THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR Hollywood Casino 400 preview

Alex Bowman needs a big effort to advance. Alex Bowman/Facebook

The NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for the heartland in Kansas City, Kansas for the Hollywood Casino 400.

Last week, Stewart-Haas racing teammates Aric Almirola, Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer found a way to pull away from the pack and get a one-two finish as Almirola went to victory lane for the first time since July of 2014 at Daytona, Bowyer finished second.  This victory is huge for Almirola. Not only does he solidify himself as a championship contender, it is also very special due to all of the adversity he has had to face over the past year. Last year at Kansas Motor Speedway of all places, Almirola suffered a back injury which took him out of commission for a month. It was good to see him get redemption and move on after the hard times.

Entering this race, two drivers have already clinched a spot to the next round. Those drivers are Chase Elliott and  Almirola. While not exactly the drivers the casual fans would expect, both drivers are enjoying their best seasons as Almirola has his most top 10s in a season in his career and Elliott was able to claim his first win in his career this year at Watkins Glen followed by a victory at Dover two weeks ago.

The four drivers that are below the cutoff line are Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman. For the two Penske teammates of Keselowski and Blaney they face the easiest path to unseed Martin Truex and Clint Bowyer. While they enter Kansas 18 points out, if both of these drivers can rack up stage points they very well can find themselves in prime position to get back into the round of eight. The next two drivers are Larson and Bowman. These two are in a must-win situation. Bowman and Larson are facing an insurmountable deficit and the only way to advance is to win Kansas. It should be interesting to watch as these two try and claw their way back into the championship picture.

One of The biggest surprises of this round has been the struggles of Martin Truex Jr. After an abysmal 23rd place finish at Talladega and a mediocre 15th-place finish at Dover, Truex comes into Kansas only eight points above the cutoff. While the situation isn’t exactly dire for the defending champ, he still needs to have at least a top 10 finish to securely solidify his spot in the round of eight. He should be a force to be reckoned with come Sunday.

The driver that I have going to victory lane is Larson. Overall, 2018 has been a huge letdown for this team and while they had chances to win races, it just hasn’t seemed to be in the cards for him but this week, I think they finally break through. I know that I have been saying that for quite some time this season but Kansas Motor Speedway is one of the tracks he has been able to really excel at - he just hasn’t seemed to have the results to back up how great he has run here and tracks like it. Even though his average finish here has not been that great, over the years, he has always been in contention for a win. Like I wrote earlier, Larson’s back is very much against the wall when it comes to making the next round, not only is he facing a 36-point deficit but he also faces a 10 point deduction after using metal tabs for damage repair, which is illegal as you can only use metal fasteners or duct tape to repair damage. While the team is appealing, this does not change the situation for him and I think this week he will defy the odds and clinch a spot in the round of eight and maybe this victory can be the catalyst for Larson to get back into championship contetinton.

This should be a great race come Sunday as most cutoff races in this playoff format have been awesome to watch and this week should be no different. I can’t wait to see who moves on as we get closer and closer to crowning a champion in november.

(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).

 

NASCAR heads to Michigan for the FireKeepers 400

FireKeepers Casino 400 preview

Matt Sullivan/Getty Images


This week, NASCAR heads to Michigan for the FireKeepers 400. This is one of the biggest tracks on the circuit as it is exactly two miles in length and has wide 18 degree banking in the corners making it one of the fastest tracks on the circuit. With the track being as wide as it is, we should be able to see a lot of green flag runs that could very well bring for more pit road strategy.

Like last week at Pocono, it will be crucial for these drivers to make no mistakes in pit road if they want any chance at victory.

Of course the main point of intrigue this week is how these cars will respond to NASCAR's new rules package. It seems like every week, there is always a question about how these cars are going to run. Overall, it would appear that no one has any idea what's going to happen this week. We very well could see a big pack of cars that run together in a draft or we could see the field get spread out like we have been seeing at tracks like this. As important as this rules package is, many drivers and fans are growing tired of talking about it. When last week's winner Kyle Busch was asked how he would rate it, he responded by saying "STOP ASKING ME PACKAGE QUESTIONS! I'M DONE ANSWERING THEM!"

While many people didn't appreciate his attitude towards the question, I think that he is right for the most part about how difficult it is to race under these new guidelines on tracks like Pocono. Last week's race was not good as there was no passing. Kyle Busch lead a good majority of the laps and when it was all said and done the whole field was two or three seconds apart. Now in a 36 race season, I understand that there are going to be races like this, it has been like that since the sport began but NASCAR has continued to talk about how much closer the racing would be under these new rules and a lot of the time most people have been disappointed. It will be interesting to see how it works this week at a similar track in Michigan.

The driver that I have winning this week is Kevin Harvick. While it may sound like I am picking a favorite here, This season has been somewhat of a disappointment for these guys. While they are fifth in the standings and are doing a good job of collecting points, he has yet to win a race this season. While they have had the speed and have been able to run around the top five, they just have not been able to seal the deal. In his five years with Stewart-Haas Racing, this is the longest Harvick has gone without a win. By anyone else's standards, they would kill to have a season like this but for Harvick, I know that he is not happy with where they are right now so I look for them to come to Michigan and finally get their first win of 2019.

Another driver I see doing well this week is Austin Dillion. Despite his issues in the past couple of weeks at Charlotte and Pocono, he has shown good speed this season as he has been able to run around the top 15. Now if you look at the stat sheet, it would tell you that Dillion has struggled here but over the last couple of races at the track, he has steadily improved. In last year's Fall race here, he was able to finish fourth in one of his better races of 2018. It should be a bounce back week for Dillion as he looks to get back in the hunt to make 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).

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