THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR First Data 500 preview

Martin Truex could score a big win this week. Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

The NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for Martinsville Speedway for the First Data 500. This is the opening race for NASCAR’s semifinal round of eight. A win in this race for any of the eight drivers that remain in the playoffs will assure them a spot in the championship race at Homestead. Over the last few years, Martinsville has featured some of the most memorable finishes in the sport's history and this race should be no different. Look for each driver in the playoffs to try and win at all cost, even if it means possibly wrecking someone like we saw Denny Hamlin do last season with Chase Elliott.

Last week, Chase Elliott was able to claim his third win of the season at Kansas after fending off Kyle Busch. The victory for Elliott made him the 27th driver to claim their first three wins in one season, With this milestone, Elliott is in good company as he joins the likes of Richard Petty, David Pearson and of course teammate and mentor Jimmie Johnson. While Elliott was celebrating the highs of victory, on the opposite end of the spectrum drivers Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman were all eliminated from championship contention. Out of these eliminations, the biggest surprise was Keselowski. Coming into the playoffs, he was in the midst of three race winning streak and was an early favorite to win the title and break up the dominance of Martin Truex Jr, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch. He entered the round of 12 fourth in points but after two mediocre results at Dover and Talladega, a respectable sixth place finish last week at Kansas was not enough for him to move on. This just goes to show how much things can change in this sport in such a short time.

This week Busch comes to Martinsville as the favorite. Overall what Busch has been able to accomplish here has been pretty incredible. Over the last four races he has an average finish of 2.20 including a win last season that clinched his spot in the championship race. During the course of his illustrious career, short tracks like Martinsville have been his bread and butter; in fact amongst all active drivers no one has led more laps or has a better average finish on short tracks than Busch. He should be the driver to beat this sunday as he looks to advance to his fourth consecutive championship race at Homestead.

The driver who I predict will win this week is Martin Truex Jr. This season has been an emotional roller coaster for the defending champion. He started off the season as the heavy favorite to repeat and for the most part of this season it looked like he was on the path to doing so but when it was announced in september that his current team Furniture Row Racing will be shutting down next season, the results have not been what this team would hope for. While he and his team did finish top five last week, in the three weeks prior his best finish was 14th at the Charlotte Roval, a race he was one corner away from winning. Many people have began to count this team out but this week I think he goes out and proves his doubters wrong and wins his first race on a short track. Though Truex hasn’t put up spectacular numbers here at Martinsville, if last year’s second place finish is any indication to how good Truex is here, I don’t see any reason why he can’t win Sunday and get this team back in the championship hunt and give Furniture Row Racing the proper send off with a championship.

(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).

 

 


This Saturday NASCAR heads home to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the 34th running of NASCAR's All-Star Race. This is one of NASCAR's marquee events as there are no points on the line and the winner will receive a cool $1 million. This race will feature all the winners from 2019 and 2018, drivers who have won a championship and are competing full-time, and drivers who have won an all-star race as well. The race will be 85 laps in total and broken up into four segments including the final fifteen lap segment to decide the winner.

There will also be a consolation race before the main event as well called "the All-Star open." This race will be for the the rest of the field that does not fit the criteria to get into the main event. Popular drivers such as Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman, Darrell Wallace Jr and Matt DiBenedetto will all participate in this race. The rules for this race are quite different than what we see in the all-star race, it will be a 50 lap race broken into three segments and the winner of each segment will automatically advance to the main event.

Another interesting aspect of this race is that it will also feature a fan vote. Each year since 2004, NASCAR has given fans a platform to decide who gets to be the final driver from the open to transfer into the main event as they can vote on NASCAR's website. Some of the favorites to win this award are Darrell Wallace Jr and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. This is one of the unique things about the race seeing how a lot of drivers come up with funny gimmicks to try and sway fans to vote for them. This week we saw that Stenhouse Jr went on record and said that he would grow a mullet if he wins the fan vote. As much as people might want to see him make good on this promise, I think Ricky will be able to win one of the segments and advance to keep his normal haircut. The other two winners will be Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman. The driver that I have winning the fan vote is Darrell Wallace Jr. It has been a rough 2019 for the young driver as the results haven't quite been what he has wanted and he has recently opened up about his battle with depression. I hope that if he isn't able to win one of the segments that this can bring some joy to an otherwise miserable season.

Moving on to the main event, this race will be one of the most intriguing races of the season. After seeing last year's race and the amount of competition we were able to see and this year should be no different. The driver that I have winning this week is Clint Bowyer. While he doesn't have the flashy numbers at this track, this fourteen car has steadily been getting better and better. This race also really caters to his hard charging driving style as he has shown over the years that he is not afraid to use the bumper (just ask Jeff Gordon) with this race being a non-points race, I could see him moving someone out of the way to get that Million Dollar Prize. Look for him to go 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).

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