THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR continues the playoffs at Richmond

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This Saturday, the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for Richmond Raceway for the Federated Auto Parts 400. This is the second race of the round of 16 in NASCAR's playoffs. This track is a 0.75 mile oval with fourteen degrees of banking. It is one of the more spacious short-tracks on the schedule as there are many grooves where drivers can pass which usually calls for a lot of passing and battles for position. The last time the cup series was here, Martin Truex Jr was able to fend off both Clint Bowyer and Joey Logano in one of the best races of the year. If that race was any indication, this should be a good one.

Last week, as predicted Martin Truex Jr went on to claim his fifth win of 2019. During late race pit stops, Truex was able to pass Kevin Harvick for the win and punched his ticket to the round of 12. While Truex and his team celebrating, his teammate Kyle Busch stole all the headlines. The beginning of the day was a struggle for the 2015 Champion after he bounced off the wall in turn two. As a result, he went two laps down and appeared to be out of contention for the win.

Amazingly, Kyle blazed through the field not only making up both the laps but also entering the top five. It appeared as if he was going to finish in the top four but entering turn one, he got together with lap-car Garrett Smithley. To make Matters worse, he then made contact with another lap car in Joey Gase in turn four. This severely damaged his front bumper and relegated him to a 19th place finish. When the race was over, Busch was asked about the contact with the drivers he responded by saying "We are in the top echelon of motorsports and we have guys out there that haven't even won a late model race. It's pathetic, they don't know where to go."

He then channeled his inner Marshawn Lynch after responding with "I am just here so I don't get fined" when interviewed by other journalists. Overall, at first I could understand how he could be frustrated, but I think his anger was misdirected. He should have been upset with his spotter who told him the lapped car was going to go to the outside. At first I agreed with Kyle, I thought that Smithley could have been more courteous to cars much faster than him but after watching the replay, I think that Kyle's anger might have been misguided. Going into the corner, Garrett held his line as Kyle's spotter, Tony Hirschman said he was going to move the outside line. Overall when it comes down to it, I think this was just part of racing. Garrett Smithley had no intention to go out there and get in anyone's way and it just turned out to be a perfect storm when Kyle got around to him.

What I didn't like about this whole ordeal was the way Kyle treated the media after the race. While I get his frustration, swearing at these people who are just trying to do their job is counterproductive and only makes him look more unlikeable. His comments about Smithley and Gase were also unnecessary considering their paths to get to the Cup series. Sure, there are some drivers that got there for what they bring to underfunded teams but both of these drivers have done more than enough to earn their spot in the cup series. His comments were also extremely ignorant by Kyle considering Gase won a late model track championship back in 2007 in Wisconsin.

It was announced earlier this week that Daniel Hemric would be released from his contract at the end of 2019 and will not return to the #8 Caterpillar Camaro for Richard Childress Racing. This comes as a surprise considering Hemric has only been in the Cup series for one season and many would say he wasn't given a fair chance and to an extent they are right, he wasn't really given a lot of time to prove himself but getting a fresh start might not be the worst thing for him. It will be interesting to see where he will go next season. One would suggest that he will move down and go to the Xfinity series where he was so good in the past; that might be a good way for him to gain more experience. The driver who is more than likely to take his place is 2018 Xfinity series champion Tyler Reddick. He impressed many fans this year after finishing ninth at Kansas in a part-time Cup Series Effort with Richard Childress in the #31 car. His promotion seems to be well earned as he has been in contention for many wins this year in the Xfinity series and appears to be a contender to win his second championship. He is part of a youth movement that includes Christopher Bell and Cole Custer as they both look to secure a ride in the Cup series as well.

The driver that I have winning this Saturday is Denny Hamlin. As it has been mentioned before, this is his home track so it is extra important for him to run well anytime he is there. He has gone on record saying he would rather win here at Richmond than anywhere else on the schedule and since then he has done it three times. Statistically speaking, this has been Hamlin's best season since 2010. He is a legitimate championship contender and one many would put in the final four at Homestead but in order to get there, he has to get to the round of 12 first and that's what I think he will do by winning here at Richmond. Over the course of his 26 races here, this is hamlin's second best track statistically as he has an average finish of 9.38 the second best among all active drivers only behind his teammate Kyle Busch. Look for Hamlin to take the #11 Fedex Camry to victory lane.

(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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