THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR: Federated Auto Parts 400 preview

Photo via: Wiki Commons.

This week the NASCAR Cup Series heads for Richmond Raceway for the Federated Auto Parts 400. This will be the second race of the round of 16 as the chase continues on. This is a 0.75 mile short track with high enough banking for plenty of side-by-side racing. There are multiple grooves here, so we will be able to see a lot of high speeds but as they always are, restarts will be pivotal. More often than not, the race will be decided on a restart. I look for the driver who is starting on the inside to have the optimal lane to try and make a pass for the lead. This should be a fun race considering where we are in the playoffs, so don't be surprised if someone uses the bumper for the win.

Last week at Darlington, Kevin Harvick was in the right place at the right time as he was able to capture his eighth win of 2020 after Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr. both crashed into the turn 1 wall in the closing stages. Coming into turn one, Truex thought he had Chase clear, but he didn't and ran into the wall ending any chance of victory. This was the center of much debate as each fan of each driver was highly critical of both Truex and Elliott. When the race was over, Truex took the blame but overall, it seemed like it was just one of those racing deals. Either way, it cost them both a win and now Chase heads to undoubtedly his worst track at Richmond behind the eight ball. This will be an interesting storyline come Saturday. Regardless, Kevin Harvick continued to prove why he is the best out here this season as he was able to capitalize and hold off a hard charging Austin Dillon to win his second race at Darlington in 2020.

While Harvick may have taken home the victory, Austin Dillon was the story of the race. This was a driver that many had counted out. A lot of people didn't believe that he could make it to the round of 12, but he went out there and proved everyone wrong as he nearly went on to win. If there is one driver who can establish himself as a sleeper, it's him as he has been having one of the best years of his career that included a win at Texas Motor Speedway. It hasn't been all sunshine for him this year though as back in August he became the second driver to come down with COVID. But overall, he bounced back and now sits eighth in points and is in a good position to move on. I hope to see Dillon and the #3 Camaro continue to improve this week at Richmond.

The Silly season dominoes continue to fall this week and there were two MAJOR stories that dominated the headlines. On Wednesday, it was announced that 7-time champion Jimmie Johnson would be signing a two-year deal with Chip Ganassi to race on the road courses in IndyCar in 2021. This doesn't come as much of a surprise to me at as this has been speculated on since January when he showed up to the Austin IndyCar test in February. He will be paired up with Scott Dixon who is probably the best driver in the series and Felix Rosenqvist a 2nd year driver who has shown a lot of speed. This will definitely be interesting to watch as the NASCAR legend learns a brand-new series.

The other major headline is where Bubba Wallace will be racing in 2021 as it was announced Thursday that he will not be returning to the #43 team for Richard Petty Motorsports. This doesn't necessarily come as a surprise as he seemed to be fielding offers from other teams such as Chip Ganassi Racing. They become the favorite to land him as the spot was vacated by Kyle Larson earlier this year after he was suspended for using a racial slur. Personally, I think this would give Bubba a good chance to show his talents as he will be taking over a ride that can run around the Top 10 for the most part. Over the last few weeks, he has been gaining a lot of sponsors including Kingsford Charcoal and Urban Outfitters, so the market is there. I look for him to be a big get for any team.

The driver that I have winning this week is Martin Truex Jr. After last week's disappointment, I look for Truex to bounce back and get his second victory of the season. There have been a lot of highs and lows this year for the 2017 Champion, but over the last few weeks until Darlington, he has been on an insane run of top five finishes rattling off eight in a row including five consecutive third place finishes before starting the chase, so he is due for a win. It was hard to believe that last year's win here was his first at a short track but since he finally got over that, he has almost been unstoppable on tracks like these. I look for Truex to dominate this week and clinch his spot into the next round.

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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