THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR Gander Outdoors 400 preview; rules updates

Ryan Blaney was a winner last week. Ryanblaney.com

This Sunday, the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for Dover Delaware for the first race of the round of 12. Last week, Ryan Blaney advanced to the next round after taking the checkered flag in the inaugural Charlotte Bank Of America Roval 400. The race was one of the highlights of the season as both Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr. both spun in the final corner paving the way for Blaney to swoop in and steal the victory. This week, we go to a much different type of track in Dover. The last time the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup came here, Kevin Harvick thoroughly dominated after leading a race high 201 laps en route to his third victory of the season. While it’s the same track, the stakes will be much higher as one of the 12 drivers in the playoff field will look to clinch a berth into the round of eight and be one step closer to racing for a championship at Homestead.

Earlier this week there were some major announcements regarding next year’s rules package.  Next season, NASCAR announced wholesale changes to the cars including limiting horsepower to 550, a smaller rear spoiler and a “tapered spacer” to restrict speeds on the cars and keep them closer together. The move was met with major criticism by not only fans but former drivers as well. The one thing that truly upset them was how NASCAR decided to cut back on horsepower. They think that these changes take the challenging aspect of racing out of the drivers' hands and that they are running too slow. Personally, I think it would only be fair to give it a chance and to see how it works out; besides if it’s anything like the all-star race, as I stated in the last article, the fans will be quick to change their tone and it should grow on them.

There will be two new rookies in the Cup Series in 2019, Daniel Hemric will drive the No. 31 Caterpillar Camaro for Richard Childress and Ryan Preece will drive the No. 47 Kroger Chevrolet for JTG Daugherty racing. Both drivers are coming off successful Xfinity campaigns and now will now get the call-up to drive in big leagues. I personally believe that the move to call Hemric up was due to happen at some point as he had been running so well in the Xfinity Series but the move to call  Preece up was a bit surprising, While it is clear that he is a threat every time he races, many believe that his limited schedule in the lower divisions will make things more difficult in the Cup series. Only time will tell for the two but it is refreshing to see two drivers that worked incredibly hard and didn’t have a lot of help get their chance in the big time.

The driver that I have winning this week is Joey Logano. Coming into this race, Logano has been quietly flying under the radar. Last week, he emerged through the carnage to capture a 10th place finish and moved on to the next round and though he wasn’t talked about a lot as a contender, he stayed out of trouble. This week should be a different story for him. Overall, stats wise this track falls right in the middle for Logano. Over the course of his 19 starts here, He currently has three top fives and ten top 10s. While he hasn’t been exactly been a threat to win at Dover he has always been around the top 10 plus both of his teammates have also been running well so now it is his time to shine. Look for Logano to take the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil fusion to victory lane.

One of the sleepers to look out for this week is the young William Byron. This has been an up and down season for this year’s rookie of the year but this week should be a good change of pace for this young man. In his debut here, he went on to a 14th place finish and while that may not look that great on the surface, it should be noted that Dover is one of the tougher race tracks on the surface and to come in and have a solid top 15 really says a lot about his ability. He is looking to rebound after a tough race last week at the roval when he was swept up in a multi-car crash with seven laps to go. This week he should rebound and get a top 10 result as he continues to grow and develop into NASCAR’s next star.

(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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