Ford EcoBoost 400 Preview
November 15, 2016
By Micah Roberts
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Wow, this is it!
We've all been going at it strong since February, and after Sunday we'll go into hibernation for a few weeks until the 2017 NASCAR Sprint Cup season begins. Before I get started on the Championship 4 and who should win Sunday's Ford Ecoboost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, let me first thank you for visiting weekly and checking out what I have to say about the race each week.
So let's get on with who is going to be our 2016 Sprint Cup champion, and with it, I use all objectivity and won't reveal my personal rooting interest until the very end. And it's not who I think is going to win.
Last week's race at Phoenix gave us the final two pieces of the Championship 4 with Joey Logano winning and 2015 champion Kyle Busch finishing second. They'll join six-time champion Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards who already clinched a birth by virtue of each winning a race during the Round of 8.
None of the four championship eligible drivers have a point lead or deficit for Sunday's race. They're all tied and the eventual champion simply has to finish better than the other three. While there's 36 other drivers competing for the race win, the last two seasons have seen the eventual champion win at Homestead with another eligible driver finishing second. Kevin Harvick held off Ryan Newman in 2014 and last season Busch led the final six laps to finish just ahead of Harvick.
Sunday's race will have so many great storylines for each of the Championship 4. We've got Busch trying to be the first repeat champion since Johnson in 2010 while Johnson is attempting to win his seventh championship which would tie him with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for most in NASCAR history. Edwards has been the series runner-up twice, the last time in 2011 when Tony Stewart won the race to beat him. And then there's Logano who looked to be on his way to a title last season, but was taught a tough lessen during the Chase by a veteran as a form of payback. He's paid his dues and certainly is worthy of being a champion.
All four of the drivers are worthy of being champions. This season there wasn't any one driver that dominated, or stood out above everyone else. Five drivers are tied for the series-lead with four wins and nine drivers won multiple races. The entire season was very balanced with not one driver really standing out, which made it an outstanding season overall, maybe one of the best ever because of so much parity.
Let's take a look at each of the driver's resume and what makes them a good candidate to win on Homestead's high banked, 1.5-mile paperclip shaped oval. It's the 11th race this season on a 1.5-mile track, but the layout is unlike any other on the circuit.
Jimmie Johnson (2/1 to win title at Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook): He's already considered one of the best all-time drivers with his 79 career wins, but seven titles puts him in an entirely different category in an era that is much more competitive than any other in NASCAR history. He won four races this season, but it was a real struggle for the team going winless from Race 6 all the way to Race 30 when he broke through with a win at Charlotte, which was his second win on a 1.5 this season. The odd part about Johnson and Homestead is that he's never won there in 15 starts. Part of the reason was because the old Chase format had a point structure and he could coast through without having to win. But still, no wins on this type of track is alarming for someone of his caliber. He's finished ninth there the past three seasons.
Kyle Busch (13/5): The Las Vegan battled hard at Phoenix just to have the opportunity to defend his title this week. He led the series with 17 top-five finishes and was second-best with 1,378 laps led. He won four races on the season, two of which were on 1.5-mile layouts (Texas and Kansas). However, his last win was 15 races ago at Indianapolis. He's finished sixth or better in his last three starts on 1.5s. His Homestead win last season was his first 11 starts and elevated his average finish there to 21.1.
Carl Edwards (3/1): His 9.3 average finish position at Homestead is the best among the Championship 4 drivers. He won there is 2008 and 2010, but he hasn't had a top-10 in his last four. What makes him such a good candidate this week is because he's been outstanding in his last two starts on 1.5-mile tracks. He led 61 laps at Kansas last month and finished second and then two weeks ago won at Texas which halted a 23-race winless streak.
Joey Logano (3/1): His Phoenix win last week was his first there and third win of the season. His 25 top-10 finishes are second only to Harvick. Like Edwards, Logano ran extremely well in the last two races on 1.5s, finishing third at Kansas and runner-up at Texas where he led a race-high 178 laps. During the Chase, he has two wins and a 7.9 average finish through nine races. Last year he had a career-best fourth-place at Homestead.
Championship Prediction: I think Logano offers the best value at 3-to-1 odds just because of his consistency during the Chase. I personally want to see Johnson win his seventh title, and he's favored for a reason, but I just think Logano has the momentum.
As for who I think will win the race itself, I'm going with Martin Truex Jr. just because he's crushed 1.5-mile tracks this season winning twice (Charlotte and Chicago) and leading 883 laps between the 10 races at this distance. For his career, he's always been good at Homestead, even before his season of 1.5 domination since being affiliated with Joe Gibbs Racing. He's got a 10.1 average finish with a career-best runner-up in 2006. If there was one driver who we could agree on that was the most dominant, it would probably be Truex, who lead the most laps (1,809) on all tracks.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #78 Martin Truex Jr. (6/1)
2) #22 Joey Logano (7/1)
3) #19 Carl Edwards (8/1)
4) #18 Kyle Busch (7/1)
5) #48 Jimmie Johnson (7/1)