Dixie Vodka 400 Preview: Homestead Returns to the Chase

Dixie Vodka 400 Preview: Homestead Returns to the Chase

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

This week we head to South Florida and return to Homestead-Miami Speedway for a 400-mile race on a challenging intermediate oval. The NASCAR Cup Series returns to the 1.5-mile true oval with variable banking for the first time since February of 2021. Homestead-Miami Speedway's unique configuration includes relatively flat straightaways of 3 degrees and 20 degree variable banked turns, presenting a challenge unlike any other facility on the circuit. This unique mid-sized track will be the eighth race in NASCAR's Chase for the Cup, which crowns this season's champion.

For 21 years, Homestead-Miami Speedway hosted the NASCAR Cup Series season finale. It was the climax of the NASCAR playoffs and where the Cup Series champion was crowned each season. The sanctioning body shook up the schedule after 2019 and moved Homestead to an early-season date. With the coronavirus pandemic, we saw Homestead's new date slip into the mid-summer of 2020, but it returned to early in the calendar during 2021. This year, we finally get to race this 400-mile event closer to its old schedule slot. NASCAR returned Homestead to the playoff calendar for 2022 and made this unique oval one of the lead up races to the conclusion of the season. We haven't raced at the South Florida track for some time (1 year and 8 months, to be exact) so a lot of surprises await our drivers and teams this weekend. Certainly, the X-factor of the Next-Gen car will come into play, as these will be the first

This week we head to South Florida and return to Homestead-Miami Speedway for a 400-mile race on a challenging intermediate oval. The NASCAR Cup Series returns to the 1.5-mile true oval with variable banking for the first time since February of 2021. Homestead-Miami Speedway's unique configuration includes relatively flat straightaways of 3 degrees and 20 degree variable banked turns, presenting a challenge unlike any other facility on the circuit. This unique mid-sized track will be the eighth race in NASCAR's Chase for the Cup, which crowns this season's champion.

For 21 years, Homestead-Miami Speedway hosted the NASCAR Cup Series season finale. It was the climax of the NASCAR playoffs and where the Cup Series champion was crowned each season. The sanctioning body shook up the schedule after 2019 and moved Homestead to an early-season date. With the coronavirus pandemic, we saw Homestead's new date slip into the mid-summer of 2020, but it returned to early in the calendar during 2021. This year, we finally get to race this 400-mile event closer to its old schedule slot. NASCAR returned Homestead to the playoff calendar for 2022 and made this unique oval one of the lead up races to the conclusion of the season. We haven't raced at the South Florida track for some time (1 year and 8 months, to be exact) so a lot of surprises await our drivers and teams this weekend. Certainly, the X-factor of the Next-Gen car will come into play, as these will be the first competitive laps on Homestead-Miami Speedway with the new generation stock car.

Since we only come to Homestead-Miami Speedway once a year, we'll need to rely on historical information to a great extent for this Sunday's race. The usual suspects perform very well at the South Florida oval, and most of them are performing well right now. While current hot streaks and similar track performance will play a modest part in this week's picks, we'll still need to review some past data to outline potential top performers for this event. Here are the loop stats for the last 17 races at Homestead.

DriverAvg. FinishQuality Passes# of Fastest LapsLaps LedLaps in Top 15Driver Rating
Kyle Larson11.93822703301,714108.1
Martin Truex Jr.8.58823193493,735106.7
Kevin Harvick6.77502573563,802106.6
Kyle Busch15.47182924653,425100.7
Tyler Reddick3.08549336999.5
Denny Hamlin10.07281943933,30899.0
Chase Elliott9.036157311,31594.1
William Byron18.31543810269192.1
Joey Logano14.8439911972,22690.9
Brad Keselowski14.26011081552,55390.3
Austin Dillon12.53682101,48284.4
Daniel Hemric12.0530019280.3
Kurt Busch17.8584133652,27280.0
Ryan Blaney18.925958701,05478.5
Erik Jones19.816339055074.3
Aric Almirola20.53864701,24873.4
AJ Allmendinger17.823017073273.1
Christopher Bell14.0534020172.6
Alex Bowman20.01659061070.7
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.21.821224172566.5

This weekend is shaping up to be a big duel between Ford and Chevrolet. Drivers for these two manufacturers have been vying for supremacy in recent intermediate oval races, and they both earned victories in the last four Homestead-Miami Speedway races. As you can see from the table above, there's a pretty heavy dose of Chevrolet drivers at the top at Homestead. In the last Cup Series race at HMS, William Byron dominated the day and led 102 of the 267 laps en route to the win. It was his first career victory at the South Florida oval. He had the solution for Tyler Reddick and Martin Truex Jr.'s challenges that afternoon and came away with the win in the Dixie Vodka 400.   

If another driver outside of this trio hopes to steal the thunder on Sunday, it could be Ryan Blaney. He's been strong on intermediate ovals dating back to the early summer, and he's shown a proficiency for the oval in South Florida. Other contenders for the Homestead crown include names like Joey Logano, Ross Chastain and Kyle Busch. This trio was among the top performers on the intermediate sized ovals for the second half of 2022. We'll break down all the contenders, solid plays and sleepers you need to consider to dominate your fantasy leagues at Homestead-Miami Speedway.  

The Contenders – Drivers in the hunt for the win

Joey Logano – This season has been a tale of two halves for Logano on the intermediate ovals. His early-season struggles have been erased by his recent outings, including his big win at Las Vegas this past week. Logano also finished a brilliant runner-up at Texas a few weeks ago. This week we come to the 1.5-mile track at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where Logano will continue to sharpen his sword in advance of the championship-crowning race at Phoenix. The Penske Racing star is a one-time Homestead winner (2018) and has led close to 200 career laps at this facility. Logano's 46 percent Top-10 rate at HMS is bit low for what we like to see in a top contender, but his recent mastery of the Next-Gen car on these style tracks helps to get over this weakness. The No. 22 Ford Mustang will be in the running for the win in the closing laps this Sunday afternoon.  

Ross Chastain – After some recent inconsistency, Chastain has rallied nicely to put himself squarely in the championship discussion as the season winds down. The Trackhouse Racing veteran led a race-high 68 laps at Las Vegas this past Sunday and finished runner-up in the South Point 400. Chastain now has three runner-up finishes this season on the cookie-cutter ovals and a series-best 383 laps led. It's really a head-scratcher that Chastain hasn't won on one of these mid-sized ovals to this point. Still, the driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet boasts the best stats of any driver in the series in this style of racing in 2022. Chastain doesn't have any remarkable achievements at Homestead-Miami Speedway to this point in his career, but with championship implications heavy in the air, we expect this driver and team to be impactful in the Dixie Vodka 400.

Ryan Blaney – Blaney had a possible win in sight at Vegas this past Sunday, but a late-race spin would take him out of the running and put him behind the playoff eight-ball coming to South Florida this week. The good news is that Blaney has turned his season around on these intermediate ovals in the second half. With Top-5 finishes at Atlanta and Texas as well as a Top-10 finish at Kansas, Blaney has the No. 12 Ford team in position to challenge for the win at Homestead. He doesn't have stellar career stats at the 1.5-mile Florida track, but current circumstances would seem to indicate the Penske Racing star is in position to challenge for the win. It will take a victory to assure his advancement into the championship race at Phoenix. If we look back to 2020, we see that Blaney had a Homestead performance of 70 laps led and a third-place finish, so big potential is definitely in the cards.

Tyler Reddick – Reddick is the only driver of our four top contenders to not be in the championship hunt, but that makes him no less dangerous in this Dixie Vodka 400. The Richard Childress Racing youngster has been zeroed-in on these mid-sized ovals all season with two poles, 201 laps led, one victory and four Top-10 finishes, including a strong sixth-place at Las Vegas last Sunday. In addition, Reddick loves racing on this South Florida oval. He has finishes of fourth- and second-place in his only two Cup Series starts at the track and was a two-time winner at HMS in his Xfinity Series career. The driver of the No. 8 Chevrolet is the playoff outsider who could jump up and dominate Sunday at Homestead, potentially ruining the day for many championship contenders.   

Solid Plays – Near locks for a Top 10 with an outside shot to win

Kyle Busch – Busch has put together a nice little streak leading up to Homestead. He overcame a lot of obstacles to post his second straight third-place finish with his effort at Vegas last Sunday. The Joe Gibbs Racing star has come on strong at Homestead-Miami Speedway the last six seasons. Busch carries a seven-race Homestead Top-10 streak into this Sunday's action with two of those being wins and one runner-up finish. The driver of the No. 18 Toyota finished 10th last season at this intermediate oval, and based on the numbers that appears to be the floor for this driver at this facility. Busch is looking to continue finishing the season strong, so he'll be very motivated to race for the win Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Denny Hamlin – After a fifth-place finish at Vegas this past week, Hamlin sits fourth in the playoff standings coming to Homestead and looking to keep his championship hopes alive. The Joe Gibbs Racing star has three career victories and 11 Top-10 finishes at the South Florida track. He won this event two seasons ago with the most dominant Homestead performance of his career. Hamlin led 137 laps from the pole that June afternoon in South Florida and held off Chase Elliott to collect that third career victory at the track. The No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team has been strong this year on the intermediate oval circuit, nabbing one win and five Top 10s (a 63 percent rate). He should be zeroed-in for a strong performance at one of his favorite tracks.

Christopher Bell – Bell was poised for a possible Top-5 run at Las Vegas last Sunday, but shenanigans between Bubba Wallace and Kyle Larson would spill over into a front stretch wreck that would take out Bell and ruin his day. The young Joe Gibbs Racing driver now has his back to the wall in terms of advancing into the Championship 4 and will be focused on a big Homestead-Miami Speedway performance. Bell had a pretty spotless record on the intermediate tracks until problems not of his own making hampered both his recent Texas and Las Vegas finishes. The driver of the No. 20 Toyota has one Top 10 in just two prior Cup Series starts at HMS, but his last Xfinity Series start at the oval in 2019 netted 37 laps led and a strong fifth-place finish. Bell has the tools and the motivation to crack the Top 5 in Sunday's Dixie Vodka 400.

Chase Elliott – Elliott comes to South Florida this weekend looking to erase the disappointment of last weekend's subpar finish on the Las Vegas oval. He's in good points position in the playoffs but still needs a great performance at Homestead. Elliott will be making just his seventh career start at the 1.5-mile South Florida oval, but that should be of little concern. The young driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet has two Top 5s and three Top 10s in those six prior efforts, good for an average finish of 9.0. Elliott has been reasonably good on cookie-cutter ovals this season until last week's swing and whiff at Vegas, so he should be in rebound mode this Sunday afternoon.

Sleepers – Drivers with good history at Miami & solid upside

Kyle Larson – Larson's elimination from the playoffs didn't stop him from driving aggressively at Vegas this past week. The Hendrick Motorsports star looked on track to challenge the Top 5 before his wide drive into turn 4 would invoke the ire of Bubba Wallace. The wreck that ensued is now NASCAR history and generated much of the buzz coming into Florida this week. Larson will have to clear his head of that distraction and refocus to finish the season strong. Fortunately, this is one of his better ovals, so rebounding should be a bit easier. The driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet likes to use the high groove at this track and has done so to good effect in recent seasons, with four Top-5 finishes in his last six starts. With 330 career laps led, Larson has spent a lot of time at the front at this track, and we suspect he'll do so again in the Dixie Vodka 400.

Chase Briscoe – The young Stewart Haas Racing driver is the underdog among the championship contenders, but he's been no less impressive with his recent racing. Briscoe finished fourth at Las Vegas last Sunday and now rides a strong four-race Top-10 streak into South Florida this weekend. The No. 14 Ford team has really poured on the steam in this season's playoffs, and Briscoe is in the running to advance into the Championship 4 as a result. His intermediate oval performance in the Next-Gen car has picked up the pace in the second half of the season with Top 5s at Charlotte, Texas and Las Vegas most recently. Briscoe will carry that momentum into the Dixie Vodka 400. This will be just his second career Cup Series start at the track, but his one Xfinity Series win and three Top 10s in that division at HMS indicate he'll be right at home this Sunday. 

Martin Truex Jr. – It wasn't flashy, and it wasn't headline-making, but Truex pedaled to a quiet Top-10 finish at Las Vegas last weekend. The Joe Gibbs Racing star has had a season that fell short of expectations, but he's trying to finish the 2022 campaign strong. Truex has been pretty consistent on intermediate ovals this season, which is one part of his game that hasn't slipped much. His five Top 10s in eight starts work out to a strong 63 percent rate. Truex is a one-time Homestead winner and he's finished runner-up here on three occasions. His 11 Top-10 finishes work out to a strong 65 percent Top-10 rate at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The driver of the No. 19 Toyota is far from race-winning form, but he should be good enough to crack the Top 10 at one of his favorite intermediate ovals. 

Daniel Suarez – Suarez led 31 laps and put his face among the Top 10 drivers for most of last week's Las Vegas race, but some misfortune would lead to an undeserved 16th-place finish. His speed and skill were undeniable and good signs that Suarez will rebound at Homestead-Miami Speedway this week. The Trackhouse Racing veteran has three Top-10 and four Top-15 finishes on the intermediate oval circuit in 2022, with most of those good efforts coming in the second half. Homestead is a track he's quite familiar with (5 Cup starts) and has two Top-15 finishes in his last three starts to boast. While Suarez was eliminated from the Chase playoffs some time ago, he's still racing strong and trying to stay up front to assist his teammate (Ross Chastain) in his quest to win this season's championship.      

Erik Jones – The Petty GMS Motorsports veteran posted a strong eighth-place finish at Las Vegas this past Sunday and extended his current hot streak to four races, a run that includes three Top 10s and an 11th-place finish. Jones will look to stay on a roll as the Cup Series visits South Florida for the Dixie Vodka 400. The driver of the No. 43 Chevrolet has just one Top 10 in five starts at Homestead, but the new Next-Gen car should help erase that track-specific history a bit. Jones has been razor sharp on the 1.5-mile ovals the second half of this season, with three Top 10s in his last four starts on this type of track. Sixth- and eighth-place finishes recently at Texas and Vegas only boost our confidence in this driver and team. Jones is a driver to deploy with high confidence in all fantasy formats this Sunday.  

Justin Haley – Haley has been quite efficient and surprising in recent 1.5-mile oval starts. The Kaulig Racing youngster has two Top-10 and three Top-15 finishes in his last four intermediate-oval races. He's fresh off 16 laps led and a respectable 14th-place finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this past Sunday. The No. 31 Chevrolet team will now gear up and look to stay on a roll at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Haley has just one career Cup Series start at this track, and it came 20 months ago, so there is some cause for concern. However, Haley has four Xfinity Series starts at the South Florida oval with two Top 10s in that division of NASCAR, so he's not at all unexperienced here. Given his current hot streak and success on these mid-sized ovals, Haley makes for a good selection for weekly lineup and salary cap leagues.  

Slow Down – Drivers to avoid this week

Bubba Wallace – NASCAR dropped the hammer Tuesday afternoon and levied a one-race suspension against Wallace after his spin of Kyle Larson last weekend at Las Vegas and the ensuing altercation that Wallace instigated. The sanctioning body felt that the wreck was intentional and has clearly drawn a line of an action "too far" in order to send a message to Wallace and all the drivers. The 23XI Racing veteran will watch Homestead weekend from home and attempt to hit the reset button on his psyche ahead of the penultimate race of the season at Martinsville Speedway. It's also a good time for Wallace to put this ugly episode behind him and clear the slate heading into the off-season.  

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Stenhouse's mediocrity on the intermediate tracks continued with his lackluster 23rd-place finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this past Sunday. The veteran driver of the No. 47 Chevrolet has just two Top 10s in eight starts on 1.5-mile ovals in 2022 along with six finishes outside the Top 20, resulting in an inflated 22.3 average finish on these style tracks. It's not likely to get any easier for Stenhouse in the Dixie Vodka 400. His 10 career Cup Series starts at this oval have never netted a Top-10 finish, with six finishes outside the Top 20 dragging him down to a 21.8 average finish. Between Stenhouse's current level of performance and his historical performance at HMS, we can find no good justification to gamble a fantasy racing start on him in the Dixie Vodka 400.    

Michael McDowell – McDowell has been lights out on the big tracks and road courses this season, but his one weakness has been intermediate oval racing. The Front Row Motorsports veteran has just one Top 10 this season in eight intermediate oval starts and a subpar 17.9 average finish. McDowell posted a disappointing 19th-place finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this past Sunday, so he now has just one Top 10 in his last six starts heading to South Florida this week. It's pretty clear that the No. 34 Ford team has cooled off. It's probably best to pass on fantasy racing expectations for McDowell this week.   

Brad Keselowski – Just when we thought perhaps Keselowski had turned a corner a few weeks ago with his pole position and eighth-place effort at Texas, he posts a perplexing 17th-place finish at Las Vegas this past Sunday after an equally puzzling 25th-place qualifying effort. So maybe the No. 6 Ford team hasn't completely gotten things figured out with this Next-Gen car and with 1.5-mile tracks. Keselowski has subpar historical indicators for Homestead-Miami Speedway with just six Top 10s (43 percent) and a 14.2 career average finish at HMS. Those numbers combined with his intermediate oval stats this season (13 percent Top-10 rate, 18.5 average finish) clearly make Keselowski and his Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing team a no-go for Sunday at Homestead. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Taylor
Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A nine-time FSWA finalist, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2017. He is also a military historian, focused specifically on World War II and the U.S. Navy's efforts in the Pacific.
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