THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR hits the road at Watkins Glen

Joey Logano. Getty Images.

This week, The NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for the finger lakes in Watkins Glen New York. This track is one of the three road courses on the schedule and if you ask me, easily the most exciting. Ever since the dramatic last lap duel between Marcos Ambrose and Brad Keselowski in both 2011 and 2012, this track has not had one bad finish. Besides the obvious Daytona or Talladega, this track poses the biggest chance for a first-time winner. Since 2010, there have been three first time winners including last season when Chase Elliott claimed his first win. This should be a can't miss race for any hardcore race fan.

Last week, Denny Hamlin went on to claim his third victory of 2019 after he was able to save enough fuel to hold off his teammates Erik Jones and Martin Truex Jr. This was Joe Gibbs racing's second 1-2-3 finish of 2019. This was another one of the many races that really ramped up in the final laps. While it appeared as if it was going to come down Hamlin, Jones and Harvick a caution came out after Josh Bilicki broke a driveshaft and stalled. This type of outcome seems to be a trend as it has happened so many times in the past few weeks and it isn't the worst thing for NASCAR right now. While watching the first two stages of the race is essential, everyone comes to see the closing stages of a race when the intensity heats up and lately even if it was unintentional these finishes have been incredible. It should be fun to watch during the remainder of the season.

The Jimmie Johnson saga continues as this week it was announced that he would hire a new crew-chief in Clif Daniels. This doesn't necessarily come as a surprise as Johnson has continued to struggle performance wise with his former Crew-Chief Kevin Meendering. Overall, I think that Kevin could be a good crew chief but the pressure might have been too much for him. Coming into 2019, Meendering was making his debut at crew-chief in the cup series as he worked for JR Motorsports with Elliott Sadler from 2016 to 2019 when he relieved Chad Kanaus. He was fairly successful in his efforts after he was able to guide Sadler to two championship races at Homestead in 2016 and 2017. In time, I think he will find his way back onto a pit-box in the Cup series, maybe some more time as an engineer or possibly crew-chiefing back in the Xfinity series will help him when he gets back whenever that may be. As for the guy they tapped to replace him, I think Daniels can definitely come in and help fix things from a technical standpoint as he has been an engineer at Hendrick since 2015, it should be interesting to see how this team progresses.

The driver that I have winning this weekend is Joey Logano. While it has been a struggle for him here in the past few years, this Sunday should be different; besides what a lot of people forget is that last season, Logano could have been a major contender if he wasn't involved in a first lap crash as he started the race in sixth. This is a track that Joey knows how to get around considering he won here back in 2015. This race also plays into pit strategy as well and for my money, crew-chief Todd Gordon is one of the best race strategists in NASCAR. I look for him to claim his third 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).

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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