Well, it all comes down to this: one final race to determine the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion. Of course, this also means that all Fantasy NASCAR leagues will also be crowning a champion, and if you’re in the running to take home the trophy: good luck. Also, thank you for following along with the content here this season. I hope I was able to help you in some sort of way.
Homestead-Miami Speedway is a 1.5-mile track that doesn’t look anything like a typical “cookie cutter.” Also, the season-ending race here also usually plays out in weird ways. Not only do you have many teams experimenting with new setups and equipment in this final race, but it’d be quite easy for a driver to already be “checked out” and looking toward 2018–especially if he/she doesn’t have a competitive car. Finally, in regards to the four drivers competing for the Championship, almost all of their competitors aren’t going to race as hard around them, hoping not to screw anything up.
Yahoo! A Group Picks and Rankings for Homestead
Kevin Harvick (2 starts remaining) – After going through the 2017 season as the driver that was “close, but not quite there,” Kevin Harvick came out with a statement win at Texas a couple of weeks ago, and that in and of itself should make the rest of the competition a little worried. “Happy” is an elite performer at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and if this #4 team has been saving their best stuff for the end of the season, there’s no doubt that Harvick will be one of the top 2 cars all night. The only question is whether or not he will have the car to legitimately beat Martin Truex, Jr. again. Over the last three years, Harvick has capped off his season with 1st-, 2nd-, and 3rd-place finishes here at Homestead while leading 179 total laps along the way. The Rodney Childers-Kevin Harvick duo will be looking for their second Cup Series championship in the last four years this weekend, and while they’re not my #1 pick heading into Sunday, they are a close second.
Martin Truex, Jr. (2 starts remaining) – Of course Martin Truex, Jr. is the top Fantasy NASCAR pick this weekend, haven’t you been paying attention this year? The #78 team is nearly unstoppable on 1.5-mile race tracks–I mean, they have a 2.7 average finish on them this year–and Homestead was long thought of as Truex’s best track on the schedule. Of course, this was before he really emerged as an elite driver, but still, he’s good here–although he’s never won. With that being said, the #78 team has been the best this season, hands down, and if they don’t win the championship at Homestead on Sunday it’s more than likely going to be because of something out of their control. There’s no reason to go against Truex in any Fantasy NASCAR league this week.
Harvick and Truex are, understandably, going to be the highest-owned A Group drivers this weekend. The 3rd-highest owned will be Kyle Busch, and really it wouldn’t be that surprising to see him win it all yet again. Rowdy got his first career Homestead-Miami win back in 2015 when he won the championship, and over the last five races here he has finished worse than 7th only once. The only real concern with Kyle Busch this weekend is his finishes on the 1.5-mile tracks thus far in the Playoffs: 15th at Chicago, 29th at Charlotte, 10th at Kansas, and 19th at Texas. Unless he runs into some kind of issue on Sunday, though, the #18 Toyota should be up front all race long.
The fourth driver in the Championship Four is Brad Keselowski, and he’s ranked there just because of how much speed the Penske Fords have been lacking in the playoffs. In all honesty, the only reason Keselowski advanced into this race is because he stayed out of trouble, and it’s hard to see him legitimately beating the other three on Sunday. With that being said, many people believed the same thing about Jimmie Johnson last season, and we all know what happened there. Kez has finished 6th or better in three of his last four starts here at Homestead, so that’s one good note about him. He’s going to be an off-sequence pick this week in Yahoo!, if you want to go that route.
The top off-sequence pick for Homestead, though, is Denny Hamlin. In all honesty, the #11 team had one of the most impressive Playoff runs this year, but they never did get a win. Still, six finishes of 7th or better in the nine Playoff races is pretty impressive. As far as this weekend goes, Hamlin should be a top 5 threat in the Ford EcoBoost 400, as long as him and Chase Elliott don’t tangle again. Denny is a two-time winner at Homestead-Miami Speedway and his career average finish of 10.6 at this track ranks 3rd-best among active drivers.
Looking at the rest of the A Group drivers, Matt Kenseth is coming off of that win at Phoenix and has finished 9th or better in 11 of the last 17 Cup Series races overall. He’s also finished 7th or better in his last four starts here at Homestead. Chances are he’s not going to win on Sunday, but you never know… Joey Logano is Joey Logano: you never know what you’re going to get. And honestly, it’s probably best to just wait with picking Joey again until the 2018 NASCAR season. One positive thing, though: the #22 Ford has finished 4th in the last two Ford EcoBoost 400s.
It’s Dale Earnhardt, Jr.‘s final race of his career (probably) but that doesn’t mean he’s going to suddenly turn things around and compete for the win to end the season. However, a top 10 finish is within reach; Junior has finished 12th or better in six of the last seven Cup Series races overall, and three of the last five have been top 10s. His teammate, Jimmie Johnson, won this race last year, but he definitely didn’t have the best car in that race. And with zero top 10s in the last five Cup Series races overall, there’s really no reason to even take a chance with “Seven Time” anymore this weekend.
Pre-Lockdown A Group Rankings: (1) Martin Truex, Jr., (2) Kevin Harvick, (3) Kyle Busch, (4) Brad Keselowski, (5) Denny Hamlin, (6) Matt Kenseth, (7) Joey Logano, (8) Jimmie Johnson, (9) Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Notes: As expected, Truex, Harvick, and Kyle Busch all three have blazing fast cars. They qualified 2nd, 9th, and 3rd (respectively), and I also have them ranked in that order for finishing. Additionally, I think Truex has the best chance of leading the most laps on Sunday, so that’s why I’m probably going to start him over Harvick. You can’t go wrong with any of the three, though. As far as a potential “spoiler,” Denny Hamlin won the pole and will be looking to get revenge–if that is the right word–after what happened at Phoenix. Really the only thing he can do is win Sunday’s race at Homestead, though, and he has the car that can do it. As far as Brad Keselowski goes, he’s still the slowest of the four Championship drivers, but he has a little more speed than expected. This #2 team could very well pull something out of their ass before it’s all said and done on Sunday…
Post-Practice A Group Rankings: (1) Martin Truex, Jr., (2) Kevin Harvick, (3) Kyle Busch, (4) Denny Hamlin, (5) Brad Keselowski, (6) Matt Kenseth, (7) Joey Logano, (8) Jimmie Johnson, (9) Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
My Starter: Martin Truex, Jr. over Kevin Harvick
Yahoo! B Group Picks and Rankings for Homestead
Kyle Larson (1 start remaining) – Well, the whole “save Kyle Larson until the final race of the season” might not work out as planned. This #42 team can’t find any luck at all lately; when they don’t wreck out of a race, they blow their engine. With that being said, Larson has had plenty of speed in recent races, and he dominated this race at Homestead last season. He ended up finishing 2nd, but probably should have won. Still, Larson has top 5 finishes in each of his last two starts at this track, and if nothing goes wrong for this #42 team on Sunday–a big if–they should challenge for another win to end the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.
Kurt Busch (1 start remaining) – Don’t be surprised if Kurt Busch has a good finish here at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday. The #41 Ford has actually been quite fast on the 1.5-mile tracks this season, but unfortunately Kurt Busch has been inconsistent at getting the car to the finish line in the place that it should. However, in the last two races at this track length (Texas and Kansas), Busch has ended up 9th and 2nd, so that’s a trend in the right direction. Here at Homestead, Kurt is a previous winner (in 2002) and in four of the last five races here, he has wound up 13th or better four times.
Clint Bowyer (1 start remaining) – Clint Bowyer hasn’t had quite the up-and-down results that his teammate, Kurt Busch, has had on the 1.5-mile tracks this year, but at the same time, the #14 Ford is usually only good enough for around a 12th-place finish–and that’s exactly what you should expect out of Bowyer on Sunday. His career average finish at Homestead-Miami Speedway is 14.9, but the most impressive thing is how consistent he has actually been; when you take out Clint’s 23rd-place finish last season while he was with HScott Motorsports, he has just two finishes worse than 12th in ten career starts at this track.
Ryan Newman (6 start remaining) – The #31 Chevrolet has been atrocious on the 1.5-mile tracks this season, so much so that Newman’s 20th-place finish at Texas a couple of weeks ago was actually well above his average. Yeah, it’s been bad. With that being said, it’s hard to ignore “The Rocketman’s” good finishes here at Homestead-Miami Speedway; in addition to qualifying inside the top 5 in each of the last two races here, Newman also has three results of 7th or better in the last seven Ford EcoBoost 400s. Ryan is going to be the highest-owned B Group driver in Yahoo! this week, so if you want to go off-sequence, leave him off you team. Heck, that might be the best strategy anyway. I personally plan on keeping him on my roster, simply because there’s a 99% chance I start two of my other three B Group drivers.
Of course, Chase Elliott is the best option in the B Group this weekend. He’s coming off of yet another 2nd-place finish at Phoenix last weekend, and it wouldn’t be surprising at all if the #24 Chevrolet is challenging for the win here at Homestead on Sunday. In his first career start here last season, Chase qualified 5th but ended up finishing 11th–a pretty good race for a rookie, honestly. Elliott would be on my Yahoo! team this weekend if I had any starts left, obviously.
The same is true for Ryan Blaney. He hasn’t had great finishes here thus far in his Cup Series career (17th and 26th) but he has had good qualifying efforts (6th and 8th). Eventually the race speed will come. This #21 team has really excelled on the intermediate tracks this season, but at a key to that success has been having a good qualifying effort. As far as momentum goes, Blaney has finished 11th or better in six of the nine playoff races, and there’s no reason why he should finish worse than that at Homestead this weekend.
Depending on your start situations in the B Group, you might have to dig a bit at Homestead this weekend. Austin Dillon is probably your best option in the next tier of drivers, as he has piloted the #3 Chevrolet to a 13th- or 14th-place finish in each of the last four Cup Series races overall. As far as Homestead-Miami Speedway goes, Austin has wound up 12th and 14th in his last two starts here, and that’s where he should end up on Sunday as well. Unfortunately, that’s also right where Dillon’s ceiling is as well.
This will be Kasey Kahne‘s final race with Hendrick Motorsports, and you have to wonder whether or not they’ll be putting some experimental equipment in the #5 Chevrolet this weekend. That’s something that typically happens in this race at Homestead, and very rarely does it end well for the driver. With that being said, we don’t know if that’s for sure going to happen, but you still shouldn’t use Kahne unless you have to; since joining Hendrick in 2012, Kasey has yet to post a finish better than 12th at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
If you want to dig really deep, you could take A.J. Allmendinger on a flier. He finished 8th in this race one year ago, and from 2008 to 2011 he finished between 5th and 15th in all four races. Also, for what it’s worth, Allmendinger recently finished 16th at Texas, so there’s reason for some hope this weekend as well. With that being said, it’s hard to recommend A.J. with any sort of confidence, as there are just far too many other drivers in the B Group that will probably finish better than him.
Pre-Lockdown B Group Rankings: (1) Chase Elliott, (2) Kyle Larson, (3) Ryan Blaney, (4) Jamie McMurray, (5) Kurt Busch, (6) Ryan Newman, (7) Clint Bowyer, (8) Austin Dillon, (9) Kasey Kahne, (10) Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., (11) Trevor Bayne, (12) Aric Almirola, (13) Danica Patrick, (14) Paul Menard, (15) A.J. Allmendinger, (16) Chris Buescher
Notes: Surprisingly, Chase Elliott doesn’t look that fast this weekend. In fact, all of the Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets look slow. With that being said, we’ve seen this before out of the #24 Chevrolet, and Chase ended up solidly inside the top 10, so it’s not overly concerning. Kyle Larson has the best car in the B Group but the big question is whether or not the engine will blow and whether or not Larson will wreck. If neither happens, he could easily finish top 5. Everything else in the B Group is pretty much expected, although the Roush-Fenway drivers of Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Trevor Bayne have some really fast race cars this weekend. If they can keep them off the wall, both have a shot at a top 15 finish on Sunday.
Post-Practice B Group Rankings: (1) Kyle Larson, (2) Chase Elliott, (3) Ryan Blaney, (4) Kurt Busch, (5) Jamie McMurray, (6) Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., (7) Clint Bowyer, (8) Austin Dillon, (9) Trevor Bayne, (10) Ryan Newman, (11) Paul Menard, (12) Aric Almirola, (13) Kasey Kahne, (14) Danica Patrick, (15) A.J. Allmendinger, (16) Chris Buescher
My Starters: Kyle Larson and Kurt Busch over Clint Bowyer and Austin Dillon
Yahoo! C Group Picks and Rankings for Homestead
There shouldn’t be many surprises in the C Group this weekend. Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez will both be making their first career Cup Series starts here on Sunday, but they both have top 10 potential. The #77 Toyota came home 10th at Texas a couple of weeks ago, and this team is also coming off of a 4th-place effort at Phoenix, so it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see Jones have another solid run this week as he wraps up the Rookie of the Year award. Looking at the rest of the C Group, Ty Dillon has finished 23rd and 33rd in two starts here at Homestead, but both of those were in Circle Sport equipment. Ty ran 24th at Texas a couple of weeks ago and I’d expect around the same at Homestead this weekend. Michael McDowell will probably be just a tad bit better than Dillon on Sunday, but it’s always hard to tell what the #95 team will bring to the track. The good news for him is that he finished 10th in this race one year ago and ran 21st at Texas a couple of weeks ago.
Pre-Lockdown C Group Rankings: (1) Erik Jones, (2) Daniel Suarez, (3) Michael McDowell, (4) Ty Dillon, (5) David Ragan, (6) Landon Cassill, (7) Matt DiBenedetto, the rest
Notes: There were no real surprises this weekend in regards to the C Group, although Michael McDowell did show quite a bit of speed both in qualifying and during the first practice session on Saturday. Ty Dillon did his normal stuff, where he qualified terribly but seemed to get the car better as the day went on on Saturday. And as far as Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez, both have good cars, but you have to give the edge to the #77 Toyota. Overall, your starter was probably already set in the C Group, so you might as well go with your gut.
Post-Practice C Group Rankings: (1) Erik Jones, (2) Daniel Suarez, (3) Michael McDowell, (4) Ty Dillon, (5) David Ragan, (6) Landon Cassill, (7) Matt DiBenedetto, the rest
My Starter: Michael McDowell over Ty Dillon