And then there was one. As in one final race. Following Denny Hamlin‘s victory at ISM, NASCAR heads back east for Championship weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway. A champion will be crowned under the lights Sunday evening in the Ford EcoBoost 400. Let’s get into some NASCAR DFS Picks for DraftKings and FanDuel for your daily fantasy lineups.
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Sunday morning it occurred to me that ISM would not be the round of eight cut-off next season. In fact, thanks to the scheduling shake-up for 2020, ISM will host Championship weekend. This is all fine and dandy as I like ISM and would prefer just about any track to an intermediate hosting the Series finale. Provided the venue has lights. Because obviously finishing a race under the lights adds a nice aesthetic appeal to the gravitas of the race.
However, as I also hypothesized on twitter, if we saw a repeat of the previous two ISM races heads just might roll. Once again, if you wanted to lead you had to start upfront. Our top-three lap leaders all started 1, 2, and 3. I’m sure NASCAR is already aware of the monster they have created at short tracks with the 750 HP package. Silly changes will be made to the spoiler or splitter. Heck, we’ll probably see it in February when they return to ISM after Daytona.
Just know, NASCAR needs to come up with something for the final year of the Gen-Six car. If they don’t, Championship weekend will turn dull in the Cup series. No one wants a title to boil down to their qualifying position. This isn’t F1 after all.
The Championship Four
It took ten months but I believe the four best drivers of the 2019 season all made their way into the final four. The foursome (Martin Truex Junior, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, and Kevin Harvick) lead the charts in terms of wins (21 wins combined), top fives, top tens, average finish, and average Cup points accrued. In all but a few categories, Joey Logano was a hair better than Denny Hamlin but its miniscule and meaningless when you compare Denny’s 6 wins to Joey’s 2.
This may come off as a giant “Duh” but each of the final four needs to be considered in your lineups tomorrow. Obviously the stakes are high for each and the only way to win the Cup title is to finish ahead of the other three. Thus, the easiest way to that route is to race to the lead and win. In the past Homestead race, the final four all led laps of varying degrees. We should expect the same Sunday afternoon.
Therefore, below, I’m going to make the case for each driver below as to their potential Hog candidacy and why they should be in your lineups. Thanks to the rain yesterday afternoon, NASCAR flip-flopped the schedule and set the field for the race via points. This has created a very interesting scenario where all four start together side by side. All upfront to boot. Let’s parse what we know and try to separate one from another.
FYI: with just 267 laps on tap, any lineup construction beyond two dominators is getting thin.
Denny Hamlin – 1st
Our only driver of the foursome to not win a title, Hamlin rides in with momentum after winning ISM. However, ISM and Homestead are about as different as Dale Earnhardt Senior and Derrike Cope.
Recent numbers for Denny don’t stand out at Homestead with no top-fives and an average finish of 10th since 2016. However, remember that this is Denny’s first final-four appearance since 2014. Yes, that 2014 season when Ryan J Newman was contending for a championship with RCR. Neither surprisingly beat Kevin Harvick for the title.
As far as this year is concerned, Hamlin has two wins in this package tied with Truex and Harvick. However, his average finishing position is slightly worse than the other three at 10.7. Hamlin has been much better in the 750 HP package this season though. Competitors should be grateful that ISM wasn’t the series finale this year.
Denny feels like the “easy” choice as a Hog thanks to his pole spot. This is Hamlin’s 4th pole of 2019 but his first at anything larger than a mile oddly. His finishes from 1st are 1st, 5th, and 4th, however, just once did he lead the first or second most laps (218 – Dover). As far as history for the pole sitter at Homestead is concerned, it’s alright but not great as shown below.
|Laps Led||Fastest laps||Finish||Avg|
It’s less than encouraging to see no wins in the Gen-Six era at Homestead coupled with lackluster dominator points.
Kevin Harvick – 2nd
We begin with the only driver of the four not to call Joe Gibbs his boss. Harvick once again raced his way into Miami via a win at Texas. However, conditions are different compared to last season. If you’ll remember, Crew Chief Rodney Childers was suspended the final two races of 2018 for an illegal spoiler at Texas. This left veteran Crew Chief Tony Gibson manning the box for Harvick while Childers had to remain back in Charlotte. Harvick did manage to ascend to the front leading 58 laps while finishing 3rd. Perhaps, with Rodney is his ear this year, Harvick can finally return to hold his first title since winning it back in 2014.
The case for Happy is simple – consistency. In the past three Homestead races, Kevin has finished top-five in all of them. Surprisingly, the only driver in the field to do so. In fact, his average finish of 3.3 is best in the field much less the four. In the 550 HP package, Kevin owns two wins including the previously mentioned Texas race just two weeks ago.
Martin Truex Junior – 3rd
Truex enters Miami as the 2019 Series most winningest driver (7). However, just 2 of these wins have come at intermediate tracks in 2019. Like the rest of his JGR teammates, dominating short tracks in the 750 HP package has been his forte. However, he does own a victory at Las Vegas when the playoffs started but finished just 6th in races at Kansas and Texas since then.
Ultimately on Truex’s side is a win at Homestead just two seasons ago and 2nd last season. Part of these strong finishes, to me at least, is Crew Chief Cole Pearn. While Truex is a talented driver, Pearn goes under-appreciated for his knack of setting up cars for races that transition from the afternoon into the evening. Truex’s other intermediate win this season came at Charlotte during Labor Day weekend, a race that starts in the late afternoon and ends at night. For what it’s worth, Las Vegas started in the mid-afternoon and ended in the early evening too. When you isolate these afternoons into evening races in the 2019 season, Martin won 4 of those 7 races with an average finish of 6.7 which is best in the field.
Kyle Busch – 4th
What started off like a rocket for Rowdy fizzled into a sparkler in 2019. Kyle opened the season with all sorts of momentum cranking out wins at ISM, Fontana, Bristol, and then Pocono in the summer. However, since that Pocono win, Kyle has failed to win another race. Perhaps Kyle fell back to the field or the field caught up to him. Regardless, Kyle’s win and overall consistency helped keep him above water during the playoffs. Now he sits ready trying to capture his second Cup title since winning it all in 2015. Yes, the year he managed to miss 11 races and still win the championship.
Kyle’s case may be the weakest, especially based on how he finished the year at intermediate tracks. In the final five races at 1.5-mile venues, Busch notched just two top-fives with an average running position of 11.4. Kyle’s biggest problem was his qualifying efforts consistency placing himself in the teens.
In the past two races at Homestead, Kyle has found the lead with 64 laps led combined with finishes of 4th and 2nd. However, that was the old high horsepower/ low downforce package.
Championship Four Conclusion
When you line these drivers up side by side my eyes are squarely on two drivers – Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Junior. If building a one-off team I would focus on those two. If making multiple entries to satisfy your inner degenerate in the last fantasy NASCAR slate of the season – I would lean heavily on that duo. Beyond the #4 and #19, my next confidence pick would be Denny Hamlin and then finally Kyle Busch.
The Not So Dark Horse
So do we just find ways to jam in combos of those four drivers and forget it? No, but it’s mainly because of one driver – Kyle Larson. Kyle has a knack for Homestead, 190 laps led combined over the past two Homestead races. Kyle would have won the race two years ago but a late caution shook things up and Larson respectfully took a back seat to let the Final Four drivers battle it out. Larson still knows his way around a high banked oval and should be in consideration as a Dominator candidate. However, it’s not just because of his track history.
Something I hadn’t really considered, until I saw this tweet from PJ Walsh of The Action Network, was this week’s tire compound.
Same tire this weekend that Cup teams ran at Chicago and Darlington.
Best Driver Rating among the #Championship4 at those two races, combined:
-Hamlin: 74.4 https://t.co/AmNTxiEvas
— PJ Walsh (@PJWalsh24) November 12, 2019
You obviously see that Harvick was the best of the final four in terms of driver rating. However, the name that should be mentioned in those two races was the aforementioned Kyle Larson. Kyle’s average finish in those two races was 2nd. Larson’s average running position was 4.5. Finally, his average driver rating 123.9. All three of those were best in the field. Larson only led ~40 laps in both races but if he’s out front like he was two years ago he could easily sail to a double-digit second win while the foursome battle it out behind him.
GPP Place Differential Picks
Trailing down the starting grid we have Erik Jones starting 16th. This pick is not for the faint of heart with his average finish of 24th at Homestead since 2017. However, in the tire and track corollary of Darlington, we have Jones who won the Southern 500 making him an interesting tournament option. His price tag makes him unattainable for cash games but with his place differential, he makes for a great GPP play. Especially if Erik can steal some Hog points on his way to a possible top-five finish.
Cheaper but with a lower floor is the other corollary track/ tire winner of Chicagoland – Alex Bowman. Oddly like Jones, his recent runs at Miami haven’t been favorable but we’re betting on a much-improved driver versus past seasons. Excluding both Pocono races, Bowman’s average finish in the 550 HP package sits at 9.9 -5th best in the field.
Cash Place Differential Picks
Let’s begin with your cheap options that will free up some salary. The “punt” play is going to be flipping a coin on either David Ragan starting 31st or teammate John Hunter Nemechek in 30th. Ragan comes in with the last ride narrative as he’s retiring following tomorrow’s race. It doesn’t hurt to note that Ragan has back to back finishes of 20th and 17th at Homestead as well. John Hunter is possibly driving for a chance to return to Front Row next season and a nice top-20 could go a long way with the team and sponsors as well. Note in his first start at Texas he finished 21st.
From 19th through 27th you have several drivers you could make cases for; some easier than others. My favorite in this gaggle is Chris Buescher who has been hands down the best of them all in this package while also being the cheapest on DraftKings. Starting 20th gives Buescher place differential to gain as well as a bit of a safety net in staying on the lead lap. Second would be Austin Dillon who has a nice rolling history at Homestead with 3 straight top-15 finishes including back to back 11th place finishes.