THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR continues the playoffs at Richmond

Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

This Saturday, the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for Richmond Raceway for the Federated Auto Parts 400. This is the second race of the round of 16 in NASCAR's playoffs. This track is a 0.75 mile oval with fourteen degrees of banking. It is one of the more spacious short-tracks on the schedule as there are many grooves where drivers can pass which usually calls for a lot of passing and battles for position. The last time the cup series was here, Martin Truex Jr was able to fend off both Clint Bowyer and Joey Logano in one of the best races of the year. If that race was any indication, this should be a good one.

Last week, as predicted Martin Truex Jr went on to claim his fifth win of 2019. During late race pit stops, Truex was able to pass Kevin Harvick for the win and punched his ticket to the round of 12. While Truex and his team celebrating, his teammate Kyle Busch stole all the headlines. The beginning of the day was a struggle for the 2015 Champion after he bounced off the wall in turn two. As a result, he went two laps down and appeared to be out of contention for the win.

Amazingly, Kyle blazed through the field not only making up both the laps but also entering the top five. It appeared as if he was going to finish in the top four but entering turn one, he got together with lap-car Garrett Smithley. To make Matters worse, he then made contact with another lap car in Joey Gase in turn four. This severely damaged his front bumper and relegated him to a 19th place finish. When the race was over, Busch was asked about the contact with the drivers he responded by saying "We are in the top echelon of motorsports and we have guys out there that haven't even won a late model race. It's pathetic, they don't know where to go."

He then channeled his inner Marshawn Lynch after responding with "I am just here so I don't get fined" when interviewed by other journalists. Overall, at first I could understand how he could be frustrated, but I think his anger was misdirected. He should have been upset with his spotter who told him the lapped car was going to go to the outside. At first I agreed with Kyle, I thought that Smithley could have been more courteous to cars much faster than him but after watching the replay, I think that Kyle's anger might have been misguided. Going into the corner, Garrett held his line as Kyle's spotter, Tony Hirschman said he was going to move the outside line. Overall when it comes down to it, I think this was just part of racing. Garrett Smithley had no intention to go out there and get in anyone's way and it just turned out to be a perfect storm when Kyle got around to him.

What I didn't like about this whole ordeal was the way Kyle treated the media after the race. While I get his frustration, swearing at these people who are just trying to do their job is counterproductive and only makes him look more unlikeable. His comments about Smithley and Gase were also unnecessary considering their paths to get to the Cup series. Sure, there are some drivers that got there for what they bring to underfunded teams but both of these drivers have done more than enough to earn their spot in the cup series. His comments were also extremely ignorant by Kyle considering Gase won a late model track championship back in 2007 in Wisconsin.

It was announced earlier this week that Daniel Hemric would be released from his contract at the end of 2019 and will not return to the #8 Caterpillar Camaro for Richard Childress Racing. This comes as a surprise considering Hemric has only been in the Cup series for one season and many would say he wasn't given a fair chance and to an extent they are right, he wasn't really given a lot of time to prove himself but getting a fresh start might not be the worst thing for him. It will be interesting to see where he will go next season. One would suggest that he will move down and go to the Xfinity series where he was so good in the past; that might be a good way for him to gain more experience. The driver who is more than likely to take his place is 2018 Xfinity series champion Tyler Reddick. He impressed many fans this year after finishing ninth at Kansas in a part-time Cup Series Effort with Richard Childress in the #31 car. His promotion seems to be well earned as he has been in contention for many wins this year in the Xfinity series and appears to be a contender to win his second championship. He is part of a youth movement that includes Christopher Bell and Cole Custer as they both look to secure a ride in the Cup series as well.

The driver that I have winning this Saturday is Denny Hamlin. As it has been mentioned before, this is his home track so it is extra important for him to run well anytime he is there. He has gone on record saying he would rather win here at Richmond than anywhere else on the schedule and since then he has done it three times. Statistically speaking, this has been Hamlin's best season since 2010. He is a legitimate championship contender and one many would put in the final four at Homestead but in order to get there, he has to get to the round of 12 first and that's what I think he will do by winning here at Richmond. Over the course of his 26 races here, this is hamlin's second best track statistically as he has an average finish of 9.38 the second best among all active drivers only behind his teammate Kyle Busch. Look for Hamlin to take the #11 Fedex Camry to victory lane.

(All stats and information used in this article is brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com the best website for all NASCAR stats).

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Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March. Photo via: NRG Park/Facebook

Football players, coaches and general managers have come and gone, but only one person has been running the business side of the Texans, well, even before they were the Texans. Jamey Rootes has been President of the Houston Texans since 1999, when an NFL team in Houston was still just a gleam in owner Bob McNair's eyes. That's before the team adopted the name "Texans" in 2000, before there was NRG Stadium, which opened as Reliant Stadium in 2000, and before they became serial champs of the AFC South, six titles between 2011-2019.

The precise date was Oct. 6, 1999 when NFL owners voted 29-0 to award the NFL's 32nd and newest franchise to Houston. Not only that, Houston was awarded the 2004 Super Bowl. Rootes, 34 years old with no NFL experience, had his work cut out for him. Before taking the job in Houston, Rootes was team president, general manager and CEO of selling peanuts and popcorn for the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer.

Major League Soccer, with all due respect, is not nearly a national obsession like the National Football League.

"I wasn't intimidated," Rootes said. "There's a quote that I love, 'Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.' I've always been a purpose-driven person. As for the step up to the NFL, I went from knowing nothing at the start of my time in Columbus to five years later thinking, OK, I've got this sports thing down. Actually, I had a very significant reduction in my responsibilities in Houston. When I was in Columbus, I ran the stadium, I ran the team's business, I was the general manager so I did the talent side of it, too. When I came to Houston, all I had to do was the business, so that was great."

Rootes has captured his remarkable journey from the soccer team at Clemson to grad school at Indiana University to the business world at IBM and Proctor & Gamble to the Clemson Crew, to ultimately being named President of the Houston Texans in his new book, The Winning Game Plan: A Proven Leadership Playbook for Continuous Business Success, available next week.

I've known Rootes from his day one with the Texans, but I still had to ask: everybody knows what the general manager does, and what the head coach does. What exactly does the President of an NFL team worth $3.3 billion do?

"I like to use the parallel of a pharmaceutical company to describe my job. There are two sides to that company. First you put scientists in one building and you leave them alone. They create products, which is what our football team is. The football side has a coach and general manager and all the people who prepare the team to play on Sunday. But getting that product to market is done by the business side, traditional business disciplines. Those are the things that fall to me. Basically, everything between the white lines is run by the football side. Everything outside of those lines, I do," Rootes said.

Between 1999 and 2002, when the Texans played their first game (let the record show the Texans defeated the Dallas Cowboy, 19-10), the team was essentially a massive start-up project. First orders of business for Rootes involved building a new stadium, developing relationships with suppliers, contractors and government officials, preparing for a Super Bowl and, most important, developing a relationship with fans.

Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March, but it's really an accumulation of lessons learned and behind-the-scenes stories about building the Texans from scratch into one of the most admired and valuable franchises in all of sports.

"I've always been a meticulous note-taker. I've kept every presentation I've ever done. I took all of my notes and concepts and put those down on paper," Rootes said. "To be a good leader, you need a wild imagination. You can show me a blank piece of paper, but I don't see it as blank. To me, it's a finished product that hasn't been created yet," Rootes said.

Rootes lays out his leadership strategy in seven chapters: Are You a Manager or a Leader, Get the Right People on Your Team, Build a Winning Culture, Create Raving Fans, a Winning Playbook for Adversity and Success, Your Leadership Playbook and Play to Win.

He learned lesson No. 1 the hard way. A friend once counseled Rootes, "your staff doesn't like the way you're all up in their business, you need to back off." Rootes took that advice to heart.

"It was an epiphany. I wasn't a leader. That's when I truly began thinking about leadership. I say this all the time, I don't do anything. All I do is create an environment where exceptional people can be their very best self. I know what's going on. I'm fully informed. I leave every game day exhausted. I get there early. I do the things I need to do. I kiss babies. I shake hands. I present checks. I entertain clients. I'm dialed in. It absolutely wears me out because I love this organization so much. I am so proud of what we've been able to do for this great city of Houston."

I asked Rootes, as someone who lives for Game Day and a packed NRG Stadium, are you devastated by 2020, the year of COVID-19 and small crowds limited by Centers for Disease Control guidelines?

"I don't look at it that way. I think there's a song by 10,000 Maniacs that said, these are the days that you'll remember. I told my staff, I know you're all going through hell right now, but later on in life, you'll talk about this year. Things that are important are memorable, for the positive and those things that leave a scar. You learn from adversity and you're a better person for enduring it. Victor Frankl said 'We can discover meaning in life in three different ways, by creating a work or doing a deed, experiencing something or encountering someone, and by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.' Suffering is part of life. He should know, he survived a Nazi concentration camp," Rootes said.

H-E-B President Scott McClelland wrote the forward to The Winning Game Plan. Rootes dedicates the book to late Texans owner Bob McNair. Rootes' book is a fun read. All I kept thinking was, where was this book when I needed it? And before you buy too much into Rootes as a leader, consider that Rootes admits that he had to ask for wife Melissa's permission before he could accept the Texans job.

Personal note: I believe that a big part of leadership is the ability to keep a promise. Several years ago, I was riding my bicycle with my dog Lilly on a leash. It was the only way I could keep up with her. Well, one time Lilly saw a squirrel and pulled me off my bicycle. I tumbled a few times and rolled next to the curb. When I looked up, there was Jamey Rootes. I told him, "There's no need for you to tell anybody about this." He never said a word.

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