Another surprise winner as William Byron takes the victory at Homestead. After two first-time winners, Byron wins his second career race in 112 tries. This is Byron’s first time finishing better than 5th at a 1.5 mile track. These intermediate tracks take up the majority of the Cup circuit, so the 24 team will have a big year if their success continues. Last week I mentioned the pressure is on new crew chief Rudy Fugle (after I looked him up) and then we all learned his name on Sunday.
This week we head to the desert for another 1.5 mile track in Las Vegas. Get ready for the corny gambling references from the Fox broadcast early and often. I’m working on a bingo game with gambling terms this weekend, so stay tuned for that. They race this track twice a year so there is plenty of recent data for us to sort through.
It was tough to find top rankings this week as many of the perennial contenders had a bad day at Homestead. There are some big movers after three data points. Without further ado…
- (Last Week 3) Kevin Harvick – The Closer is always there in the finish, even when he doesn’t have the best car. This week Harvick claimed a quiet 5th place finish despite never leading a lap. This season he’s one of two drivers to have a Top 10 in every race (McDowell) and the schedule only gets better as he loves Vegas, Phoenix and Atlanta.
- (4) Martin Truex Jr. – Truex Jr. seems to always have a great car in Las Vegas. In his last six races here, he has a win, four Top 5s, and five Top 10s. The only outlier was last spring when he finished 20th, after a late pit road error by his crew.
- (1) Denny Hamlin – The 11 team shot themselves in the foot twice at Miami with a pre-race penalty, moving them from the pole to the rear. Then in the final stage Denny was back to his old ways, speeding on pit road. He probably had a good car but it’s hard to tell when you’re in traffic all day.
- (2) Chase Elliott – The 9 car has the fourth best “Total Speed” (combining green flag and late run speed) at Vegas over the last four races.
- (5) Kyle Busch – Kyle had a workmanlike 10th place finish at Homestead as he complained about his car all day. Let’s see if JGR can get things smoothed out before their brief West Coast swing. Kyle is good at his home track in Vegas, but truly excels at next weeks track, Phoenix. However, look for the Kyle Busch Motorsports #51 to dominate the truck race on Friday night in Las Vegas.
- (9) Kurt Busch – Kurt was strong all day and even overcame a late unplanned pit stop to finish 8th at Homestead. Las Vegas is the epitome of “boom or bust” for Busch. In his last 16 races here, he has finished either inside the Top 10 or outside the Top 20. Kurt won the most recent race last fall, will that success continue or will he end up at the back of the pack again?
- (12) Michael McDowell – Yet another shocking top 10. I was wrong about his Daytona 500 win being a fluke. He’s had two great finishes since then on two very difficult tracks. After his first career win, he backed it up with his best road course finish and best 1.5 mi finish. Props to Front Row Motorsports and Drew Blickensderfer for such a strong start. If you want to bet on him to continue his great run he’s a juicy +12500 to win in Vegas.
- (13) William Byron – The 24 car was dominant in their win at Homestead after starting 31st. He led 103 laps including the final 57 for the victory and looks to continue his momentum at a track where he only has one Top 10 in six tries.
- (10) Christopher Bell – The 20 team had a disappointing finish after starting in the front row. None of the JGR cars (outside of Truex) looked dominant at Homestead. Look for them to be much improved in the desert. Reminder: Bell had an incredible drift in this race last year.
- (11) Alex Bowman – Bowman had an impressive run at Homestead staying in the Top 10 nearly all day. Can he continue that momentum with a little less tire wear this weekend? Two of his last three finishes in Las Vegas have been in the Top 6.
- (15) Kyle Larson – Very impressive 3rd place finish at one of his best tracks. Turns out Larson likes his odds in Vegas as well; he has an average finish of 6.8 in his last five races here.
- (8) Brad Keselowski – Brad and the rest of Penske just didn’t have it at Miami; he was the top finisher on the team at 16th. Last fall in Las Vegas the 2 car finished in 13th place which was his worst finish since 2012. That result also snapped an eleven race streak of Top 10 finishes in the desert.
- (6) Joey Logano – Logano has the best Total Speed ranking over the last two years in Sin City. After a disappointing race in Miami, look for the 22 to bounce back in a big way this weekend.
- (7) Ryan Blaney – Over the last four races in Vegas, Blaney has the third fastest Total Speed ranking. You may be seeing double this weekend at the front of the pack as Logano and Blaney will both be in yellow Penzoil cars. However, starting the season with finishes of 30th, 15th, and 29th isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement for the 12 car.
- (NR) Austin Dillon – After a 3rd place finish in the Daytona 500 and a 12th place finish at Homestead, the 3 car may have found some speed this year. Last year at Vegas he finished fourth in the spring and was running Top 10 in the fall when he had a pit road penalty. That caused an eventual power steering leak, resulting in a 32nd place finish. Sneaky good car this weekend and my first bet of the week to win at +3300.
Dropped Out: Aric Almirola – Finishes of 34th, 17th, and 30th to start the season. Come back when you can crack the Top 15.