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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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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