Loading scores...
Chasing the Cup

Chasing Homestead

by Dan Beaver
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

To make it to the final round of the Championship, drivers have to be lucky and good. They also have to manage themselves on and off the track. For the want of an “I’m-sorry-spun-you” sympathy card (and if Hallmark doesn’t make one, they are missing a prime opportunity), NASCAR did not get the much anticipated battle between this year’s two hottest drivers.

Based on the records of the top four drivers all year, on paper, Kevin Harvick should run away with the Ford 400 and the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup—but these races don’t get run on paper. They are run in the real world on asphalt tracks crisscrossing America.

It will be difficult to beat last year’s championship battle. Kevin Harvick had to win the Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500k at Phoenix International Raceway simply to qualify for his position in the finale. Ryan Newman door-slammed Kyle Larson on the final lap of that race to secure his position among the championship four and the two of them kept their level of intensity high for 267 laps at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Newman was winless to this point in the season, but he was going to have to pass Harvick for first if he wanted to claim the Cup. They finished first and second.

Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano did not fare nearly as well and that is where this year may surpass 2014.

This year Harvick, Jeff Gordon, and Kyle Busch can all easily finish among the top five if everything goes according to plan. Martin Truex Jr. should be a lock to finish in the top 10 and the Chase is going to come down to the last lap one more time.

Jeff Gordon (1 win / 5,000 points)
Chase Outlook: first 
Last week’s outlook: first 
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Homestead: 7.33
Chase Wins: Martinsville

If one slavishly considers statistics, Gordon does not have a chance to beat Harvick this week. He earned only five top-fives in the first 35 races and those came sporadically throughout the season. He pulled off a victory when he perhaps needed it the most three weeks ago at Martinsville Speedway and that is part of a league-leading six consecutive top-10s entering this week.

While races are not won on paper, NASCAR has an uncanny knack for producing some of the best storylines of all time and Gordon winning in his final full season would top the charts. His struggles at Homestead are few and far between, while his most recent victory in 2012 is enough to make him a favorite to challenge for victory this week.

Kevin Harvick (3 wins / 5,000 points)
Chase Outlook: second 
Last week’s outlook: second 
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Homestead: 6.33
Chase Wins: Dover

Lightning is not supposed to strike the same place twice, but that myth has disproven many times. Harvick is the favorite to win this year’s championship and if something happens to keep Gordon off his back bumper, it is unlikely that anyone else will have a shot at winning either the Ford 400 or the 2015 Cup.

Harvick even has a better record on the progressively-banked Homestead-Miami Speedway than Gordon. In 12 races in its current configuration, he has failed to crack the top 10 only once. Most of his efforts are on the high side of the single digits, but he scored three consecutive top-fives from 2008 through 2010. Last year he ran as tough a race as NASCAR fans have seen in the Modern Era and scored his first victory of this track to win his first championship.

Martin Truex Jr. (1 win / 5,000 points)
Chase Outlook: third 
Last week’s outlook: fourth 
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Homestead: 9.00

No matter who wins the championship this year, there is going to be a great story to tell. If Gordon wins in his last season, Harvick takes the trophy in back-to-back years, or Busch wins after missing a third of the races: all of these would pale in light of the accomplishment by this little team from Colorado—far, far from the maddening NASCAR crowd.

In a winner-take-all format, anything can happen. The right strategy call at the end of the race can make all the difference, or the No. 78 can hit on the right setup from the start of the race, keep up on the adjustments, and win like they did earlier this year in Pocono Raceway. His victory there was the 13th top-10 in 14 races. He went on to score one more in that streak, but suffered back-to-back accidents at Sonoma Raceway and Daytona International Speedway, which broke this team’s momentum. They have only one top-five during the Chase, but they only need one more strong result to be a good fantasy value.

Kyle Busch (4 wins / 5,000 points)
Chase Outlook: fourth 
Last week’s outlook: third 
Next three tracks, 3-year average finish
Homestead: 16.67

Busch is capable of scoring four consecutive top-fives; earlier this year, he almost posted four victories. There is no clear, logical reason to drop him one position in the final handicap except for this: Busch has a tendency to overdrive in certain stressful situations and racing for a championship is about as stressful as it gets. Sometime during the Ford 400, the smart money says he will scrape the wall and change the handling characteristics just enough to keep from racing for a top-five. He’ll finish in the top 10 instead.

Busch’s record at Homestead is also not quite enough to recommend him. While Gordon, Harvick, and Truex have a predominance of top-10s in their career, Busch has only three in 10 starts and no other top-15s. He has one top-five, which came as recently as 2012, but it is not enough to recommend him above the other three.

Busch’s predicament is analogous to losing one’s quarterback for a third of the season and still making it to the Superbowl. 

 

Upcoming Tracks Average Finish, last three years, sorted by Chase so Far

Driver

Chase
So Far

|

Homestead

Jeff Gordon

7.78

|

7.33

Martin Truex Jr.

9.44

|

9.00

Kyle Busch

10.78

|

16.67

Kevin Harvick

12.22

|

6.33

 

Carl Edwards

8.00

|

19.33

Brad Keselowski

11.22

|

8.00

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

11.33

|

9.00

Joey Logano

11.33

|

12.67

Kurt Busch

12.00

|

13.67

Ryan Newman

12.33

|

7.33

Denny Hamlin

12.56

|

10.67

Jamie McMurray

14.67

|

18.33

Jimmie Johnson

15.11

|

18.00

Paul Menard

17.67

|

18.00

Matt Kenseth

19.00

|

8.67

Clint Bowyer

22.11

|

5.00

 

A note about the three-year stats: The three-year average finish is a script that looks at the last 1,116 days—to provide for minor changes in the schedule. Since some races shift dates more than a week or two, the past three-years sometimes occasionally contain five races instead of six. It is a consistent snapshot, however.

A note about the Power Average: The Fantasy Power Rankings formula includes finishing results this season as well as various “strength-based” intangibles such as Laps in the top five, 10, and 15, average running position, speed in traffic, and quality passes (passing a car while in the top 15) expressed as if they were finishing results. The lower the nu

 

Dan Beaver

Dan Beaver has been covering fantasy NASCAR for more than 20 years with a little help from his >650,000 record database. He can be found on Twitter @FantasyRace.