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Truck, Xfinity drivers get an early jump on Homestead-Miami preparation

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Four drivers with hopes of being among the Championship 4 in either the Camping World Truck or Xfinity Series come November got an early look at Homestead-Miami Speedway this week.

Erik Jones, William Byron, Christopher Bell and Cole Custer participated in team testing at the 1.5-mile facility on Monday and Tuesday, which hosts the season finale for all three NASCAR national series. The track time was vital for the rookies as the new Chase format in each series guarantees the championship will be decided at Homestead.

Jones was the lone Xfinity Series driver at the test and would be the current top seed with three wins. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver also has experience at Homestead, having competed in both the Camping World Truck and Xfinity races there last season. He earned a top-10 finish in both events.

There are six races remaining before the Chase starts at Kentucky Speedway on Sept. 24.

“I think there’s a lot of things we all as drivers like about running here and one of them is the fact if you run up against the wall, it’s one of the few places we do that,” Jones told Homestead representatives during a break in testing. “And just how slick and wore out it is. It puts on a great race not just for us but the fans as well.

“It’s definitely probably the most fun mile-and-a-half race of the year, I’d say. But just the way tires wear out makes it fun for us. Kind of that conservation takes us back to our short track roots and some of the things we grew up doing, so to have that on a mile-and-a-half makes it a lot of fun.”

Byron, Bell and Custer represented the Truck Series at the test.

The current top seed in the series with five wins, Byron has been nearly untouchable through the first 12 races of the season. This week was the first time the Kyle Busch Motorsports driver had seen Homestead-Miami Speedway and he quickly learned the preferred way around the track was on the top.

Byron said his No. 4 team spent time learning what they would need on a long run as well as going through things teams normally don’t have time to do during a normal race weekend.

“It’d be awesome,” Byron said of being one of the final four drivers at Homestead in November. “That’s honestly our goal, especially with the wins this year we’re trying to make sure we get to the final round and be able to compete for a championship. This is a tough racetrack, but hopefully, we can get here and have a shot at being one of the final four guys and that would mean the most. So that’s what we’re preparing for.”

Bell’s No. 4 team used the changing track conditions as a learning experience knowing the weather will be different for the race in November. Monday’s session was abbreviated due to rain.

Bell is Chase eligible courtesy of a win at Gateway and competed at Homestead last year when he finished 25th after running out of fuel.

“The weather is going to be a little bit different but it worked out because we got to see a little bit of everything,” Bell said. “We got to see hot and then it kind of cooled off and we thought it was going to rain … We’ve definitely learned a lot and made our stuff a lot better so I’m excited to get back here. It’s a shame NASCAR only races here once a year because it’s a really cool place.”

NASCAR returns to Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 18 – 20.

Follow @KellyCrandall