THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR AAA Texas 500 preview

This could be the week for Chase Elliot. Jerry Markland/Getty Images

The NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for the Lone Star State for the AAA Texas 500. This is the second race in NASCAR’s semi-final round of eight. This track has gone through many changes over the past few years including a new surface and higher banking around the corners. The new configuration was difficult to maneuver the last time we came here as there were three multi-car accidents including a seven car pile-up involving the likes of Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson. One of the catalysts of these wrecks were tire failures. This new configuration has been tough on tires and this week we should expect a similar issue considering the chances of cold weather.

Last week, Joey Logano bullied his way into the championship race and took the checkered flag at Martinsville for his second victory of 2018. On the final lap, Martin Truex Jr made what appeared to be the winning pass on Logano. In the final corner, Logano gave  Truex  the “Chrome Horn,” propelling him to victory.

Over the course of this week Logano’s decision to move Truex was met by harsh criticism by both fans and drivers alike. Over the course of his 10-year career, (wow do I feel old saying that) Logano has built up the reputation of being a driver who does whatever it takes to get to victory lane. In 2012, he ran over Mark Martin to claim his second victory at Pocono and most notably was involved in a fued with veteran Matt Kenseth in 2015 that arguably cost him the championship. It is clear that Joey is not the most popular driver in the garage but with everything he has done, there have been many others all throughout NASCAR’s history who have done exactly what he has done including the sport's most famous icon Dale Earnhardt.

So what is it that causes this disdain? I am led to believe it was his upbringing. Growing up, Logano did not come from the humble beginnings that most NASCAR fans can relate to, with his dad owning a sanitation business, Logano never had to worry about not being able to make it to the racetrack. This kind of “Rich kid” image does not set well folks and they believe that someone who “works harder” deserves to be where he is. In 2013 after an altercation at Auto Club raceway, racing legend Tony Stewart said “He’s nothing but a little rich kid who’s never worked for anything.” While for some, it is easy to make this assumption because they wanted to have the resources that Logano had growing up but I personally believe that it is ignorant to claim Logano has not “worked to get to where he is.” This is a man who has dedicated his whole LIFE to racing. While normal seven year olds where playing video games, Logano was at a Dirt Track in a Quarter Midget sprint car every weekend. Clearly, Logano is talented enough to be where he is considering this is the third time he will be racing for a championship at Homestead.

The one thing fans can take away from Martinsville was how entertaining the race was. All throughout the race, there were tons of battles for position and lots of banging and clanging like we usually see when we come to a track such as Martinsville. This race has sparked a debate amongst the NASCAR community about the possibility of adding more short tracks to the schedule. When asked about this, driver Denny Hamlin stated “NASCAR could be this exciting every week if we raced at  more short tracks.” In a sense, I can agree with Denny, going to shorter tracks like Martinsville every week would bring the sport back to a time when it was popular but in my opinion, over saturating the schedule with short tracks will not make things better. Now while I do believe that the sport would greatly benefit from a schedule overhaul, I think that there should be more of a variety of types of tracks, maybe there can be more road courses such as Road America or Mid-Ohio that can be added when NASCAR finally tweaks the  schedule. Only time will tell what is next for the sport but if there is one positive of this week, everything appears to be on the right path for the future.

The driver that I have going to victory lane this Sunday is Chase Elliott. Coming into this round Elliott was in the midst of a hot streak - in  the three races in the round of 12, he won two. Many experts and fans had him pegged as a championship favorite. Coming into Martinsville, he was considered the favorite to win there as well. Throughout the race, he was around the top 10 and was able to capture a respectable seventh place finish, but because of the sheer amount of wins and points the big three of Martin Truex Jr, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick were able to rack up during the season, he is now on the outside looking in and with a spot already filled after Logano went on to win, one would believe that he is in a must win situation to get back into the final four at Homestead and what better place than to do it at one of the tracks he has performed well at. Since the beginning of his career in 2016, Elliott has finished outside of the top 10 once and has a best finish of fourth his rookie season. Mile and a half tracks like Texas have been where he has the most success and I look for this to be no different. Look for Elliott to claim his fourth win of the season and clinch a spot in the championship 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).

 

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It is the end of an era this week at Homestead-Miami Speedway as the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series ends it season here for the final time. It was announced earlier this year in 2020 that NASCAR would conclude its season at Phoenix ending a 17-year tradition. While this track will still have a race here next season, it will be very weird to see champions week in Phoenix as opposed to the sunny beaches of Miami. This track has provided some of the most thrilling finishes in the past including the 2005 Ford 400 when Greg Biffle and Mark Martin finished side by side or of course in 2011 when Tony Stewart came back from multiple laps down to beat Carl Edwards for the championship. While the track will remain on the schedule next year, it simply won't be the same considering the circumstances. Not only is this track a fan favorite but also a favorite among drivers as well. I hope that NASCAR can reconsider to move this race back when they completely overhaul the schedule again in 2021.

Last week, Denny Hamlin went on to claim 37th career victory after annihilating the competition. With this victory, Hamlin will race for a chance to claim his first championship. This was a relatively calm race where there wasn't a lot going on. Passing was scarce throughout the race as it has been on a lot of these types of race tracks. Overall, the race was a pretty massive disappointment. Many fans were upset that this would be the track that would move to the season finale next season after what we saw on Sunday. While I understand their frustration, once again this goes back to how massive these spoilers are on this car and what a huge amount of drag they provide on smaller tracks like this one, if they can go to a smaller spoiler I think this problem should be eliminated. Let's hope that is the plan going forward next season and NASCAR's higher ups will listen to their drivers for once.

Another major headline this week was the announcement that next season Daniel Suarez will not return to the #41 Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing. As many would expect the driver that moves up to replace him is Cole Custer. This comes as a sort of a surprise considering there was news that the team was working with Suarez and his people on an extension. According to Adam Stern, after Suarez's sponsor Arris modems was purchased by a new company this postponed contract negotiations with the team and they simply ran out of patience. This is extremely unfortunate for Suarez. While many people were critical of him not being able to claim his first win, Suarez was having a pretty solid season. While I am happy to see Custer get his chance, I hope Daniel can find a competitive ride in 2020.

As I wrote earlier, this race will decide the champion. The four drivers that have made it are Martin Truex Jr, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Hamlin. These four drivers easily have a great case on why they have made it this far. The four have combined for 21 wins so it's safe to say these are the best four drivers in NASCAR right now. Of the four the favorite going into this race is Hamlin. Throughout his career, Hamlin has won everything there is to win but a championship. He has come painfully close so many times, including in 2010 when he spun out early at Homestead or in 2014 when he finished seventh behind Ryan Newman and Kevin Harvick. Many believe that this is Denny Hamlin's year and they have great reason for thinking so. He has won here twice back in 2009 and 2013 so he should be a great threat to take victory. One of the unsung heroes when it comes to Hamlin's success has been crew-chief Chris Gabehart. Not only has he has done an excellent job at making this car fast, he has also done a good job at keeping his driver from getting too riled up; at Martinsville he was able to restrain Hamlin from going and knocking Joey Logano's lights out so he has done a great job of that as well. Look for Hamlin to be fast come Sunday.

While he isn't exactly the favorite, Kevin Harvick definitely isn't one to sleep on when it comes to these big races. When this format was first implemented in 2014, Harvick was its first champion. While he hasn't been able to follow up with a championship since, he has still been around the top four as he has made it to the championship race every year but 2016. He has been the definition of consistency and will definitely be up front. Throughout the season, Harvick has been kind of under the radar as he didn't win his first race till New Hampshire in July. He has really come to life since then by winning three races including the one that locked him into Homestead at Texas. Look for the #4 Mustang to be a contender.

It has been quite the season for Kyle Busch. In the regular season, he was able to claim four victories at tracks like Poccono and California. The second half of the season has been a different story. Since then he has yet to find victory lane and has had numerous instances of bad results including blowing an engine at Indy and voluntarily parking his car at the Charlotte Roval after his car was damaged from an earlier accident. Regardless of his troubles, Busch has been able to collect enough stage points over the races preceding the playoffs and find himself right back in the championship race. While any other time I would like his chances, I believe that right now his heart seems to be somewhere else but I could very well be wrong. Regardless Busch will definitely make this race very interesting.

The driver I have winning the title this year is Martin Truex Jr. As we all know, Truex has had to overcome a lot of adversity to get to where he is. Last season, after he finally seemed to find some stability and a championship, the ground seemed to be pulled underneath him as it was announced late last year that Truex's team Furniture Row would cease operations. While most pretty much nkew Truex would move to Joe Gibbs racing, this was just another obstacle for the vetran driver. When moving on to Joe Gibbs, Truex and his crew chief Cole Pearn would pick up almost right where they left off and go on to win seven races and breeze a spot in the championship race at Homestead. This week, I think that Truex will cap off an incredible season with another win and a second championship and here is why I think so, of all drivers nobody has finished better than Truex. He currently enters this race with a 1.50 average finish since 2017. The man has been the closest thing to automatic here and this week should be no different. Look for Martin Truex Jr. to take the checkered flag and claim his second championship.

(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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