THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR heads home to Charlotte

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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).

THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR heads back to Kansas

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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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