THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR All-Star Race preview

Kevin Harvick is on a roll. Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

This weekend the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for Charlotte Motor Speedway for this year’s All-Star race. This is a race unlike any other; there are no points involved and only the elite are invited. Charlotte is a mile and a half track much like Atlanta or Texas. The track has a curve in the middle of  the front straightaway which is called the “dogleg” and trying to pass in this area is nearly impossible and has been the cause of many accidents over the years, so look for this to possibly play a big factor in both races this weekend.

Last week at Kansas, Kevin Harvick continued his path of destruction upon the field as he went on to take his fifth victory of the season. The race was truly a nail-bitter as Harvick overtook Martin Truex Jr on the final lap.

The Big story coming out of Kansas (aside from Harvick) were more illegal rear windows. Two weeks ago at Dover, both Clint Bowyer and Daniel Suarez were penalized for having an illegal rear window brace, and this week NASCAR dropped the hammer once again. This time Kyle Larson was culprit as it was found in post race inspection that he had -- you guessed it -- an illegal rear window.

Larson is the fifth driver to be penalized for this infraction this year, and he joins the company of  Kevin Harvick (who lost a victory because of it) and Chase Elliott. Overall, like his competition, Larson loses 20 driver points, all of the points he earned for his “stage victory” at Kansas and he loses his car chief David Bryant.

Over the course of last Saturday’s race, Larson and his team were easily the car to beat. He led a race high 101 laps until an altercation with Ryan Blaney caused him to hit the wall. Somehow, he was able to overcome his troubles and finish fourth. While he and his team were frustrated by not winning the race, it might have been a blessing in disguise, seeing how if he was to win the victory probably would have been taken away anyway. Look for Kyle and the Chip Ganassi Racing team to try and bounce back this week in the all-star race.

This weekend is fairly unorthodox in comparison to each of the other 35 races. This race is a non-points paying event which means that overall it has no bearing on the season. According to NASCAR.com The cars will be equipped with a six inch spoiler with twelve inch “ear”  extensions, the splitter borrowed from the 2014 aero package, and a “restrictor plate” that will keep the cars close together.

This was a move that was met with mixed reaction amongst fans, but I personally believe that the change could very well make for much better racing than we have seen in the last few years past in fact NASCAR made similar adjustments to the NASCAR Xfinity series for last years race at Indy. The product was phenomenal. In the closing laps both Willam Byron and Paul Menard had one of the best battles of last season as Byron was able to take the victory. The race was met with positive acclaim amongst fans and drivers. This should be very interesting to see what happens on both Friday and Saturday.

Another facet of this weekend that makes this event stand out is the format and the criteria involved to get into the race. If you are a fan of NASCAR, you know pretty well that the format of this race changes almost every year. This year is no different. Unlike last year, the race will have one 30 lap segment, two 30 lap segments and one final 10 lap dash to decide the winner he is then awarded $1 million. Unlike last year, there will not be a mandatory pit stop so the strategy will be in the drivers' and crew chiefs' hands once the green flag drops.

I personally think NASCAR got this format right, I am glad that they did away with the redundant mandatory pit stop they had last year and think that the longer length of the race will provide a better finish than we have seen over the past few years. Look for it to be one of the best races of the season.

The field for this race will be significantly smaller this week. As usual the 19 winners from both 2017 and 2018 are automatically locked into the race. After that, one driver will also have an automatic bid in the race due to a victory in this race over the last ten years. That driver is Jamie McMurray (who won in 2014).  

All of the remaining full-time drivers will compete in the “All-Star Open.” This race will include all of the drivers who have not won a race in the past two seasons. “The Open” will feature three segments, two of those being 20 laps and like the big race, the final segment will feature a 10 lap dash to the finish.

The winners of all three segments and a driver who will be voted in by the fans will all receive a birth into the main feature in the All-Star Race. Some of the notable names in this race are Chase Elliott, Kasey Kahne, Darrell Wallace Jr, Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez and William Byron. Look for this to possibly be a much better race than the feature itself. Here each driver has much more to race for which creates more urgency to race every lap like it’s the last. Look for William Byron to be the car to beat in this race. As I said earlier, last season Byron won last year in the Xfinity series with a similar aero package we are seeing this week. He should be a big threat to at least win one of the three stages.

The driver that I have winning the All-Star race is Martin Truex Jr. As most NASCAR fans know, mile and a half tracks like Charlotte have been where he has cut his teeth. He has gone to victory lane here twice, including the 2016 Coca Cola 600 where he nearly led all but eight of the 400 laps run. Even though Truex has yet to win the All-Star race over the course of his 12-year career, this track is one of his best. Look for Truex and his Furniture Row team to take the checkered flag and be $1 million dollars richer at the end of the weekend.


 

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

 

Joey Logano. Getty Images.


This week, the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for ISM Raceway for the ISM 400 in Phoenix, Arizona. This is NASCAR's semi-final race before the championship race at Homestead. Many would consider this one of the most important races of the season considering it decides who will get to race for a championship. This track is a mile and a half oval that races like a short track. Last season, this track was reconfigured and completely changed the landscape. The Finish line was moved all the way to the front stretch and both the corners were inverted. This should be interesting should we see someone try to make a last second pass now that they have more time to pull it off.

Last week, Kevin Harvick went on to win his fourth race of the season after passing his teammate Aric Almirola. This race was a wreckfest, there were plenty of big names to crash including championship favorites Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott. During the weekend, Texas Motor Speedway track officials added a tire compound to try and add more grip to the race track. This did not sit well with the cars as we saw many just spin out by themselves. The trouble area seemed to be turns three and four as that was where the majority of the wrecks were. Many fans were not happy with the product on the track but if it did do one thing - it allowed for some newer drivers to run up front such as Daniel Suarez and Willam Byron. All together though, the cream rose to the top and Kevin Harvick still had a fairly dominant race as he led 119 laps before winning and advancing to the championship race at Homestead.

As we draw closer to Homestead, many wonder what has been going on with Kyle Busch. As many know, it has been June since the 2015 NASCAR Champion has won a race and since then he has just kind of been around. He has had many moments to forget during this time such as when his engine blew at the Charlotte oval or when he ran into the back of Garrett Smithley at Las Vegas but because of the massive amount of points he has gained all throughout the season, he has been able to stay in the top four. Regardless of where he is in points, it is clear that he is in a slump and this team is doing everything they can to get him out of it as we get closer and closer to Homestead next week. We will see how he responds this week at the track he has won the last two times they have come here.

The championship picture definitely looks pretty much the same as it has been over the past two seasons as Martin Truex, Harvick, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano make up the top four spots. While Truex and Harvick are locked in with victories at Martinsville and Texas, the focus shifts to third and fourth as both Busch and Logano hold firm. After a disastrous weekend at Texas, Denny Hamlin finds himself 20 points out of the top four. While 20 points may seem like a lot to make up, it is actually fairly manageable. Should he go on to win both stages and Logano not finish top 10, he would make up the difference and move into a tie with Logano for the fourth spot. He could also finish in the top 10 in those stages as well and make a big dent in the points should Logano run into trouble but that will be tough considering how good he runs on a weekly basis. The drivers behind Hamlin are Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson. While Elliott crashed in the early stages and was never really a factor, Kyle Larson on the other hand looked like he had a car that was capable of contending for the victory. On lap 241, Larson entered pit-lane for his pit-stop and everything went off without a hitch until Bubba Wallace spun out in turn two catching Larson on the tail end of the lead lap eliminating any opportunity for a win. This caution led many to speculate that Wallace spun himself out on purpose to get a caution and not go a lap down but this has not been proven as Wallace had a flat tire before the spin. Out of the three, the driver that came out looking the best was Blaney. By no means was it the day Blaney and his Penske team would have liked to have had but overall the No. 12 had a pretty respectable race. Throughout the day, Blaney's car was not handling well at all but this team battled back and went on to a top 10 finish. It will be interesting to see how he will respond at Phoenix this week.

The driver that I predict will win this week is Denny Hamlin. As I mentioned earlier in this article, Denny has a steep path to climb to get back into the final four and a win is the only guarantee he can race for a championship. Overall, this has not been a track that he has been able to put up the best numbers but I think with the added pressure looming, this should be the car to beat. It will be interesting to see what car owner Joe Gibbs does to try and get Hamlin back into the top four considering his teammate Kyle Busch is one of the two standing in his way. Still I look for the #11 Fedex Toyota Camry to go to Victory lane and get back in the championship hunt.

(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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