
2. #24 William Byron
3. #19 Martin Truex Jr. (Pole Position)
4. #11 Denny Hamlin
– Cut Line –
5. #20 Christopher Bell
6.#45 Tyler Reddick
7. #12 Ryan Blaney
8. #17 Chris Buescher
Truex had the fastest car on the field in qualifying on Saturday morning, meaning his #19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry started the race in first place, with #23 Bubba Wallace by his side in Row One.
“I really didn’t expect to get the pole honestly,’’ said Truex to the media. “Even after practice, I thought the car was good on the long run and needed to make some tweaks to be better for tomorrow, but pretty excited to be on pole here after that.”
This is the REAL DEAL! 😎
— Jake Gibson (@JakeTheEmcee) October 22, 2023
Larson, who won the Dixie-Vodka 400 last year at Homestead, has already secured a spot in the Championship 4 thanks in part to a win in Las Vegas last week.
Yet Another Homestead Classic
The first stage of the race was clean, with no major altercations between cars. Truex looked promising to start but eventually fell back by a few spots. In any event, all of the playoff racers were in contention as the sun began to set.
Past the second stage of the race, things got a bit sloppy. Likely the most notable event of the race occurred near pit-road.
Larson, along with Blaney, approached pit-road at the same time while being first and second in the race at the time. Blaney had slowed down, but Larson kept his speed until the very end.
When he swerved to avoid ramming him, he turned to the right and slammed into the safer barriers near the pit road entrance, blowing them up and scattering sand all over.
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) October 22, 2023
Blaney’s car survived, but Larson’s car was damaged beyond repair. Despite the DNF, he’s still guaranteed a spot in the championship, but it did relay the race for some time due to cleanup.
Joe Gibbs Racing, which featured two playoff drivers in Hamlin and Truex, had a very rough ending to the race with less than 40 laps to go. Bell finally took advantage of the race restarts and sprinted to the lead, while Hamlin spun into the wall in Turn 1, shutting down his engine and taking himself out of the race.
As the field was preparing for a restart, Truex unexpectedly drove his car down pit road, stating that he thought his engine was about to blow up. Sure enough, smoke began to shoot out of the Camry, and he was taken out of the race as well.
Bell held off Blaney in the closing laps, ultimately securing the checkered flag by 1.6 seconds.
“I’ve got the best team behind me, honestly I don’t know how we did it, that race was a whirlwind,’’ said Bell postrace. “I was about ready to throw the towel in during that second stage, I got really frustrated. But crew chief Adam Stevens kept after it and gave me what I needed.”
With the win, Bell has punched his ticket to the Championship 4, joining Larson. At the moment, Byron and Blaney are holding on to third and fourth place, with Reddick, Truex, Hamlin, and Buescher all facing potential elimination.
The final two spots will be decided next Sunday as NASCAR heads to Martinsville Speedway on Saturday, October 28th, and Sunday the 29th. The Xfinity 500 on Sunday begins at 2 p.m.