Three weeks in and the fireworks continued on Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. After wins from Michael McDowell and Christopher Bell to start the season, of course, Chris Buescher would spoil the party and dominate the first stage. Buescher would end up slipping back into the field midway through the second stage, but William Byron would take over, winning the second stage and leading over 100 laps for a statement win at the 1.5-miler. There wasn’t much movement at the top of the rankings this week, but the middle and bottom saw some big shakeups.
1. Kevin Harvick (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4)
Last Week: 1
Dixie Vodka 400 Result: 5th
Through three races, it appears as if Harvick has picked up right where he left off from 2020. Though he hasn’t visited victory lane yet, Harvick is still at the top of his game in regards to consistency. Harvick’s -18 pass differential from Sunday’s race shows that his car didn’t quite have race-winning speed, but he was still able to wheel it to a top-five finish. Harvick hasn’t finished worse than sixth yet this season, so a checkered flag is likely in the near future.
2. Denny Hamlin (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11)
Last Week: 2
Dixie Vodka 400 Result: 11th
Even while finishing outside of the top-ten on Sunday, Hamlin put together another strong day and strengthened his hold on the early season points lead. Hamlin was second among all drivers in the field with 135 green flag passes, behind only Ross Chastain, and his +33 pass differential is an encouraging number. Just like in 2020, Hamlin’s car is fast on a weekly basis, and it’s only a matter of time before he wins.
3. Chase Elliott (Hendrick Motorsports No. 9)
Last Week: 3
Dixie Vodka 400 Result: 14th
By Elliott’s standards, Sunday was a bit of a rough race. Elliott had to grind his way to a top-15 finish, as his car appeared to struggle for long-run speed, particularly over the green flag run that brought the race to the checkered. That being said, the No. 9 still had some great speed in certain areas of the track. Elliott’s 80 quality passes over the course of the race led all drivers, so this is clearly a weekend to build off of for the defending champion.
4. Michael McDowell (Front Row Motorsports No. 34)
Last Week: 7
Dixie Vodka 400 Result: 6th
It would be to tell you that I thought McDowell would ever find himself inside the top-five of these power rankings. Even after his Daytona 500 victory, it was hard to see the Front Row Motorsports driver continuing his surprising success from the race. Through three races, McDowell is one of only two drivers to have finished in the top-ten in each race. His consistency has been incredible, especially on three different types of tracks. McDowell will get a crack at another intermediate track next week to continue to build on his great season.
5. Brad Keselowski (Team Penske No. 2)
Last Week: 5
Dixie Vodka 400 Result: 16th
Not the best weekend for Keselowski, who had a fast car early but couldn’t keep up with the leaders down the stretch. To put this in perspective, Keselowski was the fastest car on track 28 times (over one-tenth of the race), but still finished outside of the top-15. Him and his Penske teammates all appeared to struggle during long green flag runs, so that will likely be the focus of the team’s intermediate package with Las Vegas coming up.
6. Joey Logano (Team Penske No. 22)
Last Week: 4
Dixie Vodka 400 Result: 25th
Logano had many of the same issues that plagued Keselowski in the second half of the race. He was one of the fastest cars on track during the first 100 or so laps, but faded in the final stage and ended up well outside the top-20. Logano ran over half of the race inside the top-15 but ended up with a -31 pass differential, the worst in the entire field. It was not the day that he would have hoped for, but he has one of his best tracks coming up next week.
7. Martin Truex Jr. (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19)
Last Week: 9
Dixie Vodka 400 Result: 3rd
Nice top-five run for Truex, who led 37 laps and made 66 quality passes over the course of the race. He was unfortunately passed in the final lap by Tyler Reddick for the second spot, but the third-place finish still offers a nice boost in points. In a race where the rest of the Joe Gibbs Racing cars were fighting for spots at the back of the top-ten, Truex was fighting for the lead, so the race should be seen as a success overall.
8. Alex Bowman (Hendrick Motorsports No. 48)
Last Week: 8
Dixie Vodka 400 Result: 9th
For the second straight week, Bowman quietly put his No. 48 car inside the top-ten, gathering some crucial points in the process. Just as he did at the road course, Bowman was consistent in staying around the tenth-15th place range and finished the race strong as well. It’s been a solid start for the new No. 48 team and Bowman has to be licking his chops heading into a track (Las Vegas) where he has traditionally been solid.
9. Christopher Bell (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20)
Last Week: 6
Dixie Vodka 400 Result: 20th
A week after grabbing his first career victory at the Daytona road course, Bell endured a rough race at Homestead. As written earlier, it wasn’t a great day for Joe Gibbs Racing as a whole, with Bell having easily the worst car of the bunch. With just 16 quality passes over the course of the race, the No. 20 team missed the mark big time with their setup, but they’ll get another chance at a 1.5 miler next week.
10. Kurt Busch (Chip Ganassi Racing No. 1)
Last Week: 11
Dixie Vodka 400 Result: 8th
For the second straight race, Busch was able to drive from the back half of the field into the top-ten, picking up a solid eighth-place result at Homestead. Early in the season, the No. 1 has consistently been one of the series’ fastest cars. Busch was the fastest car on track for 31 out of the 267 laps and ended the day fourth in driver rating. Nothing flashy from Busch
, but another good day of points.
11. Kyle Larson (Hendrick Motorsports No. 5)
Last Week: 12
Dixie Vodka 400 Result: 4th
Homestead has always been one of Larson’s best tracks, and that came to fruition on Sunday with a fourth-place finish. If not for a late crash at the Daytona road course, Larson would be near the top of the points standings with three straight top-ten finishes, but it’s been a good start to the year regardless. Nearly 84 percent of Larson’s green flag passes were quality passes (cars in the top-15), and Larson was second behind only Chase Elliott in that stat for the race.
12. Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18)
Last Week: 10
Dixie Vodka 400 Result: 10th
The result ended up decent for Busch, but it was another unremarkable race in what has been a bit of a rough start to the 2021 season. Busch was outside of the top-15 for nearly half of the race, and only 37 percent of his passes were quality passes. The No. 18 team seems to be just slightly off the mark through the first three weeks.
13. William Byron (Hendrick Motorsports No. 24)
Last Week: 19
Dixie Vodka 400 Result: 1st
Coming into the year, Byron had just one Cup Series victory to his name, and he made an appearance as my projected ‘Most Disappointing’ driver in my season preview. Unfortunately for that prediction, Byron dominated at Homestead, leading over 100 laps and pulling away down the stretch for a near five-second margin of victory. Byron was passed just 46 times under green for the entirety of the race. Incredible performance from the No. 24, I’ll give credit where credit is due.
14. Ryan Blaney (Team Penske No. 12)
Last Week: 14
Dixie Vodka 400 Result: 29th
Blaney’s car wasn’t driving at peak capability at any point in the race and was sitting on the edge of the top-15 when he was involved in an incident with Aric Almirola that all but ended his day. It was a bad break for the Penske driver, but seeing how his other teammates finished, the rest of the day may not have brought many more positives regardless. Let’s not forget, however, that Blaney was one of the best cars at Las Vegas last year, and he could be a sneaky pick to win next week.
15. Austin Dillon (Richard Childress Racing No. 3)
Last Week: 16
Dixie Vodka 400 Result: 12th
A 12th-place finish isn’t anything to write home about, but it was a solid, clean race for Dillon that grabbed him some decent points. In fact, Dillon’s car may have been significantly better than the finish he got. With 69 quality passes, Dillon was behind only Kyle Larson in the category, and he ran over 93 percent of laps inside the top-15.
16. Tyler Reddick (Richard Childress Racing No. 8)
Last Week: 21
Dixie Vodka 400 Result: 2nd
It wasn’t a secret that Reddick could pull a serious upset and win this weekend. He finished fourth at Homestead last season, and nearly won the Xfinity race on Saturday before he was disqualified in post-race inspection. In the final 20 or so laps, Reddick was the fastest car on the track by a wide margin, but he ran out of time to catch leader William Byron and had to settle for a runner-up finish. Still a great day for the No. 8 team, and a race they can definitely build off of.
17. Aric Almirola (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 10)
Last Week: 13
Dixie Vodka 400 Result: 30th
A rough start to the year for Almirola continued on Saturday, as he admittedly made a mistake and wrecked himself off of Ryan Blaney’s front bumper. Though it’s obviously still early in the season, the variety of early race winners so far have to be making Almirola a bit nervous. The playoff bubble is quickly shrinking, and the No. 10 will have to get things rolling next week in Vegas.
18. Chris Buescher (Roush-Fenway Racing No. 17)
Last Week: 20
Dixie Vodka 400 Result: 19th
Though Buescher’s 19th place finish won’t draw many eyes, the way the No. 17 ran for the first stage and a half certainly did. He took the first stage in a surprisingly convincing fashion. The car was genuinely the fastest on the track; no gimmicks, no fuel strategy, just straight-up green flag speed. In fact, Buescher led 57 laps and was the fastest car on track for 39 of them. Great day for Buescher, even if the finish may have been disappointing.
19. Bubba Wallace (23XI Racing No. 23)
Last Week: 15
Dixie Vodka 400 Result: 22nd
It was an underwhelming race for Wallace, but the rest of the Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing organization also endured their struggles during the day. With a completely new team surrounding him, there is bound to be an adjustment period for Wallace and 23XI Racing, especially without the help of teammates in a draft. However, Wallace still sits 16th in points as they currently sit, so a good race next week could pay huge dividends.
20. Cole Custer (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41)
Last Week: 17
Dixie Vodka 400 Result: 23rd
Not a great race for Custer, who struggled along with the majority of his Stewart-Haas teammates. That being said, it wasn’t a horrible race either. Custer was able to at least finish the race without any significant issues, running nearly 55 percent of laps inside the top-15. More concerning than anything was Custer’s -21 pass differential, showing that he just didn’t have the speed to compete.
BEST OF THE REST
21. Daniel Suarez (TrackHouse Racing No. 99) LW: 22
22. Ryan Preece (JTG Daugherty Racing No. 37) LW: 18
23. Ryan Newman (Roush-Fenway Racing No. 6) LW: 29
24. Chase Briscoe (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14) LW: 26
25. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (JTG Daugherty Racing No. 47) LW: 28
26. Ross Chastain (Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42) LW: 24
27. Matt DiBenedetto (Wood Brothers Racing No. 21) LW: 23
28. Erik Jones (Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43) LW: 25
29. Anthony Alfredo (Front Row Motorsports No. 38) LW: 30
30. Justin Haley (Spire Motorsports No. 77) LW: NR