The NASCAR Report - Daytona 500 preview

NASCAR returns for the 61st annual Daytona 500

Credit to: https://partyfixx.co/ecategory/daytona-500-tickets-event-guide/ for the photo

The time has finally arrived. After months of preparation, this Sunday the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup series takes to the high banks of Daytona for the crown jewel of them all, the Daytona 500. It's a new start and the slate is clean and for two-hundred laps, it's anyone's race.

Over the past three months, there have been a multitude of changes that has shaken up NASCAR's landscape. For starters, NASCAR is under new management in 2019 as former Vice CEO Jim France will take over as acting Chairman and will be in charge of all day to day operations. The first major change he and his staff made this year was the decision to strip the winner if they are to fail post-race inspection. This decision was met with high praise from both fans and journalists alike and for the most part, many would consider this change a step in the right direction. It would appear that France could very well could be the guy that takes the sport and brings it back to prominence in the public eye.

For all of speed-weeks, the big story has been the apparent return to form for Hendrick Motorsports. Last Sunday when it was time to qualify, Hendrick drivers William Byron and Alex Bowman swept the front row to clinch their starting spots in the 500. The team then backed up their dominance of the week with Jimmie Johnson went on to win the rain shortened Advance Auto Parts Clash. After a dismal 2018, many questioned what was wrong with the most prestigious teams in NASCAR but everything appears to be back to normal for this team. Look for this team to be a serious threat for all of 2019.

The driver that I have winning this year is Ryan Blaney. Over the past week, he and his team have not been quite as fast as i would have expected. After a disappointing qualifying effort, some have been quick to write him off but after an impressive showing in the second Can-Am Duel, Blaney and his team showed why you shouldn't sleep on him. While his average finish of 22.38 at the plate tracks hasn't been ideal, it is important to note that in In last year's race, he led a race high 118 laps before he was involved in a multi-car crash with three laps to go. This year, I think he will be vindicated for last season and capture his third career victory in the Great American Race and cement himself as one of the favorites in the run for the championship in 2019.

If you are looking for underdogs for this race, then look no further than Chris Buescher. Coming into this race, he enters at +8800 odds to win which I think is pretty good value considering that last season at Daytona, he finished fifth in both the Daytona 500 and the Coke Zero 400 in July and while he may not have lead any laps those races, he did a good job of keeping his nose clean and got a great result because of it. Overall, despite struggling to find speed in practice or qualifying, he did run well in his Can-Am Duel Race as he finished seventh. Overall, I think that for the most part when it comes down to the end of these races, he always seems to find himself right around the lead pack and if everything could go right and he can make the right move in the draft, we could see the Texas native go to victory lane.

It's shaping up to be an intriguing Daytona 500, and if for any reason you prefer not to hear the television broadcast, you can catch the race live on ESPN 97.5 starting at 12:30 as they bring you flag to flag coverage of the race.

(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).

THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR at Bristol preview

Matt Sullivan/Getty Images


This week NASCAR heads to Bristol Motor Speedway for the Bass Pro Shops Night race. With the playoffs approaching this is definitely one of the wildcard races that can truly make or break a driver's chances of getting into the playoffs. Nicknamed the last great colosseum, Bristol Motor speedway is one of NASCAR's most iconic race tracks on the schedule as it's close quarters racing has always been a big hit among fans. The track is an half-mile oval with 22 degrees of banking like you would see at a much bigger racetrack. While the track has been widened over the years, it is still common practice to see drivers use their bumpers to knock someone out of the way. It should be must-see TV come Saturday night.

Last week, Kevin Harvick was able to rebound after a flat tire and win Michigan. This was the second time in two years that Harvick was able to win Michigan's fall race as he was able to save just enough fuel to get his Mobile one Mustang to victory lane. The race was fairly tame compared to what we have seen over the past two months but it was still a fairly intriguing event. Like we usually see at this track, fuel strategy was the deciding factor in who finished were. In the closing laps, both Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano ran out of fuel as they ran second and third eliminating them from victory. Some of the good stories we saw out of last week's race was how great of a run Ryan Preece had as he was able to claim an impressive seventh place finish. This is the rookie's third top ten of the season as he was able to drive all the way up from 29th to finish where he did. Overall, this has been a difficult season for him but if he can continue to improve like he did last week at Michigan, he should have a bright future in this sport.

It appears as if NASCAR's famed "silly season" is upon as drivers look to secure a ride for next year. The first domino to fall is Matt DiBendetto as it was announced that he will not be returning to the #95 Toyota for Leavine Family Racing. This comes as a bit of a surprise considering how well he has done in this car. This season he has four top 10 finishes and two top fives and was definitely gaining ground so it is sad to see a good driver lose his ride. The driver that will move up and take his place appears to be rookie driver Christopher Bell. While he has remained quiet about what he will be doing next season, it would be safe to assume that he will be next in line to drive this car considering car owner Bob Leavine's relationship with Joe Gibbs. As much as I hate to see Matt lost his place, I think that it is a far cry to say Bell doesn't deserve to be Cup racing. This young driver has been lighting it up in the Xfinity series and I think he will translate well in 2020. As far as it goes for DiBenedetto, he isn't without options. With Toyota's newest crop of young drivers such as Harrison Burton and Todd Gilliand being a few years from being ready to be in the cup series, it wouldn't be a bad idea for Matt to scale down into the Xfinity series for a year or two driving for Gibbs. I think this could help his career as here he will be able to compete for a championship besides you never know what other opportunities could arise in the not to distant future.

Coming into Bristol, the driver that I have winning is Kyle Larson. In interviews and on social media, Larson has called this track his favorite and it makes a lot of sense considering how good his results have been. Larson currently has an average finish here of 7.50, the third highest amongst active drivers.This track almost perfectly complements his driving style considering the best line to run around here is the outside and if you have watched him race, you can tell that's his preferred line. This track also being a short-track really plays a lot into why he has been so good here as well considering he has been racing at tracks just like them around the country when he races his dirt car. Over the years, he has always been close here but this week I think he gets it done and gets his first win of 2019.

(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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