THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR heads back to Pocono for the Gander RV 400

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This weekend, the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series makes its second trip to Long Pond, Pennsylvania for the Gander RV 400 at Pocono Raceway. Unlike last time, this track will feature a new traction control compound to help provide for more traction and more racing lines around the track. With this track being as wide as it is, this possibly could really improve the product on the track. The decision received positive feedback from two time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin. In an interview with journalist Jim Utter, he was quoted as saying "I've been an advocate for using traction compound at Pocono for a while now. It gives us much more lane options and that's what this aero package needs." This is a welcomed change after the last race here was fairly lackluster with Kyle Busch pretty much running away and winning by two seconds. We shall see what the future holds and if there are more lead changes than we saw back in June.

Last week, Kevin Harvick was able to claim his first win of 2019. He was able to hold off Denny Hamlin and score not only his first win but his team's first win as well. The conclusion of this race continued with NASCAR's recent run of fairly tame races with incredible finishes. On the last lap, Hamlin attempted to move Harvick out of the way but to no avail as he was able to save the car and drive to victory. Getting this victory was huge for him as he is now guaranteed a spot in the round of 16 and while he has run well enough to be in pretty good shape, they needed to get this monkey off their backs. Look for Harvick and his team to be legitimate favorites to win the title.

As we draw closer to the playoffs, the race to crack the top 16 is heating up. With nine drivers having already clinched a spot by winning, everyone else is battling to get above the sixteenth place cut-line in points. The most notable of those drivers is Jimmie Johnson. He currently sits 17 points out of the chase behind Clint Bowyer. This is truly uncharted waters for the seven time champion, as he has never missed the postseason since it was implemented back in 2004.

These last couple of weeks for Johnson have been horrendous as he has finished 30th in back to back races. Many have begun to speculate about what is going on with this team and why they are struggling as bad as they are. One aspect that most point to is the split between Jimmie Johnson and longtime crew chief Chad Kanus, while this definitely has some impact on his performance, one of the main reasons I believe is because of their inability to adapt to stage racing. Since stage racing was implemented back in 2017, Jimmie has all of one stage victory so he is definitely leaving a lot of points on the table when it comes to getting into the playoffs and whether we like it or not, stage racing is not going away anytime soon. This season Jimmie has amassed only 47 stage points from each race and with the drivers ahead of him and behind him in the standings accumulating more points, it doesn't seem to be getting any easier for him to get into the chase at the rate he is going. Overall, while he has shown flashes of being the driver of old a win is almost essential to get him into the playoffs. This week at Pocono, he is going to a track where he has won three times but has struggled as of late as his average finish here since 2017 has been 23rd. Jimmie will definitely be a driver to keep an eye on come Sunday as he looks to get back into the chase.

The driver I have winning is Erik Jones. Overall, he has been on a roll for the last two weeks as he has finished in third place at Kentucky and New Hampshire and after a difficult start to the season, he is beginning to establish himself as a driver that can contend for wins on a weekly basis and now he gets to race at a track where he has performed extremely well. Over the course of his five starts at Pocono, he has finished in the top five three times including a third place finish here back in June. Going into this season, this team has flown under the radar and has quietly been improving week in and week out and now they will finally get to reap the rewards of their hard work. I look for Erik to get his second career win come Sunday and get each of the four Joe Gibbs Racing cars comfortably into the playoffs.

(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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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF O'BRIEN'S COACHING

Not my job: Texans outmatched when it counts against Steelers

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Another game, another loss for the Texans. This time it was only a seven point loss to the Steelers as they fell 28-21 in Pittsburgh. This time around, Bill O'Brien looked to be on his game as far as decision-making was concerned. However, there is still room for improvement.

One thing that I did appreciate that O'Brien did was have trust in the offensive line. The Steelers pass rush could be problematic, but their defense overall is very stout. That's how they were able to nearly make the playoffs last year with a Duck at quarterback. While the Texans did give up five sacks, they weren't all due to poor offensive line play. The Texans lost 33 yards on those five sacks. Tytus Howard and Zach Fulton handled themselves fairly well after looking like turnstiles the first two games. O'Brien called longer developing pass plays and play action in spite of this and it paid off with Deshaun Watson and his receivers putting up 264 yards in the air.

There also wasn't an instance of Bumbling Bill this game. At the end of the first half, there was a minute and fourteen seconds left. The Texans were down 17-14 and had all three timeouts with the ball on their 25-yard line. Classic Bumbling Bill situation right? Wrong! Not only was the play-calling on point, but the players executed and the timeout situation was handled perfectly. First timeout was used after getting to midfield with 47 seconds left. Timeout number two was used after a 20 yard gain after the previous play. A 15 yard gain later to the Steeler 14-yard line and timeout number three was used with 28 seconds left. This set up perfectly for them to call a multitude of plays. They only needed one as Watson found Will Fuller in the end zone on a jump ball in which Fuller rose up and was physical enough to grab the ball over the defender. They went up 21-17 at the half.

Bill O'Brien's teams were 37-3 when leading at halftime. I say "were" because they lost this one after not scoring a single point in the second half. This was more on the defense not being able to fight its way out of a wet paper bag, and a lack of execution by the offense. Specifically, the run defense has been atrocious and Watson either needs quicker reads or to stop holding onto the ball so long by making quicker decisions. That's on coaching to put players in positions to succeed, but also the players to execute.

Ultimately, this was on O'Brien the general manager more than O'Brien the coach. This roster is woefully outmatched. The only time an outmatched roster can compete consistently is in college football with a wacky offense. It just doesn't happen in the NFL. Hey, at least Bumbling Bill didn't rear his butt chin today. Today's Culture Map play call menu was brought to you by Pour Behavior. I suggest getting over there and checking out their daily specials.

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