THE LEFT TURN
NASCAR heads home to Charlotte
The NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads to home base this week in Charlotte, North Carolina for the Bank of America 400. This will be the second running on the Road Course/oval combination here at this prestigious racetrack. Last year's inaugural race here included one of the greatest finishes in the history of the sport after Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr. spun in the final corner allowing Ryan Blaney to emerge from third to first and claim his second career victory so as you can tell, this race has a lot to live up to. This is the last race of the round of 16, so the intensity will definitely be at an all time high come Sunday. On this track, there are two chicanes that have really given lots of drivers trouble. The first one is in the middle of the back stretch, this has caused many issues considering the high rate of speed that is carried from turns one and two. Drivers like Bubba Wallace and Erik Jones ran into trouble with this last year when they both suffered vicious crashes into the tire barrier. The other chicane is at the exit of turn four next to the pit-road entrance, this was another trouble spot for many drivers considering the race came down to this corner last season. Of all the places on the race track, this will be the most exciting section to watch with it being as narrow as it is and the amount of action we see.
Last week, Martin Truex Jr was able to capture his sixth win of the year and the second in a row after passing his teammate Kyle Busch for the lead with 25 laps remaining. Miraculously, Truex was able to recover from a late race spin on lap 325 after contact with Ricky Stenhouse Jr who was a lap down at the time. While Truex won the race, the feel-good story of the night was the phenomenal run by Ryan Newman. When the checkered flag flew, Newman took home a fifth place finish. This has been one of the best stories of the year as the veteran driver has taken this Roush racing team that struggled to even stay on the lead lap and not only put them in the playoffs, but contend for top fives. The result puts Newman fourteen points above the 13th place cutoff and in a very good spot to move on to the next round. Many people wrote this team off and said they would be bounced in the first round, including NASCAR's most popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. After seeing how well he ran, Jr even said it himself that he has to apologize to Newman because he was going out there and proving him wrong. While what the 17-year veteran is doing is impressive, it isn't necessarily new considering back in 2014 he was able to gain enough points to make the championship race at Homestead and come within a second of winning the title. Going into the next round, if he can keep up this consistency, Newman might have a chance to do some major damage throughout the playoffs.
The bad luck continues for third year driver Erik Jones. After finishing the race in fourth place, it was later revealed that his car failed post-race inspection as his car failed to meet the right measurement and for the first time since the 40s, a driver in the Cup series was disqualified from the race. This nearly kills any chance of Jones to point his way into the next round as now he will have to almost win to move on. It is definitely a shame considering how well the team ran during the night and it's all washed away. Jones will have to go into the Charlotte with guns blazing to stay in the hunt for this championship.
During the week, Ryan Newman wasn't the only Roush racing driver in the headlines. On Wednesday, it was announced that Jack Roush had terminated Ricky Stenhouse Jr's contract and he will not return in 2020. The driver that will take his place, 2015 NASCAR Xfinity Champion and Prosper, Texas native Chris Buescher. During the time of his championship, he drove for Jack Roush and was called up to the #34 Loves Ford Fusion for Front Row racing the next season. This would be where he would claim an upset victory at Pocono. He then would move to Cavaliers legend Brad Daugherty's team in 2017 and he has been there ever since. The move comes as a massive surprise to all of the NASCAR world considering that Stenhouse had a contract until 2021. While I think Stenhouse is a good driver, this might have been a move that needed to be made as Buescher has been way more consistent. This season, Buescher's average finish is an impressive 17.6 and compared to Stenhouses 20.9 average finish, Buescher can give you a chance to make the playoffs. With the announcement that he will be leaving JTG, this leads many to speculate who will take his place in the #37 Krogers Camaro. My money's on the former Richard Childress driver Daniel Hemric. It will be interesting to see how he meshes with Ryan Newman and what is next for Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
As I stated earlier, this will be the final race of the round of 16. Right now the drivers on the bubble are Ryan Blaney, Aric Almirola and Willam Byron. While Blaney has a fairly sizeable eight point cushion on thirteenth, Aric and William are living on the razor's edge as they are two and three points ahead of Alex Bowman. This is looking like it is going to be another dramatic finale considering Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch aren't too far behind either. Overall, If I had to predict who I would say would advance, I think that Aric will stay where he is in 11th and Alex Bowman will advance eliminating his Hendrick teammate William Byron. The reason, I believe this is because of how well he ran at this track last year as he finished fourth. This should be a battle for the ages come Sunday.
The driver that I have winning this week is Brad Keselowski. As we all know, last season Brad almost pulled off an upset victory after taking his beat-up Ford all the way back to the lead. It looked like he was on his way to victory until driving head-on into the wall in turn one after a late race restart. This year, I think that Brad will learn from the mistakes he made last year as he should be the car to beat. Look for him to take his mustang to victory lane for his fourth win of the season.
(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).