THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR heads to Delaware for the Dover 400

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This week, NASCAR heads for the monster mile in Dover Delaware for the first race in NASCAR's round of 12. Like we saw last time we were here, this race will feature NASCAR's 750 horsepower package and considering its length so we should see similar racing to what we have seen in years past. Back in May when the Cup series was here last, Martin Truex Jr went on to lead 132 laps and win by a blistering nine and a half seconds over Alex Bowman. As of late, the fall race here has either been really tame where one car dominates or fairly intriguing towards the end where the leader finds a way to mess up and someone we maybe didn't expect comes away with the win. Last season, we saw Kevin Harvick lead over 200 laps but after a bad pit-stop Harvick would have to settle for a sixth place finish. The winner of the race was Chase Elliott as he would only lead the final eleven laps and would move on to the next round. Look for this to come up as there is a lot on the line for the 12 drivers remaining in the playoffs. Another reason why it is important to try and run well here is what lies ahead next week at Talladega and as any NASCAR fan knows, anything can go wrong can at Talladega so it will be especially urgent for these drivers to eliminate any possibilities and put as much cushion between them and the cutline.

Last week, Chase Elliott made one of the most incredible comebacks in NASCAR history and went on to claim his sixth career victory. This came after he missed turn one completely and took a detour into the tire barrier. Amazingly he was able to come back from being a lap down to pass Kevin Harvick for the victory. While Elliott had the race covered in the final laps, the battle came down to the drivers who were trying to advance to the next round. While Alex Bowman and Ryan Newman were nearly 10 seconds apart on the track, in points it would come down to the final two laps as Newman was a single point to the good and looked to be in the driver's seat to continue his incredible season but after missing the backstretch chicane, Newman was assessed a drive-through penalty that would cost him everything and relegate him back to 32nd. This would provide a clear path for Alex Bowman to capture the 12th and final spot in the round of 12 after he would also bounce back from three accidents to finish second.

Unfortunately for Bowman, this comeback would be overshadowed by what took place on lap 43 when he decided he would intentionally wreck Darrell Wallace Jr exiting the backstretch chicane. Throughout the race, both Wallace and Bowman got together multiple times including on the opening lap. This caused Wallace to repeatedly flip Bowman off out the window and as we could all see, Alex was none to pleased by this gesture. After the race, Darrell met Alex who was slouched over his car being "attended to" by medical staff after a long race and would throw a full bottle of water in his face. This would send NASCAR's twitter into a frenzy. Many fans called for a fine for Wallace and even went as far as calling for him to be suspended. While I don't agree with Wallace's motives and think it was ridiculous to throw water on someone, thinking someone should be suspended for this is extremely stupid. This is coming from a fan-base where most long for the "good ole days" that week after week sit behind their twitter and ask where all the conflict and personality went but then when they finally see it, they want to sit here and complain about how "it wasn't the right time" for Wallace to go and confront Bowman. Was it the right time for Cale Yarborough to hit Bobby Allison in the face with his helmet back in 1979 at Daytona? No but that is what made NASCAR so entertaining and always will.

The favorite coming into this race has to be the guy who won here last and that's Martin Truex Jr. It's safe to anytime they go to Dover, Truex is easily the guy to watch for considering how well he always runs there. As I wrote earlier, the New Jersey native has won at this track three times and has 15 top 10 finishes here over his 27 races he has run. I look for Truex to be a contender come sunday.

The driver that I predict will win on Sunday is Daniel Suarez. While this may seem like a bold prediction to some, this has been a track that he has excelled at ever since his rookie season in 2017. In his five starts here, only once has he finished outside of the top 10 and even then he finished 11th. There has been much speculation as to what is next for Suarez and many wonder if he will return to Stewart-Haas Racing next season and while It he wasn't able to qualify for the playoffs, he has put together some of the best runs of his career including a fourth place finish at Michigan. I think that Suarez will surprise a lot of people and capture his first career win and erase any doubt that he belongs where he is in the Cup Series.


(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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Tucker looks like the real deal. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Kyle Tucker finally had his breakout season in 2020. The 23-year-old flashed potential to be a legitimate five-tool threat. He slashed .268/.325/.512, swiped eight bags, and played above average defense. Is Tucker's performance sustainable? Not only that, but is there room for growth?

Hard Hit % - 44.5%

Barrel % - 9.1%

K % - 20.2%

BB % - 7.9%
Chase % - 26.2%

The first thing to realize with Kyle Tucker is the small sample size at the MLB level. Despite appearing in three separate seasons, he's played in a total of 108 games, which is obviously quite a bit shy of even one full season. He also has an extremely unique swing that you wouldn't teach to anybody, but it "works" for him. This makes him a tough hitter to judge, as it's uncomfortable judging mechanics that work for him, and it's uncomfortable judging numbers that haven't had time to develop trends.

Hard Hit, Barrel, and Chase numbers are unavailable for the minors, but walk and strikeouts percentages are. This creates the ability to at least look at one trend.

Tucker broke onto the scene in 2018 with a monstrous season for AAA Fresno, the Astros affiliate at the time. In 2018, Tucker slashed .332/.400/.590 with 24 homers and 20 steals. He had an 18.1% K% and a 10.3% BB% that season. In 2019, Tucker struck out a little bit more (21.6%) but also walked a little bit more (11.2%). Tucker's 20.2% K% in 2020 is more in line with his minor league K%, indicating he's adjusted to major league pitching.

Tucker essentially put the pieces of contact ability and quality of contact from his previous MLB stints together in 2020. In 2018, Tucker didn't strike out very much (18.1% K%), but his 3.9% Barrel % didn't strike fear in any opponent.

In 2019, Tucker had a 12.8% Barrel %, and his 92 MPH average exit velocity is the best of his three seasons in MLB, but he struck out 27.8% of the time and walked just 5.6% of the time.

In 2020, there's a marriage between the two. His K% and BB% aren't as good as his 2018 marks, but they're better than his 2019 marks. His exit velocity and Barrel % aren't as good as his 2019 marks, but they're better than his 2018 marks. Tucker became a hitter that was able to do more damage without sacrificing consistency.

Tucker had a xBA of .267, which is right in line with his .268 average. His .459 xSLG lags behind his .512 actual SLG, but it isn't a catastrophic drop. The version of Tucker Astros fans saw is essentially who he is, but how does he improve?

What really unlocked Tucker in 2020 was a change in his setup.

Image via: GraysonSkweres/Twitter/Screenshot

Here he is on August 2nd against the Angels. As you can see, he's standing pretty straight up, and he has a "neutral" stance. Following the game on Aug. 2, Tucker was batting .200/.250/.300 with no homers.

Image via: GraysonSkweres/Twitter/Screenshot

Here's Tucker on August 6th, just a few days later. He's started to close off his stance just a bit, but he's still pretty neutral, and he has a little more forward body lean with his torso. Following the game on Aug. 6, he was batting .214/.267/.357 with a homer.

Image via: GraysonSkweres/Twitter/Screenshot

Now, here's Tucker on August 10th. His stance is considerably closed off, and he's maintaining the forward body lean he adopted on August 6th. Following the game on Aug. 10, Tucker was batting .190/.230/.328. It would be the last time any of those numbers would be that low the rest of the year. He maintained that stance for the rest of the season, and he finished the month of August hitting .272/.333/.588.

The swing change allowed him to be a factor on the outside pitch. Tucker would pull off on his front side, which made it tough for him to keep balls fair on the pull side. He'd often yank inside fastballs into the stands down the right field line. It also made him uncompetitive on outside strikes, as he'd either swing-and-miss, or roll them over into the shift.

After he made the change, Tucker started steering inside pitches fair, and he was able to do something with pitches on the outer third.

The next step is finding a way to continue to diversify his batted ball profile. Tucker's pull percentage in 2020 was 47%. That's a higher pull % than guys like Kyle Schwarber and Matt Olson. It was only 1% lower than Rangers outfielder Joey Gallo.

The one dimensional batted ball profile allows teams to shift Tucker aggressively. Teams shifted Tucker in 74% of his at-bats. His wOBA against the shift is .304. In AB's where teams didn't shift him, Tucker had a .455 wOBA. The shift hurts Tucker more than most as well, because he hits the ball on the ground 39% of the time. Gallo and Olson hit it on the ground 32% and 35% of the time respectively.

Lastly, Tucker's performance on breaking balls leaves a lot to be desired. He crushes fastballs, as he batted .303 with a .574 SLG against fastballs in 2020, with a .292 xBA and .528 xSLG. His .208 AVG and .396 SLG against breaking balls aren't very good, and his .209 xBA and .340 xSLG don't tell a prettier story. His 32% whiff % against breaking balls is nearly double his whiff % on fastballs.

If Tucker can learn to be more competitive against breaking balls and learn to use the whole field, then he'll be a really scary hitter. If he doesn't, teams will be able to gameplan for him, and he'll see streaky production similar to other one dimensional hitters like Matt Carpenter and the aforementioned Gallo and Olson.

While the bat may be streaky, Tucker brings it with the glove and on the bases. He had 5 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) in the outfield in 2020, a 0.6 UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating), and he was plus-4 in Outs Above Average. His well above average speed and instincts give him the ability to be a rangy outfielder and dangerous baserunner.

Tucker had a breakout season in 2020, but there's still changes left to be made if he wants to be a breakout star and not a one hit wonder.

This is part four of an offseason series covering the 2020 Houston Astros. Be sure to check out parts 1-3 on SportsMap.

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