NASCAR: Blue Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 preview plus predictions

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Midweek racing makes its return this week as they head for the track they call the paperclip at Martinsville, Virginia for the Blue Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500. This will be the first race in the track's storied history that will be run under the lights. Originally, this was supposed to be the first race back but plans fell through as Virginia's stay at home order was not lifted at the time. It will definitely be a welcomed sight to go back to this track as this has been one of the most anticipated races of the year.

It is a shame that there will be no fans to see it there but when they do, it will definitely be one of the biggest draws of the season. Opened in 1947, this track is one of NASCAR's landmarks. It is 0.526 miles in length making it the smallest track on the schedule. You can rest assured that we will see some bent up bumpers during the races considering that is one of the few ways to pass. I can't wait for this race! It will especially be fun considering this race will be using the original 750 horsepower package that they use at short-tracks. It should be an awesome race!

Last week, Kevin Harvick pretty much dominated en route to his second victory of the season at Atlanta. As a race fan, this was an extremely difficult race to watch. While the racing after the restarts was good, there wasn't very much going on as Kevin Harvick led over 150 laps and won by three seconds. The track's surface is so rough that it makes it difficult to drive on and while most of the time that is good, in this case it was extremely rough on the tires as well. Another facet of the race was the heat and the toll it took on the drivers. When the race was over, Bubba Wallace passed out during his post-race interview.

This was terrifying to watch but after going to the care center the fan favorite was checked and released. This brought questions from fans as to why the race was run in the daytime considering the heat in the deep south and I completely concur with those fans. Overall, there wasn't really any reason why the race couldn't have been run at night when it was much cooler, there weren't any other sporting events going on and running the race in prime-time would have been another great opportunity to bring in a new audience. Let's hope they keep this in mind as they go to Homestead-Miami at the end of the week.

When it was all said and done, the main headline was what happened before the race even started. As everyone in this country knows, there is a lot of racial turmoil because of the police brutality we have seen nationwide. Over the past week, we have seen most athletes take a stand against these heinous crimes committed by those four officers that murdered George Floyd and thankfully NASCAR and their participants have also stepped in and taken a stand as well. At the beginning of the race, Jimmie Johnson and others including Bubba Wallace, Daniel Suarez, Ty Dillon and even Dale Earnhardt Jr all recorded a message talking about how they hope to learn from this and do a much better job at how they treat people of color within their sport. The drivers also stopped on the front-stretch before the race to reflect on how they can do better.

Personally, I believe that NASCAR as a sanctioning body has come a long way with social justice, considering how the sport was in the past. While NASCAR and it's dignitaries have improved, it is a shame to say that most of its fan base has not. If you go on any one of NASCAR's social media platforms and see what the majority of NASCAR fans have to say about all this, you would have a pretty good idea of why people think so negatively about our sport and that truly is a shame. This shows the disconnect these morons have with reality, a lot of these people have stated how they are "done with NASCAR because they don't want to hear about it," which I say is the best thing that can ever happen to this sport. The sooner we can get all these idiots out of here the better. I hope that NASCAR and society continues to work hard to bring meaningful change even when all the tension dies down. But overall I am happy to see that the drivers are listening and doing all they can to make a change and stop police brutality and racism.

On a much lighter note, the driver that I have winning this weekend is Jimmie Johnson. As we all know, this has been a track that Johnson has pretty much owned all throughout his career. He has a career-high nine victories here and has the highest active finish among all drivers. I can't think of a better place for the seven-time champion to come out and break his winless streak than at the track he has made his personal playground. With his team getting much better week by week, I believe this will be the race where he breaks through. While he may be starting twenty-first, on a track like this, track position doesn't matter as much as it does at a place like Atlanta or Homestead. Look for the #48 Ally Camaro to come charging through the field and take the checkered flag come Wednesday.

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This week the NASCAR cup series heads to the world center of racing, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, for the inaugural fourth of July version of the Brickyard 400. This is unprecedented for NASCAR considering over the course of 50 years they are usually in Daytona around this time. While this move was met with a lot of criticism from fans, there is a positive to come from this move though, as the sport will hold their first doubleheader with Indycar. This has been talked about for many years and now it has finally come to fruition. Another new facet of this weekend will be the Xfinity Series running on the road course configuration. This could very well lead to the cup series transitioning from the oval to the road course next season should everything go well when the Xfinity series does it. It will definitely be an interesting weekend.

Last week, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin dominated the first-ever doubleheader at Pocono. The two drivers finished first and second in both races with Harvick taking race one and Hamlin winning race two. Both of these races came down to pit-road strategy as Harvick was able to eke out a victory by taking two tires and fuel while his teammate Aric Almirola took four. The next day Denny Hamlin pretty much had the whole field covered as he went on to claim his fourth victory of the season. Overall, the idea of two races in a weekend went over well but for the racing itself, it was hard to watch. One of the main issues I had was how the drivers didn't have to shift this week. In my opinion, that was what made this track so unique. It was an oval that had road course characteristics and it usually produced some pretty good finishes. Hopefully this will be addressed when the new car makes its debut in 2022.

One of the big stories going into this week is the announcement a couple of weeks ago that NASCAR will be moving their all-star event to Bristol Motor Speedway. Over the past couple of weeks, there has been a whirlwind of news from the Bubba Wallace story at Talladega, to the doubleheader races last week. A lot of this has put this announcement on the back burner but this is a huge story. The race will be held on Wednesday, July 15th as NASCAR continues with midweek races. This is the first time since 1986 that the race will not be run at NASCAR's home track in Charlotte back when it took place at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The format will be pretty much the same as all the winners from 2019 and 2020 will all have an automatic birth into the race while the rest of the field will run in the open event the day before. The main event will feature four stages including a 15 lap closer around one of NASCAR's most popular race tracks. I think this move was long overdue and I hope that they continue with it in the future. Don't get me wrong, there isn't anything wrong with the race at Charlotte but I think a change of pace would be welcomed. I look forward to seeing how this turns out.

As we move on to Indy this weekend, the driver I have winning is Kurt Busch. This weekend will be the 2004 Cup Series champion's 700th career start, and he's won just about every race that there is to be won except this one here at the Brickyard. This week, that is going to change. It hasn't been the most consistent season for the Vegas native, but he still sits tenth in points and right in the thick of the playoff battle. This track isn't his best as he currently has a 19.42 average finish, including a dismal 30th place finish last year. But this week, I think he gets back on track with a victory as he starts second. The veteran has flown under the radar this year, but he has definitely shown spurts where we think he is going to break-out. He also has runs where it seems like him and his team are mid-pack, but there aren't many drivers out there that have the experience he has. And a talented driver like him always finds a way to bounce back. Look for Kurt Busch to take the #1 Monster Energy Camaro to victory lane.

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