THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR Bojangles Southern 500 preview

Martin Truex's future is up in the air. Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

After a one week vacation, the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series is back! This weekend, we head to Darlington Raceway in Darlington South Carolina for the annual Southern 500. This race is a major part of NASCAR’s history. Beginning in 1950, every Labor Day weekend, NASCAR would come to Darlington raceway for the Southern 500. Even though in 2004 the Southern 500 moniker and Labor Day date was dropped, both returned in 2015.

With the tradition seemingly back, NASCAR implemented a “throwback” theme. While it isn’t mandatory, most teams roll out a throwback paint scheme for a car from years past to honor the race track’s tradition. This theme makes it one of the most popular races of the season.  

Nicknamed “ The track too tough to tame,” Darlington is one of the oldest speedways on the circuit as it was built all the way back in 1949. One of it’s most unique features is its “egg shaped” layout. Back in 1948, when track designer Harold Brasington built it, he had to make the third and fourth turns more narrow in order not to intrude on a neighboring farmers Minnow Pond. This compromise by the track designer made the banking uneven, making it one of the hardest tracks in America to navigate. When it comes to Darlington, one of the biggest variables of this track is tire wear. Because of its unorthodox layout, this track is extremely tough on tires. Last season, Martin Truex Jr appeared to be on his way to victory until a flat tire with three laps remaining ended his chances and gave the victory to Denny Hamlin. Look for this to be a major factor come sunday.

It would appear that NASCAR “Silly Season” is in full swing. This is the part of the year where drivers across all three series announce where they will be racing next season. As mentioned last week, the first major domino to fall was 2004 champion Kurt Busch. While it has not been confirmed, it would appear that Busch is going to drive for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. This move appeared to open the flood gates as it was announced his spot at Stewart Haas racing was offered to other drivers including defending champion Martin Truex Jr. and the soon to be retiring Kasey Kahne. Not only was Busch rumored to leave but it was reported that Furniture Row racing team owner Barney Visser might be looking to sell the team if more sponsorship couldn’t become available. This led many to believe that Allegiant Airline CEO  Maurice Gallagher would purchase the team, re-sign Martin Truex Jr and promote his son Spencer to the cup series after serving his suspension for using a banned substance.

According to popular racing journalist Adam Stern, those talks “collapsed” leaving the status of the team and Truex Jr unknown. Personally, I believe that Truex is a championship caliber driver who would have no problem finding another ride next season, but it would truly be a shame to see this team not return next season. Let's hope as fans that they can find the sponsorship needed to continue in 2018 and into the future.

The odds-on favorite going into this week is last year’s winner Denny Hamlin. Last season, Hamlin made one of the best drives in recent memory after he overcame a two lap deficit to win. This is a track that Hamlin has always shined at; over the course of his 12 starts here, Hamlin has two wins, seven top fives and 10 top tens. Maybe this week will be the race Hamlin finally breaks through and gets that elusive first win of the season. He should be hard to beat when the green flag drops.  

The driver I have winning this week is Kyle Larson. Coming into this week, Larson cemented his spot in the “playoffs” by obtaining enough points during the season and while he hasn’t won a race this year he goes to another track that suits his driving style perfectly. He thrives when he drives on the high side up near the wall and at Darlington the prefered line is exactly where Larson runs every week, not to mention he also has the third highest average finish here since 2016. While this season hasn’t been terrible for him, not winning a race has been tough. Larson has struggled to adapt to the Camaro but is talented enough to be in contention week in and week out and this week I think he finally breaks through and claims his sixth career win at Darlington.

(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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There's nothing left to do, but wait. Composite image by Jack Brame.

For the first time in nearly a quarter-century, Major League Baseball has entered into a lockout in which team officials and players cannot communicate with each other until both sides are “satisfied” and have come to an agreement on labor negotiations.

Before December 1st, MLB free agents were being signed left and right with teams like the Rangers spending over half a billion dollars on players that include Kole Calhoun, Jon Grey, Marcus Semien and Corey Seager.

Other teams that opened their wallets this offseason were the Mariners, Mets and Tigers.

Baseball free agency came to a screeching halt once the December 1st MLB CBA ended. As of right now, players can't sign with any team until the lockout has concluded.

Now that Major League Baseball has entered this work stoppage, the question on everyone’s mind is what does this mean for the sport going forward?

The short answer is no one knows. This process will take some time and most owners have a wait and see approach in regard to this stoppage. Labor negations can be a long, meticulous process that could drag out for weeks, if not months.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred seemed optimistic that a deal should get done between both the owners and the MLB Player’s Association sometime before the 2022 regular season starts.

"We believe that an offseason lockout is the best mechanism to protect the 2022 season," Manfred wrote in a letter to fans. "We hope that the lockout will jumpstart the negotiations and get us to an agreement that will allow the season to start on time. This defensive lockout was necessary because the players' association’s vision for Major League Baseball would threaten the ability of most teams to be competitive."

That being said, it may be some time before any deal is made between either side, thus leaving certain free agents in a temporary limbo like Carlos Correa.

The 27-year-old shortstop looked to be the most coveted player available this offseason and would earn a major payday. Just like his fellow shortstops, Correa was looking to earn a deal similar to that of Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr. and the Francisco Lindor. All of whom signed deals or extension’s of at least 10-year $300 million dollars or higher.

The aforementioned Seager signed a 10-year deal worth $325 million with the Texas Rangers two days before the current CBA ended. Correa was looking to earn a deal similar to this, and the Rangers were one of the team’s that looked to obtain the All-Star shortstop.

Another club that had been linked to Correa was the Tigers, but they just signed free agent short stop Javier Baez to a six-year $140 million contract.

With both Texas and Detroit out of the Correa sweepstakes presumably, where would the 27-year-old land?

We won’t know for some time due to the ongoing lockout negotiations, but as soon as there’s an agreement, Correa will sign somewhere and get his money.

According to Bleacher Report, the Gold Glove winning shortstop has drawn interest from the Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers.

All of these clubs are big market teams who are not afraid to spend large sums of money in free agency.

As much as Astros fans would hate to see their beloved shortstop don Yankee pinstripes or wear Dodgers Blue, it seems to be more of a reality Correa won’t be wearing an Astros uniform next season.

Is it possible for Houston to keep Carlos Correa?

Sure, if James Click and the Astros’ front office do something they have never done before and give him an extension of more than $300 million.

The largest contract Houston has ever given out was a 5-year $151 million extension to Jose Altuve.

If they wish to keep Correa, the Astros would have to give him at least a deal similar to what Seager just received in Texas, therefore doubling their largest contract ever given out.

It is not out of the realm of possibilities to believe Houston could accomplish this feat, but it seems unlikely.

A lockout might prolong Correa’s free agency, but once clubs are able to sign again, the All-Star shortstop could sign quicker than we think.

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