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 NASCAR Report - Daytona 500 preview

NASCAR returns for the 63rd annual Daytona 500

Credit to: https://partyfixx.co/ecategory/daytona-500-tickets-event-guide/ for the photo

The time has finally arrived. After months of preparation, this Sunday the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup series takes to the high banks of Daytona for the crown jewel of them all, the Daytona 500. It's a new start and the slate is clean and for two-hundred laps, it's anyone's race.

Over the past three months, there have been a multitude of changes that has shaken up NASCAR's landscape. For starters, NASCAR is under new management in 2019 as former Vice CEO Jim France will take over as acting Chairman and will be in charge of all day to day operations. The first major change he and his staff made this year was the decision to strip the winner if they are to fail post-race inspection. This decision was met with high praise from both fans and journalists alike and for the most part, many would consider this change a step in the right direction. It would appear that France could very well could be the guy that takes the sport and brings it back to prominence in the public eye.

For all of speed-weeks, the big story has been the apparent return to form for Hendrick Motorsports. Last Sunday when it was time to qualify, Hendrick drivers William Byron and Alex Bowman swept the front row to clinch their starting spots in the 500. The team then backed up their dominance of the week with Jimmie Johnson went on to win the rain shortened Advance Auto Parts Clash. After a dismal 2018, many questioned what was wrong with the most prestigious teams in NASCAR but everything appears to be back to normal for this team. Look for this team to be a serious threat for all of 2019.

The driver that I have winning this year is Ryan Blaney. Over the past week, he and his team have not been quite as fast as i would have expected. After a disappointing qualifying effort, some have been quick to write him off but after an impressive showing in the second Can-Am Duel, Blaney and his team showed why you shouldn't sleep on him. While his average finish of 22.38 at the plate tracks hasn't been ideal, it is important to note that in In last year's race, he led a race high 118 laps before he was involved in a multi-car crash with three laps to go. This year, I think he will be vindicated for last season and capture his third career victory in the Great American Race and cement himself as one of the favorites in the run for the championship in 2019.

If you are looking for underdogs for this race, then look no further than Chris Buescher. Coming into this race, he enters at +8800 odds to win which I think is pretty good value considering that last season at Daytona, he finished fifth in both the Daytona 500 and the Coke Zero 400 in July and while he may not have lead any laps those races, he did a good job of keeping his nose clean and got a great result because of it. Overall, despite struggling to find speed in practice or qualifying, he did run well in his Can-Am Duel Race as he finished seventh. Overall, I think that for the most part when it comes down to the end of these races, he always seems to find himself right around the lead pack and if everything could go right and he can make the right move in the draft, we could see the Texas native go to victory lane.

It's shaping up to be an intriguing Daytona 500, and if for any reason you prefer not to hear the television broadcast, you can catch the race live on ESPN 97.5 starting at 12:30 as they bring you flag to flag coverage of the race.

(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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