THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR Bank Of America 500 preview

Martin Truex does well on road courses. Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

This Sunday, the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads home to Charlotte for the Bank Of America 500. This race is a first for NASCAR as they have now configured Charlotte Motor Speedway into a “roval.” As most know, this is the first time in the sports history that they will a combined oval/road course.

This new layout features 17 turns including two chicanes in both the back stretch and at the exit of turn four. The decision to turn the track into a temporary road course was announced last year after many fans requested that the playoffs feature a road course of some sorts. With every change comes new challenges and concerns and  the major concern going into this race are the two chicanes as both are placed in an area where cars would be entering at a high rate of speed, and if not careful this may be a big factor come race time.

Aside from the layout change, the other major story of this race is that it is also the final race of the round of 16. For Clint Bowyer, Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones and Denny Hamlin, this is the last chance for them to move into the top 12. Of the four mentioned, Clint Bowyer would have the easiest road to get in seeing how he is only four points behind and has more playoff points than the three drivers behind him, so he should be the favorite to survive to the next round. Either way these four drivers should be the ones to watch come sunday.

With the season nearing its twilight, most of the offseason moves and rule changes  are beginning to round into form. Last week, Ryan Newman announced that he would move to Roush next season. One of the main factors into the switch was his engineering expertise he obtained from the University of Notre Dame and with Ford switching to the Mustang next year, car owner Jack Roush thinks that Ryan can really help improve their team's performance.

Another big topic of discussion was the proposed rules package regarding the cars. Earlier this year, NASCAR announced that it would tweak the spoiler on the back of the car and add a “restrictor plate” to curtail the cars from getting too far ahead, the test race was highly acclaimed and many fans stated that they wanted to see this package used in other circumstances. It would appear now there is a change of heart amongst NASCAR’s fan base as many have now threatened to “never watch the sport again” if they go through with the changes.

Me personally, I can see why NASCAR is making this move. If you have read any of my articles, I have been highly critical of the ignorance and arrogance of the leaders that run NASCAR but I think with these rules they truly believe this will make racing better. To some extent, it will. We will see cars closer together and there will be more opportunities for smaller or midpack teams like JTG-Daughtery or Richard Petty Motorsports to be in contention. Only time will tell what will become of these moves, but if we see the kind of racing we saw this year in the all-star race next season at tracks like Indianapolis, I assure you the sport will do OK.

Going into this week, making a prediction as to who will win is extremely difficult because this is the first time they have ever raced on this type of track. If I had to pick a favorite though, it would have to be Martin Truex Jr. Earlier in the season, Truex went on to win at Sonoma. one of the other three road courses on the schedule. Not only was he fast there but he also finished second at Watkins Glen as well. He has been excellent on road courses and this Sunday should be no different

The sleeper going into this week would be NASCAR’s road course specialist AJ Allmendinger. It has been no secret that 2018 has been a season to forget for Allmendinger, as he currently sits 24th in points and has only one top five, but this week he should be one of the drivers to watch. Besides Allmendinger took the first laps around this new track layout when it was announced last year. Last week, JTG Daugherty racing announced that Allmendinger would not be retained for the 2019 season leaving him without a ride, And I can’t think of a better way for Allmendinger to prove himself by going out and running well this Sunday. Look for him to be a major threat to run around the top 10 come Sunday.

(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).

 

THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR Ford Ecoboost 500 preview

Martin Truex will try to send his team out in style. Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

This week, the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads to Sunny Homestead-Miami Florida for the final race of the 2018 season, The Ford Ecoboost 500. After 36 weeks of battle, this race decides who will represent the sport as champion. Homestead-Miami  has played host for the season finale for the last 16 seasons. This is arguably the biggest race in all of NASCAR considering what is on the line and there is no better place in the world for it to take place. This track is a mile and a half in length and is known for its 18- degree banking in the corners. Over the years, the track has produced some of the best finishes in recent memory and with everything that’s at stake this week should be an all-time classic.

Last week at Phoenix, Kyle Busch took the checkered flag to officially cement his spot in the championship four. He did so after his brother Kurt Busch was involved in a multi-car crash involving him, Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott. In the closing stages of the race, Hamlin entered turn four and got into the side of Kurt Busch causing both to hit the wall bouncing back into Chase Elliott.

Hamlin was criticized for his “lack of respect” for the situation that Busch and Elliott were in contending for a championship. At first glance it was easy to understand why fans were upset but upon further review of the video, it would appear that the track was not maintained properly by NASCAR’s clean up crew.  On NASCAR Race Hub Radioactive segment, Defending champion Martin Truex Jr. was quoted as saying “they didn’t clean up the bleeping track for one thing. Everyone went down there and it was like ice. They just don’t get it.” His Crew Chief Cole Pern responeded by saying “yeah they do, it creates excitement. That’s their plan.”

These are fairly serious allegations but it isn’t so farfetched seeing NASCAR has made some pretty dumb calls regarding track maintenance in the past. For example, last season at Dover, they decided to restart the race without fully cleaning the backstretch. This oversight caused Ty Dillon to spin and collect multiple cars with him in the crash. While it may not be intentional and it is definitely difficult to manage these instances but they are proof that NASCAR could do a much better job at track maintenance and cleaning up the track. Let’s hope they have learned their lesson from last week because it has cost two drivers a chance at a championship.

Of the four drivers, Joey Logano enters Homestead as the only one who has never won a title. He has however made it to the championship race three times including this year in 2018. Each attempt has ended in heartbreak whether it be dropping the car off the jack during a pit-stop in 2014, or being involved in a late race crash in 2016. This year Logano hopes that history won't repeat itself and will finally claim his first championship. If he is to win it, it will have been well deserved seeing how he has an excellent season. This year, Logano has 12 top fives, 25 top-10s and two victories including the win that got him here at Martinsville. While he has lurked in the shadows of his competition, he has consistently been in around the front all season. While Logano has a good chance to win the title, the one variable that he must be weary of are the drivers that he  has upset over the duration of the season including Martin Truex Jr and Aric Almirola. Regardless, Logano looks to have a real shot at winning his first title.

Easily, Martin Truex Jr, enters this race as the sentimental favorite to win the championship. As most fans know, Furniture Row racing will cease operations after this race. Truex and his crew chief Cole Pearn have been the spark that have made this team a championship winning organization and now he has a chance to come back and send his team off with one last championship, This has been a rollercoaster type season for him though and while he has been in contention, Truex has yet to win a race since the announcement of his teams closure. In the end though, I don’t foresee this being an issue at Homestead. This is a track where Truex has struggled although as he has the lowest average finish of the group but he has shown that he can win here. Truex has a lot working against him but he still has a great shot at winning his second title.

After last week’s debacle, Kevin Harvick comes to Homestead with a chip on his shoulder. After his win was disallowed two weeks ago at Texas Motor Speedway, he looks to come in and prove his doubters wrong by claiming his second championship. If he does pull it off, he has definitely earned it with how incredible he has ran this year. Overall He has 22 top fives and 28 top tens with an average finish of 9.0! In percentages, he has finished in the top 10 in 80 percent of the races this year. This has easily been the most dominant season of his career as he has won more races now than ever before even in his championship winning season in 2014. Come Sunday, Harvick is going to be hard to beat.

While Harvick has had the best season statistically, Kyle Busch has come pretty close to matching the success of his championship rival. This year, Busch has eight wins, twenty-one top fives and twenty-seven top tens, nearly identical to the stats that Harvick has been able to put up. After winning last week at Phoenix, Busch comes to homestead with the most momentum on his side and when you get this 18 team in a rhythm they are hard to catch. Besides no one has made it to Homestead more than Kyle Busch as he has only missed the final round one time since the sport adopted this format in 2014. Look for Busch to be around the top three for most of the day as he looks to clinch his second NASCAR Championship.

Over the past four years that we have seen this format, I think this is easily the best four drivers we have ever seen make it to Homestead. Unlike the previous years, we won’t see a driver who got on a hot streak at the end of the season like we did with Ryan Newman in 2014 or Jeff Gordon in 2015. This is the cream of the crop and that’s why I think this will be one of the most memorable championship battles of all time. I look forward to seeing who gets to hoist the trophy come sunday evening.

(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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