Author's Note: The Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway is set for this Sunday, February 28th, at 3:30 PM EST. Catch the action on Fox Sports 1, MRN radio, or SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90.
The Florida tour is officially coming to an end this Sunday afternoon in Homestead, Florida. For NASCAR fans, the timing for this race may seem out of place since Homestead actually hosted the final race of the season from 2002 to 2019. Homestead-Miami Speedway hosted its first event back in 1995, which was a NASCAR Busch (minor league) race, and then the Cup Series followed in 1999. Originally constructed very similarly to Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS), this track has since undergone numerous changes. The four-corner rectangular flat oval didn’t produce the same great racing as IMS has in the past, and the shorter Homestead-Miami Speedway (1.5 miles) also made it very difficult to pass compared to IMS (2.5 miles) because speeds couldn’t be reached to make complete moves. Starting in 1997, this track has since added lights, changed the layout to a traditional oval, as well as increased the banking in the turns.
Underdogs Stealing the Show?
For Joey Logano fans, this can be pretty tough. Leading late in both of the first two races and he doesn’t come home with the victory. So who did drive into the winners circle to start out the NASCAR season?
Two first-time winners that is. In the Daytona 500, it was Michael McDowell (+10,000 William Hill) and at the Road Course, it was Christopher Bell (+5,000 FanDuel). While Christopher Bell is young, only in his sophomore season at the Cup level, Michael McDowell himself snapped a 357 race losing streak.
The season is very young, sure, but having two first-time winners could really change the playoff picture come September. "Win and Your In" is officially now the slogan to reach the NASCAR playoffs in 2021.
To be eligible for the 16 *spot* playoff bracket, a driver can either win a race or enter based on points if 16 different drivers have not been to victory lane during the season. If there are more than 16 different winners, drivers will be eligible based on number of wins and points (so far, that has not occurred yet).
Drivers such as Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Kyle Busch should reach the playoffs based on wins. A lot can happen over the course of the season to change that, and in last year’s playoffs we saw a total of five different drivers qualify without a win. That group also included 2019 champion Kyle Busch.
The 2020 season was dominated by Harvick and Hamlin, who had 13 wins combined. Now with two races down and two first-time winners, both Brad Keselowski and Austin Dillon have expressed how important it is to win to make the playoffs rather than banking on points. In 2011, the Cup Series had five first-time winners, and if this Cup Series has any more Cinderella story winners, that could jeopardize some high profile drivers and their respective playoff chances. It may simply come down to one track that decides two or three open playoff spots. Here are some drivers who may be fighting for a points playoff spot:
- Kurt Busch - 0 wins ’20, 1 win each year ’17,’18, ’19. +3500 to win championship (FanDuel)
- Aric Almirola - 0 wins ’20, ’19, 1 win ’18. +4700 to win championship (FanDuel)
- William Byron - 1 win ’20, 0 wins ’19, DNQ ’18. +5500 to win championship (FanDuel)
The Choose Rule is Back
I'll be honest, I didn’t know how much I would enjoy the “Choose Rule.” I had once believed that if a driver ended a stage or started a caution in 12th place, that only pit strategy should impact the starting grid. The Choose Rule allows drivers to pick which lane they restart when the green flag resumes the race. If a driver is sitting in 14th place and the 13 cars in front of him decide to take the bottom lane, that driver can choose the top lane and restart the race in 2nd place. This has left drivers with a dilemma - do they choose the preferred running lane and start farther back in the pack, or do they start up front and hope they can move to the preferred running lane after the restart? This was first tested in last year’s July All-Star race at Bristol and officially implemented at Michigan the following month. NASCAR will use the traditional method of lining up the grid on all road courses/superspeedways, and while drivers have given mixed reviews, one point all of them agreed on was that it added another level of strategy to the sport overall.
Drivers to Look Out For This Weekend
Instead of focusing on this particular track, I looked at all tracks that are similar to Homestead-Miami Speedway, as mentioned in the introduction to this article, to gather data for the drivers listed below:
Kevin Harvick (+600 to win, +175 top three, -300 top ten; odds via FanDuel Sportsbook): Last week I stated that Kevin Harvick was not known for his road course abilities, but he is known for his intermediate track abilities. In 38 total races, you can’t find a driver with a better average finish (7.97) and wins (8), and Harvick finished 26th here last year in the non-playoff race. That was a race in which he brushed up against the wall and cut a tire late, too, so I expect him to rebound strong after last year's showing.
Kyle Busch (+900 to win, +275 top three, -230 top ten; odds via FanDuel Sportsbook): Every week it seems as though one of the Joe Gibbs drivers are strong at a certain track type, and Kyle Busch has an average finish of 8.18 after 38 races with five outright wins in that span. If he runs a clean race and does not damage the car, look for him to be in contention for the win here on Sunday at the Dixie Vodka 400.
Kyle Larson (+900 to win, +225 top three, -260 top ten; odds via FanDuel Sportsbook): While Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch are #1-#2 when it comes to these types of tracks, I’m jumping down to #6 for Sunday's lineup. In 25 races driving for Chip Ganassi, Kyle Larson had an average finish of 11.64. Now he has upgraded to driving for Hendrick Motorsports, one of the top teams in NASCAR, and I look for the #5 to be running right up along the wall all day and sneaking in for a top finish at Homestead-Miami.