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Dixie Vodka 400 (Homestead) NASCAR Preview and Fantasy Predictions

Dixie Vodka 400 (Homestead) NASCAR Preview and Fantasy Predictions

Dixie Vodka 400 (Homestead) NASCAR Preview and Fantasy Predictions

For the first time since 1950, NASCAR has two first-time winners in the first two races heading into the Dixie Vodka 400. A Cinderella story in Michael McDowell paired with a rising talent meeting his potential (Christopher Bell) means fresh faces inside their playoff field already. Heading to Homestead-Miami Speedway, a third straight week in Florida, can the sport go an unprecedented three-for-three?

There are a few good candidates ready and waiting on the winless list. Tyler Reddick, running his second season for Richard Childress Racing, was fourth at this 1.5-mile speedway last June. He won two straight NASCAR Xfinity Series championships here by mastering the high line around this racetrack.

Matt DiBenedetto is now the longest-tenured full-time NASCAR Cup Series driver without a victory (214 starts). He's also off to an ugly start, finishing 33rd and 37th at the two Daytona races to sit 37th in the season standings. It's way too early to think about the playoffs but when part-time, road course ringer Scott Heckert has nearly double your point total? That's a problem. A surprise win at HMS would go a long way to keeping everyone focused on a No. 21 team that's already been told there's a driver change coming for 2022 (Austin Cindric).

Once a longshot, Bubba Wallace has the equipment to be a contender with 23XI Racing and Michael Jordan at the helm. Co-owner Denny Hamlin will be a great mentor this weekend; he's got five straight poles here and dominated this race last June.

But the biggest wild card is a driver with a different type of drought. Kyle Larson has plenty of Cup victories to his credit (six, to be exact) but zero since speaking a racial slur that destroyed his 2020 NASCAR season. His new ride at Hendrick Motorsports has the speed to get it done at a track Larson's flirted with victory lane several times.

If Larson gets over the hump, will people be willing to forgive and forget in an era where NASCAR is pushing diversity like never before? Similar to when Michael Vick returned to the NFL after animal cruelty charges, strong opinions on both sides will emerge if Larson goes from the penthouse to the playoffs this quickly.

As for NASCAR's return to oval racing? This intermediate debuts the sport's low-horsepower, high-downforce package, used to increase competition on cookie-cutter ovals. The slower speeds help tire wear although this 1.5-miler still has a tendency to chew up Goodyears and spit them out. A groove high up, right next to the outside wall means any small mistake by the driver could be disastrous.

Will a Cinderella emerge from a package designed to bring more drivers into the mix? Or does a return to cookie-cutter racing bring normalcy along with it?

Dixie Vodka 400

Date: Sunday, Feb. 28

Time: 3:30 p.m. ET

Track: Homestead-Miami Speedway (Homestead, Fla.)


Radio: MRN, SIRIUS XM Channel 90

Who's at the Front: Christopher Bell

Ending reigning NASCAR champion Chase Elliott's four-race win streak on road courses is no small feat. Winning in your second start in a new ride? That’s the cherry on top after a rough rookie season for Bell at Leavine Family Racing.