THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR heads for the Monster Mile at Dover

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This week, the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for the self proclaimed Monster Mile at the Dover motor speedway in Dover, Delaware. This track is a one mile oval with extreme 24 degree banking which makes the race track tough to negotiate seeing how close the drivers are to the wall. Because of its relatively narrow configuration, there isn't a lot of room to go around which has made for close quarters racing. Another major variable about this race track is entering pit road. It seems like every time the sport goes here, a contending driver gets a speeding penalty that hurts their chances of victory. This should play a major role in deciding who wins come Sunday.

The big storyline coming into this week was NASCAR's decision to revert back to single-car qualifying. Starting this week, on tracks that are one mile and longer, the field will run one timed lap and on short tracks like Bristol they will run two timed laps. It is important to note that even though it's going away on the ovals, group qualifying will remain on the road courses. Back in 2014, NASCAR had the idea to have the cars run their time trials in one big group in a span of three rounds. At first it turned out to work OK but when NASCAR introduced this high downforce package that emphasizes the draft, it never really allowed the best car to qualify on pole which was kind of unfair. While yes, it was entertaining and allowed for drives you don't usually see up front, it kind of took away from what it is supposed to be about. The way that I see it, NASCAR has been doing single car runs for many years and it has worked perfectly in deciding who starts where. While I am not to keen on when they made the change, I think that this was was the right decision to make, especially for the owners and the money they put into setting up the car for this session. Now they don't have to worry about the added variable of possibly getting into a crash with another car or losing time getting stuck by a slower car.

The last time NASCAR came to Dover, Chase Elliott went on to capture his second career victory after fending off Denny Hamlin in the closing laps. This week, I expect to see much of the same. After winning last week in at Talladega, NASCAR's prodigal son appears to be in a great position to back it up with another victory. From the beginning, Elliott has always had the knack for this track and while other young drivers struggled here, he has absolutely flourished. Only once has he finished outside of the top 10 here and even then, he still recorded a respectable 12th-place finish and even in that race he was running as high as fifth. Look for the Napa Auto Parts Chevy Camaro to be around the front this week.

One driver to look out for this week is Ryan Newman. It has been refreshing site to see the rocket man running well this year as he currently sits in a playoff spot in thirteenth. He is riding high off three consecutive top ten finishes and this week he is going to a track where he has won at three times in his career. Among his peers, Ryan Newman is one of the elder statesmen on the grid but it is no secret that he can still drive a race car. I am not sure if he will win this week but I think that he will easily be able to continue his string of top tens this weekend.

(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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It is the end of an era this week at Homestead-Miami Speedway as the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series ends it season here for the final time. It was announced earlier this year in 2020 that NASCAR would conclude its season at Phoenix ending a 17-year tradition. While this track will still have a race here next season, it will be very weird to see champions week in Phoenix as opposed to the sunny beaches of Miami. This track has provided some of the most thrilling finishes in the past including the 2005 Ford 400 when Greg Biffle and Mark Martin finished side by side or of course in 2011 when Tony Stewart came back from multiple laps down to beat Carl Edwards for the championship. While the track will remain on the schedule next year, it simply won't be the same considering the circumstances. Not only is this track a fan favorite but also a favorite among drivers as well. I hope that NASCAR can reconsider to move this race back when they completely overhaul the schedule again in 2021.

Last week, Denny Hamlin went on to claim 37th career victory after annihilating the competition. With this victory, Hamlin will race for a chance to claim his first championship. This was a relatively calm race where there wasn't a lot going on. Passing was scarce throughout the race as it has been on a lot of these types of race tracks. Overall, the race was a pretty massive disappointment. Many fans were upset that this would be the track that would move to the season finale next season after what we saw on Sunday. While I understand their frustration, once again this goes back to how massive these spoilers are on this car and what a huge amount of drag they provide on smaller tracks like this one, if they can go to a smaller spoiler I think this problem should be eliminated. Let's hope that is the plan going forward next season and NASCAR's higher ups will listen to their drivers for once.

Another major headline this week was the announcement that next season Daniel Suarez will not return to the #41 Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing. As many would expect the driver that moves up to replace him is Cole Custer. This comes as a sort of a surprise considering there was news that the team was working with Suarez and his people on an extension. According to Adam Stern, after Suarez's sponsor Arris modems was purchased by a new company this postponed contract negotiations with the team and they simply ran out of patience. This is extremely unfortunate for Suarez. While many people were critical of him not being able to claim his first win, Suarez was having a pretty solid season. While I am happy to see Custer get his chance, I hope Daniel can find a competitive ride in 2020.

As I wrote earlier, this race will decide the champion. The four drivers that have made it are Martin Truex Jr, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Hamlin. These four drivers easily have a great case on why they have made it this far. The four have combined for 21 wins so it's safe to say these are the best four drivers in NASCAR right now. Of the four the favorite going into this race is Hamlin. Throughout his career, Hamlin has won everything there is to win but a championship. He has come painfully close so many times, including in 2010 when he spun out early at Homestead or in 2014 when he finished seventh behind Ryan Newman and Kevin Harvick. Many believe that this is Denny Hamlin's year and they have great reason for thinking so. He has won here twice back in 2009 and 2013 so he should be a great threat to take victory. One of the unsung heroes when it comes to Hamlin's success has been crew-chief Chris Gabehart. Not only has he has done an excellent job at making this car fast, he has also done a good job at keeping his driver from getting too riled up; at Martinsville he was able to restrain Hamlin from going and knocking Joey Logano's lights out so he has done a great job of that as well. Look for Hamlin to be fast come Sunday.

While he isn't exactly the favorite, Kevin Harvick definitely isn't one to sleep on when it comes to these big races. When this format was first implemented in 2014, Harvick was its first champion. While he hasn't been able to follow up with a championship since, he has still been around the top four as he has made it to the championship race every year but 2016. He has been the definition of consistency and will definitely be up front. Throughout the season, Harvick has been kind of under the radar as he didn't win his first race till New Hampshire in July. He has really come to life since then by winning three races including the one that locked him into Homestead at Texas. Look for the #4 Mustang to be a contender.

It has been quite the season for Kyle Busch. In the regular season, he was able to claim four victories at tracks like Poccono and California. The second half of the season has been a different story. Since then he has yet to find victory lane and has had numerous instances of bad results including blowing an engine at Indy and voluntarily parking his car at the Charlotte Roval after his car was damaged from an earlier accident. Regardless of his troubles, Busch has been able to collect enough stage points over the races preceding the playoffs and find himself right back in the championship race. While any other time I would like his chances, I believe that right now his heart seems to be somewhere else but I could very well be wrong. Regardless Busch will definitely make this race very interesting.

The driver I have winning the title this year is Martin Truex Jr. As we all know, Truex has had to overcome a lot of adversity to get to where he is. Last season, after he finally seemed to find some stability and a championship, the ground seemed to be pulled underneath him as it was announced late last year that Truex's team Furniture Row would cease operations. While most pretty much nkew Truex would move to Joe Gibbs racing, this was just another obstacle for the vetran driver. When moving on to Joe Gibbs, Truex and his crew chief Cole Pearn would pick up almost right where they left off and go on to win seven races and breeze a spot in the championship race at Homestead. This week, I think that Truex will cap off an incredible season with another win and a second championship and here is why I think so, of all drivers nobody has finished better than Truex. He currently enters this race with a 1.50 average finish since 2017. The man has been the closest thing to automatic here and this week should be no different. Look for Martin Truex Jr. to take the checkered flag and claim his second championship.

(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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