Podium Preview: Dixie Vodka 400

Above all, Sunday's Dixie Vodka 400 remains one of NASCAR's most competitive races of the year. (Photo Credit: Josh Jones/TPF)

Above all, Sunday’s Dixie Vodka 400 remains one of NASCAR’s most competitive races of the year. (Photo Credit: Josh Jones/TPF)

By all means, today’s Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway is more than just the 12th round of the NASCAR Cup Series season. In this case, this race may be the most exciting intermediate track race of the entire year.

All things considered, Homestead-Miami Speedway offers unique challenges to drivers and teams with progressively banked corners and its challenging transition from the racing surface to pit road. Just ask Sheldon Creed about the difficult left turn from Turn 4 into pit road.

Although the Dixie Vodka 400 may not be this year’s season finale, there’s still so much on the line for the Cup drivers and teams. Stage and playoff points, favorable qualifying drawing positions, and of course, pride remain up for grabs.

Each week, The Podium Finish’s panelists, Ashley HobbsCody Shoppe, Kobe LambethMatteo MarcheschiMatt Sisoler, Terra Jones, and yours truly will share their thoughts on the latest happenings in NASCAR.

First, we evaluate Matt Kenseth’s return and an under-the-radar driver worth considering for today’s Dixie Vodka 400!

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Question 1
Will Matt Kenseth turn things around with the No. 42 team?

Will Matt Kenseth turn things around with the No. 42 team?

Matt Kenseth’s return has been maddeningly inconsistent since taking over the No. 42 car. Will the 2003 Cup champion turn things around soon?

Sisoler : Turn things around is a bit much to say in my opinion. Kenseth hasn’t had that bad of runs since taking over the No. 42 CGR Camaro, and he’s trying to get to grips with a new car and a new team. Given time, a more consistent schedule and actual time to develop setups at tracks, he’s proven to be a guy similar to Ryan Newman, being able to have consistent runs and contend for wins. Matt will be just fine.

Hobbs :  We gotta give the guy a break – he has jumped into a car with no track time in the 42 machine. His first race back after about a year and a half away was a solid top 10; since then, he has been mildly consistent I’d say with an average finish of 22.17. Like any driver, he is bouncing in his finishes, but he has been improving.

I think with more seat time and once he can be in the same (physical) room with the team, things will turn around. I would not jump to say he is going to win races any time soon, but I know Kenseth will prevail and good great things in his new ride.

Jones :  Considering how long he had been out of the car, and then to return under unique situations (no in-person team meetings, no practice, no qualifying, just get in and go), I’m not too concerned. I think he will rebound as the schedule balances back out to a typical race week schedule with more time to reacclimate between races. Will he add some wins to his name? I don’t know about that, but I do anticipate more consistent runs for the former champion. 

Marcheschi :  It’s not a stretch to say Kenseth has struggled so far this season, but it had been just a day short of 18 months since he’d been in a NASCAR car when he climbed in the number 42 at Darlington last month. Kenseth finished tenth that day, but, in the six races since then, he hasn’t scored another top ten.

Even worse, Kenseth has only finished on the lead lap twice in his seven races this season. In three races, he finished multiple laps down. While this definitely isn’t what we might expect from the 2003 Cup Series champ, it’s easy to forget that Kenseth hasn’t had a single lap of practice since joining Chip Ganassi Racing in the spring, and doesn’t have much experience with the 550 horsepower package the Cup Series uses at many of the larger tracks. Give him a little time, and he might just surprise us.

Tiongson :  In time, Matt Kenseth will turn things around for himself and the No. 42 team. Certainly, it’s a transition to go from the high horsepower, low downforce package of 2018 to the low horsepower, high downforce configuration we’ve known since last year.

However, Kenseth is a Cup champion who’s plenty capable of getting things right. The more reps that Kenseth gets with the No. 42 team, the better he’ll get as we get into the summer months. While it’d be beneficial if NASCAR held practice rounds, Kenseth has the experience, savvy, and smarts.

Question 2
Safe to say, Tyler Reddick loves Homestead-Miami. (Photo Credit: Josh Jones/TPF)

Safe to say, Tyler Reddick loves Homestead-Miami. (Photo Credit: Josh Jones/TPF)

Aside from the usual weekly race favorites, which dark horse driver seems like a solid contender for Sunday’s Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead?

Lambeth : I think we need to start taking a serious look at Tyler Reddick. For the past couple of years, he shined at Homestead-Miami Speedway as he won the NASCAR XFINITY Series season finale twice. Ultimately, leading to back-to-back XFINITY titles.

Now, as a rookie competing in the NASCAR Cup Series, he is continuing to turn many heads with several strong performances. This particular track certainly suits his driving style. I would definitely consider him a dark horse, despite being such a young Cup driver. In my eyes, he drives like a seasoned veteran.

Shoppe :  The first underdog that comes to mind is Tyler Reddick! Driving for two different teams, Reddick has gone to Homestead and won the race and the XFINITY Series titles! Now as a Cup series rookie, I expect another good run out of him! Tyler has been one of the most impressive contenders out of the rookie class this year and this is his kind of track! Look for the RCR No. 8 to be rippin’ the top and passing the veterans today in Miami!

With two laps in the books at Homestead-Miami, we’re stylin’ like Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas! Now, let’s consider last Wednesday night’s action at Martinsville.
Conley won a virtual grandfather clock with MTJ.

Conley won a virtual grandfather clock with MTJ.

The machine had a rare off night.

The machine had a rare off night.

Next, Ashley Hobbs crunches the numbers for today’s Dixie Vodka 400 in a safe and responsible manner.
First, consider your favorite team's numbers at Homestead.

First, consider your favorite team’s numbers at Homestead.

For the first time, here's a look at the manufacturer stats at Homestead.

For the first time, here’s a look at the manufacturer stats at Homestead.

Since 2004, the race winner has an average starting spot of 9.2, led an average of 83.3 laps, started within the top-five 62.5 percent of the time, and started within the top-10 68.75 percent of the time.

Since 2004, the race winner has an average starting spot of 9.2, led an average of 83.3 laps, started within the top-five 62.5 percent of the time, and started within the top-10 68.75 percent of the time.

Best Cup champ at Homestead - MTJ.

Best Cup champ at Homestead – MTJ.

Consider the Dixie Vodka 400 trends since 2010.

Consider the Dixie Vodka 400 trends since 2010.

Drop the hammer with the race trends since 2015.

Drop the hammer with the race trends since 2015.

Seriously, the machine digs Kevin Harvick.

Seriously, the machine digs Kevin Harvick.

Last but not least, here are our picks for today’s Dixie Vodka 400!
These five could make a decent hockey team line.

These five could make a decent hockey team line.

Hobbs :  A track we have been to many times; but the first time in who knows how long, a championship is not at stake. I am not sure how this will change Kevin Harvick‘s mindset or performance, but I like his chances none the less!

Marcheschi :  Kevin Harvick has knocked ’em dead so far this season. He’s led laps in over half of the races so far, and has two wins, both using the 550 horsepower package that will be in use at Homestead. Speaking of the Florida track, Harvick isn’t too bad there. Heck, he’s only finished worse than 10th twice, both more than ten years ago. Don’t fail me now, Kevin!

TPF Stats :  Forget about Homestead being the former championship race. Forget about what that added pressure means to drivers. This weekend, the numbers, at Homestead-Miami Speedway and this season, tell us all we need to know about your impending winner.

Jones :  As the site of Kyle Busch‘s last Cup Series win, combined with the extraordinary tough luck he’s had of late, I think the 18 crew gets it done this weekend.

Sisoler :   For the second straight race, it will be a JGR Camry in victory lane, but the number on the doors and roof will be 18. Rowdy rocketed through the pack and overcame a penalty to win the Truck race at Homestead Saturday night. And, he’s the defending Cup Series race winner. It’ll be a sweet victory for the driver of the M&Ms car Sunday.

Lambeth :  I have decided to go aggressive this week with my pick and choose rookie Tyler Reddick! He will shock the garage by winning his first NASCAR Cup Series race, securing a spot in the playoffs. After winning at Homestead in back-to-back years, scoring two XFINITY titles, I think that success will possibly translate to the Cup race.

Shoppe :  Martin Truex Jr will sweep the week of Cup races by winning again here at HMS!

Tiongson :  I cannot dismiss Joey Logano‘s chances with a Homestead win. Let’s say he’ll drive his way to Homestead winner’s circle in grand fashion.

Race fans, thanks for joining us for our preview of the Dixie Vodka 400!

We’re ready for some racing. How about you? What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into Sunday’s race? Who is your favorite to win?  Tweet us now @ThePodiumFinish and tell us now!

Thanks as always to the TPF team for their amazing efforts this week!  Let’s stay connected as we focus on getting back together on the track soon!  

The opinions and thoughts expressed in Podium Preview are solely of the authors. They do not reflect any organizations affiliated with the participants and author outside of TPF. This weekly feature is strictly for entertainment purposes. Ultimately, they are not indicative of TPF, the organization, and its staff.

Rob Tiongson

30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field, and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught my eye. From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by me or by one of my talented columnists who absolutely have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. I enjoy editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography.

Graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. Proud to be from Massachusetts, just as happy to be a Texan.

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