THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR: Blue Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 preview plus predictions

Photo via:WikiCommons.

Midweek racing makes its return this week as they head for the track they call the paperclip at Martinsville, Virginia for the Blue Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500. This will be the first race in the track's storied history that will be run under the lights. Originally, this was supposed to be the first race back but plans fell through as Virginia's stay at home order was not lifted at the time. It will definitely be a welcomed sight to go back to this track as this has been one of the most anticipated races of the year.

It is a shame that there will be no fans to see it there but when they do, it will definitely be one of the biggest draws of the season. Opened in 1947, this track is one of NASCAR's landmarks. It is 0.526 miles in length making it the smallest track on the schedule. You can rest assured that we will see some bent up bumpers during the races considering that is one of the few ways to pass. I can't wait for this race! It will especially be fun considering this race will be using the original 750 horsepower package that they use at short-tracks. It should be an awesome race!

Last week, Kevin Harvick pretty much dominated en route to his second victory of the season at Atlanta. As a race fan, this was an extremely difficult race to watch. While the racing after the restarts was good, there wasn't very much going on as Kevin Harvick led over 150 laps and won by three seconds. The track's surface is so rough that it makes it difficult to drive on and while most of the time that is good, in this case it was extremely rough on the tires as well. Another facet of the race was the heat and the toll it took on the drivers. When the race was over, Bubba Wallace passed out during his post-race interview.

This was terrifying to watch but after going to the care center the fan favorite was checked and released. This brought questions from fans as to why the race was run in the daytime considering the heat in the deep south and I completely concur with those fans. Overall, there wasn't really any reason why the race couldn't have been run at night when it was much cooler, there weren't any other sporting events going on and running the race in prime-time would have been another great opportunity to bring in a new audience. Let's hope they keep this in mind as they go to Homestead-Miami at the end of the week.

When it was all said and done, the main headline was what happened before the race even started. As everyone in this country knows, there is a lot of racial turmoil because of the police brutality we have seen nationwide. Over the past week, we have seen most athletes take a stand against these heinous crimes committed by those four officers that murdered George Floyd and thankfully NASCAR and their participants have also stepped in and taken a stand as well. At the beginning of the race, Jimmie Johnson and others including Bubba Wallace, Daniel Suarez, Ty Dillon and even Dale Earnhardt Jr all recorded a message talking about how they hope to learn from this and do a much better job at how they treat people of color within their sport. The drivers also stopped on the front-stretch before the race to reflect on how they can do better.

Personally, I believe that NASCAR as a sanctioning body has come a long way with social justice, considering how the sport was in the past. While NASCAR and it's dignitaries have improved, it is a shame to say that most of its fan base has not. If you go on any one of NASCAR's social media platforms and see what the majority of NASCAR fans have to say about all this, you would have a pretty good idea of why people think so negatively about our sport and that truly is a shame. This shows the disconnect these morons have with reality, a lot of these people have stated how they are "done with NASCAR because they don't want to hear about it," which I say is the best thing that can ever happen to this sport. The sooner we can get all these idiots out of here the better. I hope that NASCAR and society continues to work hard to bring meaningful change even when all the tension dies down. But overall I am happy to see that the drivers are listening and doing all they can to make a change and stop police brutality and racism.

On a much lighter note, the driver that I have winning this weekend is Jimmie Johnson. As we all know, this has been a track that Johnson has pretty much owned all throughout his career. He has a career-high nine victories here and has the highest active finish among all drivers. I can't think of a better place for the seven-time champion to come out and break his winless streak than at the track he has made his personal playground. With his team getting much better week by week, I believe this will be the race where he breaks through. While he may be starting twenty-first, on a track like this, track position doesn't matter as much as it does at a place like Atlanta or Homestead. Look for the #48 Ally Camaro to come charging through the field and take the checkered flag come Wednesday.

All stats and information used in this article are brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com the best websites for all NASCAR stats)

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10th-ranked UH looks poised for a great season

Here's why UH could make a deep tournament run

The Coogs are off to a hot start. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Through eleven COVID stricken weeks, the University of Houston football team has mustered three wins.

The UH men's basketball season began on November 25th. It took them five days to catch up.

The Cougars came into last week ranked 17th in the nation in the AP preseason poll, the highest they've begun a season in 37 years. They took little time to establish themselves as one of the top teams in the nation.

UH shot out of the gate last week to a 3-0 start, including a double-digit win over 14th ranked Texas Tech. That, combined with a myriad of week one upsets, sent the Cougars soaring even further up the rankings.

By Monday afternoon, Houston was already one of the top 10 ranked teams in the nation.

Now it's important to note that it's incredibly early in the season, and there is plenty of time for something to go haywire. With TDECU stadium right across the street, they've had a front row seat to see just how sideways COVID can flip a season. The football team may only have 3 wins, but that's partly because they've had to postpone 5 games.

Regardless, they remain 10th in the nation at the moment, and it's no fluke. This is a solid team that has shown glimpses for the past three years.

Led offensively by sophomore guard Marcus Sasser (17.3 ppg) and Kansas transfer guard Quentin Grimes (16.0 ppg), the Cougars field a deep backcourt that has received welcome early contributions from freshman Tramon Mark (14.0 ppg) who's already earned an average of 19 minutes per game.

Speaking of minutes, UH brings one of the most important skills to the court this season: experience. In the era of one-and-done turnover among NCAA programs, the Cougars bring back four players that averaged over 20 minutes per game last season. That type of experience playing with one another and understanding the system head coach Kelvin Sampson plays could prove invaluable come tournament time.

What truly gives this team a shot though is their defense and hustle, both of which are a direct result of Sampson. They're simply relentless on defense. After finishing 11th in the nation last season only allowing 62.1 ppg, they've shown no signs of letting up. Through their first three games they've given up an average of 52 ppg. Even with double-digit leads, this is still a team diving for loose balls and mixing it up for offensive rebounds.

All of those ingredients make for a very salty, and very entertaining college basketball team. The Cougars have proved in the past three seasons that they're legitimately tournament worthy, and as the preseason American Conference champion favorite, this is a team that could—and should—have their eyes set even higher than their sweet sixteen appearance in 2019. Nothing is certain in the COVID era, however, but if they can make it through the season relatively unscathed they should be a tough out during March Madness.

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