The stars of the Cup Series heads to New England this weekend for the Ambetter 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. This track is precisely one mile in length with absolutely no banking. Because this track is so flat, it’s difficult to pass, so it’s important to have a good track position. One part of the racetrack that is pretty tricky is the bump on the entry of turn four. This could cause problems throughout the race.
Last week, Chase Elliott went on to win his third race of the season. He now becomes the winningest driver this season and appears to be the favorite to win the championship. Throughout the day, Chase easily had the fastest car as he led a race-high 96 laps. The biggest controversy of the race came on the last lap as Elliott threw a block on Corey Lajoie causing a crash and ending the race. Many people including myself were critical of Elliott’s move but after looking at it further, it looked like a racing deal.
Lajoie was the underdog and many people wanted to see him finally get that first career win, and he was right in the mix all the way down to the last lap. When interviewed at the end, Corey was very gracious about Chase and his decision to make the move. When asked, Lajoie responded, “I made my move and it didn’t work out, he made a good block.” It was good to see both drivers were able to come away and let bygones be bygones in the end.
Two drivers on the opposite end of the spectrum are Ross Chastain and Denny Hamlin as they had yet another dust-up. In the closing laps, Chastain slid up the track in turn three and made contact with Hamlin, knocking him into a spin and collecting Brad Keselowski as well. As we all know, these two got together in St. Louis earlier this year. Before this year, the two also got together at Darlington in a Xfinity race back in 2020. All season, Denny has been on the receiving end of Ross Chastain’s aggressive driving style, and it’s becoming more and more of an issue.
While I enjoy Ross as a driver and have followed him since his debut in the truck series back in 2011 at IRP, he isn’t doing himself any favors. We have seen all the sacrifices that Ross has made to get here, he even raced for free back in 2019 in the Xfinity Series for Chip Ganassi. The talent is unmatched as he's having a career year, but if he wants to win the championship, he’s going to have to tone it down a notch. We have seen what damage a driver holding on to a grudge can do, look at Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano in 2015 for example. When Denny was interviewed you could tell how annoyed he was, and we’ve seen him retaliate before when he spun Brad Keselowski back in 2009 at Homestead.
Denny was also in the headlines off the racetrack this week as well. On Tuesday, Bob Pockrass dropped a bombshell on Twitter regarding his team and their driver lineup, as Tyler Reddick will move from RCR to 23XI in 2024. This sent massive shockwaves throughout the racing world. No one could have expected this. This announcement leaves an awkward gap year as he will remain at RCR for one more season. According to reports, car owner Richard Childress is livid with Reddick and his representation and their relationship is beyond repair. It will be interesting to see what happens over the next season and a half and where Reddick will drive when he gets to his new team.
To tie it all together, the driver I am picking to win this weekend is none other than Denny Hamlin. The veteran driver has been phenomenal at this track, with three wins and an average finish of 4.7 in the last four races. He’s clearly driving with a chip on his shoulder and is hungry for a win. It’s been a rather inconsistent season for him as he’s 19th in points, he is however in the playoffs due to his two victories at Richmond and Charlotte in the Coke 600. He is primed to go on a run and get back in the championship hunt, and it starts here this weekend at New Hampshire.
The biggest news from Astros spring training in West Palm Beach has been the arrival of muscle-packed third baseman Alex Bregman, who’s in the final year of his contract with free agency looming.
Facing a battalion of microphones, Bregman has been saying all the right things – all the right things that Astros fans are happy to hear.
“I feel like I’ve never been in better shape in my life.”
“I expect to have the best season I’ve ever had.”
“I absolutely love every single second here. Being able to put on this jersey is an absolute honor and a dream come true for me as a kid. When it comes to the contract, I just let Scott do that.”
"Scott" is Bregman’s cold-blooded agent Scott Boras who is known for taking his clients to free agency and playing hardball with owners. Bregman, who will be 30 at the end of the season, is expected to draw offers perhaps as rich as $250 million over seven or eight years.
When I watched Bregman talk about his love for Houston and how he’d love to stay an Astro, I was half looking for an earpiece like the Impractical Jokers wear, with Boras whispering to Bregman what to say.
At the same time, but not the same place, Astros general manager Dana Brown was gushing over the Astros third sacker.
“He’s locked in. He is a special talent.”
“I’m expecting he’s going to have a really good season. I’m excited.”
“He has the heartbeat of a champion.”
The way Bregman and Brown are talking … I’ve heard less flirty prom invitations.
Now cue the scary music from horror movies. When Bregman was asked, have the Astros approached you with any offer of an extension, he answered a simple “no.”
When pressed for a timetable on a Bregman extension, Brown admitted, “at some point we’ll put together an offer. But right now we’re not engaged in an offer.”
In other words, both sides are talking. But not to each other.
Spring training is in full swing. Often players say if they don’t have an extension by the start of the season, they’ll shut down contract talks. They don’t want to think about a contract when they’re in the batter’s box and the games count. We don’t know if that is Bregman’s position, but it’s Boras’ modus operandi. It’s looking more and more like hello free agent Alex Bregman.
If Bregman is looking for a long-term deal at $200 million-plus, that’s more than Astros have ever offered a player. It could be too costly for owner Jim Crane’s blood.
Where do you stand on the Astros-Bregman dilemma? If you were Jim Crane, what would you do?
Break the bank and pay the man? After all, Bregman is a key piece of the Astros lineup. He’s been a dependable, hard-nosed player, a bit of a lovable wise ass and a huge part of the Astros’ dynastic run since 2017. Last year Bregman played 161 games, batted .262 with 25 homers, 98 RBI and 103 runs scored. He was a Gold Glove finalist at third base. He’s well liked in the clubhouse and adored by Astros fans. He has his own line of condiments.
Or let Bregman walk and save the money to make a run at keeping Kyle Tucker? As old school sports writers would say, you can look it up. In 2019, his career year so far, he batted .296, belted 41 homers, drove in 112 runs and led the league with 119 walks. He finished second in MVP voting behind Mike Trout. He hasn’t made an All-Star Game since then. His numbers, while not in free fall, have dwindled the past four years. He still is an above average player, though. Some team looking to go deep in the postseason will offer him big bucks at season’s end.
If it were up to you, would that team be the Astros?