NASCAR UPDATE

Can Johnson pull off a miracle in Phoenix?

NASCAR goes to Phoenix this week. NASCAR.com

The NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads to Phoenix this week for the semifinal
race of the 2017 season and the final race to decide the Championship four. This race -- aside
from maybe the Daytona 500 or the last race of the year -- is possibly the most important race of
the season. It plays a huge role in who makes it and who doesn't and after this weekend we will
be one step closer to crowning a champion at Homestead-Miami.

Phoenix International raceway is one mile in length but has short track characteristics; the track
has a "dog leg" that allows drivers to go all the way down off the racing surface to make passes. 
This could be both a blessing and a curse seeing how if a driver is to come back up onto to the
track they could find themselves in a lot of trouble. With the past two races we have seen and the
drama that comes along with it, look for this race to be no different. Look for tire wear to also
come up seeing how this is an asphalt track as well. Three spots in the championship four
are already locked up for Martin Truex Jr, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick. The pressure is on for the
remaining six other drivers that need to either win the race or get in on points. For the most part
unless something crazy happens the bottom four are in a must win situation to get in. The first
driver in the top four is Brad Keselowski. He has done a great job staying out of trouble this year
and appears to be in good shape to contend for his second title at Homestead. 

The first driver looking out is Denny Hamlin. He comes into this weekend 19 points out of the
championship four behind Keselowski. Hamlin is not going to his best track this week. His
average finish since 2015 has been 10.20, While this is not a bad finishing average by any means, in the
situation he is in it does not bode well for him going into this weekend. The next driver in points is
Ryan Blaney. It has truly been a dream season for the sophomore driver from his first career win at Pocono to his 14 top 10 finishes this season. 

This young man has truly exceeded everyone's expectations. I don't see him making the final round this year seeing how he is
22 points out of fourth but this has truly been a magnificent season for him in his final two races with the famous Wood Brothers racing team.

The driver seventh in points is Chase Elliott; around here is where the desperation begins to set in. Elliot is mathematically not going
to get to the championship race next week without winning seeing how he is 49 points behind and the most you can get without winning is 40. He is going to need a Hail Mary to qualify.

Even though this has been one of his better race tracks I don't see him winning this race.

The eighth and final driver is none other than Jimmie Johnson. This is truly uncharted water for a
man who has won seven championship. Johnson comes into this race a staggering 50
behind fourth place but in no way would it ever be smart to count out the legend which leads me
to my predictions for this race. Johnson will defy all the odds this week and win 
this weekend. Even though he has struggled at Phoenix he has won at this track four times and
has the highest finishing average amongst all active drivers who have raced here more than once.
Getting a victory when their backs are up against the wall is something this team is not used to
doing seeing how in the past they have already had the championship all but locked up but this
time it will be different. Johnson is going to win a race for the ages this weekend. My Dark horse
driver this weekend is Erik Jones. This year's likely Rookie of the year has been so impressive at
tracks like this and even though in his two starts at this track he has finished 19th and 8th,
I think that he will only get better this week. Look for him to finish in the top ten this week and
who knows maybe even contend to win it. Keep a look out for the number 77 to have
a good run this week at Phoenix

(All stats and information used in this article is brought to you by the good folks at driver
averages.com and Racing-Refrence.com the best website for all NASCAR stats)

THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR Ford Ecoboost 500 preview

Martin Truex will try to send his team out in style. Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

This week, the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads to Sunny Homestead-Miami Florida for the final race of the 2018 season, The Ford Ecoboost 500. After 36 weeks of battle, this race decides who will represent the sport as champion. Homestead-Miami  has played host for the season finale for the last 16 seasons. This is arguably the biggest race in all of NASCAR considering what is on the line and there is no better place in the world for it to take place. This track is a mile and a half in length and is known for its 18- degree banking in the corners. Over the years, the track has produced some of the best finishes in recent memory and with everything that’s at stake this week should be an all-time classic.

Last week at Phoenix, Kyle Busch took the checkered flag to officially cement his spot in the championship four. He did so after his brother Kurt Busch was involved in a multi-car crash involving him, Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott. In the closing stages of the race, Hamlin entered turn four and got into the side of Kurt Busch causing both to hit the wall bouncing back into Chase Elliott.

Hamlin was criticized for his “lack of respect” for the situation that Busch and Elliott were in contending for a championship. At first glance it was easy to understand why fans were upset but upon further review of the video, it would appear that the track was not maintained properly by NASCAR’s clean up crew.  On NASCAR Race Hub Radioactive segment, Defending champion Martin Truex Jr. was quoted as saying “they didn’t clean up the bleeping track for one thing. Everyone went down there and it was like ice. They just don’t get it.” His Crew Chief Cole Pern responeded by saying “yeah they do, it creates excitement. That’s their plan.”

These are fairly serious allegations but it isn’t so farfetched seeing NASCAR has made some pretty dumb calls regarding track maintenance in the past. For example, last season at Dover, they decided to restart the race without fully cleaning the backstretch. This oversight caused Ty Dillon to spin and collect multiple cars with him in the crash. While it may not be intentional and it is definitely difficult to manage these instances but they are proof that NASCAR could do a much better job at track maintenance and cleaning up the track. Let’s hope they have learned their lesson from last week because it has cost two drivers a chance at a championship.

Of the four drivers, Joey Logano enters Homestead as the only one who has never won a title. He has however made it to the championship race three times including this year in 2018. Each attempt has ended in heartbreak whether it be dropping the car off the jack during a pit-stop in 2014, or being involved in a late race crash in 2016. This year Logano hopes that history won't repeat itself and will finally claim his first championship. If he is to win it, it will have been well deserved seeing how he has an excellent season. This year, Logano has 12 top fives, 25 top-10s and two victories including the win that got him here at Martinsville. While he has lurked in the shadows of his competition, he has consistently been in around the front all season. While Logano has a good chance to win the title, the one variable that he must be weary of are the drivers that he  has upset over the duration of the season including Martin Truex Jr and Aric Almirola. Regardless, Logano looks to have a real shot at winning his first title.

Easily, Martin Truex Jr, enters this race as the sentimental favorite to win the championship. As most fans know, Furniture Row racing will cease operations after this race. Truex and his crew chief Cole Pearn have been the spark that have made this team a championship winning organization and now he has a chance to come back and send his team off with one last championship, This has been a rollercoaster type season for him though and while he has been in contention, Truex has yet to win a race since the announcement of his teams closure. In the end though, I don’t foresee this being an issue at Homestead. This is a track where Truex has struggled although as he has the lowest average finish of the group but he has shown that he can win here. Truex has a lot working against him but he still has a great shot at winning his second title.

After last week’s debacle, Kevin Harvick comes to Homestead with a chip on his shoulder. After his win was disallowed two weeks ago at Texas Motor Speedway, he looks to come in and prove his doubters wrong by claiming his second championship. If he does pull it off, he has definitely earned it with how incredible he has ran this year. Overall He has 22 top fives and 28 top tens with an average finish of 9.0! In percentages, he has finished in the top 10 in 80 percent of the races this year. This has easily been the most dominant season of his career as he has won more races now than ever before even in his championship winning season in 2014. Come Sunday, Harvick is going to be hard to beat.

While Harvick has had the best season statistically, Kyle Busch has come pretty close to matching the success of his championship rival. This year, Busch has eight wins, twenty-one top fives and twenty-seven top tens, nearly identical to the stats that Harvick has been able to put up. After winning last week at Phoenix, Busch comes to homestead with the most momentum on his side and when you get this 18 team in a rhythm they are hard to catch. Besides no one has made it to Homestead more than Kyle Busch as he has only missed the final round one time since the sport adopted this format in 2014. Look for Busch to be around the top three for most of the day as he looks to clinch his second NASCAR Championship.

Over the past four years that we have seen this format, I think this is easily the best four drivers we have ever seen make it to Homestead. Unlike the previous years, we won’t see a driver who got on a hot streak at the end of the season like we did with Ryan Newman in 2014 or Jeff Gordon in 2015. This is the cream of the crop and that’s why I think this will be one of the most memorable championship battles of all time. I look forward to seeing who gets to hoist the trophy come sunday evening.

(All stats and information used in this article is brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com the best website for all NASCAR stats).

 

 

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