Homestead is a very interesting place. For many years, it served as NASCAR’s season finale weekend. It’s an intriguing venue with many different lines for drivers. However, NASCAR decided to go in a different direction and move the season finale to Phoenix.
For 2021, Homestead was supposed to be the second week of the season, but the cancellation of the race weekend at Auto Club Speedway resulted in the race being pushed back a week. Apparently, FOX Sports chose not to change the start time, so we ended up with two races that ended at night.
Dixie Vodka 400
Sunday afternoon brought the NASCAR Cup Series back to Homestead for 400 miles of action. It was somewhat surprising that William Byron picked up the win. I wasn’t expecting him to be up there, but then again, you never know.
Racing-wise, Sunday was topsy-turvy. I don’t think anyone was expecting Chris Buescher to win a stage and be one of the main contenders early on. One false move on a restart basically got him stuck toward the back of the top 20, though, and he never recovered. Lead change-wise, this race had as many as Saturday’s Xfinity race, and it was entertaining in its own way.
Prior to the race, FOX Sports spent some time in Tampa with Aric Almirola. I’d definitely argue that Daytona is closer to his hometown than Homestead, but South Florida has a different demographic of race fans than Central Florida.
Here, we spent some time with Almirola’s grandparents before we visited a former school of his, Villa Madonna School, a Catholic school complete with nuns (who were very happy to see Almirola return). It’s a very different kind of atmosphere compared to how a lot of the drivers you see in Cup now came up.
Almirola was far from rich coming up. Yes, he went to a local parochial school located (if Google Maps is accurate) not too far from Downtown Tampa, but he grew up in a fairly middle class setting. He had talent at the local dirt go-kart track, but he needed help to get to where he is today.
Sunday’s race basically had a split personality. There was one group of drivers that were very strong when the sun was up. Buescher fit in here, along with Brad Keselowski and others. The second group included drivers such as Tyler Reddick, who toiled around in the 20s for much of the race before his Chevrolet came to life in the final 100 miles.
Speaking of Byron, he was quiet for much of the race. He scored seven stage points in the first stage, but did it quietly. In the second stage, he was able to sweep past a battle to win the stage in the final quarter-mile or so. From then on, no one could beat him. Reddick thought he could have, but he screwed up the final restart. Let’s put it this way: Had Reddick come back from 11 seconds behind to win Sunday, it would have been one of the great comebacks in recent history.
I found that the broadcast was quite a bit more inclusive Sunday as compared to what we got on Daytona International Speedway’s road course. Viewers got a decent amount of action. Those that were in attendance got to see a good race. The fact that there was a lot of green flag action shouldn’t have been surprising to anyone that’s watched races there over the past few years. The rules package is still not really suited to the track (or possibly any of them), but I think viewers would have been a little entertained.
The final portions of the race saw a lot of emphasis on drivers like Reddick, Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr. while Byron had a comfortable lead and was unchallenged. Outside of them, there wasn’t much else updated. That’s how you could end up being surprised by Kurt Busch racing his way back into the top 10 by the finish after having to stop with 39 laps to go due to a loose wheel.
Yes, the scoring pylon is there for a reason, but when there’s racing going on, you’re not always going to notice that.
Once again, time was tight at the end of the broadcast. FOX was anxious to get to Cherries Wild (which, as a game show fanatic, I can tell you that it is not so great). Viewers only got three quick driver interviews before leaving for the slot machine game show (which apparently doesn’t use a slot machine).
Contender Boats 250
I fully admit that I am not a fan of the fact that they shortened this race to 250 miles. Last year, this was a doubleheader weekend for the Xfinity Series at Homestead, and the Trucks were present as well. This year, there was nothing going on. I think this would have been a 300-mile race had the race not been pushed back a week.
That said, we had an interesting race with controversy at the end. We’ll start right there.
As you may know, Noah Gragson was driving like heck and had a monstrous lead in the closing laps. With three to go, his advantage was nearly nine seconds and climbing by quite a bit a lap. It appears that Gragson’s crew chief was trying to get him to back off. Then, David Starr had a tire unwind in turn 3 while he was trying to get out of Gragson’s way. This was the result.
Naturally, Gragson was quite perturbed. He then went off on Starr during an interview outside of the infield care center, cussing him out and saying that he didn’t belong out there. Yes, a lot of that was heat of the moment-type stuff, but we know that Starr was running 12th at the time of this crash. He was having a legitimately good run. Naturally, Carl Long wasn’t happy about that. He released a statement early Monday morning about it.
The picture shows the tire that came off of Starr’s car. As you can see, it was completely done. Good luck driving on that thing, although it likely wasn’t that bad when it went into the wall. Remember that Starr had to drive on it for a while before he could get it to pit road. Here’s the thing. No one followed up on that during the broadcast. As a result, viewers couldn’t definitively know what happened. If at all possible, FOX Sports 1 should have tried to get someone down there with a camera to take a look at what came off of Starr’s car. I only saw the offending tire on social media Sunday.
Overall, Gragson likely overreacted here during his interview, but he was clearly upset that he had been robbed of victory for the third straight time at Homestead. You’d probably be angry too. At the same time, FOX Sports 1 should have gotten a look at Starr’s tire before they did the interview with Gragson (which occurred after the first GWC). That way, they could have explained the situation a little better to Gragson. Even if that had happened, he still would have been ticked, but maybe he wouldn’t have tried to throw Starr and MBM Motorsports completely under the bus like he did.
In the booth on Saturday for FOX Sports 1 alongside Adam Alexander were Almirola and Kurt Busch. As you may remember, Busch was in the booth for most of the playoff races last year for the then-Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series. There, having repeated reps in the booth allowed Busch to improve his analysis.
Almirola doesn’t have quite as much experience as Busch does. That said, the two drivers seemed to work together fairly well in the booth. They also worked fairly well with Alexander. It’s not going to shock you to hear that Busch was the better of the two analysts, but it’s an experience thing. Almirola is not exactly the most vocal driver in Cup. You really don’t hear from him very much. This past weekend was a bit of an exception, though.
Saturday also marked the NASCAR debut of Santino Ferrucci, the former INDYCAR regular and Haas F1 junior driver. FOX Sports 1 had him introduce himself and give facts about … Italy? OK, he’s got an Italian last name, but he’s from New England and raced on a lot of the same go-kart tracks in his early years as Joey Logano. Seemed really weird.
FOX Sports seems to think that Ferrucci will be a good fit in NASCAR. That remains to be seen. In person, he seems competent and well-spoken. In 2019, he referenced the lack of character at street courses like Monaco and Baku during an interview with Frontstretch in Long Beach. In this case, “character” is not the track’s surroundings because both of those venues have plenty of character. He’s talking about the track surfaces themselves. Of course, if Ferrucci was looking for track surface character, he got plenty of that Saturday en route to a 30th-place finish after having some mechanical issues.
Viewers got a good amount of racing for position Saturday, much more than in Daytona last week. This is a random note, but through three races, 22 drivers eligible for Xfinity points have already earned stage points. A couple of years ago, it was August before you could even get 16.
The race ran long on Saturday, resulting in a shortened post-race show. Despite this, viewers still got interviews with the top four finishers.
Overall, viewers got a good amount of action Saturday, likely more than what you got during the Cup race. However, it is the little things that count. If you see someone go into the wall directly in front of the leader with three laps to go, you want to know why that happened and as quickly as possible. Also, the camera was zoomed in too closely on Gragson, so you couldn’t see trouble until it was too late.
On the technical side, I had some pixilation issues during the broadcast. As you can imagine, that can make it a little difficult to watch a race on TV. Luckily, this was a brief issue and did not affect the telecast for me all that much. If you had similar issues, by all means mention it below.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend, NASCAR is holding a tripleheader at Las Vegas Motor Speedway as part of a shortened trip out west. Cup on Sunday, Xfinity Saturday and Trucks Friday night. Unlike last year, the weather looks good. In California, SRO America has their season-opening weekend at Sonoma Raceway, while Monster Energy AMA Supercross returns from their week off with one of their biggest events of the year, the Daytona Supercross. TV listings can be found in the TV tab above.
We will be back with a look at the action from Las Vegas in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. As of right now, the Critic’s Annex is undecided for this week.
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About the author
Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.
Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.
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