THE LEFT TURN
NASCAR playoffs at Vegas: South Point 400 preview, picks
The NASCAR Cup Series heads to Sin City this week for the South Point 400. This is the first race of the Round of 8 also known as the semi-final round of the playoffs. A win here for advanced drivers will assure them a spot in the championship race at Phoenix. Las Vegas Motor Speedway is a mile-and-a-half track shaped like a bullring. This track is hell on tires, but luckily, the track temperature will be much cooler this time than it was in the spring.
Last week in dramatic fashion, Christopher Bell took the checkered flag at the Charlotte Roval to advance to the Round of 8. The race was pretty tame for most of the day as most drivers had an extremely hard time passing. It wasn’t till the final two laps when a caution came out for a sign on the racetrack, after this we would see absolute chaos. Christopher Bell would use his fresh tires to power past the first three cars to take the lead. The battle would be for the final transfer into the Round of 8 as Kyle Larson would have mechanical issues that would knock him out of the playoffs by Chase Briscoe. This wasn’t without controversy as Briscoe needed to pass two cars to move into the next round, one of those cars was his teammate Cole Custer. Going into the backstretch, Custer backed off the throttle enough to let his teammate go by and get the points he needed to move on.
After an investigation, NASCAR president Steve Phelps came to the conclusion that Stewart-Haas Racing manipulated the outcome of the race and leveled the #41 team with a massive penalty. The team was docked 50 points, a $200,000 fine, and an indefinite suspension for crew chief Mike Shiplett. Not surprisingly, car owner Tony Stewart is not happy about this, stating that “if he didn’t have any appearances he had to be at, he wouldn’t go to a single NASCAR race for the rest of the year.” While I can understand Tony’s frustration, this was fairly black and white, as it was blatantly obvious that the 41 helped his teammate. On the radio, Shiplett was heard saying “back er down it looks like you got a flat.” It was next to impossible for the crew chief to know if his driver had a flat, considering he was on the complete opposite end of the racetrack, and he couldn’t see the car.
Aside from all this, NASCAR and the race teams are further apart than they have ever been. The car owners are upset that the racetracks are making too much money, the cars are not safe enough, and the sanctioning body is disputing everything. According to reports, the racetracks (that are owned by NASCAR) are taking up 93 percent of the revenue that comes in from television and ticket sales. NASCAR’s retort was that the teams were only going off of how much the charters were worth, and that they are receiving much more money than being reported.
After all the turmoil, NASCAR made a peace offering to the race teams by announcing that they will cover all the costs of the new car upgrades for 2023. Let's hope the two sides can make an agreement, so we don’t miss any races after the media contract expires in 2025.
There is some news coming down this Saturday as 2004 champion Kurt Busch is expected to announce his retirement. This is something that we had all been fearing was the case, as he has not raced since Pocono in July. The road for Kurt was never easy, as he faced plenty of adversity over the course of his twenty-year career. Busch would be involved in multiple altercations with drivers like Jimmie Spencer and Greg Biffle. Throughout the 2010’s Busch would struggle as he would lose his ride at Penske after verbally berating ESPN Pit Reporter Jerry Punch in 2011 at Homestead and would have the most difficult year of his career in 2012 after driving for James Finch. He would then completely rebuild his career the next year driving for Furniture Row and making the chase for the cup and finding new employment at Stewart-Haas Racing, Ganassi and 23xill over the next 7 years. He would win in every car he drove in. There is no doubt that Kurt is a first-ballot NASCAR Hall of Famer, and he will be missed.
The driver that is expected to replace him at 23XI is Tyler Reddick. There was a lot of talk about him finishing out his contract at RCR in a third team, but Toyota has since bought out the remaining year in his contract and will bring him to their team a year earlier.
The driver I have winning this weekend is Joey Logano. No one has been as consistent as the 2018 championship in these playoffs, and now he’s going to one of his personal best racetracks. In his 18 starts here, Logano has won twice, 6 top-five finishes, and 11 top-tens. It’s clear that Joey has a championship-caliber pace and a win at Las Vegas will get him one step closer to that second title.