The Chase for the Sprint Cup Series heads to Homestead-Miami Speedway for the Ford EcoBoost 400, and a champion will be crowned. First off, if you have been a loyal or occasional reader, thank you for your patronage all season. It is much appreciated, and I hope you were able to build up your bankroll. Second, are we on the verge of seeing history at HMS Sunday afternoon?
Hendrick Motorsports driver Jimmie Johnson ($10,800) looks to join Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Richard Petty with his Sprint Cup Series championship. He showed well in the second practice session, topping all drivers at 174.345 mph.
In 15 career starts Johnson has yet to taste victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway, posting just four Top 5s with 99 laps led and a 14.1 Average-Finish Position (AFP). He also has a pair of DNFs over the 15 starts. He ranks ninth in Driver Rating over the past five starts at the track, leading 27 laps while running 74.4 percent of his laps inside the Top 15 with a 19.0 AFP. He’ll need much better numbers across the board if he is to win a title. With his history, DFS owners will not want to bet against him, although it will cost you a pretty penny to include him. He starts 14th, worst of the Championship 4 drivers.
Joe Gibbs Racing’s Carl Edwards ($9,700) was second in the third in final practice Saturday, posting a speed of 174.031 mph, and he was third in the second practice session and ninth in the first practice. He is set to go off from the 10th spot in the starting grid, and he should rack up plenty of Place Differential points for DFS owners. Edwards has two celebratory back flips in Victory Lane in the shade of the palm trees at Homestead, rolling to five top 5s with seven Top 10s and a circuit-best 568 laps led in 12 career starts. His AFP of 9.3 is second-best among all drivers.
Edwards’ teammate and 2015 Sprint Cup Series champ Kyle Busch ($10,500) celebrated in style last season with a checkered flag at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It was rather uncharacteristic of his previous stops, as Rowdy had really struggled in South Florida. Busch has 11 career starts and last season’s win was just his second Top 5 and fourth Top 10. Overall he has a 21.1 AFP in his 11 starts. However, many of his struggles happened early in his career, as he ranks third in Driver Rating at 108.7 over the past five starts, leading a circuit-best 248 laps while running 84.4 percent of his laps inside the Top 15.
Lastly, Penske Racing’s Joey Logano ($10,200) will on Row 7 with Johnson in the 13th position. Both have had similar results at HMS over the past five starts, too. Logano is 10th in Driver Rating at 93.9 with 72 laps led and 69.4 percent of his laps turned inside the Top 15. In seven career starts he has never won at the track, and he has just one Top 5 and two Top 10s. If he is to secure his first-career Cup title, he might need to pull a rabbit out of his hat. Among the Championship 4, he is the least favorable DFS option despite the fact race sponsor Ford would likely love to see one of their cars win the title.
Among the non-championship contenders, Stewart-Haas Racing driver Kevin Harvick ($10,700) is always one to watch, but especially at HMS. He is on the pole for Sunday’s race, and he leads all active drivers with a sparkling 7.2 AFP over 15 career starts. Seven of his finishes have resulted in a Top 5, and he has finished outside of the Top 10 just twice with his worst finish just 20th. He really seems to be comfortable at the track. His boss, Tony Stewart ($7,500) will ride off into the sunset and into retirement after this race. He has three wins at the track in 16 career starts with a 14.9 AFP and 450 laps led. It would be a storybook finish for Stewart to come out on top, and it isn’t necessarily a stretch of the imagination. As a No. 4 or 5 DFS option he is a solid play.
Furniture Row Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. ($10,000) looked strong in practice, finishing second in Session 1, seventh in Session 2 and first in Session 3. He will go off in the second spot in Sunday’s starting grid and will have a significant impact in this race even though he is on the outside looking in for the championship. In 11 career starts he has never won, but he has three Top 5s and seven Top 10s with a 10.2 AFP, third-best among all active drivers. Not many are talking about MTJ this week, and that’s usually when he makes his presence felt.
JGR’s Denny Hamlin ($8,600) checks in seventh in Driver Rating (101.0) over the past five starts, leading 122 laps with 72.4 percent of his laps turned inside the Top 15. Hamlin ranks fifth among all drivers with a 10.7 AFP, taking checkers twice with nine of his 11 career starts resulting in a Top 20 finish or better. At this price he is a must-have DFS option for GPPs. Teammate Matt Kenseth ($9,300) is second with a 111.7 Driver Rating over the past five starts, and he has run 95.4 percent of his laps inside the Top 15 over the past five starts at Homestead. A JGR four-pack this weekend is one of many lineup strategies you could go with in cash games and you should fare very well.
Penske driver Brad Keselowski ($9,500) checks in fourth in Driver Rating over the past five starts at Homestead, leading 106 laps with 91.4 percent of his laps turned inside the Top 15. In eight career starts at HMS the Blue Deuce hasn’t been to Victory Lane, and he has just two Top 5s and three Top 10s. He is a bit of a risky play given his marginal results over the years at the track, although he will start on the outside of Row 1 next to the pole sitter Harvick.
Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson ($8,800) has managed 17 Top 10s in 37 career starts, including his first Sprint Cup Series victory this season. It isn’t long before we’ll likely see Larson battling in the Championship 4. He has had success at HMS in the past, posting a Top 5 with three Top 20 finishes, never finishing lower than 15th. His 11.0 AFP in three career starts makes him an attractive No. 3 or 4 DFS option. Teammate Jamie McMurray ($8,000) is finishing the season strong, averaging a 14.3 AFP over his past four starts. He will start in the 15th position, while Larson goes off 24th and should post plenty of Place Differential points.
ON THE DOWN LOW
As far as the lower-priced options are concerned, there is plenty of good picks for a high-low DFS lineup strategy.
JTG Daugherty Racing’s A.J. Allmendinger ($7,200) is a solid No. 5 or 6 driver option, as he has turned it around down the stretch. He has five straight Top 20 finishes, including three Top 10s, posting a 12.4 AFP with 15 fastest laps and five laps led at Martinsville. He isn’t quite running at championship-caliber lately, but he has been performing like a solid No. 2 or 3 DFS option at a cut-rate price. His Fantasy Points per dollar spent in recent weeks is better than most, so remember him when filling out the bottom of your DFS roster. Allmendinger will start in the 12th position Sunday.
Rookie Ryan Blaney ($7,700) will go off in the eighth position in Sunday’s race, looking to replicate or do even better than last season’s 17th-place finish in his first-career Sprint Cup Series start at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He was 18th in Practice Session 1, fifth in Session 2 and 19th in Session 3, so he more than handled himself with aplomb against the rest of the field. He is a solid DFS play as a No. 4 or 5 roster option.
Richard Childress Racing’s Ryan Newman ($7,800) is set to off third in Sunday’s race, and he looks for his first-career win at Homestead-Miami Speedway after coming up empty in his first 14 tries. Newman has two Top 5s and five Top 10s, however, posting a solid 15.9 AFP. Roush Fenway Racing’s Greg Biffle ($7,300) has tasted victory three times in 14 starts at HMS, a three-year streak from 2004 through 2006. He has four straight Top 20 finishes, averaging a 15.4 AFP with 10 fastest laps and 13 laps led during the span. As a No. 5 or 6 DFS option you can certainly do much worse.
If you’re really desperate for salary relief look to Leavine Family Racing driver Michael McDowell ($6,000), who qualified well and will start 26th. He has finished 22nd or better in four of his past six outings. SHR’s Danica Patrick ($6,100) has also been solid in three tries at Homestead, posting finishes of 18th, 20th and 24th at the track. If she can replicate those results she is a safe No. 6 DFS option.