THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR FireKeepers Casino 400 preview

Chase Elliot is still looking for win No. 1. Jerry Markland/Getty Images

This week, the Nascar Monster Energy Cup Series  heads to the Michigan International Raceway for the FireKeepers Casino 400. This track is two miles and length and has turns with 18 degrees of banking. Due to the track being as big as it is, the speeds here are usually higher here than most other places on the schedule.

Usually, we see three and four wide racing here especially on the restarts. Last year, Kyle Larson capitalized on a late restart and was able to make one of the most memorable passes all season as he passed both Martin Truex Jr and Erik Jones to take his third victory of the 2017 season. Look for a late race restart to play a major role in deciding who wins this race considering the last three times they have raced here, there has been a caution in the final two to 10 laps.

Last week at Pocono, Martin Truex Jr. Claimed his second victory of 2018. With this victory, Truex cemented himself as the third championship contender behind Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch and while Truex was a contender all day, as usual,  Kevin Harvick was the car to beat. He led a race high 89 laps and won the second stage but during the closing stages, it seemed like he just couldn’t keep pace with Truex or Kyle Busch.

My pick to win was Kurt Busch, and this did not turn out the way that I had hoped. Busch appeared to be on his way to a top 10 finish but due to problems with his radio communications device, he was relegated to 19th. While this weekend was a major disappointment for him look for this weekend's race to possibly be one where he gets back on track considering he has won at Michigan three times.

Jimmie Johnson appears to be rounding into form after last week's race as he was able to score his sixth top 10 of the season. It is clear that this has been the season to forget for the 48 team but now after a fifth place finish at Kansas two weeks ago and an eighth place finish last week Johnson appears to at least almost be back to his old self.

This week may be a little bit more challenging though considering Michigan is one of Johnson’s most difficult tracks. While he has achieved some level of success here in the past, he has struggled here as of late. in the last four races, Johnson has an average finish of 12.75 and has zero top fives.  They will definitely have their work cut out for them this week as Johnson and his team try to claw back into contention for the championship.

The favorite this week is easily Kyle Larson. He has virtually owned this place ever since he got his first career win here in 2016. In fact over the last three times that we have came here Larson has won each time. Anytime they come to a track like Michigan, Larson either wins or finishes in the top five. Look for this weekend to be no different, as not only is Larson the resounding favorite but he is also my pick to win on Sunday.

The reason why Larson has been so successful on tracks like Michigan is because the track is so wide and  the drivers are able to run with more throttle than the other tracks. Larson comes from a racing background where throttle response is important as he was and still is one of the top sprint car and open wheel drivers in the world. Michigan gives him a chance to kind of go back to his roots and even though by no means is Michigan International Speedway anywhere close to the same type of dirt tracks we see Larson run on, the approach and the way drivers use the throttle are very similar. Look for Larson to claim his fourth victory in a row this weekend at Michigan.

The other driver to watch out for this weekend is Chase Elliott. The frustration appears to be mounting for Elliott fans and fans of NASCAR alike, The third year driver has competed in 91 races and he still has yet to win. Unfortunately this is beginning to be his reputation amongst some of the people that watch the sport. Is it fair? Not at all, at this point he could have at least five or six wins but as I have said earlier this year, Elliott just doesn’t seem to have any luck when it comes to the closing stages of a race but luckily for him and fans alike, this weekend Elliot goes to a track where he has had great runs before. He has a 3.50 average finish including two second places finishes in 2016 and 2017. Look for Larson and Elliott to battle it out as they both try to get Chevrolet back into victory lane in 2018.

(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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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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