THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR: AAA 500 At Dover preview

Chase Elliot should be in the mix this weekend. Jerry Markland/Getty Images

The NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads to Dover Delaware for the AAA 500. Last week at Talladega, Joey Logano was able to capture his first win of the season after he was able to hold off Kurt Busch and Chase Elliott. From the beginning of the day to the end, it was clear that Logano was the car to beat. Overall, Logano led a race high 70 laps and was able to obtain 58 points from each stage. With this victory, he gets his first win since Richmond last year.

This weekend, we head for the “Monster Mile” at Dover International Speedway for the AAA 500: Drive For Autism. This track is a 1-mile oval with 24 degrees of banking. One of the many things that makes this race track unique is its concrete surface, Dover is one of three other tracks including Bristol and Martinsville that uses this surface as opposed to the regular asphalt we see at the remaining 23 other tracks. While it is not the only track that uses this surface, it is by far the longest of the three in length which means the speeds here are far greater than they are at Martinsville and Bristol and that is what makes this race track so tough for drivers to master.

One of The biggest challenges here is getting through traffic. Here at Dover, there is a stark contrast between the banking in the corners and the banking in the straightaways; the corners are 24 degrees as the straightaways are nine degrees. Passing in the straightaways here is much more difficult at Dover than it is anywhere else and catching lapped traffic at the wrong time can really cost a driver a chance at winning.

Take last year’s fall race here, for example. In the closing laps Chase Elliott appeared to be en route to his first career victory but in the final stages, Elliott caught the lapped car of Ryan Newman. For many laps, Chase tried and tried to get around him he even tried to let Newman drive away from him for a while but once he caught back up to him, Newman would not budge. After all the time it took for Elliott to finally get around him, Kyle Busch was able to run him down and steal the victory away from Elliot, as he passed him with two laps remaining to claim the win. Look for lapped traffic to play a big role in sunday’s race.

The favorite going into this race is Elliott. As I mentioned earlier in the article, Elliott was two laps away from victory here last year in the fall, and this is easily been his best race track. While Elliot and his team always seem to have a car that is capable of winning, they either can’t catch a break in traffic or they just aren’t the best car there but nonetheless Elliott has almost been flawless here. Of his four starts, he never has finished outside of the top-five and has an average finish of 3.3. If the third year driver can run a perfect race from start to finish and can get through traffic at the right time, then I see no reason why he can’t finally get that first win here on Sunday. Look for the Napa Camaro to be a serious contender to win this weekend.

My Dark Horse pick for this week is Daniel Suarez. The Sophomore driver got two of his 12 top 10 finishes here at Dover, finishing sixth in the spring and eighth in the fall. To say that Dover is his best race track so early in his career is a bit of a stretch but his results speak for themselves. Not only has he runn well here in the Cup series but also in the NASCAR Xfinity series as well, where he owns an average finish of 8.17 including a fourth place effort in his debut in 2015.  I Look for Suarez and his team to be up near the front as they try to get their season back on the right track.

My winner this weekend is Jimmie Johnson. If you follow the sport, it is no secret that it has been a rough beginning to the season for the seven-time champion. He is currently 14th in points and only has one top five so far but this weekend, I think Jimmie gets out of his slump and what better place to do it at than at a track he has won at 11 times. No one in NASCAR HISTORY Is better than Jimmie Johnson. If there is any track where Jimmie can get his first win of the season it has to be here for sure. Look for the Lowe's Chevrolet to take the checkered flag this sunday at Dover.

(All stats and information used in this article is brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Refrence.com the best website for all NASCAR stats).

 

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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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