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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Jeremy Pena could have some big shoes to fill. Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images.

MLB and the MLBPA are embroiled in yet another labor dispute. The owners and players have both dug in their heels and refuse to budge. No end is in site for the lockout as Spring Training is drawing more and more near each passing day. So what does that mean for our 2022 Astros' season?

One sigh of relief came when Justin Verlander signed his new deal. Two years for $50 million dollars isn't bad at all. Factor in he's closer to my age than my son (coming off Tommy John surgery), and some may worry. Not me. He's the closest thing to Tom Brady MLB has seen since Nolan Ryan. Jim Crane and James Click did a great job bringing him back. His spot as the ace with the rest of the staff they have should help shore up the bullpen if one or two starters can make that transition. I know I said I didn't want him back a few months ago, but time has passed, and wounds have been healed.

When it comes to Carlos Correa, I'm growing more and more comfortable with the thought that he may not be back. I talked about his potential replacement months ago. Maybe the reason being is that the club loves Jeremy Peña at that same position, and Pedro Leon could also factor in. Plus, Peña is tearing the cover off the ball in the winter leagues.

At 24 years old, turning 25 in September, he'll be under team control for the foreseeable future. That truly depends on the new labor agreement. So does Correa's new contract. His contract will be largely based on the parameters set in the new labor agreement, since he didn't sign before the lockout took place. And now we know that contact will be negotiated by Correa's new agent, Scott Boras.

I'm all for the doom and gloom when it comes to an MLB labor issue because they've historically screwed over fans. The most notable and egregious was the '94 World Series being canceled. However, there's way too much money at stake right now. More money than ever to be exact. That said, it's precisely why there's a dispute. That, and the fact that the owners have always gotten over on fans and players, and the players are poised to get their just due.

When the season starts, the Astros should be contenders yet again. Don't look for them to come out the gate firing on all cylinders as this team may look a bit different. Guys may not be fully ready after a lockout and there will be some roster turnover. The bulk of the core will be here, ready, and healthy. Whether Correa is a part of that group remains to be seen. Am I concerned? Hell no! This team has enough to fill that void at least partially and will have either guy under team control for a while. Think about this upcoming season as the time you fixed up your older car. New tires, headlights restored, rims polished, inside made over, and a fresh coat of paint after the transmission rebuild. It still has over 150,000 miles on it, but you wouldn't trade it in for anything because it still runs well and has sentimental value. You know one day it'll give out and need to be put out to pasture, but you're holding on and riding until the wheels fall off. Enjoy Astro fans, because the ride will be over one day. Hopefully much later than sooner.

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