Fantasy NASCAR preview: Ford 400

by Eric McClung on November 17, 2010 @ 18:20:00 PDT


It took several makeovers to get the racing at Homestead-Miami Speedway just right. After a failed attempt to produce 1.5-mile version of the rectangular Indianapolis Motor Speedway, track officials would finally settle on a more traditional oval design with progressive corner banking and flat straightaways. What haven't changed are the splashy, art deco-inspired colors used throughout the venue or the numerous season-ending races the track hosts for various forms of motorsports, including all three major NASCAR touring series.

Location: Homestead, Fla.
Shape: Oval
Length: 1.5 miles
Laps: 267
Turns: 18-20 degrees
Front stretch: 3 degrees
Back stretch: 3 degrees

Drivers to keep an eye on

Carl Edwards | No. 99 Aflac Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

Among active drivers, Edwards' five straight top-10 finishes at Homestead is the longest streak at the site. In addition, since loop data was introduced in 2005, he has never held an average running position worse than 15th. Last week, Edwards left the Arizona desert with his first victory since winning the season finale back in 2008 near the beaches of the Florida coast. The Blue Oval is the title sponsor for this week's race, and as the top Ford driver in the points standing, Edwards is the logical top-tier start when considering those not challenging for the title.

Mark Martin | No. 5 Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

Mark Martin, Hendrick Motorsports
The old man is worth a start

Although the veteran driver sat out of the 2008 event at Homestead, he fared well last year with a 12th-place finish and 80.9 percent of laps recorded in the top 15. From 2005 to 2007, Martin had two top-10s in three starts, including a runner-up performance. In that pair of races, he spent over 94 percent of his laps in the top 15. Currently riding a streak of eight finishes of 14th or better, including two top-fives and two other top-10s, Martin has been a great value for those that have been riding his late-season resurgence. This weekend allows Martin to finish an otherwise disappointing year with a postseason bright spot.

Joey Logano | No. 20 Home Depot Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing

Last year's 24th-place finish at Homestead was Logano's first Cup start at the site. That might as well be a decade ago. Over the last five starts, Logano has seen his finish improve by exactly one spot each and every week, starting by finishing seventh at Charlotte Motor Speedway to eventually placing third at Phoenix International Raceway. If the trend continues, Logano will finish second at Homestead and win the Daytona 500. OK, that's a bit unrealistic, but the youngster is showing why he was put on the fast track to the Cup series. With a top-five and top-10 in two Nationwide starts at Homestead, Logano knows how to get around this place. He brings a lot of talents to South Beach and will continue to bask in the postseason limelight.

A.J. Allmendinger | No. 43 Insignia HDTV Ford | Richard Petty Motorsports

In both of his starts at Homestead, Allmendinger has been impressive while finishing strong. After starting from the rear of the field in 2008, he ended the day in 11th place. Last year, Allmendinger notched a 10th-place result, with an average running position of 15th and 59.6 percent of laps in the top 15. While that suggests he has been something of an overachiever, the 'Dinger is the safest bottom-tier driver for the finale thanks to a season full of solid finishes on intermediate tracks.

Martin Truex Jr. | No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing

On 16 occasions this season, Truex has held an average running position of 15th or better. Only five of those performances resulted in top-10s, while four have ended in finishes outside the top 20. Yes, Truex is no stranger to disappointment this season. Homestead should give him shelter once again, however. Truex owns four straight finishes in the top 10 at the site, the second longest active streak, and has never held an average running position worse than 14th. Three of which came with more than 80 percent of laps spent running in the top 15. Those looking for a middle-tier value should flex Truex into their provisional lineup and monitor practice times.

Temper your expectations

Greg Biffle | No. 16 3M Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

Greg Biffle, Roush Fenway Racing
Living off reputation

Yes, we are indeed suggesting you sit the driver with the most wins in the short history of this week's host track. From 2004 to 2006, Biffle won three consecutive races at Homestead, yet has not finished in the top 10 since. The Biff has been a boom-or-bust driver for much of the season. In nine Chase races, he owns a win and three other top-fives, including two straight, but finished 17th or worse in four others. After starting the season off with six straight top-10s, Biffle has failed to string more than two together all season long. Among top-tier drivers, there are safer options that are coming at the better value.

Tony Stewart | No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing

The racing might have been bad, but Stewart is one driver that might miss the old configuration at Homestead. After winning the first two races held at the site, Stewart has just three top-10s in nine starts. It hasn't been due to a lack of effort, though. In three of the last five races, Stewart has been running in the top 10 at the midway point and would spent over 93 percent of his laps running in the top 15. However, he finished in the top 10 only once. Last year was not one of those examples, but Stewart qualified a career-best fifth and led 43 laps, but finished in 22nd. Since winning at Auto Club Speedway, Stewart has yet to record a top-10 in five starts. After a sizzling summer, Smoke has turned in a postseason swoon and should be avoided for the finale.

Kurt Busch | No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge | Penske Championship Racing

The last four starts at Homestead have ended one of two ways for the elder Busch brother: a top-five finish or bust. In 2006 and 2008, his day was ended early due to crashes. In 2007 and 2009, Busch held excellent average running positions and led more than 15 laps in each start. With the Blue Deuce going to Brad Keselowski next year, Busch will want to end his tenure with one of NASCAR's premier sponsors on a positive note. With a knack for coming up big on intermediate tracks, it's certainly possible. However, Busch has only a pair of top-10s in the Chase and carries a lot of risk.

Jeff Burton | No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing

When Burton finished as the runner-up in the last two races of 2009, including the Ford 400, it put an exclamation point on the RCR comeback that had been brewing over the last few months of the season. That momentum certainly carried over into this season with Kevin Harvick challenging for a championship in addition to Clint Bowyer's pair of wins. Burton, however, has come up empty with numerous blown opportunities for victories and top-five finishes. Over the last seven starts, Burton has just one top-15 and is too busy dealing with his frustrations, as evidenced by his mind-boggling wreck of Jeff Gordon while under caution two weeks ago, to trust.

Ryan Newman | No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing

The most consistent driver to end the regular season extended that run into the early portion of the Chase, then Newman hit a snag with four finishes of 20th or worse. He was back on track last week at Phoenix with a runner-up performance, but can you trust Newman in the finale? While he has improved drastically on intermediate tracks, Newman has not finished better than 18th in the last four starts at Homestead. Still, he was running in the top 10 at the midway point in two of those, including last year. If you are challenging for a fantasy championship, it's likely Newman helped you get there. You might be tempted for one last dance, but be warned that the music could stop suddenly.

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About Eric McClung

Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a three-time award finalist. Over the years, he's made several appearances in print and on radio. McClung began contributing to KFFL in 2008 and currently serves as one of KFFL's featured fantasy NASCAR experts. He's also captured the fantasy football championship in the KFFL staff league twice.

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