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).

 

 

THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR Can-Am 500 preview

Kevin Harvick is the story this week. Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

The NASCAR Monster Energy Cup series heads for ISM Raceway in Avondale, Arizona for this week’s Can-Am 500. This race is probably the third most important race of the season behind the Daytona 500 and next week’s season finale at Homestead. This is the race that decides who gets to run for a title, and who goes home empty handed.

Earlier this year, the track announced extensive renovations which include a more fan accessible garage area, a new scoring pylon and a reconfiguration of the track including the start/finish line which has been relocated to the back straight away. The placement is similar to Talladega start finish line which is in virtually the same location. The new layout will provide a whole new element to the race and will change the way drivers attempt to pass on Sunday.

Last week, Kevin Harvick cruised to his eightieth win of the season after sweeping both stages and leading 177 laps. At the time, this victory punched Harvick's ticket to Miami and race for his second championship but on Wednesday, it was announced that he would be docked forty points and his Texas victory was “encumbered” meaning his victory at Texas is null and void when it comes to going to Homestead. He also loses his championship winning crew-chief Rodney Childress for the remainder of the season. Now while all of the benefits that come with the victory have been revoked, it is important to note that Harvick is still credited in the record books with the victory at Texas Motor Speedway. He keeps the trophy and the winnings from the victory.

It was discovered that the team made illegal modifications to their spoiler; the violation was found at NASCAR’s Research and Development center. Even though he was essentially stripped of his victory, he still enters this week’s race three points above fifth place. This can be attributed to the massive amounts of playoff and stage points he has amassed all throughout the 2018 regular season.

With the penalty, this has sparked a debate amongst NASCAR’s water cooler. Should penalties be harsher when it comes to rules violations like these? If so what sanctions should NASCAR take to insure that drivers learn their lesson? Many fans believe that if it is discovered that a car fails inspection, the driver should have to concede their trophy, race winnings and points to the guy who finished second.  This is the debate that has been discussed for many years, after multiple drivers have failed inspection over the course of NASCAR's history. When asked about it for next season, NASCAR Spokesman Scott Miller stated they are considering harsher penalties including vacating wins. More than likely, I don’t foresee them doing this because of all of the sponsors that they have to keep happy and they would probably not be pleased if their driver is stripped of the victory. We should get an announcement about this in the off-season at some time and it should be interesting to see what is next.

While the penalties don’t change the order, the walls around Harvick are now more narrow than ever. He enters this weekend three points ahead of his teammate Kurt Busch, seventeen points ahead of Chase Elliott and 35 points and 51 points ahead of his other teammates Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola.   Harvick will definitely have drive on the defensive to make sure he’s not only ahead of Busch but that he keeps the other four drivers behind him out of victory lane considering a win clinches their ticket to Homestead.

Despite all of the turmoil this week, Harvick is still the odds on favorite to win this race come Sunday. Over the course of each of the track on the schedule, no one has dominated at ISM raceway like Harvick has. Of his 31 starts here, he has won here an astounding nine times! No one in the history of the track's 30-year history has more wins than he does. This week he will be even more difficult to beat considering he now has extra motivation to go out and prove that winning at Texas  was not a fluke due to the rules violations. I look for Harvick to be a near lock to at least be in the top five this weekend. Barring an accident, he is simply too good at this track to not go out and be a contender. Look for Harvick to claim win number 10 come Sunday.

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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