Eric took the win on Sunday with William Byron being victorious in Sunday’s Dixie Vodka 400 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. It was Byron’s second win in the last 14 starts after going 0-for-97 prior. But, it was CJ’s team who shined the most with three of his seven drivers taking spots in the top five.
CJ had Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson and Kevin Harvick to go along with Kurt Busch rebounding from a potential loose wheel to unlap himself from 27th to come back to eighth in the final 30 laps. That’s four drivers in the top 10. Truex, has four top three finishes in his last five Homestead tries. Harvick, has scored a top five in seven of his last eight starts on the Miami track himself. Larson, now gest his fourth top five in his last six Homestead tries too.
Eric may have got the win but Byron was his only driver in the top 10. Denny Hamlin (11th) and Chase Elliott (14th) were supposed to fare better but they never really were much of a factor. Elliott, faded as the race went on and Hamlin had to come from the back twice, the first at the start for an unapproved adjustment and the second for speeding on pit road following the second stage. He went from third to the back and only had enough time to get back up to 11th.
Greg put Alex Bowman and Kyle Busch at the back part of the top 10 (9th and 10th respectively) for what was another quiet day for his drivers.
CJ leads Eric by 45 points heading to Vegas with each having a driver win the last two weeks. Greg trails CJ by 450 points, so he made a change in dropping Matt DiBenedetto following a slow start to the season (33rd, 37th and 28th respectively) in favor for Michael McDowell.
McDowell has three straight top 10 results, so why not.
DiBenedetto though finished runner-up in both Vegas races a year ago, so does this change come back to bite Greg? Long term, it could pay off with McDowell being greatly improved from the past anyways and knowing that he’s locked into the playoffs via his Daytona 500 win.
CJ will be tough to stop right now with Harvick scoring a top 10 in literally every race run this season and now heading to three of his better tracks. He’s had five top 10’s in his last six starts at Vegas, nine top two results at Phoenix, including a runner-up in last year’s spring race, then to Atlanta to where he’s won two of the last three years.
Larson, has been strong at each of those tracks too with five top 10’s in his last six at Vegas, four straight top sixes in Phoenix, two top 10’s in his last three in Atlanta only to be followed by Bristol dirt.
Plus, Truex has been stout on these same tracks too. Bell and Dillon are the wildcards on these as both could be solidly in the top 10 for all four races in March. Each are great on dirt with CJ having the leg up at Bristol with Larson, Bell and Dillon.
Eric is hoping to get Elliott and Hamlin back going. Each were arguably the two best at Daytona with Hamlin leading 98 of 200 laps in the Daytona 500 and Elliott 44 of the 70 on the road course. They struggled a bit in Homestead but look to rebound in Vegas. Elliott, swept both stages in this race last year before cutting a tire. Hamlin, hasn’t had as much Vegas success but goes to Phoenix (3 top fives last 4) and Atlanta (2 top 5’s last 3) in the two weeks after.
Logano, should get back going too. He should have won both Daytona races despite Hamlin and Elliott dominating. His car faded in Homestead but he heads to Vegas and Phoenix to where he won both races last year with two straight spring race wins in Vegas including nine top 10’s in his last 10 there. In Phoenix, Logano has four straight top 10 finishes including a first and third place run respectively a year ago. Finally, in Atlanta, he had five top 10’s in his last eight starts there too.
If he can get anything out of Byron, Almirola, Chastain and Wallace, then the small gap to CJ could close. It’s just that CJ is going to have a lot of points coming over the next month too.
Greg is hoping Brad Keselowski shows up to these next three races like he has lately. In Vegas, he has 10 top 10’s in his last 11 tries. At Phoenix, he was runner-up the last time out in November. Then, it’s to Atlanta to hope to earn his third win in the last five years.
Kyle Busch struggled in Homestead and could do so again with a new crew chief over the next three weeks. He has four top 10’s over his last six Vegas starts but two of his last three were 15th or worse. Phoenix, he was 11th last November, but has 10 top sevens in-a-row prior including nine of those in the top four. Atlanta, he has four top seven’s in his last five starts.
Alex Bowman has two straight top 10’s and could be a sleeper factor over the next month too, especially since he has dirt experience.
Ryan Blaney, like DiBenedetto, has started off 2021 slow but has potential to break out of that too.
1 TEAM CJR – 685 points (1 wins)
K Harvick… 160 (5th on Sunday)
C Bell… 140 (1 win) (20th on Sunday)
A Dillon… 115 (12th on Sunday)
K Larson… 100 (4th on Sunday)
Kurt B… 70 (8th on Sunday)
M Truex Jr… 60 (3rd on Sunday)
C Briscoe… 40 (18th on Sunday)
2 TEAM ES – 640 points (1 wins)
C Elliott… 165 (14th on Sunday)
D Hamlin… 150 (11th on Sunday)
W Byron… 115 (1 win) (Won on Sunday)
J Logano… 85 (25th on Sunday)
R Chastain… 70 (17th on Sunday)
D Wallace Jr… 40 (22nd on Sunday)
A Almirola… 15 (30th on Sunday)
3 TEAM GDP – 235 points (0 wins)
B Keselowski… 75 (16th on Sunday)
Kyle B… 50 (10th on Sunday)
A Bowman… 40 (9th on Sunday)
R Blaney… 30 (29th on Sunday)
C Buescher… 20 (19th on Sunday)
E Jones… 15 (27th on Sunday)
M McDowell… 0 (6th on Sunday)
3/1 (After Race 3) Claim M McDowell for M DiBenedetto (5 points).