This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.
Four drivers come to Homestead in a dead-heat for the championship. The format of the Chase has narrowed the field to Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski. It all comes down to one race for all the marbles and all four drivers start even at 5,000 points. The stakes and the pressure have never been higher. Busch's hopes for a second championship are coming into focus. After a good performance and seventh-place finish at Phoenix, the No. 18 team brings a lot of momentum into the season finale. Considering that Busch sits near the top of the loop stat chart below (driver rating 96.9) for Homestead, he has to feel very confident coming into this Ford EcoBoost 400. The driver with the best shot of
Four drivers come to Homestead in a dead-heat for the championship. The format of the Chase has narrowed the field to Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski. It all comes down to one race for all the marbles and all four drivers start even at 5,000 points. The stakes and the pressure have never been higher. Busch's hopes for a second championship are coming into focus. After a good performance and seventh-place finish at Phoenix, the No. 18 team brings a lot of momentum into the season finale. Considering that Busch sits near the top of the loop stat chart below (driver rating 96.9) for Homestead, he has to feel very confident coming into this Ford EcoBoost 400. The driver with the best shot of foiling Busch is likely Truex Jr.
The Furniture Row Racing star has been lights out on the intermediate ovals during the Chase for the Cup. With victories at Chicago, Charlotte and Kansas as well as a strong runner-up finish at Texas, the No. 78 Toyota team has been gearing up for this finale at the 1.5-mile South Florida oval. Harvick has pulled a bit of a late-season hot streak and magic act to advance this far into the Chase. The veteran driver of the No. 4 Ford won at the similar oval in Texas two weeks ago to punch his ticket into this one race, winner-take-all finale. Considering that Harvick sits second overall in the loop stat chart for Homestead and he's a two-time winner at this oval, we can't rule out the No. 4 SHR team from throwing a Hail Mary pass this Sunday. While Keselowski is the least likely of the field to win the championship, he has been a steady performer on these cookie cutter ovals with a strong fifth-place finish at Texas a couple weeks ago as evidence. If any of the other championship contenders run into problems at Homestead, it could be the driver of the No. 2 Ford that swoops in and steals the championship away. If anything the last two weeks have shown us at Texas and Phoenix, this has been a wild Chase for the Cup and anything can happen. The racing has been highly competitive and the fall out has made for some wild action on the track. So, if for no other reason that this, tune in on Sunday to see what the last chapter in this wild season holds.
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 championship contenders. While current hot streaks will play a big part in this week's picks, we'll rely heavily on past data to outline the drivers for the last race of the season. Here are the loop stats for the last 12 races at Homestead.
|DRIVER||AVG FINISH||QUALITY PASSES||FASTEST LAPS||LAPS LED||LAPS IN TOP 15||RATING|
|Martin Truex Jr.||10.5||640||174||111||2,427||101.8|
|Dale Earnhardt Jr.||22.5||374||150||75||1,249||76.8|
This weekend sets up pretty well for Truex and the No. 78 team in their hopes to grab a first-ever Monster Energy Cup Series championship. As you can see from the table above, Truex and his Furniture Row Racing team enjoy the third-best driver rating and good loop stats at this South Florida oval. What this table doesn't show is how the veteran driver has won on nearly every intermediate oval the series has raced on this season. The chances of Truex stepping up big on the season finale stage are very good. For as good as Truex has been on these style tracks this season, Harvick has been nearly his equal during the Chase. The Stewart Haas Racing driver has one victory, two third-place finishes and 283 laps led on these style ovals during the four intermediate oval races of the Chase. The numbers show clearly that these will be the two front-runners Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Joe Gibbs Racing star Busch won this event two years ago to claim his first championship. Considering how recent that performance is, the driver of the No. 18 Toyota knows what it takes to win this winner-take-all race. If someone hopes to upstage the two lead championship contenders, it will likely be Busch given his recent success at this facility. As for Keselowski's chances at the championship, they're somewhat slim. The driver of the No. 2 Ford has never won at the South Florida oval, and he only sports a 33-percent Top-10 rate at the facility. Unless the top three contenders all go in the tank, Keselowski won't likely be lifting that coveted trophy this Sunday afternoon. Regardless of the tale-of-the-tape, tune in to find out who comes out on top because stranger things have happened during this wild season. If another driver outside the championship picture hopes to steal the thunder on Sunday, it could likely be Matt Kenseth or Denny Hamlin. The two were eliminated from the Chase picture after Kansas and Phoenix respectively, but that makes them no less dangerous on a track such as Homestead. The two have combined for three-career victories at Homestead-Miami Speedway, so they could possibly upstage the champion with a dominant performance in the Ford EcoBoost 400. We'll look at the championship contenders, and the non-Chase teams that could finish the season on a good note. We'll give you the drivers you need to dominate the 2017 season finale at Homestead.
The Contenders - Drivers in the hunt for the win
Martin Truex Jr. - The Furniture Row Racing star is poised to win his first championship as he's been one of the more impressive performers of the Chase for the Cup. With three wins and eight Top-5 finishes during the nine Chase events, Truex has been nothing less than dominant with the pressure on. This weekend he comes to the perfect track to round out his 2017 season, and likely claim the cup. Truex has good career numbers at HMS with seven Top 10s in 12 starts. That works out to a respectable 12.3 average finish. His level of performance on intermediate ovals this season has been beyond impressive. Six of his seven victories have come on similar sized ovals, with three of those wins coming during the Chase alone. The driver of the No. 78 Toyota has his eyes on the prize and Truex will be focused like a laser this Sunday afternoon.
Kevin Harvick - The Stewart Haas Racing veteran comes to Homestead seeking his second championship. Harvick really turned things up a notch over the last month. He has put together a four-race Top-10 streak including a victory at Texas. In 16-career starts at Homestead, Harvick has never finished outside the Top 20 and he sports one victory, eight Top-5 and 14 Top-10 finishes with 315 laps led. The No. 4 team has been pretty strong on intermediate ovals during the Chase. Harvick won at Texas and finished third at both Chicago and Charlotte. His last three starts at Homestead-Miami Speedway have yielded a win and three Top-3 finishes. If there's a driver in the field that has the best shot at upstaging Truex Jr., it's Harvick and his No.4 Ford team.
Kyle Busch - Busch will get his shot to claim a second championship in a one-race winner-take-all scenario. Up until this event two years ago, Busch had never won at the South Florida oval. However, the pressure to perform birthed a champion in that single race on this big stage. Busch's intermediate oval performance during the Chase have been a bit more miss than hit, but we expect the No. 18 JGR team to show up with their A-game this Sunday. He has a win and four Top-10 finishes in his last five Homestead starts, and that's incredibly improved over starts earlier in his career at this oval. Busch will be a hungry driver and willing to do anything to win another Monster Energy Cup Series championship. He'll be a top contender in this 400-mile season finale.
Denny Hamlin - While Hamlin was eliminated from the Chase last weekend at Phoenix, it by no means diminishes his recent level of performance. Of the drivers not in the final four vying for the championship, Hamlin has been one of the more impressive performers. He has four Top-5 and six Top-10 finishes during the Chase. The Joe Gibbs Racing star was flirting with victory lane at Phoenix last weekend before his dust up with Chase Elliott in the closing laps. Homestead has been a very successful oval for the driver of the No. 11 Toyota. Hamlin has two-career victories and eight Top-10 finishes at the South Florida track. He rides four-race Homestead Top-10 streak into Sunday's action. If there's any driver in the field not a part of the championship stakes that can steal their thunder, it's most likely Hamlin.
Solid Plays - Drivers who are near locks for the top 10 with an outside shot at winning
Chase Elliott - Elliott comes to South Florida this weekend looking to cap off a strong second season. He will not be racing for the championship, but that shouldn't deter him from a good performance. The driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet had some rough patches mid-season, but he turned it up strong going into and throughout the Chase. He has done particularly well on the cookie cutter ovals of the Chase with 55 laps led and three Top-5 finishes in the four events so far. That sets up very well for Homestead-Miami Speedway this weekend. Elliott will be making his second-career start at the 1.5-mile oval, but that should be of little concern. The young driver finished a respectable 11th in this event one year ago, and we believe he'll be much better this time around.
Brad Keselowski - The driver of the No. 2 Ford comes into this season's finale as the long shot of the championship candidates to take the crown for this racing series. Keselowski has shown at times during the Chase that he has his old swagger back, but at times he's been mysteriously sub-par. The Penske Racing star has not achieved much success or acclaim at the South Florida oval, but he's been improving in recent starts. Keselowski has three Top-10 finishes in his last four Homestead starts coming into Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400. As for his recent intermediate oval performance, he did post a strong fifth-place finish at Texas a couple weeks ago, so there's good reason for optimism. With the championship on the line, Keselowski will challenge the Top 5 in this 400-mile battle on Sunday afternoon.
Joey Logano - The Penske Racing driver has had a disappointing 2017 season, but he's started to turn things around as we've come through the Chase. Logano's Top-5 effort at Talladega and recent seventh-place finish at Texas have the No. 22 team looking much better as we close out the season. The driver of the No. 22 Ford doesn't have the best career numbers at Homestead but his intermediate oval performance during this season's Chase for the Cup is more worthy of our focus. Logano has a pair of Top-10 finishes at Chicago and Fort Worth, and those have really been his better performances of this season's playoffs. As it relates to Homestead, he's collected a pair of fourth-place finishes the last two seasons at the South Florida oval. Logano is poised to crack the Top 10 in Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400.
Ryan Blaney - The Wood Brothers Racing driver has had a great season, and it's the hope of the No. 21 team that they end the campaign well this Sunday. The intermediate ovals of the Chase have held some success for Blaney. He has three Top-10 and an 11th-place finish on ovals of this style and size in the last nine weeks. This will be the young driver's third-career start at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The two prior starts haven't held much success for the No. 21 Ford team. However, this is a much more experienced driver and team coming to Homestead this weekend. Blaney was in the running to possibly advance into the championship 4 field, but came up just short at Phoenix this past week. That's a remarkable accomplishment and a real statement about how well Blaney has raced this season.
Sleepers - Drivers with good history at Miami who can provide a solid finish
Matt Kenseth - Kenseth comes to Homestead looking to end this campaign on a positive note. His big, emotional win at Phoenix this past week capped several strong performances as we wind down the season for this driver and team, and possibly wind down his career. Kenseth scored a fourth-place finish at Texas and led 29 laps the week before his big Phoenix win, so signs of heating up began a couple weeks ago. In 17-career starts at Homestead, Kenseth boasts one victory and nine Top-10 finishes with close to 450 laps led. He rides a four-race Homestead Top-10 streak into Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400, and that is a very good sign for Kenseth's potential to end the season on a high note.
Kurt Busch - Busch saw his championship hopes end much earlier in the Chase, but he's been making up for it by racing better in recent weeks. His second-place finish at Kansas and ninth-place finish at Texas two weeks ago show that the No. 41 team has their act together on the intermediate ovals right now. Busch has had these style ovals pegged most of the season. In his 16-career starts at Homestead-Miami Speedway the driver of the No. 41 Ford has two poles, one victory and six Top 10s. Given his recent Top 10s at the similar ovals in Kansas and Texas he should have plenty of speed for this 400-mile event. Busch should crack the Top 10 Sunday afternoon in the Ford EcoBoost 400.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. - With the drop of the checkered flag this Sunday afternoon, we will have reached the end of very colorful and prolific career for Earnhardt Jr. He never won a championship, but in his 19 seasons and 630 starts of racing he's claimed 26 victories and 260 Top-10 finishes. Earnhardt finished in the Top 5 of the final driver standings in four different seasons. It has indeed been quite a ride. He'll look to cap his career with a good performance in his final race. Earnhardt has never enjoyed much success at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but in later years he's come on stronger. Two of his last four trips to South Florida have netted Top 10s, and he has four Top 15s in his last five starts at the track. Recently Earnhardt posted a surprising seventh-place finish at the similar oval in Kansas. He should give everyone a memorable performance in Sunday's season finale.
Daniel Suarez - The impressive rookie driver comes to South Florida looking to cap a great first season in the No. 19 JGR Toyota. Suarez has nabbed one Top-5 and 12 Top-10 finishes to this point and has exceeded our expectations after being suddenly thrust into the seat of this ride this past January. He has cooled a bit during the Chase, but has still managed to be a Top-15 finisher most weeks. Suarez will be making his Cup debut at the Homestead oval on Sunday, so we don't have track specific data other than what he's done there in the lower divisions of NASCAR. Suarez led 133 laps and won the Xfinity Series finale here one year ago, and he finished a strong sixth in the season finale the year before that. That's a pretty good record for the young driver. His most recent intermediate oval outing in Cup yielded a 14th-place finish at Texas two weeks ago. Suarez should challenge that same mark in this 400-mile battle.
Austin Dillon - Dillon hasn't been super impressive in recent intermediate oval outings but he has been consistent and racing on the lead lap. In his last five starts on 1.5-mile tracks he's piled up finishes of 19th-, 16th-, 16th-, 14th- and 13th-place. The most recent being at Texas two weeks ago. Dillon has three-career starts at Homestead with similar results. His last two efforts have netted 14th- and 12th-place finishes the last two years. The driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet may not be the trendiest fantasy racing pick this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but Dillon should deliver good and dependable results with little risk of a DNF or poor outing.
Erik Jones - With a 10th-place finish at Texas and fourth-place finish this past week at Phoenix, the No. 77 Toyota team seem to have pulled out of their late-season slump. Prior to that Jones was mired in a five-race Top-10 drought. So the Furniture Row Racing rookie can now set his sights on finishing the season strong and racing well at Homestead-Miami Speedway this weekend. This will be his debut at the South Florida oval. However, on the positive side of things we need only look at his Xfinity Series career at this oval. Jones has third- and ninth-place finishes in that division of NASCAR at this oval, so it's not at all unfamiliar to him. If we step back two seasons ago into the truck series, we also see a strong sixth-place finish at Homestead in that division of NASCAR. Jones is poised to challenge the Top 10 again this Sunday afternoon.
Slow Down - Drivers to avoid this week
Jimmie Johnson - The seven-time Monster Energy Cup champion will not be racing for a record eighth championship this Sunday afternoon. The No. 48 team is limping into this season finale after sub-par and poor finishes each of the last five events. Johnson's last intermediate oval outing was a poor 27th-place finish at Texas two weeks ago. His Homestead record over the years has generally been a mixed bag, but he won his first race at the track in this event one year ago, and he does sport a 69-percent Top-10 rate at HMS. With all that's happened to this driver and team the last few weeks it's hard seeing them get up off the mat for this one. Johnson and this team are reeling right now, and it's difficult to recommend starting them in any fantasy racing format at Homestead.
Ryan Newman - Despite Newman's lone victory and Chase berth this season, the campaign has been somewhat disappointing in some respects. He's pegged to finish 16th in the final driver standings, and some of his better tracks this season haven't yielded the best results. Intermediate ovals in particular have been an unsolvable puzzle for the No. 31 team. Newman's last five starts on the cookie cutter ovals has netted two finishes outside the Top 30 and four finishes outside the Top 20, for a bloated 27.6 average finish across the span. Newman's Homestead stats are the most reassuring either. In 15-career starts he only has five Top-10 finishes (33-percent), and three of his last four trips to South Florida have failed to net Top 10s.
Kyle Larson - Larson had a great season right up until the Chase started. He looked poised to challenge for the championship, but his luck went south in a major way after the Charlotte race weekend. Larson had a so-so finish at Talladega, and then it's been a string of four-straight horrific DNF's since then. He and the Chip Ganassi Racing team come to South Florida this weekend looking for answers and hoping to change his luck before the off-season. However, Larson's engine failure at Kansas and crash at Texas are his last two efforts on intermediate ovals. Not exactly reassuring to say the least. Larson has a 50-percent Top-10 rate at Homestead, and he even challenged for the win in this event one year ago before finishing runner-up. But we can't see that in the cards for this struggling driver and team right now.
Clint Bowyer - Bowyer didn't exactly have the season he planned in the first year of racing for Stewart Haas Racing. There were some bright spots along the way to be sure, but failing to make the Chase field and slotting somewhere around 19th in the standings isn't exactly what he and the No. 14 team set out to do. A big part of those struggles in 2017 have been on the intermediate ovals. Bowyer's last five starts on these style tracks have only netted a pair of Top-15 finishes, and a 21.6 average finish across the span. Homestead has been an oval of success for this veteran driver with a 55-percent career Top-10 rate, but given his recent struggles on these style ovals Bowyer makes for a risky fantasy racing selection in the season finale.