NASCAR turns back the clock for their annual Southern 500 at Darlington Speedway

It's throwback weekend at Darlington Raceway

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This week, the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for the track they call "Too Tough To tame" in Darlington, South Carolina. Considered one of NASCAR's landmark race tracks, this track is rich with history as it was built back in 1950 and of the many changes this sport has seen, this track has stood the test of time through it all. A win here would truly be a huge victory for any driver as this track is arguably the most difficult to get around as danger lurks in every corner. Over the many years this track has existed, many drivers have found the wall and collected their "Darlington stripe." Hitting the wall here comes as a sort of a right of passage. Driving around the outside at this track is nearly impossible considering how narrow the grove is around the wall and only a select few can manage it. When the dust settles, more than likely the cleanest looking car will go to victory lane.

One of the many things that makes this race so special is the tradition that comes along with it. Back when this track was incorporated into the schedule in 1950, NASCAR made sure that it always fell on Labor Day weekend and for many years, this was one of the most popular races in motor sports. Fans from all around the country flocked in one by one to watch their heroes try and tame the track that could not be tamed. Over the years, they watched some of the best finishes in history. This tradition would continue all the way up until 2004 when NASCAR announced they would switch around the schedule and put the Labor Day race at Auto Club Speedway in California of all places and as you would think, this was one of the most unpopular decisions made in the sports history.

It wasn't till 2015, that NASCAR finally decided to return the iconic race to its original date. When the announcement was made, nearly all the teams decided to celebrate by running nostalgic paint schemes. This has really been a neat way for the sport not only to pay tribute to its past but also a nice way to drum up more conversation about who has the best or worst paint scheme for this race. Most of the drivers really went all out this year in their efforts, William Byron being the best example. This year, Byron will be running the paint scheme made famous by Cole Trickle in Days Of Thunder. Overall, the car looks nearly identical to the green and yellow city Chevrolet seen in the film, the only difference being the car number. For most, watching this race will be a trip down memory lane considering a lot of these paint schemes are all that us fans watched as we grew up, it should be a great time picking out each driver and remembering who drove that car before them.

The driver I have winning this week is Kyle Larson. Stop me if you have heard this before but Kyle Larson has yet to win a points-paying race this season and as close as he has been, you would think that he would at least rattled off a few this season. It always seems as if there is one thing that comes up and costs them a chance to win. Last Season here, Larson led a race high 284 laps and swept both stages but due to an ill handling car and a bad pitstop, he had to settle for a disappointing third place finish. This year, I expect it to be different. As rocky as it has been at times for him, he has always been a threat to win and on Sunday, I think he will finish what he started last season and pick up his first win of the season and finally assure his spot in the playoffs. He will be piloting a paint scheme that resembles Ricky Craven's 1995-1996 kodiak livery. As most NASCAR fans know, Craven claimed his second career victory at Darlington back in 2003 so Larson and company are hoping that paying tribute to him will bring this team good luck come sunday, not that I think he will need it though considering he has led over four hundred laps in the past two darlington races. Look for Kyle Larson to take the checkered flag.

(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 heads back to Kansas

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NASCAR makes their second trip to Kansas this week for the Hollywood Casino 400. This is the final race in NASCAR's round of 12 as each driver looks to get closer to the semifinal round of eight. The last time the Cup series was here was back in May, Brad Keselowski pulled off the victory in one of the best races of 2019 as he held off a charge from Alex Bowman and Clint Bowyer to claim his second win of the season. When the cup series came here in year's past, this was one of the more calmer races but ever since NASCAR introduced the new Aero Package, the field has been way closer. According to racing-reference, the spring race here had an average of 15 green flag passes per lap. While many fans have been extremely critical of NASCAR's new package, they simply cannot deny how much it has improved the racing on tracks like Kansas and Chicago. It will be interesting to see how much the circumstances of this being an elimination race will raise the urgency come Sunday.

Last week, the finish of Talladega was pushed back a day after rains suspended all on track activity on Sunday. After the conclusion of the first stage, the field was halted for over two hours until race officials decided to call it a day. During the rain delay, Chevrolet executive Jim Campbell called in an impromptu meeting with all of his drivers and demanded they all form a single-file line to help a Chevy win the race. According to driver Corey LaJoie, if drivers didn't comply, they would lose their company car and would lose time on the team's simulator which is a valuable tool for divers to get better at certain tracks. As you can tell, this was not received well by drivers and fans alike. One of the critics of this decision was 1999 Winston Cup Champion Dale Jarrett. When asked about it, he responded by saying "this has no place in NASCAR."And as a lifelong fan and owner of a Chevrolet, I must say that I agree with the critics on this. Working together on tracks like Talladega is one thing but to threaten drivers who don't comply by taking away time on the simulator is incredibly stupid. This is another example of how corporate this sport has become over the years and is simply not a good direction for the sport. As the race went on, it appeared as if the manufacturer was actually hurt by this as their top drivers Alex Bowman, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Larson were all collected in an incident that ended their chances to win and quite possibly might cost Bowman a shot at the championship.

Needless to say, the race went on and featured one of the all-time greatest finishes in NASCAR History as Ryan Blaney was able to pass Ryan Newman in the final hundred yards and win by a margin of 00.7 tenths of a second making it the ninth closest finish in NASCAR History. Overall, this race had everything you would expect in a race at Talladega. It had multiple big crashes (including a flip by Brendan Gaughan), the lead changes and of course to top it all off, a photo finish. This great finish came at a good time for NASCAR considering the race at Dover a week earlier wasn't all that exciting.

Last week's race at Talladega was riddled with playoff implications as all twelve drivers were involved in some sort of incident including race winner Ryan Blaney. Overall, the drivers outside of the top eight are William Byron, Clint Bowyer, Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman. It is going to be extremely difficult for any one of these drivers to get it on points so it is more than likely that they will have to win to get in. When I look at these four drivers, I think all of them have a good shot to win as they have all been fast here.

This leads me to the driver I predict will win come Sunday and that driver is Alex Bowman. This track falls right into his wheel-house, he ran extremely well here as he led 63 laps and came extremely close to winning but had to settle for second place. This was tough for Bowman considering he had finished second three times in a row up to that point. This week, I think that Bowman gets his redemption for the spring race and he does it when he needs it the most to get into the round of 8. Look for Bowman to take the #88 Camaro to victory lane for his second career win.

(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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