THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR heads north to New Hampshire for the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301

Kurt Busch scored his first victory of 2021 last week. Image via: Wiki Commons.

NASCAR heads to the Magic Mile this week in New Hampshire for the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301. This track produces racing similar to what you see on a short track, but the biggest difference is its banking or lack thereof. This track is easily the flattest on the schedule, as there are only two degrees of banking. Because of its tight corners, there is a good chance we see some beating and banging as we have in the past. This is the last race before NASCAR goes on its unprecedented two-week break for the Olympics.

Last week, Kurt Busch scored his first victory of 2021 after fending off his little brother Kyle Busch in a remarkable battle. In the closing laps of the race, it appeared that Kyle had the upper hand on his brother as he was pulling away, but it all came to a head when he approached the #42 car of Ross Chastain. To help his teammate, Chastain raced Kyle extra hard, causing him to lose time, allowing Kurt to catch up and make the winning pass. After the race, Kyle was none too pleased with Chastain's antics. "Just shows you what kind of a driver he is," Busch said in his post-race interview. The move by Chastain sparked a debate among NASCAR fans on whether the move was fair. When Ross was asked about it, while he didn't explicitly say he intentionally held up the 18, he did allude to helping his teammate if he needed it in his post-race interview. I understand why Ross did what he did. He had an opportunity to help a teammate out, and he took it. This has been going on ever since auto racing began, and for Kyle to get as upset as he did was a bit of an overreaction in my opinion. Ross raced him hard but clean, and he didn't even make contact with him.

The Silly Season is now in full effect as the first two dominoes began to fall. It was announced Thursday that Xfinity regulars, Austin Cindric and Harrison Burton will be promoted to cup as they will drive both the #2 and #21 cars for the Wood Brothers and Penske Racing. While we had an idea that Cindric could very well be moving up to Penske next season, Harrison Burton came as a bit of a surprise considering his close ties to the Toyota camp. Originally though, the plan was for Cindric to take over the 21 for a year while they figured out what they were going to do with the #2 car, but those plans changed as soon as it became apparent that Brad Keselowski would be moving to Roush-Fenway Racing to become a driver owner. This allowed Roger Penske to move Cindric to the #2 car and move Burton to the #21 car. Both of these young drivers have shown a lot of speed in the Xfinity Series, as Cindric won the championship last year and Burton captured his first career win as well. These two drivers have a lot of upside and can very well contend for wins on the big stage. It will be fun to see these two develop as we go along.

Unfortunately, this leaves Matt DiBenedetto the odd man out as it was announced he will not be returning to the Wood Brothers next season and will be a free agent looking for a ride. While Matt has shown flashes, including contending for a win at Road America two weeks ago, it always seems like he's had trouble closing out races. These next five races before the playoffs will be crucial for him to find a competitive ride next season. I wish him all the luck and would love to see him get another chance, but it seems like the window is closing for this popular journeyman driver.

The driver that I have winning this week is Kevin Harvick. If you listen to Harvick's in-car audio, you can tell that this season has been tough for the 2014 champion. Yes, the speed has been there, and I am sure there are a couple of drivers that would kill to have this kind of season with 6 top fives and fourteen top tens. But after the incredible season he had last year, this has been a massive disappointment. On the bright side, the team is going to a track where they have had more success than anyone. He has won here three times and has the highest average finish in recent races, as he hasn't finished worse than second. A win would be a huge boost of momentum for this team and if this Stewart-Haas Racing team can get hot at the right time, watch out, there's a reason they call Harvick the closer. Look for him to take the #4 Ford Mustang to victory lane on Sunday.

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We'll see if Watson is in pads on Tuesday. Photo courtesy of the Houston Texans.

The Houston Texans had their last practice before pads come on for the first time on Tuesday. There was plenty to see on Monday.

1. Deshaun Watson had his usual extremely light level of work. He did very little throwing to teammates, though he did throw to the tight ends in 1-on-1 drills.

2. Texans head coach David Culley said "nothing has changed" when asked if Deshaun Watson will be in pads Tuesday. Culley has maintained that answer for a couple of sessions now.

3. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor was back after missing Saturday with an excused personal day. Taylor has been the best quarterback in camp by a wide margin. Taylor makes better decisions with the football than other quarterbacks, but he does struggle on deeper passes. Taylor missed wildly on one deep ball and was a little wobbly on another.

4. Nobody in camp can cover wide receiver Brandin Cooks. This could be the easiest training camp of his life. He easily gets open in 1-on-1 situations.

5. Rookie wide receiver Nico Collins continues to flash his abilities in camp. Collins easily shook loose from defensive back John Reid and took the route vertical for an easy score. Collins later had a tough catch in traffic.

6. It's only been a few days, but the competition for inside wide receiver reps is tough. Former Bears wideout Anthony Miller has looked quick and nothing like the "draft bust" the Bears fans watched. Keke Coutee has rarely lost a rep, but Desmond King did win a few times over Coutee in the opening days of camp. Former Bengals wideout Alex Erickson finds himself constantly open. The cuts at wide receiver are already shaking out to be difficult.

7. Davis Mills bounced back in a sense that he couldn't be worse than he was on Saturday. The performance from Mills on Saturday was abysmal, but head coach David Culley said he liked how Mills responded today. With Tyrod Taylor back, there were fewer reps for Mills, but he had some impressive throws to go along with an off-target throw or two. Mills was far better than Jeff Driskel on Monday. Driskel tossed two interceptions right to defenders, including one that would've gone the wrong way for a score.

8. This linebacker group is interesting. With a new defensive scheme under Lovie Smith, the type of linebacker is very different from previous years. There was a clear emphasis on cover ability as these linebackers were added to the team.

9. Kamu Grugier-Hill and Kevin Pierre-Louis have both had some significant wins for the linebackers in coverage.

10. Rookie tight end Brevin Jordan looks the part physically, but he's had a rough few days, including a drop on Monday.

11. With the pads coming on Tuesday, it will be fun to watch the rebuilt defensive line clash with the many combinations of the offensive line. There will be no J.J. Watt who historically stirred up the team on day one of pads. Laremy Tunsil's cool confidence about the offensive line over the weekend leads me to believe they are a confident group, while there are spots to be won on the defensive side of the line.

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