THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR Bass Pro Shops night race preview

Kevin Harvick is a win machine. Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

This Saturday the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for Bristol Motor Speedway for the Bass Pro Shops Night Race. Aside from its ridiculously bad name, this race is heralded as one of the most anticipated races all season. Over the last few years, this race has been a big factor in who makes the playoffs and who doesn’t. One of the biggest variables for Saturday's race is that it will be run at night. This should make the track a lot cooler which would give the track more grip which makes for more passing opportunities around the racetrack. The last time they were here, Kyle Busch passed Kyle Larson in the closing laps to claim his second victory of 2018.

Last week at Michigan, Kevin Harvick continued much of what we have seen all season and went on to cruise to his sixth victory of 2018. Overall, he wasn’t challenged at all by anyone as he led a race high 108 laps and swept both stages. While Harvick was the main story, the one surprise of the race was how well Austin Dillon ran. From the time they rolled off the truck, Dillon and his team were a top five car but to see him go out and lead laps and contend for the win was fairly surprising seeing how much that this team has struggled ever since their breakthrough victory in the Daytona 500 in February. Don’t be surprised if  his fourth place effort could really be a big momentum shifter going into the playoffs.

Aside from the domination of Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch seemed to be the big topic of discussion on the NASCAR front. Last Friday, it was announced that the 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup Champion would be leaving Stewart-Haas to presumably join Kyle Larson and  Earnhardt-Ganassi racing and replace Jamie McMurray in the No. 1 Car. When asked by journalist Clara B. Lang about the move he was ADAMANT that nothing official had been signed and everything that came out was simply “hearsay.” While he didn’t confirm that he was going to drive for Ganassi, he did confirm that he was talking to other teams about his 2019 plans. This would pretty much confirm that his time is all but over at Stewart-Haas.

This would leave many to ask, what is next for the No. 41 team in 2019? Many drivers have been mentioned but the one that stood out the most was Kasey Kahne. When it was announced that Busch was more than likely going to go in another direction, according to motorsport.com, a representative from Stewart-Haas approached Kahne to be Kurt’s Successor but much to the surprise of EVERYONE, he turned down the offer and shocked the racing world by announcing that he will retire at year’s end. It’s safe to say now that the infamous Silly Season is now in full swing and it should be interesting keeping up with all of the rumors and possible announcements that will develop in the coming weeks.

As usual, this week Kyle Busch comes into this race as the 7/2 favorite to win this week. As I mentioned earlier, Busch won the last time the Cup series came here in April. This is a track that has not always been kind to him and when you look at the numbers, his average finish here over the last five races is an absolutely horrendous 22.80. The reason being is because his results have been wildly inconsistent, he has either won the race or crashed and nothing in between. Even though he had his struggles he now seems to have it figured out as he has won there the past two races here and looks to make it a three-peat. Busch should be the team to beat when the green flag falls.

While it would be easy to pick Busch to win this week, I am going to go a different and pick his teammate Denny Hamlin. Last week, it seemed like Hamlin was finally in position to take his first win in 2018 he started from pole and it seemed like he was going to have a breakout race, but for some reason he just couldn’t seem to keep pace with Harvick. In fact, he actually struggled to find long run speed and had to settle for a disappointing eighth place finish. All season, many have considered him to be one of the drivers that can be the spoiler when it comes to the “big three” of Kevin Harvick, Truex and Busch but over the course of the season, he just hasn’t been able contend for wins but this week, that should change. While Hamlin hasn’t quite been a contender to win races, he has done a fantastic job at collecting stage points and staying in the top 16, but if at the end of the season Hamlin has not won a race it would be all for naught. I don’t see that happening though, as he is one of the premier short track racers in the field as he holds the second highest finishing average amongst all active drivers behind Kyle Busch. Look for Denny Hamlin to take his No. 11 Fedex Toyota Camry to victory lane for the first time on saturday.

(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 Also, thanks to Motorsports.Com for providing the scoop on Kasey Kahne).

 

 

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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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