Regardless of delays, viewers watch Hamlin win the Homestead Dixie Vodka 400 dwell | Colusa solar herald

The 1,000 or so in the Homestead Miami Speedway grandstands on Sunday for NASCAR’s Dixie Vodka 400 were part of a monumental moment in American sport. The invited military personnel and first responders, their families, New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara and at least one die-hard NASCAR fan were among the first to watch a professional live sporting event as the coronavirus pandemic initially brought sport to a standstill in the middle -March and led to drastic changes in everyday life.

They got a true summer reception in South Florida.

90 degrees heat. Unpredictable (but completely predictable) weather. A pre-race message from Pitbull (“God bless. Stay blessed. Dale”). A rainbow before the rain actually touched the track. More than four hours late.

And despite everything, finally and in spurts, the 267-lap race to which they were invited.

It ended with Denny Hamlin beating Chase Elliott for victory in a two-driver race over the wild final 50 laps. Ryan Blaney and Tyler Reddick also made late advances, finishing third and fourth and within two and a half seconds of Hamlin.

Hamlin, who won the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Toyota drove and also won the first two stages of the race as the leader over 80 and 160 laps respectively. He is the first driver in the Cup series this year to cross all three stages of a race.

But it took a while before the race could really start.

The Dixie Vodka 400, the final of four races at Homestead-Miami Speedway, was originally scheduled to start at 3:56 p.m., but fog at Turn 4 and lightning in the area caused a 55-minute delay.

When the green flag finally started at 4:51 p.m., it took five laps. More lightning. More delays, worth two hours and eight minutes. The 38 cars sat at the end of the pit lane, covers up, drivers out.

In the middle of that delay, there was excitement when drivers re-ignited their engines only to have another lightning strike within 10 miles of the track, forcing NASCAR to restart its 30-minute timer.

7:10 p.m .: After the pace laps before the restart, the race is again under the green flag. They made it on lap 33. Again, lightning struck. Another 38 minutes under red warning and a total of one hour before the race continued at a sunset behind Turn 1 with around 250 fans still on the track.

The race went on under the lights and into the night.

“It’s getting cooler,” said Hamlin before the second leg began. “We’ll do our best to keep up with it.”

Hamlin had no problem adapting, running 138 laps throughout the race, including the final 30, to take his third Cup streak win.

Aside from weather delays and mid-race adjustments, Homestead-Miami Speedway has followed a similar format to the last seven races of the Cup series since NASCAR’s season resumed in mid-May last month.

There was no exercise. There was no qualifying. The teams are limited to 16 crew members, including the driver, and are restricted to certain on-site work areas. Everyone goes through a health check before entering. Masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment are mandatory.

“At the moment everything is so different that nothing feels normal,” said Kyle Busch on Saturday. “You’re coming to the racetrack. It’s very empty. It feels like you’re here for a test session, a test race or something. “

And then add in the relative loss of importance of Homestead-Miami Speedway to NASCAR’s overall season outlook.

This was the first time in 18 years that NASCAR weekend in Homestead was not a championship weekend. Homestead races have been postponed to the early part of the schedule – originally March 20-22, before COVID-19 changed those plans – and the 2020 championship races postponed to Phoenix.

The passion is still there. The pressure to win? Not as much in June as in November.

“If we’re down here this time with no championship at stake, it will certainly be different,” said Busch, the Cup Series defending champion. “It’s a bit bittersweet that we’re not taking advantage of this opportunity, but overall I have the feeling that it’s like any other race now.”

But a step towards a normal racing environment came on Sunday with 1,000 guests – mainly military personnel, first aiders and their families – in the 46,000-seat grandstands for the Dixie Vodka 400. It was the first time that the fans had attended a live professional Americans have been a sporting event since the sport postponed three months ago. NASCAR ran its first month of racing on empty speedways.

Up to 5,000 will be in the stands at Talladega Motor Speedway next week as NASCAR continues its “very methodical, very measured” approach to bringing fans back and serving as a potential template for other leagues.

“It’s great,” said Jimmie Johnson, seven-time Cup Series champion. “Of course, it will be difficult for a thousand people in such a large venue to generate the energy we normally have, but from my point of view, understanding procedures and protocols is an important first step for us to eventually fill the stands . So I am pleased that we can now take the first step and look forward to where it will lead us in the future. “

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nunez, and Miami-Dade County’s Mayor Carlos Gimenez addressed the sparse crowd before the race, thanking the military and first responders for their presence.

“You are few, but you are powerful,” said Nunez. “We appreciate what you do for us. We stand behind you. We don’t just honor those who have served. We serve those who serve. “

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