Podium Preview: Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead

While nobody's thinking Miami bass for Sunday's Dixie Vodka 400, Round 3 of 2021 may be as catchy. (Photo Credit: Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

While nobody’s thinking Miami bass for Sunday’s Dixie Vodka 400, Round 3 of 2021 may be as catchy. (Photo Credit: Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

While NASCAR remains in Florida, drivers and teams head down to Homestead-Miami Speedway for Sunday’s Dixie Vodka 400! As the first intermediate track race of 2021, racers will search for different lines in pursuit of maximum grip and speed.

Certainly, a driver like Kevin Harvick seems like an odds-on favorite. However, the likes of Kyle Larson and Tyler Reddick seem quite logical given their love of racing the high groove, a key factor towards success at Homestead. After at least 267 laps, there’s no telling who’ll reign supreme in the Dixie Vodka 40.

Each race weekend, The Podium Finish’s panelists preview each NASCAR Cup Series points-paying race. This weekend, Adam LucasAshley HobbsCody ShoppeKobe LambethLuis TorresMatt SisolerMichelle RaynorSean FolsomTaylor KitchenTerra Jones, and yours truly reflect on some gutsy performances and a likely race contender at Homestead

Podium Preview: Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead
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Question 1
Suffice to say, Daniel Suarez should be feeling better for Sunday's Dixie Vodka 400.

Suffice to say, Daniel Suarez should be feeling better for Sunday’s Dixie Vodka 400.

Considering Daniel Suarez’s gutsy 16th place finish last weekend, what’s perhaps the most courageous performance by a driver under the weather?

Lucas : This one hits personally for me, as having a family member with HIV/AIDS and seeing them almost die over the course of a few weeks. Thankfully, they are still with us today.

The same can not be said about Tim Richmond. No one truly knew or understood what he was living through in the late 1980’s. The party boy, ladies’ man persona, and swagger were him. However, that became more reclusive and more appreciative within the cockpit of his stock car.

After initially missing the beginning of the 1987 season, Richmond came back and picked up his winning ways. In fact, Richmond won two of his eight starts during his abbreviated season. Unfortunately, his final NASCAR start would be one of those eight mentioned before.

Ultimately, because of the nature of Richmond’s diagnosis and no cure (at that time) for HIV/AIDS, he would never be able to return to a race car due to his weakened immune system. To have a driver win a race with chronic double pneumonia is no joke. Richmond’s 1987 season was a monumental testament to willing yourself to live. He loved racing so much that he was going to go all out no matter what.    

Raynor : The one that comes to mind is Brad Keselowski at the Atlanta race in 2019. He was battling flu-like symptoms that weekend. In fact, he actually missed practice and had to spend time in the infield care center for fluids. He had actually lost almost 10 pounds in a day. On that Sunday, he decided to stay in the car and drove to victory lane, sick and all. I had mad respect for him that weekend. 

Sisoler : I would have to say Brad Keselowski’s 2011 drive at Pocono to take home a checkered flag just days after breaking his left ankle in a crash has got to be up there with one of the gutsiest performances I have ever seen. That was, to quote Kyle Petty, incredible.

Jones :  To be perfectly honest, this isn’t a stat I have kept up with. My first thought was Ricky Rudd racing with his eyes taped open, but that’s not necessarily “under the weather.” I did some Googling and couldn’t find much. I’m interested to hear what the rest of the team says though! 

Conley : Honestly, I don’t think there is anyone tougher than Ricky Rudd, from taping his eyes at Daytona in 1983 to winning at Martinsville on a 100-degree day in 1998. He fought through what was then believed to be a cooling issue that caused him to pass out in victory lane.

Come to find out, he was dealing with carbon monoxide in the car. It was dangerous and deadly. Yet, he managed to drive it to the end and win. That defines a “tough ol’ bird!” 

Torres : Here’s one that people might not remember, but it’s always stuck with me. Ward Burton dealt with a bad case of the flu at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the spring of 2004. He wasn’t feeling great all weekend. I’d imagine getting ribbed by Tony Stewart during pre-race, it wasn’t going to get any better. Probably shaking the port-a-John wasn’t wise, but it made for a good laugh on NASCAR Drivers 360 when I saw the episode again years later.

As the race went on, Ward had a serviceable race with a 13th place outing. It might’ve not been an impressive result to some, but considering he was running for Haas’ NetZero team (pre-Tony Stewart), it was a win in my book, more so that he battled the flu all week.

Question 2
With Daytona in the rear view mirror, Kyle Larson looks forward to the Dixie Vodka 400.

With Daytona in the rear view mirror, Kyle Larson looks forward to the Dixie Vodka 400.

As NASCAR heads to its first intermediate track race at Homestead, which drivers come into mind as the obvious favorites?

Folsom :  Well, who comes into my mind is Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch. Both these drivers did not have a very good run at Daytona. However, both drivers have good luck at the mile and a half tracks. Another one is Denny Hamlin. He is also one to watch this weekend!

Shoppe : While an obvious choice like Kevin Harvick has the most mile and a half wins among active drivers, he had his worst race of the year there last year. I see Denny Hamlin as the safe favorite with all three Penske drivers.

Also, Martin Truex, Jr., Kyle Larson, and Chase Elliott are strong candidates as well! Let’s see if the usual suspects can seal the deal this weekend or if another surprise winner will continue the streak. 

Lambeth :  My top-three favorites heading into Homestead-Miami are three drivers with experience on dirt. We should keep an eye on last week’s winner Christopher Bell. After scoring his first career Cup win, he will certainly have some momentum heading into the race. Imagine how much his confidence will grow if he goes back-to-back. 

Also, you have to add Kyle Larson and Tyler Reddick into the mix. Can Larson keep it close enough to the wall and avoid hitting it to be there at the end? Reddick should be fun to watch coming from deep in the field.

Hobbs :  I am very much looking forward to seeing Kyle Larson in action, again, at the intermediate tracks. Last year, the best performers on intermediate tracks were Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., and Ryan Blaney.

Together, they accounted for half of the intermediate track wins. With fewer intermediate tracks on the schedule this season, it will be interesting to see if these same drivers keep stepping up to the plate.

Tiongson :  It’s easy to think of drivers like Kyle Larson and Tyler Reddick. These two enjoy riding the high line at these tracks. You have to imagine they’ll do this up at Homestead.

As far as the non-Chevy teams, drivers like Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano are among the favorites in terms of their dogged determination and willingness to push the envelope. Look for this quartet to mix it up at the front of the pack on Sunday.

Kitchen : After seeing these last two races, I think the obvious favorites coming into Homestead are Logano and Hamlin. 

These two drivers have shown consistency so far given the unpredictable start to the season. They both also have several wins at this track.

Other drivers to consider are Harvick and Kyle Busch who show strength at Homestead and have the potential to contend for the win.

By all means, what a great job by the panelists with their two laps around Homestead. Next, we review our performances during last Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 at Daytona!

Next, Ashley Hobbs breaks down the numbers worth watching for Sunday’s Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead!
First, look at how your favorite team fares at Homestead.

First, look at how your favorite team fares at Homestead.

Since 2004, the Dixie Vodka 400 has an average starting spot of 8.7, led an average of 86.4 laps, started within the top-five 64.71% of the time, and started within the top-10 70.59% of the time.

Since 2004, the Dixie Vodka 400 has an average starting spot of 8.7, led an average of 86.4 laps, started within the top-five 64.71% of the time, and started within the top-10 70.59% of the time.

Honestly, this could be a fun storyline to watch.

Honestly, this could be a fun storyline to watch.

Now, here's the Dixie Vodka 400 race trends since 2011.

Now, here’s the Dixie Vodka 400 race trends since 2011.

In this case, here's the Dixie Vodka 400 race trends since 2016.

In this case, here’s the Dixie Vodka 400 race trends since 2016.

By golly, the machine chooses a familiar face for the Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead!

By golly, the machine chooses a familiar face for the Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead!

Alright race fans, here’s our picks for Sunday’s Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead!

Jones :  Joey Logano has been so close the past two weeks. I think he will be ready to take South Florida by storm and claim the victory that has eluded him the past two weeks.

Tiongson :  If Kyle Larson hasn’t forgotten his talent and love of racing on the high groove at intermediate tracks, I look for him to score his first Cup win in nearly two years!

Hobbs :  I have no real, logical reason for going with Martin Truex, Jr. outside of he ain’t half bad in Miami. As long as his pattern of finishes doesn’t hold true, he should be there at the end.

Torres :  As long as Tyler Reddick doesn’t forget it’s a 267-lap race instead of 266, he’ll be strong once again at Homestead. Seeing how he was able to adapt to the current package in a track was tremendous. While it’s been a rough start to his young ’21 season, I don’t expect a falloff this Sunday, but rather, as motivation to deliver big.

Lucas :  Now that we’ve had some fun at Daytona, I think Homestead will show more of what to expect for 2021. However, I liked what I saw last season during the race for Tyler Reddick, just as long as he listens to his spotter for ALL the laps!

Lambeth :  Homestead-Miami suits Tyler Reddick’s driving style. He won back-to-back Xfinity titles at this track, earned a top-five in last year’s Cup race, and had a good run going in an unsponsored car in yesterday’s Xfinity race until he got disqualified. We will get our third consecutive first-time winner today and it will be the driver of the No. 8 Chevrolet!

Shoppe :  Of the perennial championship contenders, none have had a stronger start to the year than Denny Hamlin. Even if he hadn’t, last year’s dominant performance at HMS alone makes him a favorite!

Kitchen :  It was a tough choice between Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin, who have shown strength at the start of this season. Denny Hamlin has had strong races this season so far. And he is coming off a pretty successful year last year.

All things considered, Hamlin finished fifth at Daytona and third at the Daytona road course. He has consistency and has the best average finish between himself and Logano at this track. Hamlin has also won at this track a few times and won at this track last year. He is starting on the pole so the odds are in his favor.

Sisoler :  The numbers don’t lie. Denny Hamlin is probably the most consistent driver over the past series of races at Homestead, and he’s gonna keep up that trend and bag his first win of 2021 win with another solid outing at the Miami-based oval for Coach Gibbs in that No. 11 Toyota Camry.

Raynor :  I’m going with Hamlin because he’s good at this track.

TPF Stats : Kevin Harvick led the way in 2020 on the intermediate tracks. While his Homestead race was not great in 2020, prior to that, he had a long string of top 10 finishes with an average of 3.2 over the past five years.

Folsom :  With Kevin Harvick being Mr. Mile and a Half, I see him stretching his legs and having a great finish this weekend to make up for how he did on the Daytona road course.

Conley :  One of the most consistent at Homestead, if not for a 39th place finish in 2014, Kyle Busch would have an average finish of at least fifth since 2012. He has won twice and finished inside the top-seven in eight of his last nine starts at the South Florida oval.

Race fans, thanks for joining us for our preview of the Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead.

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

Thanks as always to the TPF team for their amazing efforts this week!  Stay safe, wear a mask, and wash your hands often. Also, thanks for reading our content throughout this season.

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.

Also, if you are shopping for NASCAR or racing die-casts, be sure to check out Circle B Diecast! If your order is $20 or more, be sure to use coupon code TPF2021 for free shipping!

Rob Tiongson

Rob Tiongson is a 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 his eyes.

From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat.

Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Communications at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's just as happy to be a Texan.

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