The Big 3 plus 1 fight to the finish

By Jeff Cogliandro  (Point Spread Weekly) 

Championship weekend at Homestead Speedway is upon us, and it’s staring directly into the face of the four remaining contenders to win the 2018 NASCAR title. Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., and Joey Logano will all compete in what is essentially a group matchup to determine this year’s champion. For the majority of the season, the “Big 3” have been the talk of the NASCAR circuit by piling up wins and achieving consistent finishes. Late to the party is Joey Logano, who has emerged as the outside contender attempting to steal the title.

Below is a closer look at the title contenders and how they shape up from a Homestead Speedway analytics standpoint. Note, that all drivers currently have equal points, and the winner of this foursome will be the champion. Odds to win the title are reflected below.

Kyle Busch (plus 150): A top 5 car, with the best pit stall.

13 starts at Homestead

Win: 1 (7.7%) Average start: 12.0

Top 5: 3 (23.1%) Average finish: 18.5

Top 10: 6 (46.2%) DNF: 2

5 top 10 finishes in last six races at Homestead

Kevin Harvick (plus 200): Car was initially not as strong as it normally is.

17 starts at Homestead

Win: 1 (5.9%) Average start: 12.4

Top 5: 9 (52.9%) Average finish: 6.8

Top 10: 15 (88.2%) DNF: 0

10 top 10 finishes in a row at Homestead

7 top 5 finishes in last ten races at Homestead

Joey Logano (plus 250): The best overall car on the track leading into the race.

9 starts at homestead

Win: 0 (0.0%) Average start: 14.8

Top 5: 2 (22.2%) Average finish: 14.9

Top 10: 4 (44.4%) DNF: 1

4 top 10 finishes in last five races at Homestead

Martin Truex Jr. (3-1): Top 3 car on both long and short runs across all practice sessions.

13 starts at Homestead

Win: 1 (7.7%) Average start: 12.7

Top 5: 4 (30.8%) Average finish: 11.5

Top 10: 8 (61.5%) DNF: 2

Last year was first top 10 in last four races at Homestead

From looking at the raw data, it is clear that Harvick has the best overall profile. He has completed 4,544 out of a possible 4,545 laps at Homestead. Not surprisingly, this is the best lap completion percentage of any driver at Homestead. In order to win the title, a driver must first finish the race and Harvick has certainly outperformed all other drivers at Homestead with consistency. The fact that his car has not been as sharp as what we are accustomed to seeing should be worrisome when considering his low odds status.

In comparing Busch and Truex, we can extract that both drivers have started 13 races at Homestead, and have two DNFs each. However, Truex has outperformed Busch in terms of average finish. To take it a step further, Truex only became a contending force, and czar of 1.5-mile tracks over the past two seasons. Truex looks a little stronger entering the race, but Busch has the advantage of pit crew, pit stall, and fast teammates.

Logano is the clear outsider this weekend. He has yet to win in 9 starts at Homestead but he has had several strong performances over the last five years. One reason to consider Logano as a viable threat is that he has had the best car, two of the last three weeks. In terms of numbers, Logano is comparable to Kyle Busch at Homestead, but the extra time to prepare for Homestead has provided Logano an advantage over the other contenders. That extra preparation time has already paid dividends as Logano appears to have one of the best cars entering the race.

Below is an examination of several of the race contenders. The odds are based on winning the race at Homestead soley. However, they incorporate driver profile information to cover both the race and the championship.

Kyle Busch (plus 175): Starting from the 2nd position, Busch was gifted with pit stall number one, which was left available by teammate Denny Hamlin. Hamlin took one on the chin for the team. The pit box advantage is such that a contender must outperform Busch’s crew in order to come off pit row ahead of him. By the numbers, Busch has had a top five car over the course of the weekend with his consistency across all practice sessions.

Kyle Larson (3-1): Lining up in the 11th position is the “wall-hugging” Larson. Larson is the best driver at simply getting around Homestead quickly. His car looks strong on the long runs as the race approaches, but could lack restart speed. If Larson can run the top groove and match pit stops with the title contenders, he should be in deep contention to win.

Kevin Harvick (5-1): The season long favorite will start in the 12th position which is the deepest amongst the group of four. Harvick has been well chronicled by not appearing at the top of the speedcharts entering the race. However, Harvick ran better late in happy hour and looks to be gaining steam. Overall, it has not been a typical “Harvick” like weekend where his team unloads the car in excellent condition. When comparing Harvick to the other contenders, he has some ground to make up. The odds have corrected themselves based on his track performance so far this weekend.

Joey Logano (5-1): The wild card of the championship group will start in the 5th position. He was the best over the long runs amongst the championship contenders. Entering the race Logano looks like he has one of the cars to beat, especially when excluding Larson. With Logano’s odds in mind there is some value on him to win the race.

Martin Truex Jr. (7-1): Lined up in the 3rd spot is Truex, who has looked strong entering the race with good balance and consistant speed. Truex had a top 3 car in happy hour when considering both short and long runs. He should be amongst the deep contenders late in the race with a significant chance to win.

Brad Keselowski (15-1): Nestled in the top 10 all weekend is Keselowski, who like Kyle Larson looks to spoil the championship party. Keselowski will start in the 4th position and could come in handy to teammate Joey Logano when it comes to holding up competitors. Keselowski will go for the win, but if that result looks unattainable I would expect him to battle Martin Truex Jr., and especially Kyle Busch viciously.

Denny Hamlin (25-1): Lined up on the pole is Hamlin, who gave up the prime pit stall at Homestead so teammate Kyle Busch could increase his chances to win the title. Hamlin has been in the upper top 10 entering the race across the shorter runs. While all of the Gibb’s cars look good, there is no doubt that the focus of the team is on Busch. It would not be surprising to see Hamlin take a protective role similar to what Keselowski could do.

Erik Jones (30-1): Another of the Gibb’s threats at Homestead is Jones, who has been running very well as the season comes to an end. Jones appears to have both short and long run speed this weekend. This is a welcome improvement from just being fast on long runs last weekend. Starting in the top 10, once again there is value on Jones to win this weekend. Please shop Erik Jones as he could get lost in the shuffle at some sportsbooks and therefore possess even more value.

Aric Almirola (40-1): Another of the deep party crashers is Almirola, who will be lined up in 10th position. Almirola has really been the best of the Stewart-Haas cars from a consistency perspective over the course of the weekend. While Almirola is a dark horse to win, he does have value at odds of 30-1 or better.

Last week in driver matchups we went 2-1, which brings our season record to 60-37. We will look to improve on this record in the final race of the year. Below are the matchups that made the cut this week. As always, please check the latest odds and information prior to wagering.

Erik Jones (-110): over Clint Bowyer (-110):

Despite limited experience at Homestead, Jones has run significantly better than Bowyer in preparation for the race at Homestead. Furthermore the entire Gibb’s team appears to be outfitted with excellent setups across the board this weekend. Bowyer on the other hand was off the top 10 speed metrics during happy hour.

Denny Hamlin (-110): over Chase Elliott (-110):

Like the matchup above, this is a play on the teams and current conditioning. Joe Gibbs Racing has the best matchup record of any race team on the circuit, and it appears they are strong at Homestead. The Hendrick cars were sluggish during happy hour, and along with the starting spot differential it makes Hamlin the play here.

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