THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR heads for Phoenix for the Ticket Guardian 500

Joey Logano. Getty Images.


This week the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads to the ISM speedway in Avondale, Arizona for their second stop on NASCAR's West Coast swing. This track breaks the sequence of high-banked cookie cutter mile and a half tracks we have seen at Atlanta and Vegas over the past couple of weeks. While by definition this track is listed as a mile and a half, it has many characteristics that are aligned with a short track. The biggest area to watch around is the front straightaway. This part of the speedway will be where a lot of the passes will be made as there is a major elevation change that goes all the way to the inside retaining wall, so look for three and four wide racing around here all throughout the day.

Last week, defending champion Joey Logano held off his teammate Brad Keselowski for his first win in 2019. The race was met with mixed reviews by the NASCAR community. Overall, it was a relatively calm race. For the first time since 2002, there were zero on-track accidents and the only cautions we saw were for the stage breaks. In the weeks building before the race, many fans were told that the racing was going to be close and tightly bunched and there was going to be three wide racing and it would be just like we see on the plate tracks at Daytona and Talladega, so when it wasn't many fans were disenfranchised with how everything went down. But when it was all said and done it wasn't a bad race, there was another near photo finish with Keselowski and Logano, and there was plenty of passing all around the race track. Above all the field was much closer than they were last year around this time. Yes. It's true that it didn't live up to the hype but overall it was a good quality race. I look forward to see them run this package at tracks like Auto Club and Indianapolis.

The driver that I have winning this week is Erik Jones. Now in his third year and a win under his belt, Erik has shown major signs that he will be a championship contender. He finished third at Daytona and then backed it up with a seventh place finish at Atlanta. Even though last week was a bit of a let down for him as he finished 13th, this week he goes to a place where he shines; in fact he has the fifth highest average finish here among all active drivers. Another facet of his success here is his ability to qualify well, he has an 8.8 average starting position and with how important qualifying has been this year, I believe that this will only help him more. Look for Jones to surprise some folks this week and claim his second career victory come Sunday.

One of the dark-horse drivers this week has to be Ryan Newman. He comes to the track where he claimed his last victory in 2017 and while a lot has changed since then including where he drives, the Rocket-man is easily one of the most experienced drivers in the field. It's no secret that it has been a dark time for Roush-Fenway racing but after Newman finished in the top 15 at Atlanta and Stenhouse Jr finished seventh last week at Vegas, it would appear that Jack Roush and his team are trending upward. When the checkered flag falls, Ryan may not win but I really believe that he will get a good finish and I look forward to seeing him wheel the Oscar Meyer Ford Mustang to a top ten.

(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).

Getty Images

This week, NASCAR heads for Sin City in Las Vegas for the South Point 400. This is the opening round of NASCAR's version of the playoffs. Sixteen drivers will come to Vegas with a chance to move on and continue their path to a championship. Located just outside Downtown, This track is a mile and a half oval that includes twenty degrees in banking, usually with the Las Vegas heat, the track's surface becomes much more slick. This caused many tire issues last season that took out many contenders including Kurt Busch and Chase Elliott. With temps as high as 100 degrees on Sunday, this should be a factor to watch for.

Last week, Kevin Harvick put a beat-down on the field to go on and win his second Brickyard 400 and his third win of the season. Harvick led a race high 118 laps and was never really challenged until the closing stages after a battle with Joey Logano on a restart in the final few laps. The race was marred by many spectacular crashes including Brad Keselowski and Erik Jones as Brad hit a tire barrier at over 170 miles per hour causing the car to come to a dead-stop instantly. Luckily, no one involved was injured. Overall, many of the contenders were caught up in accidents including teammates Kyle Larson and Kurt Busch. When the smoke cleared, there were also some drivers who had great results including Darrell Wallace Jr who came home third. This was Bubba's best finish since last year's Daytona 500. While many will attribute attrition to why he ran so well it is important to note that he ran around the top 10 for much of the race.

For much of the season, NASCAR's greatest driver Jimmie Johnson has been in the spotlight but for all the wrong reasons and unfortunately this continued at Indy after he was eliminated from playoff contention when he was swept up in a multi car wreck on lap 108. This ends a 14 year streak of Johnson making NASCAR's postseason. While 2019 has been a dreadful year for him, Johnson has been adamant that he crew-chief Cliff Daniels are not done and will be much better come next season. If I could compare this to any other major sport, I would say it is close to what happened with LeBron James missing the playoffs this season with the Lakers. For both athletes, while things may be hard now I think they will be better next season as they both make moves to improve their teams. It will be interesting to watch seven time champion try and play spoiler to help his teammates Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman and William Byron compete for a championship.

The NASCAR world was met with some good news this week as well as it was announced that fan favorite Matt DiBenedetto will drive for the Wood Brothers in 2020 in the #21 Menards Ford Mustang, the ride will include resources from Penske racing. The move was met with much surprise as it was announced Tuesday on the Wood Brothers Twitter page. The team's current driver, Paul Menard announced his retirement at the end of the 2019 season. While he won't be racing, Menard and his sponsor of the same name will remain with the team as Paul was gracious enough to suggest they hire DiBenedetto after he had many great results this season driving for Bob Leavine. Even though he will not return to full-time racing in NASCAR, he will continue to race on a part time basis more than likely for Penske racing's Xfinity team. In the grand scheme of things, many people have criticized Paul for his avenue into the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series, the one thing people can't say is he and his family haven't done a lot for the sport. While many sponsors have left, Menard and his bright yellow paint scheme have always been around to keep a lot of these competitive teams going, I have to thank Paul for everything he has done for this sport and while his career wasn't perfect he wasn't such a bad race car driver either, he will always be remembered for his victory in the 2011 Brickyard 400 (ironically enough) and qualifying for the chase back in 2014. He will be missed come Sundays on the track

The driver that I have winning this week is Martin Truex Jr. This season, Truex has been fast at times but surprisingly he has kind of flown under the radar when compared to his teammates. While he still has four wins, he's been in a bit of a slump over the past two weeks. At both Indy and Bristol, he has finished 15th and 27th. The results have kind of taken the radar off the 2017 champion but I think this race is where he gets back into the swing of things. Over the last couple races here, Truex has the second highest average finish has led 23 percent of the laps completed. Come Sunday when the green flag drops, Truex and his Camry should be hard to beat.

(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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