Credit: Tom Pennington/Getty Images for NASCAR

Hail Mary Time

There are a myriad amount of variables that could affect the outcome of the Ford EcoBoost 400 on Sunday, the final race of NASCAR’s 2012 season. Will Clint Bowyer inflict payback on Jeff Gordon? Will there be teams testing out certain things for next season, and will those experimental setups last all race? Will the race be a caution-fest like the practice sessions were on Saturday? All of those could come into play on Sunday, but I personally don’t think that they will. I’ve been wrong before, though. As the race at Homestead progresses, it will transition into a night race after a late-afternoon start. This means the track will change and–you guessed it–there will be comers and goers.

Once the checkered flag waves in Florida this Sunday, all of the fantasy racing leagues around the country will come to a close and a champion will be crowned. Unless you’re sitting in that #1 position right now, chances are you’re going to have to pull off a “Hail Mary” roster (or something similar) to overtake the leader. So, the question becomes, is this the week to do that? You can check out my Average Practice Speeds post from Saturday to see who looks fast, and the full starting lineup for the Ford EcoBoost 400 can be found by clicking here. The rankings below also include some “sleepers” to consider and why I like them.

My Probable Yahoo! Roster: Kyle Busch, Martin Truex, Jr., Mark Martin, Aric Almirola
My Probable Yahoo! Bench: Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Sam Hornish, Jr.

The ifantasyrace advantage is half-price for the final race of the season, why not check it out? You get full access to everything we have to offer and the fantasy opinions of two different writers. Click here for more information.

Final Top Fifteen Ranking For The Ford EcoBoost 400:
*Chase drivers marked in red*

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11. Denny Hamlin – Starts in the rear – Yahoo! A Group
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**

By just looking at Denny Hamlin’s track record at Homestead over the years you could have guessed that he would struggle in qualifying on Friday this weekend. In five of his seven career starts here, Hamlin has started outside of the top 30, but he has finished inside the top 5 in three of them and that includes his win here in 2009. I can’t explain it, and I’m not going to try. With his wreck with Greg Biffle on Saturday, Denny will have to start the Ford EcoBoost 400 from the back of the pack, but it’s not like that is much of a difference at all considering he was set to start 41st anyway. Once the backup #11 Toyota got on the track in Happy Hour, Hamlin had one of the better average speeds, and he ended up 14th out of 24 cars in terms of ten-lap average. He has only finished outside of the top 15 once at this track, and I just don’t see that happening on Sunday. Hamlin would be a great pick for NASCAR.com’s Fantasy Live game, and keep in mind that this backup car is the same one that he won Atlanta with. My point being, don’t be overly concerned about where Hamlin starts on Sunday.

12. Aric Almirola – Starts 5th – Yahoo! C Group
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**

If you read my Preview from earlier this week, you probably remember that I have had my eye on Aric Almirola for this race all season long. It all goes back to 2010 when Aric filled in for Kasey Kahne in the #9 Ford, looked fast all weekend, and drove up through the field from his 24th-place starting spot and ended up finishing 4th. Will we see a repeat performance on Sunday? It’s possible I guess, but not likely. Almirola had another great qualifying effort on Friday, but we’ve all learned by now that he tends to disappoint a bit when the green flag finally waves. Still, a top 15 is well within reach for this #43 team. Most recently on the intermediate race tracks, Almirola has a 15th-place finish to his name (Kansas) as well as a dominating effort before wrecking (Kansas). This car was 13th out of 24 in Happy Hour when it came to ten-lap average and is the same chassis from Charlotte in October where Aric ended up 12th.

13. Joey Logano – Starts in the rear – Yahoo! B Group
**Risk FactorHigh Risk**

I’m really hoping that the NASCAR analysts on TV are correct when they say that backup cars in the Sprint Cup series are pretty much identical to the primary cars because the #20 team had a really good weekend going until Denny Hamlin and Greg Biffle had their little dust-up in second practice. Joey won’t lead the field to the green on Sunday, but it’s been shown here before that qualifying isn’t of maximum important. Also, Logano will still have the first pit stall on pit road, so that should help him out a little bit. His record here at Homestead-Miami Speedway is nothing stellar–Joey’s 19th-place effort here last season is his career-best effort thus far–but in a race like this, where we only visit the track once per year, you have to take a “what have you done for me lately” approach to it. Logano has had a very nice Chase and it would be even better if the bad luck didn’t hit him so much. The #20 backup Toyota was 16th-fastest in Happy Hour and posted the 15th-best ten-lap average in that session. It’s risky, but I think Joey will post a career-best finish at Homestead on Sunday (although that isn’t saying much).

14. Jeff Burton – Starts 33rd – Yahoo! B Group
**Risk FactorHigh Risk**

Admittedly, I was a bit harsh on old Jeff Burton last weekend, and although I do stand behind my statements, that doesn’t mean that he is completely invaluable in fantasy racing. Four of the last six races at Homestead-Miami Speedway have ended with the #31 inside the top 15, and I think that could happen once again this Sunday. Is it guaranteed? Not by a long shot. This team has regressed significantly in qualifying this season, so the 33rd-place starting spot doesn’t worry me too much. Also, Jeff started 31st in this race last season and went on to finish 10th. What I liked the most was how the #31 ranked in ten-lap average during the two practice sessions on Saturday; in the second practice, he was 5th out of 15 cars, and in Happy Hour he was 11th out of 24. Burton was 9th-fastest in Happy Hour after posting the 16th-fastest lap in the previous practice. Hasn’t shown anything this season on the intermediate tracks to warrant this ranking, but I’m just going off of the data of this weekend. Remember, everybody (myself included) wrote off Jeff Burton at Phoenix last weekend and he ended up finishing 13th.

15. Jamie McMurray – Starts 14th – Yahoo! B Group
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**

Jamie Mac has been pretty much worthless for fantasy owners this season, but there is some sleeper potential there this weekend I believe. His 14th-place qualifying effort on Friday is Jamie’s best since mid-September and this car’s practice speeds didn’t look too shabby on Saturday, either. In Happy Hour, the #1 Chevrolet posted the 11th-fastest lap, and in terms of ten-lap average, McMurray was 10th out of 24 cars on that chart. Average speed-wise, Jamie wasn’t great, but to be fair he ran a whole bunch of laps over the two practice sessions (80 to be exact). This tells me that this team knows they have speed and they were just looking to improve the handling. For comparison, McMurray finished 15th at Kansas last month, and he also ran a pretty good amount of laps that weekend. The #1 team also brought that same chassis to the track this weekend. It’s nothing guaranteed (hence the title sleeper) but Jamie Mac could get you a top 15 on Sunday. He finished 14th in this race last season after qualifying 26th.