Anthony Ballantoni

Mid-Pack Attack

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Mid-Pack: Ford EcoBoost 400

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Track history: NASCAR racing made its debut in the Miami area in November of 1995 with the grand opening of Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Fla. The ultra-modern facility, located south of Miami, drew a sellout crowd of 60,000 race fans to its first event, the season finale for the 1995 NASCAR Nationwide (Busch) Series. The first Cup Series race was held in 1999.

In 2003, the 1.5 mile oval completed a $10 million major reconstruction project to increase the banking in the turns from almost flat 6-degrees to a variable 18-20 degrees. This gave the fans some exciting side-by-side racing to view during the 2003 season ending weekend. SAFER barriers were installed in front of the cement walls in the turns as part of the reconfiguration project as well.

MUSCO lighting was added to the facility after the end of the 2004 season. The 2005 season finales for all three NASCAR premier divisions debuted night racing at the speedway.

November 14, 1999: After a qualifying lap of 155.759 mph in the Tim Beverley owned No. 45 Pontiac Grand Prix, David Green started on the pole, led seven laps and finished 22nd in the 1999 Pennzoil 400. Tony Stewart put the No. 20 Home Depot Pontiac seventh in the lineup, led 44 laps and came away the winner of the inaugural Cup race with an average speed of 140.335 mph (a race record on the pre-2003 track layout).

November 21, 2010: Carl Edwards won the Ford 400 from a second place start. It was the No. 99 Ford driver's second victory of 2010. It was also Edwards' second victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Drivers leading 10 or more laps in the 267 lap race: Pole-sitter No. 83 Kasey Kahne 10 laps, finished sixth; No. 56 Martin Truex Jr. 62 laps, finished 11th and winner Edwards led the most (190 laps).

November 20, 2011: Tony Stewart won the Ford 400 clinching his third series championship. It was a tie in the points, but Stewart owned the tie-breaker, five wins to second-place Carl Edwards' one. This was the No. 14 Chevrolet driver’s third victory in 13 races at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Drivers leading 10 or more laps in the 267 lap race: No. 2 Brad Keselowski 11 laps, finished 20th; No. 29 Kevin Harvick 12 laps, finished eighth; No. 17 Matt Kenseth 15 laps, finished fourth; No. 18 Kyle Busch 16 laps, finished 23rd; winner Stewart led 65 laps and pole-sitter No. 99 Carl Edwards led the most (119 laps) and finished in second place.

Track Quick Facts (courtesy NASCAR Media):
Last five winners:
Matt Kenseth 11/18/07, Carl Edwards 11/16/08, Denny Hamlin 11/22/09, Carl Edwards 11/21/10 and Tony Stewart 11/20/11.
First Cup start here (Active drivers): Juan Pablo Montoya 11/19/06.
First Cup pole: Jamie McMurray 11/16/03 and David Reutimann 11/16/08.
First Cup win: No driver yet.

Fantasy games won’t allow you to pick all track favorites so Mid-Pack Attack is here to help. With only 20 points separating 1st and 2nd in the championship standings, and, since every other driver is ‘mathematically eliminated’, every few laps in the season finale will be filled with commentary on where Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson stand “if the race should end now”. This is also a tough race to predict since teammates of the two may be helping them win the title. Most of the other drivers don’t want to be the cause of one of them losing the Cup; and then, there are those who just want to win the race at any cost. That being said, here are our best guesses for our last mid-pack picks of the season for Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 in Homestead, Florida.

Mid-Pack picks
Tampa, Florida native Aric Almirola has had success in all three series at HMS in the last three seasons. He earned a Sprint Cup fourth place finish in 2010 driving for Richard Petty the first time around, a fifth place in the 2011 finale in Billy Ballew's truck in the Camping World Truck Series and ended the 2011 Nationwide Series with an eight place finish in one of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s entries. Aside from his wreck at Kansas in October, Almirola has top 20 finishes in six of the last seven races this season. This weekend you can expect the No. 43 Ford to continue that string.

In 13 starts at Homestead, Jeff Burton has four top-five and six top-ten finishes with his best effort of second coming in November 2009. He wrapped up the 2011 season with a 10th place finish from 31st in the lineup at the green. Last week at Phoenix, he wrecked his primary car in practice, went to the backup car, wrecked it in the next practice and had to go back to the repaired primary for the race. Starting from the rear at the green, he marched through the field to finish a respectable 13th. Burton still has it. We think the No. 31 Chevy driver will carry that “closer” style into Sunday’s race.

Kurt Busch has one win, four top-fives, four top-10s, two poles, an average start of 14.6 and average finish of 20.7 in 11 starts at Homestead. One of those top fives was good enough to earn him the 2004 championship. He has mixed feelings about the weekend. He said this week: “If you look at my past history at Homestead it seems like it's either a win, top-five or a DNF.” We picked him the last two weeks (at Texas and at Phoenix) and he came through with a pair of eighth-place finishes. These were the best back-to-back results ever for the No. 78 Chevrolet team. Why mess with success; we’re picking him one more time.

Our deepest pick this week is a driver who will be sporting yellow stripes on his bumper. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will make his first Cup start at Homestead-Miami Speedway but has some Nationwide Series history at the track. Stenhouse closed out the last two NNS seasons at HMS with finishes of fourth and second respectively. The 2011 finish topped off his first NNS Championship year. With a 20 point lead in the NNS points, he might be claiming his second consecutive Championship on Saturday. In 2013, Stenhouse will be replacing Matt Kenseth in the No. 17 Ford but he will be driving the Roush Fenway Racing No. 6 Ford in Sunday's race.

Tony Ballantoni runs the NASCAR coverage at
Email :Anthony Ballantoni

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