Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:01 AM

Ford EcoBoost 400

It's been a long ride on the 2018 NASCAR Cup Series season, and now the sun is setting. Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway is race No. 36, the 10th of the Playoffs and 11th on a 1.5-mile track.

The Playoffs began 10 weeks ago in Las Vegas and now we finally have our Championship 4. There are no carryover points from previous races. Whoever has the best finish Sunday wins the season championship and the past four seasons have seen the eventual champion win at Homestead and three of those drivers are looking for another championship Sunday.

Kevin Harvick won the 2014 Homestead race to seal his first career title and Las Vegan Kyle Busch also did it in 2015 for his first. Last season, Martin Truex Jr. completed the double for his first title. Those three drivers have been called the Big-3 all season long. They were supposed to be here. The driver looking for his first championship is Joey Logano who has twice been in the Championship 4.

The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook adjusted its championship odds with Busch and Harvick co-favorites at 11/5, Truex next at 11/4 odds and Logano with the longest odds at 7/2. The reason the odds are the way they are is far deeper than Busch and Harvick each winning a series-high eight races and Truex winning the next most with four wins. It's more about the type of track.

There are more races on 1.5-mile tracks than any other type and Harvick won four of the 10 so far this season, Busch won three of them and Truex won one. Logano's two wins on the season came at Talladega where almost any driver can win and the other was on Martinsville's half-mile layout. He's had good runs lately on the 1.5s, such as leading 54 laps and finishing third at Texas two weeks ago, a race won by Harvick who led a race-high 177 laps.

“Well, it’s exciting for us, I think, to be in this position again,” said Truex. “This is our third trip to Homestead in four years, which I think is something we’re all really proud of as a group, and obviously going to be our last race together as a complete group, it’s definitely going to be a special weekend.

“You know, all we can do is prepare the best we can and do the same thing that we’ve done down there before and just try our best. That’s all you can do at the end of the day. We’ve got a great team. It’s been an amazing, amazing ride together, and hopefully, we can get down there next week and make our owners proud and just live up to our potential.”

Can you imagine a team closing shop after winning back-to-back titles? That's John Elway-type of stuff right there. The SuperBook has Truex 6/1 to win. Harvick and Busch are co-favorites to win the race at 11/4 odds.

One variable to be considered when betting on Harvick is that crew chief Rodney Childers was suspendedfor the final two races of the season for creative engineering (cheating) and Tony Gibson has taken over the duties. Imagine being suddenly told you're in charge of the two most important races of the season.

“Yeah, it was a pretty nerve?racking deal there for sure," Gibson said of taking over crew chief duties. "My biggest deal, like I said before, is just making sure that we take each practice ?? the inspection process we all know is pretty intense, so making sure that stuff flows good and we get through there safe and sound, and then we’ll take each practice just like we did Phoenix. We took each practice, each run one at a time, thought about changes and what we needed to do, and like I said, Rodney had a great plan laid out, and we kind of just followed his lead through that. He has an awesome race team. They all pretty much know what to do. You don’t have to tell them what to do."

I really don't think it matters who's on the pit box making calls. As Gibson said, these guys know what has to be done.

All the 1.5-mile tracks have their own unique traits and Homestead's layout is different from all of them with progressive banking up to 20 degrees around the turns of a paperclip shape. All the other 1.5s are on D-shaped tri-ovals. But the thing that matters most is the distance and the banking making most of them set-up similarly.

“I feel like we’ve got as good an opportunity as anybody," said Logano's crew chief Todd Parrot. "If you look back, the thing I would build off of is we led over 100 laps at Kansas at a progressively banked racetrack that’s similar banking to what Homestead is, not a high?falloff racetrack, but it was a good place for us. We lost some track position and really didn’t recover from that to finish the way I think we could have, but we had a great run there, and I think at Texas, the 4 car was dominant at Texas, but beyond the 4 car, I thought we were as good as anybody and finished third there. Our mile?and?a?half program I think through the summertime was lacking speed, and we just needed to understand how to make our race cars faster. Setup wise and everything. And I think we’ve continued to understand what we need to do to make ourselves faster, and we’re working on that, and I think through the last two mile?and?a?halfs we’ve had speed. We’ve been competitive."

Yes, they've been very competitive lately on 1.5s. In addition to Logano's nice runs at Texas two weeks ago, he led a race-high 100 laps at Kansas and finished eighth in October and before that he led 46 laps at Las Vegas to kick off the Playoffs and finished fourth. Still, no wins on the 1.5s this season for Logano.

Recent history also shows that those who do well in the first 10 races on 1.5s do just as well at Homestead in the finale. Last season Truex won seven of the 11 races on 1.5s closing out with a Homestead win. In 2016 Jimmie Johnson had won two of the 10 races before winning at Homestead for his first career win there in what would be his seventh championship. The Big-3 will have an edge at Homestead, but Logano isn't far behind. It wouldn't be a surprise to see all four finish in the top-five.

Of course, there will be 35 others drivers trying to close their season out with a win. Denny Hamlin and Johnson have won at least one race a season for their entire Cup careers and Homestead is their last chance to keep it alive. For Johnson, this will be his last race with Lowe's as a sponsor on the hood as well as last race with Chad Knaus as crew chiefs. He's been with both since his rookie year in 2002.

"Man, I want to win this year. I want to win with Lowe’s on the car and I want to win with (No. 48 team crew chief) Chad (Knaus)," Johnson said. "So, that’s our top priority. Seeing that (rookie) paint scheme is going to trigger emotions from myself and I’m sure our fans. So many good years with that paint scheme and victories and such. I think this weekend’s definitely going to be an emotional one.”

If liking Johnson's chances the SuperBook has posted his odds at 80/1 to win, which is the largest number the seven-time champion has ever had at Homestead.

In 2013, Hamlin won the finale at Homestead to keep his streak alive and he's 20/1 to win his first race of the season on Sunday. He also won there in 2009 and has a solid 10.4 average finish in 13 starts.

Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski each won on a 1.5-mile track this season and will be battling amongst the Championship 4 for the win. Elliott is 20/1 and Keselowski is 15/1, which are both attractive numbers despite a Championship 4 driver winning at Homestead the past four years. Hamlin's 2013 win was the last driver to win at Homestead and not win the title.

And then there's Kyle Larson who seems to be 8/ to win each week because of being respected by the sports books, but he has yet to win in 2018. The SuperBook has him at 3/1 this week, crazy. However, Homestead is a really good track for him -- top-five in his last three starts there.

I'm going with the Vegas local, Kyle Busch. How could I go for anyone else? He and his brother Kurt brought professional championships home to Las Vegas in 2004 and 2015. It was thrill each of those times and it would be this time as well. He's the home team. He's Vegas born. Should Busch win the title Sunday he would be just the 16th driver to win multiple Cup Championships. Go Kyle Go!

Top-5 Finish Prediction:

1) #18 Kyle Busch (11/4)
2) #4 Kevin Harvick (11/4)
3) #22 Joey Logano (10/1)
4) #42 Kyle Larson (3/1)
5) #78 Martin Truex Jr. (6/1)

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