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 Sin City in Las Vegas for the South Point 400. This is the opening round of NASCAR's version of the playoffs. Sixteen drivers will come to Vegas with a chance to move on and continue their path to a championship. Located just outside Downtown, This track is a mile and a half oval that includes twenty degrees in banking, usually with the Las Vegas heat, the track's surface becomes much more slick. This caused many tire issues last season that took out many contenders including Kurt Busch and Chase Elliott. With temps as high as 100 degrees on Sunday, this should be a factor to watch for.

Last week, Kevin Harvick put a beat-down on the field to go on and win his second Brickyard 400 and his third win of the season. Harvick led a race high 118 laps and was never really challenged until the closing stages after a battle with Joey Logano on a restart in the final few laps. The race was marred by many spectacular crashes including Brad Keselowski and Erik Jones as Brad hit a tire barrier at over 170 miles per hour causing the car to come to a dead-stop instantly. Luckily, no one involved was injured. Overall, many of the contenders were caught up in accidents including teammates Kyle Larson and Kurt Busch. When the smoke cleared, there were also some drivers who had great results including Darrell Wallace Jr who came home third. This was Bubba's best finish since last year's Daytona 500. While many will attribute attrition to why he ran so well it is important to note that he ran around the top 10 for much of the race.

For much of the season, NASCAR's greatest driver Jimmie Johnson has been in the spotlight but for all the wrong reasons and unfortunately this continued at Indy after he was eliminated from playoff contention when he was swept up in a multi car wreck on lap 108. This ends a 14 year streak of Johnson making NASCAR's postseason. While 2019 has been a dreadful year for him, Johnson has been adamant that he crew-chief Cliff Daniels are not done and will be much better come next season. If I could compare this to any other major sport, I would say it is close to what happened with LeBron James missing the playoffs this season with the Lakers. For both athletes, while things may be hard now I think they will be better next season as they both make moves to improve their teams. It will be interesting to watch seven time champion try and play spoiler to help his teammates Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman and William Byron compete for a championship.

The NASCAR world was met with some good news this week as well as it was announced that fan favorite Matt DiBenedetto will drive for the Wood Brothers in 2020 in the #21 Menards Ford Mustang, the ride will include resources from Penske racing. The move was met with much surprise as it was announced Tuesday on the Wood Brothers Twitter page. The team's current driver, Paul Menard announced his retirement at the end of the 2019 season. While he won't be racing, Menard and his sponsor of the same name will remain with the team as Paul was gracious enough to suggest they hire DiBenedetto after he had many great results this season driving for Bob Leavine. Even though he will not return to full-time racing in NASCAR, he will continue to race on a part time basis more than likely for Penske racing's Xfinity team. In the grand scheme of things, many people have criticized Paul for his avenue into the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series, the one thing people can't say is he and his family haven't done a lot for the sport. While many sponsors have left, Menard and his bright yellow paint scheme have always been around to keep a lot of these competitive teams going, I have to thank Paul for everything he has done for this sport and while his career wasn't perfect he wasn't such a bad race car driver either, he will always be remembered for his victory in the 2011 Brickyard 400 (ironically enough) and qualifying for the chase back in 2014. He will be missed come Sundays on the track

The driver that I have winning this week is Martin Truex Jr. This season, Truex has been fast at times but surprisingly he has kind of flown under the radar when compared to his teammates. While he still has four wins, he's been in a bit of a slump over the past two weeks. At both Indy and Bristol, he has finished 15th and 27th. The results have kind of taken the radar off the 2017 champion but I think this race is where he gets back into the swing of things. Over the last couple races here, Truex has the second highest average finish has led 23 percent of the laps completed. Come Sunday when the green flag drops, Truex and his Camry should be hard to beat.

(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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