THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR Talladega preview

Chase Elliot (No. 9) picked up a rare win for Chevy. Jerry Markland/Getty Images

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).

 

Kylebusch.com


This Saturday, the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for Richmond Raceway for the first night race of 2019. This track is a 0.75 D-shaped oval and is the second of back-to-back short track races for the series. The track is one of the more spacious of the short track group as the track has multiple groves to pass on so there should be plenty of side-by-side racing come race-day and don't be surprised if someone uses their bumper to get by someone for the win like we saw back in 2016 with Kyle Busch and his former teammate Carl Edwards.

Last week, Kyle Busch came back from a crash in the early stages to win his third race of the season. This race was one of the most entertaining of the season as both Kyle and his brother Kurt battled all throughout the closing laps but unfortunately The big story of the weekend, was not the great race that we saw. Come Monday all NASCAR fans wanted to talk about was how there were"empty seats" in the grandstands. While I can understand how a lot of fans are scorning the new direction of the sport and some of their complaints are valid but I don't think that this should overshadow what a great race we saw Sunday. Overall, while yes NASCAR is in a slump right now, but it doesn't help matters for some "fans" to continue to talk about how the sport is "dying" and A lot of the times, these people don't even offer any solutions either, they just talk about how bad the sport is doing and relive the glory days and that helps no one. Needless to say, I think we can all agree though that there needs to be serious changes made to help NASCAR get to where it needs to be and there are a whole laundry list of things that can be tweaked. One thing is the schedule could use some changes; there are tracks new to this series that fans might be interested in seeing like Circuit Of The Americas or a short track like Iowa Speedway. There have been grumblings of a massive overhaul come 2021 so I hope that this can drum up some more interest in the sport.

Going into this week, no driver has been on a hotter streak than Kyle Busch. As I stated earlier, last week at Bristol he won his third race of 2019; not only has he been winning races left and right but he has been consistently up front as well. He has finished in the top 10 in all eight races in 2019, something only Terry Labonte has done all the way back in 1992 and unfortunately for the competition, Richmond Raceway is a track he has thrived on ever since he started driving stock cars; in fact he got his first NASCAR Xfinity victory at this track all the way back in 2004. This track just seems to cater to Kyle's driving style and he should have no trouble contending for the victory come Saturday.

The driver that I have winning this week is not Kyle Busch though because I am taking the elder of the two in Kurt Busch to win this week. This year, the driver they call the outlaw has really shined and while he hasn't won a race yet, I think this week is the week. Over the course of his nearly 21 years in racing at this track, he has definitely had his ups downs here but he has found success. He was able to win here back in 2015 and all the way back in 2005 so it's clear that he knows how to run at this track. Not only is he coming to a track that he is good at, but he is riding a wave of momentum as he has finished six of the eight races this year in the top 10 and has easily been the fastest Chevy in the field. I look for Kurt to win his first of many in 2019 as he looks to contend for a championship in what very well could be his final season in NASCAR.

(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).(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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