It's the end of an era as NASCAR heads for Daytona for the final time in July

NASCAR Coke Zero 400 preview

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NASCAR heads for the Sunny beaches of Daytona this week for the Coke Zero 400. This is one of the most prestigious races of the season as it is rich with tradition. When NASCAR comes to Daytona, The racing here as exciting as it gets. You see cars three and four wide and there is always a good chance we will see the big wreck. It should be must see TV come Sunday with NASCAR's new Aero package.

This will be the final time NASCAR races here at this date because someone thought that it would be a good idea to move the Coke Zero 400 to August. Over the course of its 71 year history, NASCAR has really made some bad decisions, from segmented racing, to their extra confusing points system and for me this decision is absolutely criminal. If there is one thing race fans always think of when the Fourth of July comes around, this race is it and for Jim France and the rest of the figure heads at NASCAR to do this they should be ashamed of themselves. This race will be replaced with Indianapolis Motor Speedway, while I have nothing against this track but there is no reason to have a race at this date. I hope in 2021, when NASCAR changes everything up again like they do every other year, they put this race back where it belongs.

Last week at Chicago-land, Alex Bowman was able to hold off Kyle Larson to claim his first career victory. Overall, the race was fairly entertaining. There were plenty of passes all throughout the day and despite a lengthy rain delay, the fans that stuck around were treated to a fantastic conclusion. This victory came at a perfect time for the veteran driver as he is now locked into the playoffs for the second consecutive season. Over the course of his career, Alex has been one of those drivers who had a hard time getting in good equipment because of sponsorship. In 2015, his career was in serious jeopardy after he was released from former team Tommy Baldwin Racing. After nearly a year searching for a ride, he got a call from Dale Earnhardt Jr to drive in his xfinity car at Dover. He would go on to finish third and put the NASCAR world on notice. Things would only get better for him as he would be tapped to replace Earnhardt Jr in the #88 car the following season in 2018. He has really done a great job at getting good results for this team and there are more wins to come here in the future.

The driver that I have winning this weekend is Erik Jones. Last season, Jones was able to hold off Martin Truex Jr to claim his first career win, it couldn't have come at a better time for him either as many people were starting to wonder when he would get his first win. As great as 2018 was for him, this year hasn't been so kind to him as he is currently 17th in points and trying to get back into the playoff picture. The speed for him this season has been there and he has been competitive but a lot of different issues have come up that have cost him some good runs. As most NASCAR fans know, there have been many rumors circulating as to what is next for Jones going into the future. Many have wondered if Xfinity series phenom Christopher Bell will take his place in the next year or so. While I like Bell and believe that he will be great in this sport, I think that Erik has done more than enough to earn his spot as he has consistently been fast ever since he arrived at Joe Gibbs Racing last season. If there is any way to silence the critics is to go out and win and that's what I think he will do come Saturday night.

My Dark-horse pick for this weekend is Ryan Preece. It hasn't exactly been a great rookie season for him but Daytona is always one of the great equalizers, plus he finished a career high eighth place when they came here for the 500. Overall, I think he has a lot of talent and will be a force to be reckoned with in the future. I look for him to run well here at Daytona and possibly have a chance at winning.

(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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This week, NASCAR heads for Sin City in Las Vegas for the South Point 400. This is the opening round of NASCAR's version of the playoffs. Sixteen drivers will come to Vegas with a chance to move on and continue their path to a championship. Located just outside Downtown, This track is a mile and a half oval that includes twenty degrees in banking, usually with the Las Vegas heat, the track's surface becomes much more slick. This caused many tire issues last season that took out many contenders including Kurt Busch and Chase Elliott. With temps as high as 100 degrees on Sunday, this should be a factor to watch for.

Last week, Kevin Harvick put a beat-down on the field to go on and win his second Brickyard 400 and his third win of the season. Harvick led a race high 118 laps and was never really challenged until the closing stages after a battle with Joey Logano on a restart in the final few laps. The race was marred by many spectacular crashes including Brad Keselowski and Erik Jones as Brad hit a tire barrier at over 170 miles per hour causing the car to come to a dead-stop instantly. Luckily, no one involved was injured. Overall, many of the contenders were caught up in accidents including teammates Kyle Larson and Kurt Busch. When the smoke cleared, there were also some drivers who had great results including Darrell Wallace Jr who came home third. This was Bubba's best finish since last year's Daytona 500. While many will attribute attrition to why he ran so well it is important to note that he ran around the top 10 for much of the race.

For much of the season, NASCAR's greatest driver Jimmie Johnson has been in the spotlight but for all the wrong reasons and unfortunately this continued at Indy after he was eliminated from playoff contention when he was swept up in a multi car wreck on lap 108. This ends a 14 year streak of Johnson making NASCAR's postseason. While 2019 has been a dreadful year for him, Johnson has been adamant that he crew-chief Cliff Daniels are not done and will be much better come next season. If I could compare this to any other major sport, I would say it is close to what happened with LeBron James missing the playoffs this season with the Lakers. For both athletes, while things may be hard now I think they will be better next season as they both make moves to improve their teams. It will be interesting to watch seven time champion try and play spoiler to help his teammates Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman and William Byron compete for a championship.

The NASCAR world was met with some good news this week as well as it was announced that fan favorite Matt DiBenedetto will drive for the Wood Brothers in 2020 in the #21 Menards Ford Mustang, the ride will include resources from Penske racing. The move was met with much surprise as it was announced Tuesday on the Wood Brothers Twitter page. The team's current driver, Paul Menard announced his retirement at the end of the 2019 season. While he won't be racing, Menard and his sponsor of the same name will remain with the team as Paul was gracious enough to suggest they hire DiBenedetto after he had many great results this season driving for Bob Leavine. Even though he will not return to full-time racing in NASCAR, he will continue to race on a part time basis more than likely for Penske racing's Xfinity team. In the grand scheme of things, many people have criticized Paul for his avenue into the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series, the one thing people can't say is he and his family haven't done a lot for the sport. While many sponsors have left, Menard and his bright yellow paint scheme have always been around to keep a lot of these competitive teams going, I have to thank Paul for everything he has done for this sport and while his career wasn't perfect he wasn't such a bad race car driver either, he will always be remembered for his victory in the 2011 Brickyard 400 (ironically enough) and qualifying for the chase back in 2014. He will be missed come Sundays on the track

The driver that I have winning this week is Martin Truex Jr. This season, Truex has been fast at times but surprisingly he has kind of flown under the radar when compared to his teammates. While he still has four wins, he's been in a bit of a slump over the past two weeks. At both Indy and Bristol, he has finished 15th and 27th. The results have kind of taken the radar off the 2017 champion but I think this race is where he gets back into the swing of things. Over the last couple races here, Truex has the second highest average finish has led 23 percent of the laps completed. Come Sunday when the green flag drops, Truex and his Camry should be hard to beat.

(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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