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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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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