Dash 4 Cash in Miami won’t be just another day at the beach

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The NASCAR Xfinity Series will have double vision of sorts with a rare doubleheader of races this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Included in the two races are several key storylines:

* NASCAR on NBC analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr. climbs back behind the wheel to drive the No. 8 JR Motorsports Chevrolet in Saturday’s race. It will be his first start since the Xfinity race at Darlington last August (finished fifth).

* Sunday’s race will mark the second segment of the four-race Xfinity Dash 4 Cash program. Noah Gragson won the first $100,000 prize for having the highest finish of Dash contestants this past weekend at Atlanta, and returns for an encore bow in Sunday’s designated Dash race.

* Sunday’s race for the big money will boil down to a battle of JR Motorsports with Gragson and teammate Daniel Hemric, vs. Kaulig Racing with AJ Allmendinger, who won at Atlanta, which gave him an automatic berth in Sunday’s race, and Justin Haley.

* And like Atlanta, a cool $100k is on the line for the four Dash contestants.

“It’s a huge deal,” Hemric said in a teleconference. “First of all, it’s an incredible program that Xfinity and Comcast offers and spotlights the Xfinity Series drivers and gives an opportunity to race for something extra on the line.”

Because he’s a part-time driver in the Xfinity Series, slated for 21 of the season’s 33 races, Hemric will not take part in Saturday’s race, as his boss and teammate Earnhardt will be behind the wheel.

But then Hemric comes back in the same car (unless Junior wrecks on Saturday) on Sunday to go for the 100 grand.

“I’m very proud of JR Motorsports to put me in a situation where myself and my teammate, Noah Gragson, who won the Dash 4 Cash last week, can go down to Homestead and hopefully have a shot at winning again,” Hemric said. “For me personally, building my own cars and having to struggle with the finance stuff my entire career trying to get to the racetrack, it means so much to these race teams for that amount of cash as well.

“So I take a lot of pride in being one of the four guys with that incredible opportunity come Homestead. I’ve been fortunate to win one of them (a Dash bonus) in the past. So for that, hopefully I can try and do it again.”

This weekend’s twin bill is also in another unique position. Up to now, the Xfinity Series has raced at Homestead-Miami each year since 2002 in the fall, typically a week or two before Thanksgiving, in the annual Ford Championship Weekend.

But the season-ending and championship-deciding races have been moved to Phoenix Raceway this year, leaving Homestead in a totally different place on the schedule, five months earlier than its usual place on drivers’ dance cards.

“There’s a lot of challenges that place has to offer,” Hemric said. “I think back to myself personally and the Xfinity races I’ve ran there, most of them have started in the daytime and pretty warm, but it’s always been in the fall.

“And when the sun goes down, the temperature really goes down, the racetrack changes a lot and that’s when you see guys running a huge variance of lines all the way from the bottom to the top.

“That’s what’s going to be interesting about the dynamic and what we’re going to face this coming week. … And we all have to turn cars around. So everybody’s going to have to run that same car again (the following day).”

Because Earnhardt is driving in Saturday’s race, Hemric will have to start at the back of the pack in Sunday’s race, along with Allmendinger.

Speaking of Allmendinger, he originally was not scheduled to compete in either race this weekend. But his Atlanta win quickly changed that.

“Obviously getting that win at Atlanta was pretty big for everyone at Kaulig Racing and we finished third,” said Haley. “We’ve had a lot of speed the past few races, which is obviously really refreshing.

“We worked a lot of long, hard hours during quarantine, before NASCAR and the state really shut us down. So we kind of got ahead where I think other teams didn’t. So we kind of hit the ground running after we came out of (the COVID-19 pandemic hiatus) in the past few races.

“Obviously, having two cars from Kaulig Racing in the show to race for it is obviously big. And being able to go there and we had speed coming off a mile-and-a-half and we’re going to another mile-and-a-half is good. So we’ll see where it takes us.”

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