THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR Federated Auto Parts 400 preview

Brad Keselowski continues to own Vegas. Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

This Saturday the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for Richmond Raceway for the Federated Auto Parts 400. The track is 0.75 miles in length and has much higher banking than you would see on your average short track so there is plenty of room for side-by-side racing and plenty of room for passing as well. Richmond is one of the two short tracks in the playoffs (the other being Martinsville.) So it is sure to provide some of the great racing we usually see when the Cup series comes to a short track.  Ever since NASCAR began its first variant of the playoffs back in 2004, Richmond had always been the cutoff race before they would reset the points but not this season. For the first time in the track's history Richmond is included in the playoffs.

Last week Brad Keselowski went on to win his third consecutive race at Las Vegas after he was able to hold off the hard charging Kyle Larson. This victory seals advancement to the round of 12 for Brad as he continues his sensational late season surge. Overall, the biggest storyline of the race were all of the tire failures that occurred to playoff contenders. In total 12 of the 16 car playoff field had some sort of tire issue. The drivers affected by this the most were Chase Elliott, Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones, and Denny Hamlin as all four fell below the cutline to advance to the round of 12. Even though they still have two races remaining to get in, things are now a million times more stressful for them. For Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones, it would appear that they are both almost in  must win situations to move on as they are  18 and 19 points out of 12. Look for both to be desperate to go to the front and collect as much points as possible come Saturday.

NASCAR’s “Silly Season” is continuing to make major headlines this week as it was announced that long time veteran Ryan Newman will not return to Richard Childress Racing in 2019. Ever since his breakout debut season in 2014 for the team, the results for Newman and the 31 team have not been exactly ideal as he has only made the playoffs one time prior in 2015. Many have speculated that maybe it is time for Newman to call it a career but all signs point to him moving over to Roush racing and taking over the No. 6 Ford Mustang in 2019 replacing Trevor Bayne. Another possibility for him could be that he reunites with his old boss and close friend Tony Stewart and he would replace Kurt Busch in the No. 41 car. A move for Newman would be beneficial to both him and the driver that Childress brings to replace him. For Newman he gets a fresh start somewhere else and for RCR, they get a young driver they can build around for the future. It will be very interesting to see where all the drivers will land in the coming weeks.

As usual Kyle Busch is the 2/1 favorite going into this week. Over the span of 26 races, Busch has won here five times and has led over 1,000 laps here. As usual, anytime the cup series goes anywhere Busch is always one of the drivers to beat and this week appears to be no exception. The No. 18 M&M;’s Camry should be a force to be reckoned with as he tries to claim his spot in the next round.

My prediction for this week’s winner is Denny Hamlin. Going into this race, like I had written earlier, Hamlin is behind the eight ball coming into this race as he is outside of the round of 12 but this week I think he breaks through and gets his first win of 2018 and moves on to the next round. In the beginning, this track was always one where he would dominate and lead more laps than anyone but in the end something would always seem to go wrong and he would not end up winning. It wasn’t till 2009 when he was finally able to win here and he has been on a tear ever since then. He has finished in the top five eight times and has led 1,207 laps, more than anyone. It is clear that he knows his way around the racetrack better than anyone else in the field and what better way to get out of a slump and move on than to win at where you know best, not to mention, this is his home track making it all the more special to win in front of his family in friends. Look for Hamlin to take the No. 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 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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