THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR: Bank of America ROVAL 400 preview, predictions

Keep an eye on Chase Elliott this weekend. Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images.

It's the final race of the Round of 12 as the championship playoff picture continues to take shape. This race has a tendency to provide plenty of chaos and with the rain that could be on the way, we could be in for a wild weekend. With it being an elimination race, there is a great chance we see a lot of drivers do everything they can to try and advance. Come Sunday, 11 drivers will have to race as their season depends on it, as only 22 points separate second from ninth. This is shaping up to be a race to remember.

Last week Bubba Wallace finally breakthrough for his first career victory after rain halted the race. Overall, while the racing was pretty incredible, it seemed like everyone knew the race was not going to go its scheduled distance. Before the race was stopped there were multiple big wrecks taking out the likes of Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott, Tyler Reddick, and Kyle Busch. Even if the circumstances were unfortunate that the race couldn't be completed, this was a huge moment for the sport as Wallace becomes the first black driver since Wendell Scott in 1964 to win at the Talladega Superspeedway.

The battle for the eighth and final transfer spot is as tight as it's been all season. As I alluded to earlier, Kyle Larson who is second in points is only +22 points ahead of the ninth-place cut-off line. The only driver that is safe is Denny Hamlin after his huge win two weeks ago in Las Vegas. Currently, Kevin Harvick, Christopher Bell, William Byron, and Alex Bowman are the four cars out. The driver who is sitting on the bubble is Kyle Busch. After his abysmal 27th place finish at Talladega, he is now only nine points safe. To miss the round of eight would be a huge disappointment for a team that had championship aspirations. This is also a track where he's struggled immensely. In the three races here, Rowdy has yet to finish better than 30th. That won't cut it if he wants to move on to the next round.

It was an expensive day for Hendrick Motorsports as all four cars sustained crash damage. It started when Kyle Larson crashed in the tri-oval early in the race. It wasn't long before his teammates Alex Bowman and Chase Elliott joined him in a massive crash in turn four, then William Byron completed the superfecta after a fiery crash. For Larson, he has accumulated so many stage points that he will probably be okay, but for his teammates, this week is going to be dire. Alex Bowman is in must-win territory as he's 12th in points and 84 points back, William Byron also needs a victory as well to move on, so it's safe to say at least one of the Hendrick four won't make it.

With all that being said, the driver I have winning this week is Chase Elliott. When it comes to road courses, Chase has truly become the king of the road. In his past six starts, he's finished no worse than fourth. Last season he dominated this race as he scored 49 points and led 27 laps en route to his third consecutive victory at the Roval. After a bad week at Talladega, there is nothing better than rebounding with a victory. Look for him to be a threat for a four-peat this Sunday as he starts 8th.

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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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