THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR Gander Outdoors 400 preview; rules updates

Ryan Blaney was a winner last week. Ryanblaney.com

This Sunday, the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for Dover Delaware for the first race of the round of 12. Last week, Ryan Blaney advanced to the next round after taking the checkered flag in the inaugural Charlotte Bank Of America Roval 400. The race was one of the highlights of the season as both Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr. both spun in the final corner paving the way for Blaney to swoop in and steal the victory. This week, we go to a much different type of track in Dover. The last time the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup came here, Kevin Harvick thoroughly dominated after leading a race high 201 laps en route to his third victory of the season. While it’s the same track, the stakes will be much higher as one of the 12 drivers in the playoff field will look to clinch a berth into the round of eight and be one step closer to racing for a championship at Homestead.

Earlier this week there were some major announcements regarding next year’s rules package.  Next season, NASCAR announced wholesale changes to the cars including limiting horsepower to 550, a smaller rear spoiler and a “tapered spacer” to restrict speeds on the cars and keep them closer together. The move was met with major criticism by not only fans but former drivers as well. The one thing that truly upset them was how NASCAR decided to cut back on horsepower. They think that these changes take the challenging aspect of racing out of the drivers' hands and that they are running too slow. Personally, I think it would only be fair to give it a chance and to see how it works out; besides if it’s anything like the all-star race, as I stated in the last article, the fans will be quick to change their tone and it should grow on them.

There will be two new rookies in the Cup Series in 2019, Daniel Hemric will drive the No. 31 Caterpillar Camaro for Richard Childress and Ryan Preece will drive the No. 47 Kroger Chevrolet for JTG Daugherty racing. Both drivers are coming off successful Xfinity campaigns and now will now get the call-up to drive in big leagues. I personally believe that the move to call Hemric up was due to happen at some point as he had been running so well in the Xfinity Series but the move to call  Preece up was a bit surprising, While it is clear that he is a threat every time he races, many believe that his limited schedule in the lower divisions will make things more difficult in the Cup series. Only time will tell for the two but it is refreshing to see two drivers that worked incredibly hard and didn’t have a lot of help get their chance in the big time.

The driver that I have winning this week is Joey Logano. Coming into this race, Logano has been quietly flying under the radar. Last week, he emerged through the carnage to capture a 10th place finish and moved on to the next round and though he wasn’t talked about a lot as a contender, he stayed out of trouble. This week should be a different story for him. Overall, stats wise this track falls right in the middle for Logano. Over the course of his 19 starts here, He currently has three top fives and ten top 10s. While he hasn’t been exactly been a threat to win at Dover he has always been around the top 10 plus both of his teammates have also been running well so now it is his time to shine. Look for Logano to take the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil fusion to victory lane.

One of the sleepers to look out for this week is the young William Byron. This has been an up and down season for this year’s rookie of the year but this week should be a good change of pace for this young man. In his debut here, he went on to a 14th place finish and while that may not look that great on the surface, it should be noted that Dover is one of the tougher race tracks on the surface and to come in and have a solid top 15 really says a lot about his ability. He is looking to rebound after a tough race last week at the roval when he was swept up in a multi-car crash with seven laps to go. This week he should rebound and get a top 10 result as he continues to grow and develop into NASCAR’s next star.

(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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The clock is ticking. Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

If he is indeed to become an ex-Astro George Springer can officially sign with his new team starting at four PM Houston time this Sunday. Michael Brantley the same. All free agents can sign contracts starting Sunday afternoon. If the die isn't cast that Springer is leaving, it certainly feels like his renewing vows with the Astros would be an upset.

The Astros will make Springer a 18.9 million dollar qualifying offer for 2021. He will of course reject that because contract offers of at least five years and over 100 million dollars likely await. Should Springer move on the Astros would then get a compensatory draft pick. Brantley won't get anything in close range of Springer's haul-to-be but still should at least get multiyear offers. The Astros should make the qualifying offer to Brantley (if they don't they forfeit any compensation for his departure). If they don't out of fear that he'd accept the one-year deal, the Astros would look lame. I don't think it comes to that. Losing Springer would be a huge blow on multiple levels, but if somehow they were to keep Brantley while getting back Yordan Alvarez at even 80 percent of his rookie performance level the Astros' lineup would look to be in decent shape.

With MLB's economic outlook shaky for 2021, it's unreasonable to say Jim Crane and his partners should give Springer whatever he wants. A six or seven year megadollar contract for a 31-year-old player with some durability questions on his resume is an iffy proposition. At the same time, the Astros have been quite profitable in recent years (before 2020), and Crane said over the summer the Astros were positioned to be "aggressive, whatever the market looks like." 13 million Josh Reddick dollars are off the books for 2021, 10 mil of Roberto Osuna is gone. After next year more than 57 mil of Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke clear.

MLB's postseason awards will be doled out over the next couple weeks but for the first time in years the Astros don't have a credible candidate for any of the big ones (MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, Manager of the Year). The Astros do have three American League Gold Glove finalists. I think Carlos Correa wins the shortstop honor. Correa had a weak regular season at the plate but his defense was stellar, plus the two guys who divvied up the last four AL SS Gold Gloves (Francisco Lindor and Andrelton Simmons) had down seasons and aren't finalists. Quick: name the teams of fellow finalists J.P. Crawford and Niko Goodrum. Hard to see either winning over Correa. Yuli Gurriel and Kyle Tucker were also named top three at their positions. For the first time the finalist selections were driven entirely by stats and analytics.

Big week for the Rockets

With the Rockets settling on Stephen Silas as their new Head Coach, that hire coupled with the in house promotion of Rafael Stone to General Manager makes it appear as though owner Tilman Fertitta is doing more things on the cheap. The NBA economic environment is challenging and huge portions of the rest of Fertitta's portfolio are submerged in a COVID-driven bloodbath. Silas has paid his dues for a good while and most recently worked under the outstanding Rick Carlisle in Dallas. He has earned a lead chair opportunity. But with no prior head coaching experience and no bidding war for his services, Silas signs on at a much lower rate than, say, Jeff Van Gundy would have commanded. Former head coaches (and former Rockets' player rivals of the 90s) Jeff Hornacek and Nate McMillan would make for two strong Silas assistants. From their playing days if you combined Hornacek's offense and McMillan's defense into one player you'd have one of the top 20 or so greatest guards in NBA history.

Silas and Stone take the reins at a challenging time for the Rockets with their messy salary cap sheet, reduced draft capital, and one of the oldest core player groups in the league. Polite public statements aside, it's part of why Daryl Morey left. Maybe Mike D'Antoni too though that seemed more about feeling disrespected by the lack of a contract extension before this past season. D'Antoni may have overplayed his hand since he did not get fill any of the coaching vacancies elsewhere in the NBA. Only Oklahoma City remains open, and D'Antoni has gotten no run there.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. It seems sadly appropriate that the first meaningful positive in the Texans' 2020 season came in form of a COVID test result.

2. If we all commit to getting through it together, I think we can get by without a Texans' game this weekend. Remember, it's their open week, not a bye!

3. One hit wonder goodbye songs: Bronze-Terry Jacks "Seasons in the Sun" Silver-Norman Greenbaum "Spirit In The Sky" Gold-Steam "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye"

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