Food City 500

NASCAR preview: Cup series heads to Bristol

Kyle Busch is a monster at Bristol. Kylebusch.com

The Monster Energy Cup series heads for thunder valley at Bristol Motor Speedway for the Food City 500. When you ask a lot of people who are not familiar with the sport what tracks they have heard of, usually they name three: Daytona, Talladega and Bristol.

This is the mecca of all short tracks in this country. When you ask most drivers who race on the short tracks in the southeastern part of the country what race tracks they hope to make it to, Bristol is usually the first place they mention. This track is a 0.533 mile coliseum. There are 162,000 seats that surround the speedway, making it the fourth largest sporting venues in America and eighth in all of the world.

In 2007, Bruton Smith decided to widen the track from one lane to three. This was NOT well received by many of NASCAR’s old guard. Personally, I thought the product the new Bristol provided was fantastic. It provided more side-by-side racing, passing and closer finishes. What upset a lot of the “fans” of old Bristol was the decrease of wrecks and drama that came with it. Due to the criticism, Bruton Smith decided to make it a two lane race track instead with the outside line being the optimal place to pass. This move has been met with acclaim seeing how the track usually draws the biggest crowds on all of the circuit.

There is a very strong chance that this race will be rained out. There is a one hundred percent chance of rain on Sunday around when the race starts at 1 p.m. More than likely the race will be run Monday afternoon. (Pro tip for anyone that will attempt to watch the race at work: if you are going to do it make sure it’s on your phone and not on the TV in the office; believe me it’s not a good idea.) The favorite going into this race has to be of course Kyle Busch.

Last week Busch was able to claim his first victory of the season at Texas Motor Speedway and he is going to a track he has dominated over his career. He has won here six times including last year in the fall race and has led 2,115 laps.

Even though he has been almost unbeatable in the fall night race, it has been a different story for the spring race. For the past five seasons he has either not raced due to injury or has cut down a tire. You would have to go all the way back to 2013 to find when Busch had a top five here in April when he finished second to Kasey Kahne.

This string of bad luck will not follow him this week, as Busch will break out of his funk and have a good finish. The driver I predict will win is Erik Jones. Bristol is a special place for Jones; he made his debut in 2015, substituting for Denny Hamlin, who was suffering from spasms that flared up during a rain delay. It was here when the 18-year-old phenom was given the chance of a lifetime. He went on to a 26th place finish, and was tapped to substitute for Kyle Busch ,who was recovering from injuries and Matt Kenseth who was suspended later that year.

Last year after more time in the Xfinty Series he was moved up to full time in the 77 car for Furniture Row racing. The defining moment of his rookie season was last year’s fall race at Bristol. He led a race high 260 laps but was not able to fend off Busch.

Regardless, he went on to finish second for his best effort in the cup series. This year I think he will break through. This track caters to his driving style seeing how he cut his teeth on dirt.

This track is maybe the closest thing to a dirt track in NASCAR. My darkhorse driver this week is Trevor Bayne. The 2018 circuit has been a season to forget for the 2011 Daytona 500 champion but I think he gets back into the right direction. Bristol Motor Speedway is his home track. Bayne also has the third highest average finish here since 2016, so I see no reason why this won’t continue in 2018.

(All stats and information used in this article is brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Refrence.com the best website for all NASCAR stats)

THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR Ford Ecoboost 500 preview

Martin Truex will try to send his team out in style. Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

This week, the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads to Sunny Homestead-Miami Florida for the final race of the 2018 season, The Ford Ecoboost 500. After 36 weeks of battle, this race decides who will represent the sport as champion. Homestead-Miami  has played host for the season finale for the last 16 seasons. This is arguably the biggest race in all of NASCAR considering what is on the line and there is no better place in the world for it to take place. This track is a mile and a half in length and is known for its 18- degree banking in the corners. Over the years, the track has produced some of the best finishes in recent memory and with everything that’s at stake this week should be an all-time classic.

Last week at Phoenix, Kyle Busch took the checkered flag to officially cement his spot in the championship four. He did so after his brother Kurt Busch was involved in a multi-car crash involving him, Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott. In the closing stages of the race, Hamlin entered turn four and got into the side of Kurt Busch causing both to hit the wall bouncing back into Chase Elliott.

Hamlin was criticized for his “lack of respect” for the situation that Busch and Elliott were in contending for a championship. At first glance it was easy to understand why fans were upset but upon further review of the video, it would appear that the track was not maintained properly by NASCAR’s clean up crew.  On NASCAR Race Hub Radioactive segment, Defending champion Martin Truex Jr. was quoted as saying “they didn’t clean up the bleeping track for one thing. Everyone went down there and it was like ice. They just don’t get it.” His Crew Chief Cole Pern responeded by saying “yeah they do, it creates excitement. That’s their plan.”

These are fairly serious allegations but it isn’t so farfetched seeing NASCAR has made some pretty dumb calls regarding track maintenance in the past. For example, last season at Dover, they decided to restart the race without fully cleaning the backstretch. This oversight caused Ty Dillon to spin and collect multiple cars with him in the crash. While it may not be intentional and it is definitely difficult to manage these instances but they are proof that NASCAR could do a much better job at track maintenance and cleaning up the track. Let’s hope they have learned their lesson from last week because it has cost two drivers a chance at a championship.

Of the four drivers, Joey Logano enters Homestead as the only one who has never won a title. He has however made it to the championship race three times including this year in 2018. Each attempt has ended in heartbreak whether it be dropping the car off the jack during a pit-stop in 2014, or being involved in a late race crash in 2016. This year Logano hopes that history won't repeat itself and will finally claim his first championship. If he is to win it, it will have been well deserved seeing how he has an excellent season. This year, Logano has 12 top fives, 25 top-10s and two victories including the win that got him here at Martinsville. While he has lurked in the shadows of his competition, he has consistently been in around the front all season. While Logano has a good chance to win the title, the one variable that he must be weary of are the drivers that he  has upset over the duration of the season including Martin Truex Jr and Aric Almirola. Regardless, Logano looks to have a real shot at winning his first title.

Easily, Martin Truex Jr, enters this race as the sentimental favorite to win the championship. As most fans know, Furniture Row racing will cease operations after this race. Truex and his crew chief Cole Pearn have been the spark that have made this team a championship winning organization and now he has a chance to come back and send his team off with one last championship, This has been a rollercoaster type season for him though and while he has been in contention, Truex has yet to win a race since the announcement of his teams closure. In the end though, I don’t foresee this being an issue at Homestead. This is a track where Truex has struggled although as he has the lowest average finish of the group but he has shown that he can win here. Truex has a lot working against him but he still has a great shot at winning his second title.

After last week’s debacle, Kevin Harvick comes to Homestead with a chip on his shoulder. After his win was disallowed two weeks ago at Texas Motor Speedway, he looks to come in and prove his doubters wrong by claiming his second championship. If he does pull it off, he has definitely earned it with how incredible he has ran this year. Overall He has 22 top fives and 28 top tens with an average finish of 9.0! In percentages, he has finished in the top 10 in 80 percent of the races this year. This has easily been the most dominant season of his career as he has won more races now than ever before even in his championship winning season in 2014. Come Sunday, Harvick is going to be hard to beat.

While Harvick has had the best season statistically, Kyle Busch has come pretty close to matching the success of his championship rival. This year, Busch has eight wins, twenty-one top fives and twenty-seven top tens, nearly identical to the stats that Harvick has been able to put up. After winning last week at Phoenix, Busch comes to homestead with the most momentum on his side and when you get this 18 team in a rhythm they are hard to catch. Besides no one has made it to Homestead more than Kyle Busch as he has only missed the final round one time since the sport adopted this format in 2014. Look for Busch to be around the top three for most of the day as he looks to clinch his second NASCAR Championship.

Over the past four years that we have seen this format, I think this is easily the best four drivers we have ever seen make it to Homestead. Unlike the previous years, we won’t see a driver who got on a hot streak at the end of the season like we did with Ryan Newman in 2014 or Jeff Gordon in 2015. This is the cream of the crop and that’s why I think this will be one of the most memorable championship battles of all time. I look forward to seeing who gets to hoist the trophy come sunday evening.

(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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