Pennzoil 400 preview

NASCAR heads for the desert in Vegas for the third race of 2019

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The NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series ventures into the unknown this week as they head for Vegas for the Pennzoil 400. This week, NASCAR will unveil the new "aero ducts" that will tighten up the field come Sunday. All throughout the offseason, the field has been testing at this one and a half mile oval and overall we saw almost exactly what we would expect. Everyone was bunched up and the field was extremely close together.

While there were plenty of positives that came with these rule changes, not everyone was a fan. One of the drivers that was critical of the new package was Kyle Busch. He was quoted as saying the package has "taken the skill away from the drivers." NASCAR officials were none too happy with his comments, NASCAR's VP of Development John Probst responded by saying drivers should "be careful" with their criticism of the rule changes and threatened to give them fines. I personally find this abohorent. NASCAR continues to show their thin skin when it comes to criticism, weather it be by drivers, the media or team owners. While it is common practice for certain sports to fine their athletes for being critical, I personally think it's stupid to punish their drivers for speaking their mind. Here is a sport that tries to pride themselves on letting these drivers be who they are but yet they turn around and threaten to fine everyone. With this new leadership in Jim France, I hope they can find a way to stop being such snowflakes all the time and let the drivers think and say what they want.

Last week, Brad Keselowski was able to pull out all the stops and take the victory at Atlanta. At the beginning of the race, Keselowski started all the way back in 19th place. While he was quiet at the beginning he made his presence known in the final 32 laps. The heartbreak of the day came after Kyle Larson got a speeding penalty costing him a shot at winning his first race at Atlanta. All throughout the day, Larson dominated the race by leading 142 laps and winning the first stage. Over his career, Larson has had an issue with finishing races and Atlanta was a prime example. He looks to avenge his loss this week at Vegas.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr is back in the news again. In the closing laps, Stenhouse was multiple laps down and according to Martin Truex Jr, Stenhouse did not give way to Truex in his efforts to catch Brad. Overall, this has been a common complaint among the drivers. Truex was quoted as saying "We had the best car but the 17 [Stenhouse] was slowing me down." In a response Stenhouse fired back at the 2017 Champion, he stated "If I had a car faster than someone, I would drive around them." While I can see the reason for Martin's frustration, he has to realize that he isn't the only driver on the track. At the end of the day, there were 36 other cars on the track that are all racing for different things. With everything that can happen on the track, who knows maybe a caution could come out and Stenhouse can get the free pass back on to the lead lap and get back into contention for a better finish. While there has been legitimate reasons for drivers to be upset with Stenhouse this is not one of them.

The driver that I have winning this week is Kurt Busch. For many, most would pick Kyle Busch to win here but I am going with his older brother Kurt. After last week's fantastic third place showing in Atlanta, Kurt comes to his home-track with a great finish under his belt and a better understanding of his new team at Ganassi Racing. While his results here in the past in Vegas haven't been what he might have wanted, they don't really tell how well he has run here. Last year Busch had a great car in this race until he was involved in an incident with Chase Elliott. I think this year, he will put it all together and claim his second victory at his home track and clinch a spot in the playoffs.

(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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This week, NASCAR heads for the Bluegrass state for the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Motor Speedway. This track is a 1.5 mile tri-oval with tightly banked corners of seventeen and fourteen degrees. Back in 2010, NASCAR announced that it would add this track to the schedule and while it was met with much intrigue then, this track has provided much more tame racing than many would expect. Back in 2015, it was announced that this track would be repaved and reconfigured to fix some of the track's issues with moisture. After this repave, the part of the track that was most affected was turn three. This part of the track is easily the most challenging as there have been multiple incidents on this corner. This should be were all the action is come saturday.

Last week at Daytona,part-time driver Justin Haley pulled off arguably the biggest upset in NASCAR history as he was able to claim his first career win after the rain ended the race prematurely. Driving for newly formed Spire Motorsports, he was able to avoid the big wreck that claimed 18 cars and take the lead right before the rain came. Many would label this victory as a fluke considering he only led one lap but it is important to note that he was running around the lead pack before the last caution.

Another facet fans took issue with was how this team came about in the first place. Back in the off-season, owners TJ Puchyr and Jeff Dickerson purchased the charter from Furniture Row racing and announced that they would be the newest team on the grid. This charter ensured that the team would be assured a spot in each of the thirty-six races in 2019 as opposed to open teams that do not have a charter and are not assured a spot. Many also thought that the team's victory had no bearing on the regular season considering that neither Haley or the team would be eligible for the playoffs. When not racing in the Cup Series, Haley is an Xfinity series regular so that is where he collects his driver points making him only eligible to compete for a championship in that series. Overall, while this wouldn't happen in almost any other circumstance, I think that it is pretty neat to see a new driver go to victory lane for his first win. While I will agree that NASCAR's new charter method is severely flawed in every way, you can't really blame Sprie Motorsports for taking advantage of this and finding success. I wish them the best for the remainder of 2019.

Going into this weekend, the driver that I have winning this weekend is Martin Truex Jr. Over the last two races here, Truex has won both of them. In both of those starts, Truex has lead sixty percent of the laps run here so it's clear this track is basically Truex's playground. While I think that the new aero package may change things up a little bit, I still see Truex winning because of how well he has qualified here as well. Since 2017, he hasn't started worse than second and with Qualifying meaning as much as it does I think he should have no issue with that as well. He will be tough to beat come Saturday night.

(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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