THE LEFT TURN
NASCAR: The action heats up at Bristol this weekend
The NASCAR Cup Series heads for Thunder Valley for the final race of the round of 16. This track is one of the baddest tracks on the schedule and now for the first time, it gets a race in the playoffs. The race will also host fans as it did back in June for the All-Star race so it would be good to see things continue to return to normal as they do in the world. This race will decide who gets to move on to the round of 12 as well, making it all the more urgent. This is going to be a race you won't want to miss.
Last week, Brad Keselowski dominated at Richmond Raceway for his third victory of the year and a trip to the round of 12. This was a clean race, there were no on-track incidents and the only cautions we saw were for the stage breaks. When it was over, Clint Bowyer was quoted as saying "We have to find a way to put on a much better show than that." Personally, while there wasn't a lot of action so to speak for a track called the action track, overall I thought the race had some interesting moments. Plus, it will be a nice contrast for what we see this week at Bristol. Regardless, kudos to Brad Kesewloski for winning. With his new contract signed, it seems like he and his Penske Racing team are all-in for the rest of this season looking for him to be a threat in the next round.
The Silly season remains in full effect as the rumors are swirling around who will be where in 2021. It is looking more and more likely that Denny Hamlin is trying to become a team owner here as there are many rumors pointing to him purchasing the Gaunt Brothers Racing or Germain racing and bringing in Bubba Wallace to drive for him. Of the two teams I mentioned the one that makes the most sense is Gaunt Brothers Racing considering their ties to Toyota racing. I look forward to seeing how this plays out. Besides, it would be awesome to see another owner driver in NASCAR.
The other major rumor surrounds the #48 car. The wild speculation continues as Kyle Larson now becomes the leader in the clubhouse as to who will take over the coveted #48 car in 2021. Many fans rejoiced when these reports came out and it seemed like there was smoke to this rumor. But all of this seemed to be quashed when MRN Reporter Mike Bagley tweeted out that Larson has not applied for reinstatement from NASCAR after his suspension in March. Now this doesn't mean he won't and there is still a chance that he will and when he does, I am sure he will become highly sought after. Personally, I am beginning to come around on him racing in NASCAR again but it seems kind of strange to me that he considered NASCAR a "stepping stone" to racing in the World of Outlaws dirt racing series full time. And now, all of a sudden he wants to go NASCAR racing again. Needless to say, you can't deny the disgraced driver's talent and whoever gets him will definitely be getting a championship contender.
As we know, after this race the playoff field of 16 will be cut down to 12 and the battle for the final spot is heating up. As of now, Clint Bowyer is on the hot seat as he sits three points ahead of William Byron and eight pints ahead of Cole Custer in fourteenth. The drivers in fifteenth and sixteenth are Matt DiBenedetto and Ryan Blaney. At this point while Bowyer, Byron and Custer can fall back on points, both Matt and Ryan almost need a win to get into the next round. This is sure to be a major focal point of the race come Saturday night and as the urgency ramps up on a short track, these drivers are going to be hungry to advance. We could very well see some fireworks on and off the track.
With all that said, the driver I am picking to win this weekend is Ryan Blaney. At the beginning of the year after finishing second to Denny Hamlin in a photo finish at Daytona, many pencilled in Blaney as a championship contender. He has backed it up as well. He has eight top fives, eleven top tens and a victory at Talladega. With all of this though, Blaney has not had a very good stretch here. Over the last two weeks, Blaney has finished twenty-fourth and nineteenth at Darlington and Richmond. This has really put him in a tough spot as he is twenty-seven points back. I think this will light a fire under him though, and he is coming to a track where he has been really fast but circumstances have cost him a chance at victory. For instance, the last time the cup series was at Bristol, he seemed to have a car that could contend but after overdriving turn one and crashing out, he was relegated to a last place finish. If he can just put it all together and run a clean race, I see no reason as to why he can't win. It will also be interesting to see how he approaches slower cars. He said earlier this week that he "cautions anyone in front of them cause they won't be in front of them long." This type of mentality is why I think he will win. He is driving with a purpose. I look forward to watching him come Saturday.