NASCAR Pre-Race Media: 5 burning questions for Sunday’s Dixie Vodka 400 (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN)

Should Homestead Host The Championship Round Again?

This is the first time since 2019 that the Homestead-Miami Speedway has hosted a playoff race. Due to COVID, the 2020 race was moved to June. Last year it was the 2nd race of the year. Now, it’s the 3rd to final event of 2022. The question now is, should Homestead get another shot at hosting the title race?

They honestly never did anything wrong not to. The racing was always superb. However, Phoenix spent millions to revamp their track and NASCAR felt it was time to move the Championship 4 venue for a change.

I mean I get it. Phoenix is really nice and going to a west coast track that races like a short track was a welcomed moved. Homestead had hosted every championship race since this format was introduced in 2004.

The thing is, I was always under the assumption that the final round would get rotated around some. They’ve not done so since 2020. Should they?

Everyone thinks they should and if they do, Homestead has to be the first place to move it back to. I would be good if they rotate 3-4 tracks every year. Like Phoenix again in 2023, Homestead in 2024, Fontana in 2025, Phoenix again in 2026, Homestead in 2027 and so on…

Which is why I’m genuinely curious on how Sunday’s race looks.

With the old car, Homestead was annually one of the best races of the season. Between the multiple lines to race on and the tire fall off, it was exciting racing. How much will the Next Gen change that or even help that?

We’ve seen an improvement for this new car on intermediate race tracks. Can Homestead really get better?

I’m curious how Sunday’s race looks as a result. Do we see tire problems? Does the high line still ring king?

If the race is a snoozer, then it doesn’t bode well for these discussions. If it’s a typical Homestead race, then the conversation would get louder.

Action during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 18, 2018 in Homestead, Florida.

Will Old Guard Take Back Their Homestead Dominance Again?

The thing about Homestead in the past, especially under the Championship 4 format which was adopted in 2014, most drivers just got out of the way of the title contenders. It wasn’t uncommon for all four to finish in the top five of that race. In fact, since 2014, the winner each season at Homestead ended up being the series champion.

As a result, the usual suspects that typically shined on this track haven’t the last couple of years.

Kevin Harvick had 12 straight top 10 finishes at Homestead and six top fours in-a-row. Martin Truex Jr. had three consecutive top two finishes and led 78 laps, 20 laps and 103 laps respectively in those races. Joey Logano had five straight top six finishes while Kyle Busch had five consecutive top six finishes, three of which being in the top two.

They’d be the top favorites right?

Instead, they combined to lead 29 laps all race in 2020, 27 by Logano and two by Busch. Harvick and Logano finished off the lead lap, Harvick (-1) in 26th and Logano (-2) in 27th.

Truex, was only 12th. Busch, was sixth.

So, did this race run differently without drivers racing them more conservatively? I don’t necessarily think so. I think their advantage was gone.

Now that we have a new race car, does their advantage come back? The last 2 years also weren’t playoff races. This one is again. How much of a role does this play into things?

HOMESTEAD, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 28: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, and William Byron, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR Cup Series Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on February 28, 2021 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

How Much Does 1st Trip To Track This Year Affect Things On Sunday?

In 5 of the 7 playoff races so far, the teams have had data via a first visit to the track to bring with them back. How much does the fact that we’ve not raced at Homestead this year alter the way the race looks and who’s good or not in Sunday’s race too?

Yes, there was a test here last month, but how much does that correlate? Was it enough? There’s not many testing opportunities these days, so that 2-day test could have been enough to make a difference.

“We tested Homestead. We have a baseline there so we know we aren’t going to venture too far from there,” said Denny Hamlin. Same with Martinsville, we tested there.

“Now that we’ve created some more data points we can lead into next year. We just need a little more potential in the car to have more speed.”

It’s why this race this weekend in intriguing in the event that it’s the first trip in race conditions here but there’s also test data as well.

“Well, I think just how we race these days without having practice weekends, I guess, if you will, just having 20-minute practice sessions with very limited things you can change, it’s very hard to develop anything new because it’s always a fine line of you run decent so you’re afraid to get too far out of the box, but you know you also have to get better,” said Joey Logano’s crew chief Paul Wolfe.

“You’re making small steps, but really until we got the opportunity to go to Homestead — and I guess actually we had a Charlotte tire test before that, as well. When you have data on the car and you have two days to put together a plan and try things and learn, try to understand this new car, it makes it hard.

“Having those opportunities, I’m thankful that we were able to take advantage of it, because it’s one thing to test, but you’re hoping you can learn something, as well.

“I said it after Texas; we found speed at Homestead at the test, we tried to carry over some of those things we learned at Texas. It worked. Then coming here this weekend, it appears that it’s paying off.

“Obviously by no means are we all the way done or where we need to be, but we’ve made a step, and we can compete for wins, and I think that’s important as we move forward here.

“We talk about Blaney, Blaney was very good at the Homestead test, as well. Obviously he didn’t end up having a good day at the end, and there’s no reason he can’t go to Homestead with the speeded there and have an opportunity to win, as well.”

HOMESTEAD, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 28: William Byron, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, drives during the NASCAR Cup Series Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on February 28, 2021 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Does Anyone Below The Cutline Move Back In?

Joey Logano is into the Championship 4. Does anyone on Sunday join him? In 2014 and 2015, 2 of the 3 Round of 8 races were won by a non championship eligible driver. Last year, the final race was. With Kyle Larson winning the opening two races of the third round, it allowed for 3 wildcard spots for the taking into the Championship 4.

With 4 of the first 7 playoff races being won this season by non championship eligible drivers, you get the notion that the final spot or two into Phoenix could come down to the slimmest of margins.

First off, the easiest path to the Championship 4 is to win Sunday’s Dixie Vodka 400. Does any of the 8 championship eligible drivers do so?

While we’ve seen 4 races won by a non playoff driver, the last 3 however have been won though by one. If Logano wins, he doesn’t really affect the Championship 4 in a sense that he’s already in and you can’t take playoff points with you.

Can he rebound from being 27th and 25th the last two years at Homestead? Logano, had five straight Top-6 finishes prior and won at Darlington this past May.

Ross Chastain is +18 after being +6 entering. He hasn’t had any Cup experience at Homestead with Trackhouse but he did have a great car at both Darlington races this season and has 4 top 7 finishes in the last 6 weeks. Chastain has scored 79 more points than any other driver this season in the eight races at 1.5-mile tracks.

Chase Elliott dropped from +31 to +17 and has largely struggled on this track. He’s winless here and also at Darlington while having 6 of his last 8 finishes being outside the top 10 on the season.

Denny Hamlin is only +6 and while he was outside the top 10 at each of his last visits on the next 2 tracks, he also is a past winner at each too including the 2020 Homestead race. He also tested at each recently too.

William Byron is -6 and the latest Homestead winner. Chase Briscoe is -9 and scored his first career NASCAR win in the 2017 Truck Series race on this track and calls it his favorite place to race at. He’s always good here and has 4 consecutive top 10 finishes on the season including 2 of each in the top 5.

Ryan Blaney is -11 but was 3rd in the 2021 Homestead race and has 2 top 4 finishes in his last 4 starts on the season but if you glance back to the last 5 weeks, he also has 3 finishes of 26th or worse too.

Christopher Bell is -23 and has been 17th or worse in 3 of the last 4 weeks as well as having just 1 top 10 in 2 Cup Homestead starts.

So, the question being does someone below the cutline moving in after Sunday’s race? I don’t think so… I think we go to Martinsville with the same 4 above the cutline as there are now, granted some margins may change.

CONCORD, NORTH CAROLINA – OCTOBER 09: Christopher Bell, driver of the #20 DeWalt Toyota, and crew chief Adam Stevens celebrate in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Bank of America Roval 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on October 09, 2022 in Concord, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Who Makes The Pit Call To Win?

The last 2 Cup races on the season were won via a late race pit call for tires. Christopher Bell was 6th coming to the Lap 104 caution in Charlotte. Adam Stevens called him down pit road for fresh tires and despite starting 11th on a track you couldn’t pass on, he won.

Last week, it was Paul Wolfe calling Joey Logano down for new tires late in the race. He made up a deficit quickly on them and won.

What happens on Sunday? Who makes the bold call to get his driver to victory lane? Homestead is usually a cut and dry race in a pit strategy standpoint. The track is so abraisve on tires that when a caution comes, you pit.

Does anyone gamble on Sunday?

Top Stat

The last 10 races have each been won by different drivers — Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson, Austin Dillon, Erik Jones, Bubba Wallace, Chris Buescher, Tyler Reddick, Chase Elliott, Christopher Bell and Joey Logano.

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