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 at Bristol preview

Matt Sullivan/Getty Images


This week NASCAR heads to Bristol Motor Speedway for the Bass Pro Shops Night race. With the playoffs approaching this is definitely one of the wildcard races that can truly make or break a driver's chances of getting into the playoffs. Nicknamed the last great colosseum, Bristol Motor speedway is one of NASCAR's most iconic race tracks on the schedule as it's close quarters racing has always been a big hit among fans. The track is an half-mile oval with 22 degrees of banking like you would see at a much bigger racetrack. While the track has been widened over the years, it is still common practice to see drivers use their bumpers to knock someone out of the way. It should be must-see TV come Saturday night.

Last week, Kevin Harvick was able to rebound after a flat tire and win Michigan. This was the second time in two years that Harvick was able to win Michigan's fall race as he was able to save just enough fuel to get his Mobile one Mustang to victory lane. The race was fairly tame compared to what we have seen over the past two months but it was still a fairly intriguing event. Like we usually see at this track, fuel strategy was the deciding factor in who finished were. In the closing laps, both Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano ran out of fuel as they ran second and third eliminating them from victory. Some of the good stories we saw out of last week's race was how great of a run Ryan Preece had as he was able to claim an impressive seventh place finish. This is the rookie's third top ten of the season as he was able to drive all the way up from 29th to finish where he did. Overall, this has been a difficult season for him but if he can continue to improve like he did last week at Michigan, he should have a bright future in this sport.

It appears as if NASCAR's famed "silly season" is upon as drivers look to secure a ride for next year. The first domino to fall is Matt DiBendetto as it was announced that he will not be returning to the #95 Toyota for Leavine Family Racing. This comes as a bit of a surprise considering how well he has done in this car. This season he has four top 10 finishes and two top fives and was definitely gaining ground so it is sad to see a good driver lose his ride. The driver that will move up and take his place appears to be rookie driver Christopher Bell. While he has remained quiet about what he will be doing next season, it would be safe to assume that he will be next in line to drive this car considering car owner Bob Leavine's relationship with Joe Gibbs. As much as I hate to see Matt lost his place, I think that it is a far cry to say Bell doesn't deserve to be Cup racing. This young driver has been lighting it up in the Xfinity series and I think he will translate well in 2020. As far as it goes for DiBenedetto, he isn't without options. With Toyota's newest crop of young drivers such as Harrison Burton and Todd Gilliand being a few years from being ready to be in the cup series, it wouldn't be a bad idea for Matt to scale down into the Xfinity series for a year or two driving for Gibbs. I think this could help his career as here he will be able to compete for a championship besides you never know what other opportunities could arise in the not to distant future.

Coming into Bristol, the driver that I have winning is Kyle Larson. In interviews and on social media, Larson has called this track his favorite and it makes a lot of sense considering how good his results have been. Larson currently has an average finish here of 7.50, the third highest amongst active drivers.This track almost perfectly complements his driving style considering the best line to run around here is the outside and if you have watched him race, you can tell that's his preferred line. This track also being a short-track really plays a lot into why he has been so good here as well considering he has been racing at tracks just like them around the country when he races his dirt car. Over the years, he has always been close here but this week I think he gets it done and gets his first win of 2019.

(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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