To the delight and/or relief of fantasy racers everywhere, the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will come to an end on Sunday after the checkered flag waves on the Ford EcoBoost 400. The events at Homestead-Miami Speedway have always been wild-cards, in my opinion, and for that reason alone, I’m not the biggest fan of this particular venue. Some teams use this race as a test session of sorts, preparing for the upcoming season. When this happens, engine failures and other mechanical issues can occur–none of which are predictable. Furthermore, statistics tend to be skewed; Jimmie Johnson‘s average finish here is 13.5, but how much of that is because he wasn’t running at full speed and being conservative to not lose the championship? Also, you can add the fact that we only visit this track once a year to the list of things that make this race unpredictable. To put it simply, Homestead is on the bottom of my list of favorite tracks, but that may just be me.
On a side note: I would like to thank everyone for following along on my Fantasy NASCAR Previews this season, and I hope they helped you in your leagues. Until next year…
During the Last Race at Homestead…This was “The Battle,” with Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards fighting for the 2011 Sprint Cup championship. We all know how that ended. Martin Truex, Jr., Matt Kenseth, and Jeff Gordon rounded out the top 5 behind the #14 and the #99.
Practice Schedule…Same as what we’ve had as of late, for the most part. There will be a practice session on Friday starting at 1:30 pm, followed by qualifying at 6:00 pm. The on Saturday, the first practice will start around 1:00 pm with Happy Hour set to begin at 3:00 pm. The Ford EcoBoost 400 should go green around 3:15 pm. All times are in Eastern.
Top Fifteen Ranking Entering The Ford EcoBoost 400:
*Chase participants marked in red*
1. Jimmie Johnson – The only thing that Jimmie Johnson will be worried about this weekend is dominating the Ford EcoBoost 400, and there’s no reason to think that he won’t do just that. To put it simply, Five Time is going to make Brad Keselowski earn this championship. This team has been at the top of their game all season long on the intermediate race tracks to say the least, and you can go back and watch the tape of Texas a couple weeks ago to remind yourself. Pure domination. Jimmie Johnson has never won at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but he’s never really had anything to race for when the series got here. Many times he was able to take his foot off the gas and just ride to collect the championship. This time around, Johnson will be out for blood, and he’s my pick to win the Ford EcoBoost 500. He has led at least one lap in each of the last six races at Homestead and should lead a bunch more on Sunday afternoon. Johnson’s best finish here is 2nd, and he accomplished that in both 2004 and 2010.
2. Martin Truex, Jr. – As we arrive at Homestead-Miami Speedway, be prepared to hear a lot about Martin Truex, Jr. Even before this breakout season, he was consistently good at this track, and he actually has the fourth-best average finish among active drivers here. Looking back at the season, it’s even less surprising that Truex has been so good at the 1.5-mile race tracks all year when you think about it. In the last six Homestead races, he has finished 11th or better in all of them, and that includes his 2nd-place effort in 2006 and his 3rd-place finish one season ago. Over the last two years, only one driver has a better average driver rating than Truex (121.6) at this track, and that is Carl Edwards (145.7). A victory has eluded this team all season long, but they should be in the mix for the trophy come Sunday, and it would definitely give them a boost heading into the 2013 season. I’d consider Truex a lock for a top 5, believe it or not.
3. Kyle Busch – Rowdy’s record at Homestead-Miami Speedway is downright atrocious. That’s really the only way to put it. In seven career starts here, Kyle has just one finish better than 19th (seriously), and that was his 8th-place effort back in 2009. For reasons unknown, Busch just hasn’t been able to take to this track. So why, you may be asking, do I have him ranked 3rd? One simple answer: look at what this team has done in the Chase this year. If Kyle Busch would have made it, his name would be coming up just as often as Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski. This team is cranking out top 5 after top 5 and there’s no reason to think that they won’t do it again. At this track (and pretty much this track only) momentum means a lot more than history, and Kyle Busch has as much momentum as anyone else in the garage. This team let a win slip away from them last week in Phoenix but a win here at Homestead would be an even bigger momentum boost for them heading into 2013.
4. Matt Kenseth – This will be Matt Kenseth’s final race at Roush-Fenway Racing, and you can view this two ways: one, they might give him experimental equipment just to test something for next year, he blows up (like Greg Biffle did last season), and fantasy owners everywhere are pissed. Or two, Kenseth gets his normal stuff and this team comes together to try and win one more race before going their separate ways. I think the latter is much more likely to happen, as I doubt Roush wants Kenseth to learn any of the “secrets” he may have. Matt has one win here at Homestead, and that came back in 2007 when he absolutely dominated the race, leading 214 of the 267 laps. As I said before, he finished 4th in this event one season ago, and has finished 13th or better in six of the last seven (five of which were also top 10s). I expect the #17 Ford to be a top 5 car come Sunday, but I’ll have to confirm that through Kenseth’s practice speeds.
5. Kasey Kahne – It’s hard to get past Kasey Kahne’s disappointing finish at Texas a couple weeks ago, but as a fantasy racer you have to put that stuff out of your mind. The fact of the matter is this team has three top 5s in the last four Sprint Cup races and should be challenging for a fourth on Sunday. At Homestead specifically, Kahne tends to qualify very well but then race a little worse. For example, in six of his eight starts at this track, he has qualified inside the top 5. Can you guess how many top 5 finishes he has? One, and that came back in 2006. However, I like the Hendrick power under the hood for KK and he has shown that he can race well at this track (top 10s in three of his last four starts). Believe it or not this is Kasey’s fourth-best track on the circuit.
6. Kevin Harvick – I still don’t understand how Kevin Harvick won at Phoenix last Sunday after being off the chart for most of the weekend, but you know what that gives this #29 team? Momentum. And as I said before, I value that highly at Homestead. Another good thing going for Harvick is his consistent success at this race track. In eleven starts here, “Happy” has recorded just two finishes outside of the top 10 and has an average finish of 7.9, second-best behind Carl Edwards. In fact, three of the last four Homestead races have ended with the #29 inside the top 5. Will that happen again on Sunday? We shall see, but first I want to see practice. I think Harvick would be a great pick in Yahoo! Auto Racing, but that’s just me.
7. Denny Hamlin – Well, this team got things back on track at Phoenix last weekend, but will they be able to continue it? Homestead-Miami Speedway has been pretty kind over the years to Denny Hamlin, so it wouldn’t surprise me one bit. Since 2006, Denny has never finished worse than 14th at this track, and over that time span he has recorded one win. That came in 2009 after Hamlin drove through the field from his 38th-place qualifying spot. Speaking of that–there’s one thing to consider this weekend: the #11 probably won’t be very fast in qualifying. For whatever reason, Hamlin is, to the tune of a career average start of 31st. That may turn some fantasy owners away, but Hamlin has shown time and time again that starting position doesn’t matter much to him at this track (click here for the complete chart of Denny Hamlin’s races at Homestead).
8. Jeff Gordon – Just to clear one thing up: I don’t think there will be any payback given to Jeff Gordon this weekend, but it’s certainly possible so I consider the #24 a pretty risky pick for Homestead. That being said, if my gut reaction is correct and there is no retaliation, Gordon should be able to have a solid run in Florida on Sunday. In thirteen career starts at this track, Jeff has never collected a win, but he does have ten top 10 finishes to his name, and six of those have also been top 5s. Gordon had an engine problem here in 2010 when he finished 37th, but other than that he has been very consistent and strong at this 1.5-mile race track. This team has taken a step back speed-wise as of late, however, so make sure the #24 looks sporty in practice on Saturday before locking down with Gordon. Unless he looks like he could win, I would probably avoid him, but that’s just me.
9. Clint Bowyer – It is worth noting that Clint Bowyer is not on probation, so if he were to wreck Jeff Gordon on Sunday, he essentially can do so without any major consequences (in my opinion). I just don’t think it will happen, though. Bowyer is still in the race for 3rd-place in the points standings, and the prize amounts vary greatly with each lower place. We shall see, however. One thing that seems to happen whenever situations like this between Bowyer and Gordon arise, however, is that they are always next to each other. For example, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the #15 and the #24 to qualify side by side on Friday. It just always seems to happen. This #15 team is still putting out solid top 10 cars for Clint to run and that shouldn’t change this weekend. In six career starts here, Bowyer has finished outside of the top 12 just once and his best finish has been 5th (back in 2008).
10. Brad Keselowski – Now that Bad Brad pretty much has the 2012 championship wrapped up, he’s going to take his foot off of the gas. All he has to do to win it all is not make any mistakes and finish in the mid-teens. This team hasn’t finished worse than 11th in the Chase thus far and I just don’t see that changing on Sunday. Keselowski won’t run as hard as usual but he’s still going to try and be competitive–it’s just the racer in him. Overall his statistics at Homestead aren’t very pretty to look at (20.3 average finish in four career starts) but you have to throw them out the window, as I’ve said numerous times this season. Barring something unpredictable happening on Sunday you’re looking at the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion. Congratulations, BK.
11. Tony Stewart – This will probably end up being too low of a ranking for Smoke this weekend but it’s come to the point where I simply need to see speed out of the #14 Chevrolet in practice before even considering the 2011 Sprint Cup champion. He won this race last season but I think we can all agree that some (if not all) of that effort was due to the run that this team went on to end the season. That was, however, Stewart’s third career victory at Homestead. He’s finished inside the top 10 in three of the last four events here and should challenge for another one on Sunday as well. Smoke has 5th-place finishes at each of the last two intermediate track races this season (Texas and Kansas).
12. Carl Edwards – Homestead-Miami Speedway is by far Carl Edwards’ best track on the circuit, but this team is still struggling. He has a 5.3 average finish here in eight career starts but you’ve got to look past the stats on this one. If you’re going on record alone this season, Edwards should have way more than three top 5 finishes this season. This team may be able to make a last-second surge to get a momentum boost heading into the 2013 season, but I just don’t see that happening. Carl has finished 1st or 2nd in three of the last four Homestead races but it would surprise me if he finished anywhere near there on Sunday.
13. Kurt Busch – SLEEPER ALERT! I can’t believe it either. Kurt Busch has now strung together back-to-back top 10 finishes for the first time this season and just may be able to get a third-straight on Sunday, ironically at the track which put him in the situation that he is in now. Busch won from the pole here back in 2002 and has top 5 finishes to his credit in four of the last nine Homestead events. However, what I like even more out of Kurt Busch this weekend is the car that he is in; Regan Smith has averaged a finish of 15th over the last two races at Homestead in this #78 Chevrolet. Kurt qualified 4th here last season and we all know what happened during the race.
14. Mark Martin – Surprisingly, Mark Martin hasn’t been very good at Homestead-Miami Speedway as of late. He finished 9th here during the 2007 season but that is his only top 10 at this track in his last five attempts. That could certainly change this weekend, but Martin seems to have lost a step here as of late. What’s good is that in the last two intermediate track races, the #55 has been pretty sporty with Mark behind the wheel, especially at Kansas back in October. He tends to qualify well here at Homestead and if that happens on Friday, I could see this team ending the season with a solid top 10 finish on Sunday.
15. Aric Almirola – Almirola has been in the back of my mind for Homestead since the beginning of the season. In this event two years ago, Aric took over for Kasey Kahne in the #9 Ford at Richard Petty Motorsports and qualified 24th. I remember this weekend well. Almirola went out in practice and looked very solid, posting fast lap times and putting him at the top of my sleeper list for the weekend. To my joy (it helped me win some money), Aric went out and finished 4th in that race. I’m not saying that he’ll do that again this weekend, but hopefully Almirola remembers how to get around this place. This #43 team has been giving him fast race cars lately, and hopefully he’ll be able to give fantasy owners another nice finish this weekend, something Almirola has been doing for the last month or two it seems like.