THE LEFT TURN

Here's everything you need to know about NASCAR's midweek racing

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The Cup Series returns to Darlington for the Darlington 500k. This will be an important race in NASCAR history as it will be the first race to ever be run on a Wednesday. This is a huge milestone for the sport considering there has never been a race run this late in the week. For years, the idea of racing during the middle of the week had been floated around but it took a global pandemic to finally convince NASCAR to pull the trigger. Considering that the race will be on in prime-time and that there isn't much going on in the sports-world, all eyes will be on Darlington. The field will be set with Ryan Preece and Ty Dillion on the front row as both drivers finished 20th and 19th.

On Sunday, Kevin Harvick drove off into the sunset en route to his fifteenth career win. While Harvick did lead a race-high 159 laps, the story of the race was Hendrick Motorsports and what appeared to be their breakout race. In the early stages of the race all four team cars occupied four of the top five spots as Jimmie Johnson took the lead from Brad Keselowski with his teammate's William Byron, Alex Bowman and Chase Elliott behind him. Jimmie and his teammates appeared to be in position for a great result until lap eighty-nine when Johnson ran into the lapped car of Chris Buescher sending him into the backstretch wall ending his day.

After this, it was the young William Byron's turn to find misfortune as he would suffer a blown tire sending him around and ending any chances of him getting his first win. Even Chase Elliott ran into trouble as well after he was nabbed for speeding off pit-road, he would however recover to finish fourth. The only Hendrick driver who really had a clean race was Alex Bowman as he spent most of the day in the top three. While the results may not have been exactly what Rick Hendrick and his team would have hoped for, Sunday's race was definitely a breath of fresh air for the struggling team. They will be the team to watch come Wednesday.

Lost in all the storylines, one pleasant surprise was John-Hunter Nemechek and Tyler Reddick and their impressive 6th and 9th place finishes. For Nemechek, this is not only his first top ten finish but the first top ten finish for his team on a track that isn't Talladega or Daytona. The second generation driver has shown flashes of potential in all of his other previous starts but to come to arguably the toughest race track in America and run as good as he did really speaks volumes to how talented this young man is and what he can do in the future. His rookie counterpart Tyler Reddick also had a great showing as he went on to finish 6th. In his opportunities in the cup series, the California native continues to impress fans and drivers alike as he continues to run near the top-5 and top-10 on a weekly basis. I look forward to seeing how he follows this up.

Racing wasn't the only thing that made its comeback on Sunday as both Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth also made their return as well. As we all know, Newman was involved in one of the scariest accidents we have ever seen. Because of the injuries he sustained, he missed three races but because of the break, Newman had time to heal and miraculously was able to return to racing. For most of the race, he ran around the top ten until spinning out in turn 1 on lap 254. Despite all this he was able to rebound and finish sixteenth. Matt Kenseth was also impressive in his return as well as he finished tenth. What made this so impressive was how long was out and how much the sport has changed in his absence. For both of these drivers to run as well as they did really shows how talented these drivers are. It will be fun to watch how they do come Wednesday.

The driver I have winning is Kurt Busch. After an impressive third place showing on Sunday, Kurt has shown a lot of speed this year and has been one of the most consistent drivers on the grid. Over the last three races, he has yet to finish worse than third. The 2004 champion is primed for a breakthrough, Look for him to capture his first win here and secure his 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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J.J. Watt, the Houston Texans all-time leader in sacks (96.0), is entering his ninth season with the franchise ahead of what will certainly be an anomaly year for the NFL. Due to the ongoing pandemic of COVID-19, there is serious doubt that the NFL will be able to play a full 16-game schedule, while others express their concern with the league's inability to play any form of football come the fall of 2020.

There are a lot of uncertainties surrounding the league this coming season, which is becoming a theme for Watt's future in Houston.

The 31-year-old defensive end has two years remaining on his six-year, $100 million contract extension he signed in September of 2014. But as he prepares to embark on another year with the Texans through Zoom meetings with his teammates, a new contract is not on Watt's priority list.

"No, I don't think that's necessary," Watt told Houston reporters on Wednesday. "I fully understand and respect the situation that I'm in at the moment, and what's happened in the past few years, so I'm not gonna sit here and demand anything. I think if I went back and asked for an extension or more money, I think that would be the wrong move. I am just going out there to prove my worth and to help this team win games."

As of now, it is unsure what the future holds for Watt's career with the Texans. Should management re-sign the three-time Defensive Player of the Year winner (2012, 2014 & 2015), the question becomes: How much is Watt worth as he enters the twilight of his career? It's the subject that will be the driving force when discussing Watt's future with the team, and the segment that sparked a trade rumor of his departure to the Chicago Bears.

Although his on-field production remains extremely valuable, Watt has had a difficult time trying to stay healthy. Since 2016, he has missed 32 out of a possible 64 games due to an abundance of injuries. In 2019, Watt missed half of the season after suffering a torn pectoral during the Texans' 27-24 victory over the then-Oakland Raiders.

"My goal for every season is to do whatever possible to help this team win, and number one, that means staying healthy," he said. "You have to be on the field in order to help the team win, and then it is to play at the peak physical level I am capable of. It is just making sure I am in the best possible shape to perform that way."

Contract and injuries aside, the five-time Pro-Bowler is excited about his opportunity to play under new defensive coordinator, Anthony Weaver. During his introductory press conference two weeks ago, Weaver said Watt will remain the focal point for the Texans' defense in 2020, but acknowledged getting the future Hall of Famer through 16 games remains a hurdle.

After four seasons serving as Houston's defensive line coach, the Texans promoted Weaver to defensive coordinator in January to replace Romeo Crennel.

"I love [Anthony] Weaver... I think that he has a great mixture of knowledge of the game, experience, but also personality to be able to handle the players in the room," Watt said. "To be able to inject some fun and excitement into meetings, practice and everything, all while bringing the knowledge necessary to run a good defense."

Under the guidance of a new defensive coordinator, Weaver may be just the coach to help Watt rekindle the potential that made him an All-Pro defensive end. Regardless of the uncertainties surrounding his future at the conclusion of his contract, Watt is hoping he will have the opportunity to finish his career where it started — in Houston.

"That is a goal of mine, and this city [Houston] has been incredible to me since I got here," Watt said. "I don't know what's going to happen in the future, but I certainly hope that's the case."

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