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Dan Beaver

Statistically Speaking

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Weekend Update: Ford 400

Saturday, November 17, 2018


If there was ever any doubt about NASCAR being a team sport, it was erased this weekend.

Denny Hamlin posted a lap of 173.863 mph in Round 3 of qualification to win the pole for the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. His Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch was second. That started immediate speculation that team orders might be employed to require Hamlin to take something other than the preferred No. 1 pit stall.

On Saturday morning it was revealed that Hamlin chose pit stall No. 4, giving Busch the opportunity to take the first stall. Last year Hamlin also won the pole and he could only manage to finish ninth. Busch has been granted an advantage, but it might not be as great as one would automatically suppose.

Qualification

Hamlin’s pole for the Ford 400 is the third time in the last four races that he has taken the top spot. In both previous instances, the struggled to finish in the top 10 with a ninth last year and a 10th in 2015. In 2016, he also lost place-differential points when he faded from fourth at the start of the race to finish ninth. He has a five-race streak of top-10s on this track after starting on the first four rows, so he has been consistently strong – even if a win is somewhat questionable.

Busch’s outside pole is the fifth consecutive time that he has qualified on the first five rows. He does not yet have a pole to his credit at Homestead, but he has started third on three occasions including 2015 when he won and last year before finishing second.

Martin Truex Jr. qualified third with Joey Logano in fifth. That means three of the Championship 4 will be in contact at the start of the race and they are going to press one another to run inside the top 10 most of the afternoon. Stage points do not mean anything to them, but fantasy owners will rack some up if they concentrate on those drivers.

Meanwhile, Kevin Harvick struggled in qualification. He was slow enough in Rounds 1 & 2 to make the TV analysts speculate if he was trying to save his tires. Apparently that was not the case. He complained of a tight condition in Round 3 and made two runs. Neither of them was particularly fast and he rolls off the grid 12th.

Practice

One bad lap can set the tone for the weekend. Logano suffered on Friday. On his first practice lap, he got horribly loose in Turns 1 & 2, which put him 17th on the speed chart at the time. On his second and third laps on that same set of tires, he was as fast as anyone, but he managed to qualify only seventh.

Logano overcame in Saturday morning’s practice – in a big way. He showed that he was going to be one of the primary forces of the Ford 400 by setting the fastest single lap, the quickest 10- and 15-lap averages, the fourth-best overall average during 40 laps on the track. Logano kept that speed in Happy Hour and topped most of those same boards.

Busch certainly made practice interesting. He scraped the wall lightly in the morning session and skimmed some metal off the corner of the fender again in Happy Hour. Busch was only 23rd on the speed chart in the morning session and had the ninth-quickest, 10-lap average among 26 drivers who posted at least 10 laps. Busch finally did some fairly significant damage in the final minutes of Happy Hour, but not enough to cause him to roll out a backup. He landed 12th on that speed chart, but was fast on long runs.

The Championship 4 are going to be the primary focus for the race. Often, they don’t need to be entering the finale, but this week they have consistently topped the leaderboards. In final practice, Logano’s 15-lap average of 162.849 mph was best, but it was closely followed by Truex’s 162.476 mph and Busch 162.220 mph that landed them second and third on the grid respectively.

Harvick was the slowest of the contenders with a 161.350 mph 15-lap average in Happy Hour (10th-best), but he was working the low groove for most of the session and has more speed than it would appear.

There are 35 other drivers on the track, however, and this week one of them could win for the first time since NASCAR implemented this current format in 2014.

Erik Jones had some of the best practice times in both sessions. He landed second on the 10-lap average chart in Happy Hour and was fifth-best on the 15-lap chart in Happy Hour. With three playoff drivers ahead of him, that put him behind only Brad Keselowski in that regard.

Kyle Larson was also consistently strong and earned the sixth-best, 15-lap average in Happy Hour.

 



Dan Beaver has been covering fantasy NASCAR for more than 12 years with a little help from his >500,000 record database. He can be found on Twitter @FantasyRace.
Email :Dan Beaver



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