Nascar News : Simple guidelines to follow for unique Homestead

17/11/2011 11:39
This is how championships are supposed to be contested: Two teams battling head-to-head for the top spot, completely shutting out all distractions, and racing at their peak. Occasionally fans are disappointed by a Super Bowl that is decided by a wide margin, a World Series going only four games, or a Cup championship that is decided before the final race, but the past two seasons in NASCAR have been stellar.

Last year, the lead changed in the final race with Jimmie Johnson erasing a 15-point lead held by Denny Hamlin. Under the old system that margin was pretty close to the three-point advantage held by Carl Edwards this year. With the current points structure, the only certain way to control one's destiny this year is to win, and both Edwards and Tony Stewart have proved capable of doing so during the past two weeks. Finishing nose to tail at Texas and Phoenix, the worst either driver has finished was third and that has impacted fantasy players. These teams are driving one another to greatness and the field is racing hard to keep pace.

This season has been unlike most that preceded it. It is too soon to know if the new points system was responsible for the anarchy, but the majority of races were determined by some external force: Tire strategy, fuel mileage, ill-timed cautions, or mistakes by the driver or in the pits turned the 2011 season upside down. For that reason, it comes as no surprise that the Chase also has been unpredictable. In the first seven Chase races, two were won by non-Chase contenders, which is the most since NASCAR expanded the field to 12 drivers in 2007. In addition, five drivers earned their first Cup win during the year and this was a season of unknowns.


It is fitting, therefore, that the final race of the season will be contested on one of the most unique tracks on the circuit. Homestead is a true oval and it was the first unrestricted, intermediate speedway to employ progressive banking. There are no strong comparatives to this track and that strips fantasy owners of some of their accustomed tools. It also simplifies the game because there are only two things that need to be considered: a driver's record at Homestead and recent momentum. Simplifying it even more, players can completely ignore statistics from the first four races held at a track named Homestead-Miami Speedway. The only thing shared by the first two configurations of this track during its first four seasons compared to its current iteration is the address.

Homestead debuted as a flat track that resembled a smaller version of Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Two years later, the corners were bumped out and rounded, but the turns were still flat and some drivers thrived on that configuration. When track officials steepened the corners and added progressive banking, this track was transformed into one of the raciest venues on the circuit. New drivers stepped up to the plate and Roush Fenway Racing has dominated Victory Lane ever since.

However, since very little has gone according to plan this year, it is unlikely that this will be a predictable race, which leaves the door wide open for another non-Chaser to win. The series could even have another first-time winner if the cards fall the right way.

The Favorites

For the past three years, Kevin Harvick has done everything but win at Homestead. With a second in 2008 and a pair of thirds in '09 and '10, he obviously knows how to get the setup dialed in during the 400-mile race and the only thing lacking has been that one break to catapult him to Victory Lane. Determining if that break will occur on any given weekend has been one of the difficult tasks for fantasy owners, but the No. 29 team is attractive for another reason: With only one top-10 in his past three races, he is likely to have slipped under the radar screen of most of your competitors. If you need to roll the dice but don't want to risk too much, Harvick should be on this week's roster.

For the past two weeks, momentum has been one of the biggest factors in determining who runs well. No one has more impetus than Edwards, who hasn't finished worse than 11th in the previous 12 races and that single result outside the top 10 came on the wild card track of Talladega. He hasn't won since the beginning of the season, but eight of his past 12 races ended in top-fives, including back-to-back runner-up finishes at Texas and Phoenix. It's unlikely that his streak will be broken this week because Homestead is his best track in terms of average finishes. In seven races there, he has an average result of 5.7 and the only time he was outside the top 10 was in his inaugural attempt in 2004 when he finished 14th. There is practically no downside to starting him and with victories in two of the past three Ford 400s, there is a ton of upside.

Stewart has been far less impressive at Homestead, but he proved last week at Phoenix that his recent records are meaningless. With four victories in the 2011 Chase, he has taken the opposite approach to Edwards. The No. 99 team is relying on consistency, while Stewart believes winning will carry the day. If he wins on Sunday, that is precisely what will happen because the three bonus points that go to the victor will erase the advantage Edwards currently has. As soon as you turn your TV on this week, you will probably hear about Stewart's two victories on this track. Ignore that, because they both came on the flat track that bears no similarity to Homestead today, but just because the configuration has changed doesn't mean that the No. 14 team won't challenge for the win.

Dark Horses

If you really want to roll the dice, A.J. Allmendinger is the top contender. In fact, this driver could become the sixth to win his first race of the season and dollar for dollar he probably is the best value in the game. The 'Dinger has both recent momentum and track record on his side with a three-race streak of finishes 11th or better in his most recent attempts this season, as well as five top-11 results in his past seven attempts. At Homestead, he has never finished worse than 11th in a race he started and last year, he earned a solid fifth. He is not likely to sneak up on the competition, but he is a must-have on your roster.

If not for the uneven results shown throughout the 2011 season, Greg Biffle might be one of the favorites this week. Roush Fenway Racing has won all but two of the eight events held on this track since it employed progressive banking and Biffle was responsible for three of those victories. In fact, he earned his in consecutive years from 2004 through '06, but in the four events since then, he has added only one more top-10. Still, he hasn't been terrible in that span with a worst result of 18th and an average of 13.8, which means he should be considered if he practices and qualifies well.


Kurt Busch has alternated finishes outside the top 35 with top-fives in every other season from 2003 through '09 (with one-year off for bad behavior in 2005 when he was released from Roush before the end of the season). Last year was his only mediocre run when he crossed the finish line 18th and if the pattern holds, he is due to score another top-five. The team is capable, but he is liable to give fantasy owners gray hair along the way and hardly seems to be worth the aggravation.


Kyle Busch also should be avoided. The past two weeks may well have been the most depressing in this young driver's life with NASCAR's parking directive that kept him from racing at Texas in the Nationwide and Cup series and a pair of blown engines at Phoenix. He won't find much relief at Homestead because this is his worst track in terms of average finishes. With a 26.3 in six races and only one top-15 to his credit, he is an easy choice to leave in the garage.

Fantasy Power Ranking

Homestead-Miami Speedway (past three years)
Pos. Driver PA*   Pos. Driver PA*   Pos. Driver PA*
1. Carl Edwards 5.67   17. Kasey Kahne 17.92   33. Brad Keselowski 30.62
2. Kevin Harvick 6.96   18. Jamie McMurray 18.25   34. Robby Gordon 31.45
3. Jimmie Johnson 7.30   19. David Stremme 18.33   35. David Gilliland 31.64
4. Tony Stewart 8.36   20. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 18.78   36. Cole Whitt 32.50
5. Jeff Gordon 10.65   21. Juan Montoya 18.84   37. Regan Smith 32.61
6. Kyle Busch 11.28   22. Trevor Bayne 19.10   38. Andy Lally 34.06
7. Greg Biffle 11.29   23. Joey Logano 21.68   39. Travis Kvapil 35.33
8. Martin Truex Jr. 13.51   24. Brian Vickers 23.38   40. Dave Blaney 36.00
9. Jeff Burton 13.91   25. David Ragan 24.59   41. Reed Sorenson 36.04
10. Clint Bowyer 14.50   26. A.J. Allmendinger 24.65   42. J.J. Yeley 38.50
11. Denny Hamlin 15.92   27. Marcos Ambrose 25.51   43. Landon Cassill 38.71
12. Matt Kenseth 16.06   28. Scott Speed 26.45   44. Mike Bliss 40.82
13. Mark Martin 16.07   29. Paul Menard 26.67   45. Joe Nemechek 41.19
14. Kurt Busch 17.10   30. Casey Mears 28.79   46. Dennis Setzer 42.00
15. David Reutimann 17.60   31. Mike Skinner 28.82   47. Michael McDowell 42.42
16. Ryan Newman 17.75   32. Bobby Labonte 29.79        

* The Power Average is the average finish during the past three years, plus the number of laps spent in the lead, in the top five, and in the top 10 expressed as if they were finishing results. For example a driver who has led the most laps receives a hypothetical first-place finish, the driver who leads the second most laps receives a hypothetical second-place finish, and so on. This rewards drivers who competed at the front of the pack for the majority of the race, even if an unfortunate event takes them out of contention at the very end of the race. A driver's recent record in the support series is also factored in, as is his average running position as provided by NASCAR Statistical Services. Failures to qualify are credited to the driver as if they were a finishing position (i.e. the first non-qualifier is assigned a 44th-place finish).

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