The Left Turn

NASCAR Consumers Energy 400 preview

Chase Elliot won his first race. Jerry Markland/Getty Images

The Monster Energy Cup series hits the high banks of Michigan international Sunday for this week's Consumers Energy 400. Last week at Watkins Glen, Chase Elliott FINALLY was able to pick up his first career victory. While he was clearly the best car in the closing stages, the win did not come easy for the third year driver as he not only had to outrun the defending champion in Martin Truex Jr, but also he had to save enough gas to make sure he could even get to the finish line.

During the final laps, it looked like Truex was going to steal another victory this season but just couldn’t seem to get around Elliott. Due to how hard he was driving to catch him, Truex ran out of fuel in the final turn sealing the win for Elliott. For many, this was a very popular victory as Chase was greeted with thundering applause from the crowd, and the fans at the track and at home all knew that they had truly witnessed something special. Overall, was Watkins Glen the most exciting finish of the season? No. Probably not, but who knows, this could very well be the beginning of a legendary career for one of NASCAR’s many rising talents.

One of the biggest storylines of last week was the struggles  of Jimmie Johnson. All throughout the day, his Lowes Camaro ran mediocre at best and while he wasn’t the worst, he had nowhere near the speed that his teammates Chase Elliott and William Byron had.

He ran around 16th for the most part of the race until he was involved a crash with A.J. Allmendinger with 10 laps remaining that relegated him to a 13th place finish. While he may make the playoffs since at this point he has a pretty substantial lead over 17th, there are a lot of things that can happen that would see Johnson miss the playoffs for the first time over the course of his illustrious 16 year career.

For this to happen, two drivers  currently outside of the top 15 in points would need to win a race. This is truly uncharted water for Johnson as he as now in the midst of his longest winless streak of his career. Will he win a race this year? If you would have asked me maybe two months ago, I would have said absolutely, but right now I just don’t know. Over the course of his last four starts, his best finish is 10th at New Hampshire, and this race team has just not shown me that they can contend for victories. Regardless, I still think that he will be able to make the round of 16 on points and then after that who knows what could happen. Look for Jimmie to try and rebound and get back in a rhythm at Michigan.

The favorite going into this week has to be  defending Michigan winner Clint Bowyer. The last time the Monster Energy Cup Series came here in June, Bowyer was able to fend off his Stewart Haas racing teammates of Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch before the rain came and ended the race prematurely. Regardless of Michigan not being anywhere close to his best race track over the course of his career, winning this race in June had to be a big momentum booster and I would not be surprised in the slightest if he was able to go out and sweep both races this year and further solidify himself as the fourth championship contender.

This weekend's winner will be the same guy who won last weekend at Watkins Glen, Chase Elliott. Listen, while Kyle Larson might be the more logical choice I am still going with NASCAR’s newest golden child. Last weekend, Chase drove  the best race that I have seen him run his entire career and now that he has that elusive first win what's to stop him from him from backing it up with another one? Besides, this is easily his best track. In all five of his starts at Michigan, he could have won here at least three times. I think this year, Elliott will battle Larson all the way down to the final laps and finally get revenge on Larson and all those times he has finished second to him over the last two years. Look for Elliott to get Hendrick Motorsports back to their old ways 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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