After 18 straight years, Homestead-Miami Speedway won’t host 2020 NASCAR Cup Series finale

For the first time in nearly two decades, the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series finale will not take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the racing league announced Tuesday.

The 1.5-mile track in South Miami-Dade County is still scheduled to host this year’s finale, capping off an 18-year run as the home of NASCAR championships. Next year, racers will visit Homestead early in the regular season of the NASCAR Cup Series, on March 22, giving the speedway a spring spectacle.

The finale will be moved to ISM Raceway in Phoenix.

“Ralph Sanchez’s vision for our track more than 25 years ago was to host spring racing and be a major part of South Florida’s March calendar,” said Homestead-Miami Speedway President Matthew Becherer in a statement. “Miami has historically hosted many popular events during March, including the Miami Open, the Florida Derby, Ultra and the Calle Ocho Music Festival, among others, and this move will integrate us into this impressive mix.

“A March race weekend affords us many unique opportunities to entertain the South Florida community as we host NASCAR races for many years to come.”

The 2020 season will mark the 25th anniversary of the Homestead-Miami Speedway, which was founded by the late businessman Ralph Sanchez in 1995 to spur economic development after Hurricane Andrew in 1992, which devastated Homestead and south Miami-Dade.

Neal Gulkis, senior director of communications for Homestead-Miami Speedway, said this isn’t like Miami Beach not getting the Democratic National Convention or any slam on the track or South Florida.

“The 1.5-mile track with variable banking produces some of the best racing all year,” Gulkis said.

The Ford EcoBoost 400, Championship Weekend’s main event that decides NASCAR’s Cup Series championship, has sold out each of the last five years.

“We’re going to have NASCAR races here for many years to come,” Gulkis said. “It’s not like it’s the end of an era.”

It’s the end of Homestead’s run of having Championship Weekend to itself, which it’s had since 2002, Tony Stewart’s first championship in NASCAR’s top series. But expect Homestead to be part of a rotation of sites used for Championship Weekend.

As for the shift to the spring, that’s when the big wheels turned toward Homestead during its early years. The first 13 IndyCar races at Homestead, 1996 through 2008, were in early March.

“Ralph Sanchez envisioned spring racing,” Gulkis said. “In a way, it’s back to our roots.”

Last year, NASCAR crowned champions in all three of its national series in Homestead for the 17th year during the Ford Championship Weekend. Those included Joey Logano (Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series), Tyler Reddick (NASCAR XFINITY Series) and Brett Moffitt (NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series).

The 2019 Ford Championship Weekend will be held Nov. 15-17 at the speedway.

Homestead’s been the main beneficiary to NASCAR’s changes in championship format, from adding the playoff-style Chase for the Cup in 2004 to the adjustments made to the Chase designed to keep drama in the final race.

And the weekend being the climax has drawn some attention and celebrity it wouldn’t otherwise. When NASCAR icon Jeff Gordon finished his career at Homestead in 2015, Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton and auto racing legend Mario Andretti honored him with their presence (and Gordon threw a spectacular party at the Versace Mansion on Ocean Drive).

The year before, walking behind Denny Hamlin’s pit became a problem over the last half of the race — a large clump of folks with pit row passes clumped around basketball Hall of Famer Michael Jordan as he watched Hamlin come up short in his championship run.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said during on a teleconference Tuesday evening that the impetus to move the finale from Homestead to Phoenix partially came from a competition standpoint. Having a championship race at the same track every year could give certain drivers an advantage, he said.

“Going to the same track year in and year out could potentially favor certain drivers,” he said.

He added that ISM Speedway had received significant investment and that Phoenix offered NASCAR a productive sports market.

“We thought it was natural for us to make that rotation,” he said.

O’Donnell said Miami-Homestead has been a “terrific host for the championship” and has “put on tremendous racing.”

“Having full confidence that that will continue allowed us to make a change in the championship,” he said. “FOX was very interested in having Miami as part of their schedule of events as well, so we were able to really enhance the spring portion of our schedule.”

Joey Logano, who celebrated his NASCAR Cup Series Championship win in Homestead in 2018, said in an interview with NASCAR that he was excited for the change in scenery — and wanted even more change.

“That’s a big change. I kind of like that it’s moved,” he said. “I think we should move it every year, move it like the Super Bowl.”