THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR Brickyard 400 preview

Jimmie Johnson hopes to get back on track. Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

This week, we head for quite possibly the most prestigious tracks in all of the world, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. For the first time in NASCAR’s 24-year history with the track, this race will be run in September as opposed to its traditional late July, early August date it has run since its first race in 1994. Last week Brad Keselowski pulled off a late race pass on Kyle Larson to claim his first victory of the 2018 season.

While it was a big win for Keselowski, on the other side of the coin it was heart shattering for Larson as he led a race high 284 laps and won both stages before surrendering the lead and second place to Keselowski and Joey Logano. Both Keselowski and Larson should be serious contenders going into the playoffs.

Another new element to this race is that it will be the cutoff race before the long awaited “playoffs” begin next week in Las Vegas. This race will be the last chance for the drivers on the outside looking in to win and clinch their spot in the round of 16.  Anything can happen here at the brickyard and last year's race was a prime example of this track's unpredictability. In the closing stages, both Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch were involved in an collision in turn one following a restart. At this point, both cars were easily the two best cars on the track, but in one corner any chance of victory was dashed for both of them. The dispute between Busch and Truex seemed to set up a domino effect as there were five cautions including two pileups. When it was all said and done Kasey Kahne was able to avoid all the calamity and take his first win of the 2017 season. At that time, Kahne needed a victory to lock down a place in the playoffs and he did just that. If last season’s finish is any indication to what we could see this Sunday, look to see a surprise winner.

Going into this week, 14 spots have already been accounted for to make the opening round of the playoffs which means there are still two spots up for grabs this Sunday. Some of the drivers on the outside looking in are Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ryan Newman and Daniel Suarez. With getting in on points more than likely out the window, these three drivers have one more shot to solidify their spot in the playoffs.

On Tuesday,  fans were shocked to hear that Furniture Row Racing will cease operations at the end of the season. How is it possible that a team that won a NASCAR championship last season and possibly contend for another title this year could close their doors after such success? Well there are many variables that could factor into why this is happening. One of them is their relationship with team Joe Gibbs and Toyota. In 2015, it was announced that Furniture Row racing would switch to Toyota racing and form an alliance with Gibbs. The team would receive chassis and engines amongst other resources the following season in 2016.

While this worked well for Furniture Row, Joe Gibbs and his team seemed to fall off in performance. Each week, it would seem like Truex Jr. and his team were always outrunning the team that they were getting parts from. As a result, this season their deal with Toyota was up at the end of the year and many believe that Gibbs raised the price on all of the resources for Furniture Row Racing thus putting them out of business. What makes matters worse for them is that next season more than likely Martin Truex Jr. and crew chief Cole Pearn will go and drive for Joe Gibbs Racing. Not only does he run them out of business but he gets their driver as well. At the end of the day it is a shame that both of these teams couldn’t coexist as it hurts the competition of the sport in the long run.

This week the driver that I have winning is Jimmie Johnson. It has been no secret that this has been the worst year of his career, as he is in the midst of the longest winless streak in his career; it has been a downward spiral for the seven time champion but he is coming to a track where he has a loads of success. He leads all active drivers in victories and laps led. It seemed like last year he was on his way to victory until his engine gave way causing him to crash in the final laps. This victory very well could put him back on track and possibly give him the confidence needed to score his record setting eight title. This week, look for Johnson to put the Number f48 Lowes Camaro in victory lane for a fifth victory at the brickyard.  It should be an interesting end to the regular season as we inch closer and closer to crowning a champion

(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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Another tough loss for Houston. Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images.

The Houston Texans remain winless as the team comes up short against the Bears in Chicago. Here are 11 observations from the game.

1. Davis Mills made two costly mistakes with interceptions. The first one took points off the board and the second allowed the Bears to kick a game-winning field goal. These were the first two of the season and they highlight the need for near perfection from the offense.

2. Davis Mills claimed he made the correct read on the second interception. He said the tip is the reason the Bears intercepted it. I disagree. It looks like Roquan Smith read it like a book and might have been there anyway.

3. The other interception from Davis Mills wasn’t a good read either. Mills made a quick decision and rifled the ball to Brandin Cooks but the defensive back basically had his whole body between Cooks and the ball. The Bears made a nice play to come down with the deflection.

4. Davis Mills is not to be trusted in moments where most quarterbacks can move the football. The Texans failed to get into field goal range at the end of both halves. Mills has consistently failed in those spots this season.

5. There were some curious calls from Pep Hamilton. The Texans don’t have much talent, but Hamilton has had some unique moments. There was a screen to Pharaoh Brown on third and long. The team called a screen on third and one. There was a telegraph on third and short in the red zone.

6. Why can’t this team get the wideouts more heavily involved? Rex Burkhead shouldn’t be getting the second greatest number of targets. Brandin Cooks shouldn’t leave a game where he has less than 10 targets. It would be worth scheming the ball to Cooks a few more times than he is currently getting the ball.

7. Kamu Grugier-Hill is not playing well right now. The veteran just bounced right off a Bears running back at one point. He is also a liability in coverage. Christian Harris is hopefully back after next week but it would be worth seeing if Garrett Wallow has anything more to his game than the veteran.

8. The rushing defense was assaulted again. This time by running wideouts and a backup running back. Lovie Smith needs to look at playing time and the depth chart to see if something can get corrected here. This can’t keep happening earlier and earlier in games each week.

9. Jerry Hughes has been one of the best players on this team through three games. The veteran has been consistent and flashed more than a few times. A nice addition by the team this offseason.

10. Jalen Pitre is so damn good. He’s already one of the best players on this team. He had two interceptions today to go along with a sack. He wasn’t fooled on play action and nailed Justin Fields for the sack. When it felt like the Bears were getting whatever they wanted, Pitre darted in for a tackle in the backfield. He’s been awesome.

11. There must be some evaluation from the Texans. The team might need to ask if everything they’ve put together at this point is the right direction. There is a sound argument the team should be 3-0. Instead, the team is winless, and closing in on hopelessness

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