Nov 15, 2019
Ford Ecoboost 400
Well, here we go, folks. After 35 races in the 2019 NASCAR Cup Series season, we have come to an end with the Championship 4 set and one race remaining at Homestead-Miami Speedway’s 1.5-mile high-banked paper-clip layout to crown a champion. The last five Cup Champions during the playoffs have all closed out with wins in this race and there’s no reason to believe Sunday’s Ford Ecoboost 400 will be any different.
Before we get into the breakdown of who should win, I’d like to start out by saying how much I love NASCAR’s current point and playoff system. We’ve got the best four drivers of the season battling it out for the championship. The system works. I’ve been critical of NASCAR often by their knee-jerk reactions with policy, but after several tweaks over the years, they’ve got a sound structure to incentivize regular-season wins, points, stage points, and playoff points to give us the best of the best for a final show.
So let’s get the final party started. The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook updated championship odds with Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. being 5/2 co-favorites to win the title with Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick each being 14/5. It’s basically a push with all Championship 4 drivers having enough credentials on the season to suggest it’s a crapshoot.
But let’s break it down on what drivers have done well at Homestead, mixed in with the 550 horsepower package with aero ducts on the cars, and also any current form or momentum with any package.
The driver we start with is the driver who won at Phoenix last week to get into this round, Denny Hamlin. He’s had his best year ever and leads the Cup Series with 19 top-five finishes.
“I know that this team will be ready for Sunday at Homestead,” said Hamlin, who is 3/1 to win Sunday. “We have had a lot of success there in the past, and I know our FedEx team is up for another challenge. We just need to stay focused and continue to work like we’ve done all season long and good things will happen.”
He’s won two of the 10 races on 1.5-mile tracks this season (Texas, Kansas) and has three wins overall using this week’s 550 HP race package. He’s also the only active driver with multiple wins at Homestead (2009, 2013). He’s got some serious momentum coming in from the clutch Phoenix win to get the automatic Championship 4 berth. His three competitors for the title have all won championships before, but Hamlin is still looking for his first.
If you’ve been reading this space for the past 20 years, you know I’m a sucker for a great story. I don’t just like watching great moments in NASCAR history pass by, I like creating those moments in my own mind and then type for y’all to read. I’m wrong more than I’m right, but I’ll still always have the 2001 July Daytona race as evidence I can see into the future by detailing why Dale Earnhardt, Jr. would win at the very track his father passed away four months earlier. It was just one of those things that were destined. The same can be said for Hamlin and being a champion. It’s his destiny and I want it to happen.
Harvick is also posted at 3/1 odds to win the Ford Ecoboost 400 according to the Superbook, but he deserves to be the favorite based on what he’s done with this week’s race package lately. He’s won three of the last six races using the 550 HP package, the last coming at Texas two weeks ago.
“I think it’s been a very interesting year for us,” Harvick said. “I think as you look at our year, it’s been a challenge in order to get where we are today, just to battle through the beginning of the year and get the ship turned around and in the right direction and really figure out exactly where we needed to be, what we needed to be doing. (They’re) just totally different concepts than the things we’ve done in the past and just those new concepts and mindsets, the way you race, the way you call a race, all those things that come together.”
At the beginning of the season it was Team Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing that had the edge of the gate, but as the season went on it was Harvick’s team who advanced their agenda the most.
“I think the strength and experience of our race team has kind of carried the results that are in the finish column and the stages won and stage points and those types of things. As we went through the late summer and in the playoffs,” Harvick said. “I feel like we obviously have got our cars back to being competitive and, when I say competitive, I mean able to lead laps without circumstances, and so we’ve been able to do that. And as long as we keep doing those types of things this week, I think you’ve got to be in it to win it and just have to see how it falls.”
Harvick also has track history on his side. Of all drivers who have had multiple Homestead starts, no driver has a better average finish (6.5) than Harvick. His 10 top-fives are also a track record. His lone win came in 2014 which gave him his only Cup Championship.He’s been fourth or better in the last four races there since the win. He should definitely be the favorite this week.
Kyle Busch and Truex are listed as the 11/4 co-favorites to win Sunday and just like Harvick, both their Cup Championships came following Homestead wins. Busch won in 2015 and his ensuing playoff races at Homestead resulted in sixth, runner-up, and fourth last season. Busch has four wins on the season, but none since June 2 at Pocono. It’s a 21-race winless streak.
“Yeah, thanks for the reminder,’ Busch said. “Fight as hard as we can, do the best job we can, exactly what we did Sunday (at Phoenix) – we just weren’t good enough (to win). This week, we’ll just have to make sure that we are. Somehow, someway, if it works out, it was meant to be with our M&M’S Camry. If it doesn’t, then it’s not. Hopefully, the sun will come up for another day.”
His statement isn’t exactly the kind of confidence you’d like out of a driver if betting on them to win the title or race. What I would like to hear instead is “we’ve finished sixth or better and led laps in the last four Homestead races. We’re ready to go win our second championship.”
Busch won two races using this week’s race package at Fontana and Pocono, but he’s had only two top-fives in his last seven starts using the package. He’s not rolling in strong, he’s apparently irritated by not winning lately, and his comments suggest he’s already conceding defeat. I can’t back that with my dollars.
Truex won the title in 2017 after winning at Homestead and then came back in 2018 and was runner-up to Joey Logano. He won at Las Vegas (spring) and Charlotte using this week’s race package. His better package was the 750 HP one used at shorter tracks where five of his seven wins came from. If I had to choose one of the three Gibbs drivers to win, I’d take Hamlin over Truex and Busch and Truex to finish better than Busch.
The last five Homestead winners have all won the Championship so we kind of assume it’s going to happen again, but there are a couple of options outside the Championship 4 that deserve consideration and it begins with Kyle Larson, who the Superbook said would have been the favorite had he made it to this wound. He’s led laps in his last four Homestead starts finishing fifth in 2015, runner-up in 2016, third in 2017 and 13th last season.
The best longshot on the board is Aric Almirola at 200/1 odds to win just because of how well he did on the last 1.5-mile track two weeks ago. He finished second at Texas behind Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Harvick and in front of teammate Daniel Suarez in third-place. Almirola led 62 laps in that race. The Florida native also has some nice personal history at the track.
“Homestead for me has been a great racetrack. It’s really how I got my start to go Cup racing,” Almirola said. “I filled in for Richard Petty Motorsports back in 2010 and I finished fourth after running upfront. That opened some people’s eyes. Sure enough, I got my first start in the Cup Series because of it.”
It’s been a fun season and I just want to thank all of you for checking out this space weekly. I’ll be back with odds to win 2020 NASCAR Cup Championship soon and then it’s off to Daytona Speedweeks in February. Until then, have a great winter.
Top-5 Homestead Finish Prediction:
1) #11 Denny Hamlin (3/1)
2) #4 Kevin Harvick (3/1)
3) #42 Kyle Larson (8/1)
4) #19 Martin Truex Jr. (11/4)
5) #18 Kyle Busch (11/4)