The Left Turn

NASCAR Gander Outdoors 400 preview

Martin Truex has been dominant this season. Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

For the second time in 2018, the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for Pocono Raceway for the Gander Outdoors 400. The last time the Cup guys went to the tricky triangle, Martin Truex Jr claimed his second victory of the 2018 season. This victory set the tone for an incredible run of success. In the last seven races since the Pocono 400,  he has claimed three victories and three top fives. Other than an 18th place finish at Michigan, Truex has not finished worse than fourth. His average finish over this span is an incredible 4.42. This team has simply not made mistakes, they have been up front and winning stages and most importantly winning races as well. Look For Truex to win many more races in the future.

This season has been dominated by “the Big Three” Consisting of Truex, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick and last weekend was no different. Kevin Harvick went on to take his sixth victory of the season after he bumped his championship rival Kyle Busch out of the way with seven laps remaining. After the race, when asked about the move Busch responded with “How you race is how you get raced so it’s fine.” Both of these drivers have a history of getting into altercations on and off the racetrack and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Anytime Harvick and Busch are close on the racetrack, it’s always must see TV. Look for Busch to try and return the favor later on in the season.

Ryan Newman was one of the bigger surprises of the race after he was able to claim a sixth place finish for his fifth top ten of the season. For the most part, 2018 has been a disappointment for  the one they call the Rocket Man. He currently sits 18th in points and has only led a total of 44 laps all season so it was good for him and his team to get a good result at a track Newman has always performed well at. While this week's race at Pocono hasn’t exactly been a track he is known for having success during the last few years,  I can see him building off last week’s result and getting another solid run to try and improve his chances to make the playoffs. He will definitely be one to watch on Sunday at Pocono.

The favorite to win this week is Brad Keselowski. Of all the storylines this season, one can argue that the 2012 champion not winning a race this deep into the season is one of the biggest surprises of the year. This season hasn’t been bad by any means for him but after his championship-caliber season last year, many would have thought he would have gone to victory lane by now. This week there is a good possibility that may change. Going into this race, he has nine top fives and one win here and everytime they come here he is always leading laps and is in contention. He just seems to understand how to get around this place almost better than anyone else. He should be a threat to go to victory lane on Sunday.

My prediction for this week is Kurt Busch. This week, he comes to a track where he has run well before. He has three wins here including his last victory in 2016. While he struggled here the last time they came in June with an 19th place finish, I can see Busch turning it around and getting his first win of the season, continuing the Stewart-Haas dominance we have seen all year. Look for Busch to take his first checkered flag of the year and clinch his spot in this year’s playoffs.  

(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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RAVENS 33, TEXANS 16

5 observations from the Ravens win over the Texans

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Let's be honest; the Texans were not going to beat the Ravens. Baltimore has better players, a better quarterback and a better coaching staff. (And oh, a better kicker). All of that was on display in the Ravens' 33-16 win.

The Ravens move to 2-0, while the Texans dropped to 0-2 after facing the AFC's two best teams.

The Texans will still likely contend for a playoff spot, but nothing the last two weeks indicates they are anywhere near contending in the AFC. A look at five things from the Ravens win:

1) Oh, Brien...It did not take long for Bill O'Brien's goofy coaching to rear its ugly head. Down 3-0 at their own 34 as the first quarter was running out, O'Brien chose to go for it on fourth and one. The play was predictably blown up, the Ravens quickly scored to make it 10-0, and the Texans were instantly in a hole against a superior opponent. You can't give points away against the Ravens. They might have scored anyway with a punt, but there was no stopping them with a short field.

2) Some positives on defense. Despite the score, The Texans looked much better on that side of the ball against an explosive offense. J.J. Watt had two sacks, the team had four total, and they kept Lamar Jackson from destroying them. Seven of the points were scored by the Ravens defense, and O'Brien's gaffe led to seven more. The Ravens wore them down in the fourth quarter, but they played well enough until then to keep the team in the game had the offense been better. They did not force any turnovers, however, and that was one of the differences in the game. They were also blown off the ball on a fourth and one in the fourth quarter that led to the Ravens' 30th points and could not stop the run at all in the fourth quarter. But that's what the Ravens do with a lead, and the Texans offense gave them no breaks by being unable to stay on the field.

3) The difference between real contenders...The Ravens were just so much more skilled on both sides of the ball. Defensively, they focused on taking away the run. David Johnson averaged 3.1 yards per carry. Will Fuller had as many catches as you did. The Ravens forced two turnovers on just really good football plays. The Texans don't make plays like that. They might against lesser teams, but if your goal is to compete with the best, it's just not good enough.

4) Deshaun Watson needs to be better. His numbers looked so so on the surface (25 of 36, 275 yards, 1 TD, 1 interception). He was sacked four times and added 17 rushing yards on five carries. He did not make plays late when they needed one here or there to maybe get back in the game. With his big contract, it's time for Watson to stop being close to elite and take the next step. His interception was more of being fooled by Marcus Peters than throwing a bad ball, but the Texans were just 3 of 9 on third downs. Throw in the ill-advised fourth down play, and they were just 3 of 10 extending drives. Give the Ravens a lot of credit, but again, to compete with the best, you have to be better than that.

5) Now what? The Texans travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers, who have not been impressive in their two wins. Still, it's hard to see Houston as anything but serious underdogs. They are last in the AFC South, and have a lot of work to do. The defense showed some promise at times, but will have to continue to improve. The offense has a long way to go. They match up better with the Steelers than they do the Ravens and Chiefs, but that does not mean they can win. If you were hoping they would give you some indication they can be more than just also-rans, they failed to do that on any level against either the Chiefs or Ravens.

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