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Dixie Vodka 400 (Homestead) NASCAR Preview and Fantasy Predictions

NASCAR discipline remains a cloud hanging over the Round of 8 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Dixie Vodka 400 (Homestead) NASCAR Preview and Fantasy Predictions

The biggest story entering Sunday's Dixie Vodka 400 (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC) surrounds a driver who won’t even be there. Bubba Wallace’s seemingly intentional wreck of Kyle Larson at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last weekend rocked NASCAR nation, resulting in his one-race suspension as the sport's officials put their foot down on payback.

“As we look at the sport and where we are today,” NASCAR Chief Operating Officer Steve O’Donnell said this week, “And where we want to draw that line going forward, we thought that definitely crossed the line and that's what we focused on in terms of making this call."

Just like that, NASCAR wants to move on, too, during a postseason dominated by anything but talk about the championship. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy, their disciplinary action front and center as the storylines unfold for this weekend’s race. Pole sitter William Byron, last year’s winner at Homestead-Miami Speedway, has put himself in strong position for a victory that would automatically catapult him into the Championship 4 finale.

Here’s the problem: Byron is only eligible after a NASCAR appeals panel overturned a 25-point deduction for him intentionally spinning Denny Hamlin at Texas Motor Speedway. That’s put the decision under heavy scrutiny this week as both fans and other competitors try to understand the difference between that and Wallace’s incident that caused a harsher response.

“I know fans and people like to compare,” O’Donnell added, “The what ifs or what happened in the past, and for us, this was a reaction based on what took place Sunday.”

Translation: Wallace’s penalty is the new precedent, that’s what we’re doing going forward, dead stop. As I wrote earlier this week, let’s hope they stick to it.

Wallace’s replacement, John Hunter Nemechek, then raised eyebrows with the fastest time in Saturday’s lone practice session before qualifying fourth. The No. 45 car from 23XI Racing he’s driving has won twice on intermediate ovals, with two different drivers (Kurt Busch, Wallace) so it’ll be no surprise if he runs up front throughout Sunday’s event.

Can Nemechek become a record 20th different winner this season? He’ll have to fight past title contenders Byron and Christopher Bell starting second. Bell was put in win-or-bust mode after becoming collateral damage in the Wallace-Larson incident.

Eyes are also on two underdogs remaining in the Round of 8 starting a little further back in the field: Chase Briscoe (19th) and Ross Chastain (20th). Chastain, who’s a Florida native, has excelled at these types of 1.5-mile ovals this year, making his poor qualifying effort a little bewildering.

For Briscoe, every playoff race has been a battle. He has four straight top-10 finishes with a position differential of plus-40, struggling early before finding the right rhythm to survive his way to the front. Those lack of stage points has become problematic and he’s going to need to collect these bonuses to survive long-term.

Expect limited opportunities to adjust in a race that’s historically known for long green-flag runs. The wild card in that trend could become high tire wear, especially with how Goodyear has struggled to hit the right combination the first time they visit a track with the Next Gen chassis.

Multiple grooves do provide a saving grace, giving drivers options to pass all over the place. Homestead has consistently produced one of the best races each year; one can only imagine the possibilities with a Next Gen chassis that’s shined on this track type.

Will a second straight playoff driver punch their ticket to the championship after Joey Logano did so last weekend in Las Vegas? Or will another surprise like Nemechek, Chris Buescher, or even Brad Keselowski push their way to the front?

Dixie Vodka 400

Date: Sunday, Oct. 23
Time: 2:30 p.m. ET
Track: Homestead-Miami Speedway (Homestead, Fla.)
Radio: MRN, SIRIUS XM Channel 90
Starting Lineup

Who's at the Front: Chase Briscoe

Briscoe is another driver mired in controversy during these playoffs. Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Cole Custer has an appeal hearing Thursday for his 50-point penalty assessed by NASCAR for “assisting” Briscoe’s advance into the Round of 8.

No matter how you feel about the accusation, you have to be impressed by the way Briscoe’s run. Only Denny Hamlin has bested his streak of six consecutive top-10 finishes among the remaining championship contenders.

At Vegas, Briscoe was a lap down early, mired deep in the field until appearing out of nowhere during the last 100 laps of the race. Six laps led in that event were his first since Watkins Glen in August, another sign the lone remaining SHR playoff team is peaking at the right time.

Who's at the Back: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Briscoe also survived a midrace tangle with Stenhouse and the No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet. Stenhouse would go on to finish 23rd at Vegas, the 19th straight race he’s finished outside the top 10. Dropping to 25th in the season standings, that would be the worst performance for him since way back in 2015 during his time driving for then-Roush Fenway Racing.

News Briefs

Denny Hamlin made clear this weekend Bubba Wallace’s punishment with 23XI goes “above and beyond” what NASCAR assessed. “He understands where I stand,” the 23XI Racing co-owner said at Homestead. “Where the team stands, the values that we want to present on the racetrack … he just didn’t represent it that well last week.” Wallace also apologized to his fellow Toyota driver Christopher Bell after the wreck eliminated his No. 20 Toyota from the race.

Spire Motorsports added Ty Dillon to their full-time driver lineup for 2023. Dillon will drive the No. 77 Chevrolet currently shared by a handful of drivers while Corey LaJoie will return behind the wheel of the No. 7. Dillon is currently driving for Petty GMS Motorsports’ No. 42 car and has struggled this season, posting one top-10 finish in 32 starts while sitting 29th in the season standings.

It remains uncertain who will drive SHR’s No. 41 Ford full-time in 2023. Co-owners Gene Haas and Tony Stewart are debating whether to leave Cole Custer in the car or tap reserve driver Ryan Preece as his replacement.

Custer, in his third full-time season, has struggled mightily after winning 2020 Cup Series Rookie of the Year. After a victory at Kentucky Speedway in July 2020, he’s gone a whopping 88 straight races without a top-5 finish in what’s viewed as championship-level equipment.

NASCAR by the Numbers

Years since the last time a Cup Series driver was suspended. Matt Kenseth was given a one-race suspension in 2015 for his intentional wreck of Joey Logano at Martinsville Speedway.

Top-10 finishes by Chase Elliott to lead the Cup Series. It’s the latest in any season since the sport expanded to 36 races in 2001 we have yet to see a driver reach 20 top-10 finishes.

Playing the Odds (Fantasy Spin)

Top Tier

William Byron is an impossible pick to ignore, even after winning the pole to minimize position differential points. How about replacing them with fastest lap bonuses instead? After leading 102 of 267 laps in a dominating victory last March, he enters Sunday’s race in strong position to repeat and head into his first Championship 4.

Related: Best Homestead-Miami Drivers for DraftKings

Byron’s Hendrick teammate Kyle Larson has had a miserable playoff, already eliminated before tangling with Wallace in Las Vegas. But Larson is still competing for an owner’s title and he has a bone to pick at Homestead, a track he should have won at several times by now. In eight starts, he’s posted four top-5 finishes and led 330 laps; a fifth-place starting spot has him primed to add to that total.

Middle Tier

RFK Racing did surprisingly well in the old car at Homestead last March. Chris Buescher led 57 laps here and contended most of the race before a late fade to 19th. Brad Keselowski, meanwhile, was running for Team Penske back then but brings a wealth of experience along with six top-10 finishes in his last nine Homestead starts. This team has quietly improved more than perhaps any other that missed the playoffs; expect them to be a force to be reckoned with after qualifying inside the top 10.

John Hunter Nemechek is auditioning for his future with his Truck Series ride at Kyle Busch Motorsports going away. The former full-time Cup driver has two career Homestead starts and did well in underfunded equipment, posting a respectable average finish of 21.0. Now, he’s been given a car capable of winning and has the talent to meet these lofty expectations.

Lower Tier

Corey LaJoie was a surprising fifth in practice before qualifying a surprising 31st. That could lead to strong position differential as LaJoie looks to build momentum under the radar; he’s racked up three top-15 finishes in his last five starts.

Justin Haley has also put it together during the playoffs, posting five straight top-15 finishes entering Homestead. He was 26th in his lone Cup start here but did collect two top-10 results in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, boosting his prospects from a respectable 15th-place starting spot.

What Vegas Thinks

Tyler Reddick leads the pre-race betting odds for Homestead-Miami Speedway at +700. Reddick, the most recent winner at an intermediate oval (Texas Motor Speedway), is seeking his fourth win of the season with Richard Childress Racing.

Denny Hamlin is right behind Reddick at +800, followed by Ryan Blaney at +900. Looking for a longshot? Chris Buescher is sitting at +8000 despite already winning a Cup race earlier this year.

What I Think

I think William Byron is going to get it done from the pole, cementing his Championship 4 status and putting the pressure on teammate Chase Elliott to join him at Hendrick Motorsports. But don’t discount the RFK Racing duo of Chris Buescher and Brad Keselowski to pull a surprising upset.

— Written by Tom Bowles, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and the Majority Owner of NASCAR Web site He can be reached at or on Twitter @NASCARBowles.