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).

 

THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR at Bristol preview

Matt Sullivan/Getty Images


This week NASCAR heads to Bristol Motor Speedway for the Bass Pro Shops Night race. With the playoffs approaching this is definitely one of the wildcard races that can truly make or break a driver's chances of getting into the playoffs. Nicknamed the last great colosseum, Bristol Motor speedway is one of NASCAR's most iconic race tracks on the schedule as it's close quarters racing has always been a big hit among fans. The track is an half-mile oval with 22 degrees of banking like you would see at a much bigger racetrack. While the track has been widened over the years, it is still common practice to see drivers use their bumpers to knock someone out of the way. It should be must-see TV come Saturday night.

Last week, Kevin Harvick was able to rebound after a flat tire and win Michigan. This was the second time in two years that Harvick was able to win Michigan's fall race as he was able to save just enough fuel to get his Mobile one Mustang to victory lane. The race was fairly tame compared to what we have seen over the past two months but it was still a fairly intriguing event. Like we usually see at this track, fuel strategy was the deciding factor in who finished were. In the closing laps, both Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano ran out of fuel as they ran second and third eliminating them from victory. Some of the good stories we saw out of last week's race was how great of a run Ryan Preece had as he was able to claim an impressive seventh place finish. This is the rookie's third top ten of the season as he was able to drive all the way up from 29th to finish where he did. Overall, this has been a difficult season for him but if he can continue to improve like he did last week at Michigan, he should have a bright future in this sport.

It appears as if NASCAR's famed "silly season" is upon as drivers look to secure a ride for next year. The first domino to fall is Matt DiBendetto as it was announced that he will not be returning to the #95 Toyota for Leavine Family Racing. This comes as a bit of a surprise considering how well he has done in this car. This season he has four top 10 finishes and two top fives and was definitely gaining ground so it is sad to see a good driver lose his ride. The driver that will move up and take his place appears to be rookie driver Christopher Bell. While he has remained quiet about what he will be doing next season, it would be safe to assume that he will be next in line to drive this car considering car owner Bob Leavine's relationship with Joe Gibbs. As much as I hate to see Matt lost his place, I think that it is a far cry to say Bell doesn't deserve to be Cup racing. This young driver has been lighting it up in the Xfinity series and I think he will translate well in 2020. As far as it goes for DiBenedetto, he isn't without options. With Toyota's newest crop of young drivers such as Harrison Burton and Todd Gilliand being a few years from being ready to be in the cup series, it wouldn't be a bad idea for Matt to scale down into the Xfinity series for a year or two driving for Gibbs. I think this could help his career as here he will be able to compete for a championship besides you never know what other opportunities could arise in the not to distant future.

Coming into Bristol, the driver that I have winning is Kyle Larson. In interviews and on social media, Larson has called this track his favorite and it makes a lot of sense considering how good his results have been. Larson currently has an average finish here of 7.50, the third highest amongst active drivers.This track almost perfectly complements his driving style considering the best line to run around here is the outside and if you have watched him race, you can tell that's his preferred line. This track also being a short-track really plays a lot into why he has been so good here as well considering he has been racing at tracks just like them around the country when he races his dirt car. Over the years, he has always been close here but this week I think he gets it done and gets his first 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).

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