THE LEFT TURN
NASCAR Talladega preview
In one of the most anticipated weekends in all of motorsports, the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for the high banks of the famed Talladega Superspeedway for this week’s 1000bulbs 500. The stakes are much higher than the last time we came here as the playoff field of 12 will look to survive and advance to the semifinal round of eight starting in two weeks at Martinsville.
Last week Chase Elliott claimed his second career victory at Dover as he was able to steer clear of trouble and hold off Denny Hamlin for the win. The dominant car of the day was Kevin Harvick. after sweeping both stages and leading a race high 286 laps, a flat tire derailed any chance of victory. On the bright side for Harvick he was able to rebound and finish sixth. With Harvick out of the way, this appeared to open the door for Aric Almirola to finally claim his first win of the season but after a late race caution and a subpar pit-stop, suddenly he found himself in sixth position with six laps to go. After the restart, he was involved in a multi-car crash that ended any chance of victory. After all the attrition, Elliott found himself in the lead and never looked back. With the victory, Elliott moves on to the next round. This victory comes as a surprise seeing how it is only the third victory of the season for Chevrolet.
On Wednesday, Hendrick Motorsports dropped a bombshell as they announced that next season Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson would split at the end of 2018. Starting Next season, Knaus will team up with young rookie William Byron and long-time JR Motorsports crew chief Kevin Meendering will move up and be Johnson’s crew chief. This is one of the biggest surprises in a long time seeing how Johnson and Knaus have worked together since Johnson's Rookie year in 2002. Over the course of nearly 17 seasons, both have had enormous amounts of success as they would go on and win seven championships and 83 race victories. This move is equivalent to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick splitting up as no other driver-crew chief combo have had more success then these two in the sport. Overall, I think the reason for the split lies with the fact that both probably want a fresh start somewhere else. Both are in the midst of their worst season on record as Johnson has yet to win a race in 2019. More than likely, I think that William Byron will benefit the most from this move; now he gets arguably the greatest crew-chief of all time. It will be interesting to see how the move will affect each driver in the future.
The other big storyline was the announcement that fan favorite Matt DiBenedetto will move to Leavine Family Racing and drive the No. 95 Procore Toyota Camry. This is a big deal for him seeing how he will finally get a chance to run in better equipment as the team will form an alliance with Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing. Many believe that this move will finally propel DiBenedetto to victory lane and more than likely at some point he will get there but as to next season, I am not sure if they are quite there yet. Be on the lookout for this team next season, though.
Brad Keselowski comes into Talladega as the driver to beat. He leads all active drivers with wins here as he has five victories including his first win back in 2009. Many consider him the best driver on plate tracks since Dale Jr. retired in 2016 and it makes sense why seeing how he learned under Jr. back when he started racing. He should be hard to beat as he looks to punch his ticket to the round of eight.
The driver that I predict will go to victory lane this week is, you guessed it, Aric Almirola. If you know me, I have been high on him since it was announced he was moving to Stewart-Haas racing. I have picked him to win at both Daytona and Talladega this season and this week will be no different. Over the course of the last three plate track races, Almirola has come extremely close, from getting crashed out on the final lap in the Daytona 500 to finishing sixth at the race in Talladega in the fall. I really see no reason why he can’t finally break through and win this week so as long as he stays out of trouble. Look for the #10 Smithfield Ford to take the checkered flag come sunday.
Darrell Wallace Jr, is my sleeper pick for this weekend. It’s no secret that 2018 has been a tough season for the rookie driver as he currently sits in 27th place in points. This season he has struggled mightily but has shown flashes on the plate tracks, I can see him mixing it up with the leaders and possibly being in contention to win. Aside from all of the issues this team has getting up to speed, going out and getting a good run at Talladega would be huge. Look for Bubba to have a great race come sunday.
(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).