Dixie Vodka 400 Preview: Toyota Defends its Turf

Dixie Vodka 400 Preview: Toyota Defends its Turf

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

As NASCAR continues its replacement schedule for their top touring division, we head to South Florida this weekend and return to Homestead-Miami Speedway for a 400-mile race on this intermediate oval.  The NASCAR Cup Series returns to the 1.5-mile true oval with variable banking for the first time since the season finale of 2019.  Homestead-Miami Speedway's unique configuration which includes relatively flat straight-aways of 3 degrees and 20 degree variable banked turns presents a challenge unlike any other facility on the circuit.  This cookie cutter track will present a unique challenge after racing on short tracks and higher-banked intermediate ovals recently.    

For 21 years Homestead-Miami Speedway has been the last race in the schedule.  It's been the climax of the NASCAR playoffs and where the Cup Series champion is crowned each season.  The sanctioning body shook up the schedule prior to 2020 and moved Homestead to an early-Spring date.  With the Coronavirus pandemic, we saw Homestead's new date fall into the postponement window.  The revamped schedule has us finally heading to Homestead-Miami Speedway for this 400-mile event.  We've never raced in mid-June at the South Florida oval, so there should be plenty of curve balls and surprises in store for the drivers and teams.  Like many of these makeup races, we're somewhat venturing into uncharted waters. 

Since we only come to Homestead-Miami Speedway once a year, we will need to rely on historical information to a great extent for this Sunday's race.  The usual suspects race very well at

As NASCAR continues its replacement schedule for their top touring division, we head to South Florida this weekend and return to Homestead-Miami Speedway for a 400-mile race on this intermediate oval.  The NASCAR Cup Series returns to the 1.5-mile true oval with variable banking for the first time since the season finale of 2019.  Homestead-Miami Speedway's unique configuration which includes relatively flat straight-aways of 3 degrees and 20 degree variable banked turns presents a challenge unlike any other facility on the circuit.  This cookie cutter track will present a unique challenge after racing on short tracks and higher-banked intermediate ovals recently.    

For 21 years Homestead-Miami Speedway has been the last race in the schedule.  It's been the climax of the NASCAR playoffs and where the Cup Series champion is crowned each season.  The sanctioning body shook up the schedule prior to 2020 and moved Homestead to an early-Spring date.  With the Coronavirus pandemic, we saw Homestead's new date fall into the postponement window.  The revamped schedule has us finally heading to Homestead-Miami Speedway for this 400-mile event.  We've never raced in mid-June at the South Florida oval, so there should be plenty of curve balls and surprises in store for the drivers and teams.  Like many of these makeup races, we're somewhat venturing into uncharted waters. 

Since we only come to Homestead-Miami Speedway once a year, we will need to rely on historical information to a great extent for this Sunday's race.  The usual suspects race very well at the South Florida oval, and most of them are performing well right now.  While current hot streaks will play a big part in this week's picks, we'll also rely on past data to outline the drivers for this event.  Here are the loop stats for the last 15 races at Homestead.

DriverAvg. FinishQuality Passes# of Fastest LapsLaps LedLaps in Top 15Driver Rating
Kevin Harvick5.56442513563,401108.8
Martin Truex Jr.8.67622893123,226107.3
Matt Kenseth8.25871394493,178105.2
Kyle Busch16.35872844633,014102.3
Denny Hamlin10.56451612562,89297.4
Joey Logano12.7400771582,02194.2
Jimmie Johnson15.2689118682,94293.7
Chase Elliott9.522726084391.8
Brad Keselowski14.4492731072,11889.2
Clint Bowyer13.66642712,56685.9
Ryan Newman13.767132432,70185.5
Austin Dillon13.52561101,08483.0
Erik Jones17.0987039480.6
Kurt Busch18.5465101651,87478.3
Ryan Blaney20.016430066272.6
Aric Almirola21.130642094372.4
William Byron31.5694020266.8
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.23.115520161066.7
Daniel Suarez26.0612031365.2
Alex Bowman22.6455014362.3

This weekend sets up another showdown between Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch.  The trio just battled for the win in the closing laps at Atlanta last weekend, which is a very similar oval, but with different banking.  As you can see from the table above, this trio of drivers dominate the top of the driver rating scores at Homestead.  What this table doesn't show is that each of these drivers have collected a victory at HMS since the 2014 season.  Harvick's last win was that season.  Truex and Busch grabbed wins in 2017 and 2019 respectively.  While a good bit of parity among the different manufacturers seems to be in place, there is definitely a tilt towards Toyota having the edge.  Drivers from that make have captured two of the last three wins at the South Florida oval.  They will come under some pretty heavy fire from the Ford and Chevy teams this weekend. 

If another driver outside the big Homestead 3 hopes to steal the thunder on Sunday, it could likely be Brad Keselowski or Chase Elliott.  The two have been front runners each week since NASCAR has resumed racing.  They have combined for four-career Top-5 finishes at Homestead-Miami Speedway but both are winless at this facility.  There's a reasonable chance they could upstage the Homestead 3 with a dominant performance in the Dixie Vodka 400.  We'll look at the contenders, and the lesser fantasy racing plays in detail.  We'll give you the drivers you need to dominate your fantasy leagues at Homestead-Miami Speedway. 

The Contenders – Drivers in the hunt for the win

Kyle Busch – Busch will get a shot at claiming back-to-back victories at the Homestead oval.  He won last November's Ford EcoBoost 400 and walked away with the 2019 NASCAR Cup Series championship.  It was just his second-career victory at the South Florida track.  The Joe Gibbs Racing star has come on strong at this facility the last five seasons.  Busch carries a five-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 Camry finished runner-up in our last intermediate oval race last weekend at Atlanta.  It would seem Busch is in a great position to extend his Homestead win streak to two races. 

Kevin Harvick – The Stewart Haas Racing veteran is fresh off his win at the similar oval in Atlanta last weekend.  Harvick dominated that race in total.  He'll look to do the same in Sunday's Dixie Vodka 400.  In 19-career starts at Homestead, Harvick has never finished outside the Top 20 and he sports one victory, 11 Top-5 and 17 Top-10 finishes with 414 laps led.  The 58-percent Top-5 and 89-percent Top-10 rates are pretty astronomical.  The No. 4 team carries an amazing six-race Homestead Top-5 streak into this weekend's event.  While the victories have been hard to come by, Harvick seems to always be in contention.  The driver of the No. 4 Ford Mustang is the best driver from this manufacturer to get Ford back into victory lane at HMS. 

Martin Truex Jr. – The Joe Gibbs Racing star is trying to gather some momentum.  His Top-5 finish at Atlanta last weekend was his first Top 5 of the season.  For a time during that 500-mile Atlanta race, Truex and the No. 19 team were the fastest on the track.  They didn't finish strong and thus didn't win, but Truex is becoming dangerous on these intermediate ovals once again.  He has good career numbers at HMS with one victory and 10 Top 10's in 15 starts.  That works out to a strong 10.2 average finish.  The driver of the No. 19 Toyota has been either winner or runner-up in the last three-straight Homestead-Miami Speedway races.  So Truex has this oval pegged to the wall. 

Joey Logano – This is an oval where the Penske Racing star has been improving greatly over the last few seasons.  Logano rides a five-race Top-10 streak at Homestead-Miami Speedway into this weekend's Dixie Vodka 400.  These efforts have boosted his career Top-10 average to 55-percent.  Logan's last two starts have yielded a victory and fifth-place finish the last two seasons.  It seems that this driver and team have really taken off at the South Florida oval.  Fast forward to this season, the No. 22 Ford team have led 132 combined laps between Las Vegas, Charlotte and Atlanta.  Logano has captured one win and three Top 10's in those four intermediate oval starts.  He is poised to challenge the Top 5 in Sunday's Dixie Vodka 400, and possibly contend for the win.

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

Chase Elliott – Elliott comes to South Florida this weekend with some good intermediate oval momentum thus far since NASCAR resumed racing.  The Hendrick Motorsports star has one win, one runner-up finish and one eighth-place finish between Charlotte and Atlanta recently.  He's also led 92 laps across those three recent starts.  Elliott will be making just his fifth-career start at the 1.5-mile Florida oval, but that should be of little concern.  The young driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet has two Top 10 and four Top 15's in those four prior efforts.  The average finish checks in at a strong 9.5.  Elliott has yet to be a serious contender to win any of these Homestead races, but he could step up to that level in Sunday's 400-mile battle.

Brad Keselowski – The driver of the No. 2 Ford has had his end-of-season struggles this last few years, so Homestead hasn't been a hugely successful track for the veteran Penske Racing driver.  However, five of his last seven starts at the South Florida speedway have netted Top-10 finishes (71-percent) so he hasn't been all that bad either.  Keselowski has been very consistent on the cookie cutter ovals this season with one win and four Top-10 finishes.  The win came in the first Charlotte race, but he did also register a steady ninth-place finish this past weekend at Atlanta.  Homestead-Miami has been good, but just not great for this driver and team.  Keselowski is racing well right now, and should earn a better than typical Homestead finish.  He should be pointed towards another Top 10 Sunday afternoon. 

Denny Hamlin – Homestead has been a very successful oval for the driver of the No. 11 Toyota.  Hamlin has two-career victories and 10 Top-10 finishes at the South Florida track.  He has captured four of the last five pole positions at HMS, so he's a strong qualifier at this intermediate oval.  Hamlin has stacked up six Top-10 finishes in his last seven starts at this facility.  That 86-percent rate checks in higher than his 67-percent career-long rate at Homestead.  The Joe Gibbs Racing star's recent cookie cutter oval exploits have yielded a runner-up finish and fifth-place finish at Charlotte and Atlanta of late.  Hamlin should be dialed-in for a great performance in the Dixie Vodka 400.    

Ryan Blaney – The young Penske Racing driver has been razor sharp on the intermediate ovals since NASCAR resumed.  He has a pair of third-place finishes in the Charlotte doubleheader and a fourth-place finish more recently at Atlanta.  This will be the young driver's sixth-career start at Homestead-Miami Speedway.  The five prior starts haven't held much success for Blaney.  His start last November yielded a HMS career-best 11th-place finish in the Ford EcoBoost 400.  Blaney is focused and racing well entering this Homestead race.  The level of performance and speed is quite impressive.  He should fetch his first-career Homestead Top 10 in Sunday's 400-mile race. 

Sleepers – Drivers with good history at Miami & solid upside

Kurt Busch – The No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing team has their act together on the intermediate ovals right now.  Busch has had these style ovals pegged since NASCAR resumed, with one Top 5 and three Top 10's in three starts between Charlotte and Atlanta.  In his 19-career starts at Homestead-Miami Speedway the driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet has two poles, one victory and seven Top 10's.  Given his strong sixth-place finish at the similar sized oval in Atlanta last weekend, he should have plenty of speed for this 400-mile event.  Busch should crack the Top 10 Sunday afternoon at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Jimmie Johnson – The seven-time Monster Energy Cup champion will likely be making his last-career Cup Series start at Homestead-Miami Speedway this weekend.  The farewell tour has been pretty good so far.  Johnson's last two 1.5-mile oval starts has yielded 11th- and seventh-place finishes.  The No. 48 Chevrolet team has been way better than average of late.  Johnson's Homestead record over the years has generally been a mixed bag, but he does sport a 58-percent Top-10 rate at HMS.  His last two starts at the South Florida track have resulted in 14th- and 13th-place finishes.  We expect that to be the floor for this driver and team this Sunday.  Johnson should be a face among the Top 10 drivers in the Dixie Vodka 400.

Matt Kenseth – The Chip Ganassi Racing veteran has been a career-long performer at the South Florida oval.  Kenseth grabbed one win, led 449 laps and 11 Top-10 finishes in his 19-career starts at the track before retirement.  He hasn't raced at HMS since the end of 2018, but was carrying a six-race Homestead Top-10 streak into his retirement.  Now that Kenseth has resumed racing, he's got a shot at extending his current Top-10 streak at this 1.5-mile oval.  The resumption of racing had been a mixed bag, but Kenseth's Top-15 finish at Atlanta last weekend was a move in the right direction.  His 135 laps raced inside the Top 15 worked out to roughly 42-percent of that race.  That's a good stat.  Likely a sign that Kenseth is breaking the rust off and getting back in the groove.  This is a good oval for him historically and an opportunity for the veteran driver to collect his second Top 10 of the season.   

Tyler Reddick – The Richard Childress Racing rookie is having a great start to his rookie campaign.  10 races into the season and Reddick sits 18th in the driver points with two Top-10 and five Top-15 finishes so far.  The intermediate ovals have been a highlight point for the No. 8 Chevrolet team.  Reddick has claimed eighth-, 14th- and 16th-place finishes in his last three attempts on the mid-sized ovals.  This will be his first-career start in a Cup Series car at Homestead-Miami Speedway, so there are some unknowns we're facing this Sunday.  However, Reddick was razor-sharp in an Xfinity Series car at this oval.  The young driver captured two pole positions, two victories and three Top-5 finishes in three starts in that division of NASCAR at this same facility.  He presents a lot of fantasy racing upside in this 400-mile event.      

Austin Dillon – The Richard Childress Racing veteran has been way better than most expected in the 2020 campaign.  Dillon has grabbed one Top 5 and three Top 10's and currently resides a respectable 14th-place in the overall driver standings.  The cookie cutter tracks have been a big part of that recent success.  Two of Dillon's three Top-10 finishes this year have come on the intermediate ovals.  Most recently he grabbed a respectable 11th-place finish last weekend at Atlanta.  Dillon's Homestead resume reads pretty steady with one Top 10 and five Top 15's in six-career starts.  The average finish isn't shabby either at 13.5.  All signs point towards success for the No. 3 Chevrolet team this weekend. 

Alex Bowman – Bowman has been a bit up-and-down this season, but we feel like this could be one of those upswing starts.  He finished 12th-place at Atlanta Motor Speedway last weekend, and is trending the right direction on the intermediate ovals.  The Hendrick Motorsports driver's last start at Homestead-Miami Speedway yielded a ninth-place finish in last November's Ford EcoBoost 400.  It was Bowman's career-best effort at the track and a good barometer of what to expect this Sunday.  He also finished a respectable 13th-place at the similarly progressively banked oval in Las Vegas earlier this season.  This driver and team are a bit of a boom-or-bust fantasy pick, so just be aware of that before filling out your lineups this weekend. 

Slow Down – Drivers to avoid this week

Clint Bowyer – Bowyer has been cash money on the short tracks this season, but he's been wildly inconsistent on the intermediate ovals.  Since NASCAR returned to action he's claimed 39th-, 16th- and 20th-place finishes on these 1.5-mile speedways.  That average finish of 25.0 doesn't fill us with much optimism ahead of Sunday's Dixie Vodka 400.  The driver of the No. 14 Ford Mustang has been pretty sharp in recent Homestead outings.  Finishes of eighth- and sixth-place the last two seasons would normally have us recommending Bowyer for fantasy racing use this Sunday.  However, current trends are hard to ignore.  This veteran driver is going to have to shake off some recent bad luck to break his current trend line.

Erik Jones – The Joe Gibbs Racing youngster has had it uncharacteristically tough on the cookie cutter ovals this season.  Jones' finishes of 23rd-, 11th-, 26th- and 28th-place on the 1.5-mile tracks of 2020 are way out of character.  These are typically good ovals for the No. 20 Toyota team.  Jones has three-career starts at Homestead-Miami Speedway and only one Top-10 finish to show so far.  That brilliant third-place performance came last November in the 400-mile season finale of 2019.  However, the expectation that Jones can repeat that task is a very shaky proposition.  This driver and team have apparently struggled with the NASCAR transition to racing without practice and qualifying.  They're missing the setups on their cars for these intermediate oval races.       

Darrell Wallace Jr. – Wallace is fresh off a good 11th-place finish at the Martinsville short track this past Wednesday night.  However, the shift to this oval in South Florida will be a completely different type of racing.  Intermediate ovals have been tough on the No. 43 Chevrolet team this season.  Wallace has finishes of sixth-, 38th-, 37th- and 21st-place on these tracks.  The Top 10 came at Las Vegas before the Coronavirus break.  Since NASCAR resumed, it's been tough rowing for this driver on these style tracks.  Homestead-Miami Speedway has been stingy with Wallace to this point.  The young driver's two-career starts at the oval have been 21st- and 34th-place finishes.  The risks of deploying the No. 43 team in the Dixie Vodka 400 are simply too high to consider.    

William Byron – Another young driver who's been succeeding on the short tracks this season, but struggling with the cookie cutter ovals is Byron.  He's fresh off impressive runs at Bristol and Martinsville, but his 1.5-mile oval resume has been bad in 2020.  Byron has finishes of 22nd-, 20th-, 12th- and 33rd-place on these size ovals this season.  Like many of these other poor performers, we believe the lack of practice laps is really hurting the No. 24 team on these tracks.  Homestead-Miami Speedway presents some challenges of its own for Byron.  In two-career starts at this facility, the young driver has finishes of 24th- and 39th-place.  Not exactly what you'd call a ringing endorsement.  It's difficult to imagine Byron will shake this pattern in Sunday's race at the South Florida oval.

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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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