THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR heads for the high banks of Michigan

Jerry Markland/Getty Images


This week, the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for the high banks of Michigan International Raceway for the Consumer Energy's 400. This is the second race of the season here and while it is still the same high banked two mile oval, there will be many different characteristics then there were here in June. Over the course of the past few weeks, NASCAR has been using a traction compound called PJ1 to help give the tracks more grip and so far it has worked to perfection as there have been some incredible finishes. Coming to a track as large as Michigan with extra grip should really provide for some high stakes racing come Sunday and with the new aero package. Now obviously this race won't be like what we see at Daytona or Talladega but I think there is a real possibility that it could be very similar. This should be a good race if it keeps up with the trends of the last few weeks.

Last week, Chase Elliott went on to claim his second win of the season and his second consecutive victory at Watkins Glen. Both of his victories were almost identical as he was able to once again outrun Martin Truex Jr in the closing stages of the race. Although Truex gave him quite a run, this was still easily the most dominating performance in Elliott's career. Of the 90 laps ran, Elliott led all but ten and went on to not only win the race but sweep both stages as well. This was very different from what we are accustomed to seeing with a Chase Elliott victory. When he won races, it was usually because the other contenders either had mechanical issues or a pit-road speeding penalty that eliminated them from winning. It was definitely a welcoming sight for fans everywhere to see Elliott put a whole race together and further establish himself as a championship contender.

While Elliott and his crew were celebrating their win, other drivers weren't as happy when the race was finished. This race was filled with short fenders and even shorter tempers as there were multiple retaliations all throughout the race involving some of the sports biggest names including Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson. The first incident came after Kyle Busch and Willam Byron tangled in the first corner. In response, Busch punted Byron through the grass entering the Innerloop nearly sending him into a spin. During a yellow, Byron was urged by legendary crew-chief Chad Kanaus to "Knock the [Expletive] out of him or there was going to be a problem" and that's exactly what he did. Byron smashed into Kyle's back bumper after Busch stood on the breaks. This nearly destroyed the front end of his #24 car and ultimately eliminated Byron from contention for the victory. This wasn't the only incident Kyle was involved in. He was also involved in an altercation with Darrell Wallace Jr as well. In nearly the same place he hit Byron, he decided to drive through Wallace as well. After the wreck, tracked him down under caution and hit him in the right rear quarter panel spinning him head first towards the wall. Fortunately for him, Kyle was able to save it and somehow rebound for an eleventh place finish. Overall, while it is clear he is easily the most talented driver on the track, Kyle Busch has not done himself any favors going towards the playoffs considering all of the drivers he has made mad. While I highly doubt this will carry over, these drivers simply don't forget about instances like these. This should be an interesting storyline to follow throughout the season.

Kyle Busch comes into Michigan as the odds on favorite to win this week as he has the highest average finish of all active drivers here in the past five races. While his results here have been great, Busch has only won at this track once back in 2011. If there aren't any issues with some of the drivers he upset last week, he is a lock to run around the top five. Look for Rowdy to be the car to beat come sunday.

My pick to win this week is the elder Busch brother Kurt. Overall, this season has been a revitalization for the veteran driver as he has singlehandedly carried his team to success and while some drivers sort of fade off into the sunset at this stage of their career, Kurt is having one of his best seasons. Behind his brother, Kurt has the second highest average finish here in the past five races including a runner up finish here back in June. Even though there have been struggles in the last few races for him, I look for Kurt to continue his stellar season and claim his second win of 2019. He should be fun to watch come Sunday as he looks to bank more bonus points going into the playoffs.

(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 heads back to Kansas

Alex Bowman/Facebook


NASCAR makes their second trip to Kansas this week for the Hollywood Casino 400. This is the final race in NASCAR's round of 12 as each driver looks to get closer to the semifinal round of eight. The last time the Cup series was here was back in May, Brad Keselowski pulled off the victory in one of the best races of 2019 as he held off a charge from Alex Bowman and Clint Bowyer to claim his second win of the season. When the cup series came here in year's past, this was one of the more calmer races but ever since NASCAR introduced the new Aero Package, the field has been way closer. According to racing-reference, the spring race here had an average of 15 green flag passes per lap. While many fans have been extremely critical of NASCAR's new package, they simply cannot deny how much it has improved the racing on tracks like Kansas and Chicago. It will be interesting to see how much the circumstances of this being an elimination race will raise the urgency come Sunday.

Last week, the finish of Talladega was pushed back a day after rains suspended all on track activity on Sunday. After the conclusion of the first stage, the field was halted for over two hours until race officials decided to call it a day. During the rain delay, Chevrolet executive Jim Campbell called in an impromptu meeting with all of his drivers and demanded they all form a single-file line to help a Chevy win the race. According to driver Corey LaJoie, if drivers didn't comply, they would lose their company car and would lose time on the team's simulator which is a valuable tool for divers to get better at certain tracks. As you can tell, this was not received well by drivers and fans alike. One of the critics of this decision was 1999 Winston Cup Champion Dale Jarrett. When asked about it, he responded by saying "this has no place in NASCAR."And as a lifelong fan and owner of a Chevrolet, I must say that I agree with the critics on this. Working together on tracks like Talladega is one thing but to threaten drivers who don't comply by taking away time on the simulator is incredibly stupid. This is another example of how corporate this sport has become over the years and is simply not a good direction for the sport. As the race went on, it appeared as if the manufacturer was actually hurt by this as their top drivers Alex Bowman, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Larson were all collected in an incident that ended their chances to win and quite possibly might cost Bowman a shot at the championship.

Needless to say, the race went on and featured one of the all-time greatest finishes in NASCAR History as Ryan Blaney was able to pass Ryan Newman in the final hundred yards and win by a margin of 00.7 tenths of a second making it the ninth closest finish in NASCAR History. Overall, this race had everything you would expect in a race at Talladega. It had multiple big crashes (including a flip by Brendan Gaughan), the lead changes and of course to top it all off, a photo finish. This great finish came at a good time for NASCAR considering the race at Dover a week earlier wasn't all that exciting.

Last week's race at Talladega was riddled with playoff implications as all twelve drivers were involved in some sort of incident including race winner Ryan Blaney. Overall, the drivers outside of the top eight are William Byron, Clint Bowyer, Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman. It is going to be extremely difficult for any one of these drivers to get it on points so it is more than likely that they will have to win to get in. When I look at these four drivers, I think all of them have a good shot to win as they have all been fast here.

This leads me to the driver I predict will win come Sunday and that driver is Alex Bowman. This track falls right into his wheel-house, he ran extremely well here as he led 63 laps and came extremely close to winning but had to settle for second place. This was tough for Bowman considering he had finished second three times in a row up to that point. This week, I think that Bowman gets his redemption for the spring race and he does it when he needs it the most to get into the round of 8. Look for Bowman to take the #88 Camaro to victory lane for his second career win.

(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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