THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR First Data 500 preview

Martin Truex could score a big win this week. Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

The NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for Martinsville Speedway for the First Data 500. This is the opening race for NASCAR’s semifinal round of eight. A win in this race for any of the eight drivers that remain in the playoffs will assure them a spot in the championship race at Homestead. Over the last few years, Martinsville has featured some of the most memorable finishes in the sport's history and this race should be no different. Look for each driver in the playoffs to try and win at all cost, even if it means possibly wrecking someone like we saw Denny Hamlin do last season with Chase Elliott.

Last week, Chase Elliott was able to claim his third win of the season at Kansas after fending off Kyle Busch. The victory for Elliott made him the 27th driver to claim their first three wins in one season, With this milestone, Elliott is in good company as he joins the likes of Richard Petty, David Pearson and of course teammate and mentor Jimmie Johnson. While Elliott was celebrating the highs of victory, on the opposite end of the spectrum drivers Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman were all eliminated from championship contention. Out of these eliminations, the biggest surprise was Keselowski. Coming into the playoffs, he was in the midst of three race winning streak and was an early favorite to win the title and break up the dominance of Martin Truex Jr, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch. He entered the round of 12 fourth in points but after two mediocre results at Dover and Talladega, a respectable sixth place finish last week at Kansas was not enough for him to move on. This just goes to show how much things can change in this sport in such a short time.

This week Busch comes to Martinsville as the favorite. Overall what Busch has been able to accomplish here has been pretty incredible. Over the last four races he has an average finish of 2.20 including a win last season that clinched his spot in the championship race. During the course of his illustrious career, short tracks like Martinsville have been his bread and butter; in fact amongst all active drivers no one has led more laps or has a better average finish on short tracks than Busch. He should be the driver to beat this sunday as he looks to advance to his fourth consecutive championship race at Homestead.

The driver who I predict will win this week is Martin Truex Jr. This season has been an emotional roller coaster for the defending champion. He started off the season as the heavy favorite to repeat and for the most part of this season it looked like he was on the path to doing so but when it was announced in september that his current team Furniture Row Racing will be shutting down next season, the results have not been what this team would hope for. While he and his team did finish top five last week, in the three weeks prior his best finish was 14th at the Charlotte Roval, a race he was one corner away from winning. Many people have began to count this team out but this week I think he goes out and proves his doubters wrong and wins his first race on a short track. Though Truex hasn’t put up spectacular numbers here at Martinsville, if last year’s second place finish is any indication to how good Truex is here, I don’t see any reason why he can’t win Sunday and get this team back in the championship hunt and give Furniture Row Racing the proper send off with a championship.

(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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Walter will host The Night of Champions. Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images.

In 2014, Austin Walter rushed for 2,704 yards and 34 touchdowns as a senior at Crosby High School. Despite falling short of a state title, Walter was named District 19-4A MVP and finished his prep career with a little over 6,000 rushing yards on 613 carries (6,062 yds). Seven years later, Walter will be returning to his high school alma mater to give back to the community that laid the foundation for an NFL career as a member of the San Francisco 49ers.

"It's a blessing to be able to come from a small town and be one of the guys who made it out," Walter said. "Not a lot of people made it to the NFL or the NBA from Crosby High School. To be one of the first, it's an amazing feeling. It's a blessing and an honor."

On Thursday, April 15, Walter will host The Night of Champions to benefit the Crosby High School Booster Club from 6-9 p.m. The event will be a weight lifting competition at Crosby High School for student-athletes around the area to showcase their talents and abilities.

In addition to hosting a weight lifting showcase, Walter will also share his life teachings with student-athletes in attendance. Perseverance and not taking no for an answer will be one of the most vital messages the Crosby native will share with aspiring pro-athletes. It's the two virtues Walter has leaned on from little league football to the NFL. And as an undrafted prospect in 2019, it was that same morale that helped him outshine six other running backs during the 49ers rookie training camp that same year.

"Before I started playing football in high school, a lot of people thought I was too small," Walter said. "They thought because we played little league and not in middle school we would not make it in high school. My twin brother [Ashton Walter] and I did not listen to that. We just kept pushing forward."

"When I left Rice, people thought I was going to play in the Canadian league or AFF, and I did not take no for an answer. I believed in myself. And I believed in God. And if I can make it out of a small town like Crosby, anybody can make it...It's the mentality I've had my entire life of not quitting. I feel like that is what got me to the point I am at right now."

Whether their life goal is to play in the NFL or not, Walter's primary objective for The Night of Champions is to be an inspiration and show kids they can find success despite their environment. It is one of the things the former XFL running back (Dallas Renegades) wished he would have seen growing up in Crosby.

After graduating from Crosby High School, Walter went on to have a record-breaking collegiate career at Rice University. He became one of two players in school history to rush for over 1,500 yards (1,744 yds.) and 1,000 kick return yards (1,548 yds.) in four seasons with the Owls. In February, Walter signed a one-year contract extension to re-join the 49ers ahead of the 2021 NFL season.

Click here to learn more about The Night of Champions at Crosby High School or support Walter and the Crosby High School Booster Club.

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