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Kevin Harvick is old enough to remember a time before NASCAR held all its championships in one place to end the season. He was there at Homestead-Miami Speedway for all 18 years the track hosted NASCAR Championship Weekend, from its first year in 2002 all the way through its final go-around in 2019.
He’s still around for NASCAR’s new championship era, with the final weekend now set for Phoenix Raceway for the second consecutive season.
“I might be showing my age,” Harvick said, recounting all his different trips to Miami-Dade County and all the different ways NASCAR concluded its seasons in the past 25 years.
Harvick was also the most outspoken driver about those annual season-ending trips to South Florida getting a little bit stale by the end. He was a proponent of moving Championship Weekend around, so he welcomed the move to Avondale, Arizona, last year.
One move wasn’t enough for the 45-year-old, though. Harvick, who will start fourth at the 2021 Dixie Vodka 400 on Sunday in Homestead, wants to see Championship Weekend rotate to even more cities and Homestead-Miami, he said, should be a regular stop.
“Homestead definitely has to be back in that championship mix,” said Harvick, who drives the No. 4 Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing and won the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Homestead-Miami Speedway. “I love the fact that we mixed the schedule up. Because of the pandemic, things have changed this year, but I don’t agree with the way that the championship schedule came out virtually exactly the same as it was last year. I think that there should be some sort of rotation of those playoff races.
“The championship race should rotate every single year to a different venue and obviously Homestead, from a track standpoint and weather standpoint, should be in that mix of five or six tracks that are capable of holding that event at the end of the year.”
As NASCAR faced attendance and television ratings issues throughout the latter half of last decade, attendance at Homestead fell, too. When Phoenix underwent significant renovations, Arizona became an attractive destination to host Championship Weekend in 2019.
Alex Bowman, who drives the No. 88 Chevrolet Camaro for Hendrick Motorsports, is a native of Tucson, Arizona, and was excited to see Championship Weekend come to his home track last year, albeit without fans because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He was also happy to see it return to Phoenix this year to see what the venue can look like with, ideally, a real crowd in attendance.
Once Phoenix gets its shot, Bowman would be happy to see Championship Weekend rotate, too.
“I would love to see it rotate. I just want to see it get back to that atmosphere. That atmosphere there was always so cool and obviously last year we just weren’t in a situation where we could have that atmosphere, so hopefully that comes back with some normalcy and all that,” Bowman said. “Whether it rotates every year or spends two years somewhere, or whatever — I think would be really cool.”
Miami still managed to play an important part in the calendar last season, as the venue became the first to host fans amid the coronavirus pandemic when it welcomed 1,000 military personnel and family members to the track. This year, caps a three-week, season-opening Florida swing after Daytona International Speedway hosted the first two weekends of the season earlier this month.
It’s a different feeling now when NASCAR comes down to the Miami metropolitan area, but the track still presents a unique challenge for drivers and the emphasis on racing against the wall makes it an exciting track.
More than a year after it last hosted a championship, Homestead is still championship-worthy.
“It’s one of my favorite places, even as a fan just watching how the race cars get driven,” Bowman said. “It’s a really technical race track just because of how close you have to run to the wall to make speed and how the tire wear is, and everything, so I really enjoy it.”