THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR FireKeepers Casino 400 preview

Chase Elliot is still looking for win No. 1. Jerry Markland/Getty Images

This week, the Nascar Monster Energy Cup Series  heads to the Michigan International Raceway for the FireKeepers Casino 400. This track is two miles and length and has turns with 18 degrees of banking. Due to the track being as big as it is, the speeds here are usually higher here than most other places on the schedule.

Usually, we see three and four wide racing here especially on the restarts. Last year, Kyle Larson capitalized on a late restart and was able to make one of the most memorable passes all season as he passed both Martin Truex Jr and Erik Jones to take his third victory of the 2017 season. Look for a late race restart to play a major role in deciding who wins this race considering the last three times they have raced here, there has been a caution in the final two to 10 laps.

Last week at Pocono, Martin Truex Jr. Claimed his second victory of 2018. With this victory, Truex cemented himself as the third championship contender behind Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch and while Truex was a contender all day, as usual,  Kevin Harvick was the car to beat. He led a race high 89 laps and won the second stage but during the closing stages, it seemed like he just couldn’t keep pace with Truex or Kyle Busch.

My pick to win was Kurt Busch, and this did not turn out the way that I had hoped. Busch appeared to be on his way to a top 10 finish but due to problems with his radio communications device, he was relegated to 19th. While this weekend was a major disappointment for him look for this weekend's race to possibly be one where he gets back on track considering he has won at Michigan three times.

Jimmie Johnson appears to be rounding into form after last week's race as he was able to score his sixth top 10 of the season. It is clear that this has been the season to forget for the 48 team but now after a fifth place finish at Kansas two weeks ago and an eighth place finish last week Johnson appears to at least almost be back to his old self.

This week may be a little bit more challenging though considering Michigan is one of Johnson’s most difficult tracks. While he has achieved some level of success here in the past, he has struggled here as of late. in the last four races, Johnson has an average finish of 12.75 and has zero top fives.  They will definitely have their work cut out for them this week as Johnson and his team try to claw back into contention for the championship.

The favorite this week is easily Kyle Larson. He has virtually owned this place ever since he got his first career win here in 2016. In fact over the last three times that we have came here Larson has won each time. Anytime they come to a track like Michigan, Larson either wins or finishes in the top five. Look for this weekend to be no different, as not only is Larson the resounding favorite but he is also my pick to win on Sunday.

The reason why Larson has been so successful on tracks like Michigan is because the track is so wide and  the drivers are able to run with more throttle than the other tracks. Larson comes from a racing background where throttle response is important as he was and still is one of the top sprint car and open wheel drivers in the world. Michigan gives him a chance to kind of go back to his roots and even though by no means is Michigan International Speedway anywhere close to the same type of dirt tracks we see Larson run on, the approach and the way drivers use the throttle are very similar. Look for Larson to claim his fourth victory in a row this weekend at Michigan.

The other driver to watch out for this weekend is Chase Elliott. The frustration appears to be mounting for Elliott fans and fans of NASCAR alike, The third year driver has competed in 91 races and he still has yet to win. Unfortunately this is beginning to be his reputation amongst some of the people that watch the sport. Is it fair? Not at all, at this point he could have at least five or six wins but as I have said earlier this year, Elliott just doesn’t seem to have any luck when it comes to the closing stages of a race but luckily for him and fans alike, this weekend Elliot goes to a track where he has had great runs before. He has a 3.50 average finish including two second places finishes in 2016 and 2017. Look for Larson and Elliott to battle it out as they both try to get Chevrolet back into victory lane in 2018.

(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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