THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR heads to the Lone Star State for the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500

Everything is bigger in Texas. Photo via: Wiki Commons.

The NASCAR Cup Series heads for the Lone Star State this weekend for the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500. This is the second race of the Round of 8 as the remaining members of the playoffs look to lock up their spot in the championship race in Phoenix in two weeks. This track has undergone many changes over the last few years as it was repaved back in 2017. The first two corners are much wider than corners three and four thus giving the drivers more places to go to make a pass. We will also see a lot of strategy come into play here as well. The last time they were here, Austin Dillon was able to use a two tire pit strategy to pull off the upset victory. It will be interesting to see if a driver who is further down in the standings like Kurt Busch or Alex Bowman will try to use this strategy to sneak their way into the championship race.

Joey Logano punched his ticket last week at Kansas as he was able to fend off Kevin Harvick for the win. This will be the fourth time Logano has made it to the championship round ever since they began this format back in 2014. In the closing laps, both Joey and Kevin Harvick had an intense battle for the win as Harvick would close in, but he just didn't seem to have enough clean air to get around the 2018 champion. Many fans were pleased with the finish but took issue with how difficult it was to pass. It seemed like when the leader was in clean air he could drive away from second place. Most of this is due in part to how big the spoilers are on the back of the cars. Lucky for a lot of fans, next season the spoilers will be much smaller and hopefully this will fix a lot of those issues with passing.

The Silly Season is winding down as most drivers are now finalizing their plans for next season, nonetheless there were plenty of big announcements this week as drivers revealed where they will be running next year. To start off the week, it was announced that former Joe Gibbs driver Erik Jones is signing a multi-year deal to drive the #43 Camaro for Richard Petty Motorsports. This comes as a bit of a surprise seeing how Jones is going to a team that has struggled over the past few years, but he will be coming into a situation where their cars are a bit more competitive especially after this year with Bubba Wallace. The other big headline this week was the promotion of Chase Briscoe from Xfinity Series to the cup as he will take the #14 Ford Mustang replacing the retiring Clint Bowyer. This wasn't really a surprise as it seemed the writing had been on the wall for quite a while. I think Briscoe will be a star for this team as he has really gone on a tear in the Xfinity Series. Look for Briscoe to be the rookie of the year in 2021.

The newest Michael Jordan/Denny Hamlin team now has a new name and logo. It was announced on Friday that the team will be called 23XI or Twenty-Three-Eleven Motorsports. As we all know this is both the numbers of Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin. I look forward to seeing what Denny and the team comes up with in the future and how the car will look as well. One thing that will be interesting to see is how this team will fare considering their technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing. Regardless, this is a winning combination for both NASCAR and Michael Jordan.

The driver I have winning this weekend is Kevin Harvick. As most fans know this season has been his most successful yet, he has won nine races, has twenty top five finishes and has led over 1,000 laps. Many would say he is having a much better statistical season than he was when he won the title back in 2014. This will continue on this weekend as he goes to a track where he has a 3.50 average finish, the highest of any driver. Not to mention he has won here twice since 2017. I look for him to get his tenth victory of the season this week and clinch his spot at Phoenix.

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Jeremy Pena could have some big shoes to fill. Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images.

MLB and the MLBPA are embroiled in yet another labor dispute. The owners and players have both dug in their heels and refuse to budge. No end is in site for the lockout as Spring Training is drawing more and more near each passing day. So what does that mean for our 2022 Astros' season?

One sigh of relief came when Justin Verlander signed his new deal. Two years for $50 million dollars isn't bad at all. Factor in he's closer to my age than my son (coming off Tommy John surgery), and some may worry. Not me. He's the closest thing to Tom Brady MLB has seen since Nolan Ryan. Jim Crane and James Click did a great job bringing him back. His spot as the ace with the rest of the staff they have should help shore up the bullpen if one or two starters can make that transition. I know I said I didn't want him back a few months ago, but time has passed, and wounds have been healed.

When it comes to Carlos Correa, I'm growing more and more comfortable with the thought that he may not be back. I talked about his potential replacement months ago. Maybe the reason being is that the club loves Jeremy Peña at that same position, and Pedro Leon could also factor in. Plus, Peña is tearing the cover off the ball in the winter leagues.

At 24 years old, turning 25 in September, he'll be under team control for the foreseeable future. That truly depends on the new labor agreement. So does Correa's new contract. His contract will be largely based on the parameters set in the new labor agreement, since he didn't sign before the lockout took place. And now we know that contact will be negotiated by Correa's new agent, Scott Boras.

I'm all for the doom and gloom when it comes to an MLB labor issue because they've historically screwed over fans. The most notable and egregious was the '94 World Series being canceled. However, there's way too much money at stake right now. More money than ever to be exact. That said, it's precisely why there's a dispute. That, and the fact that the owners have always gotten over on fans and players, and the players are poised to get their just due.

When the season starts, the Astros should be contenders yet again. Don't look for them to come out the gate firing on all cylinders as this team may look a bit different. Guys may not be fully ready after a lockout and there will be some roster turnover. The bulk of the core will be here, ready, and healthy. Whether Correa is a part of that group remains to be seen. Am I concerned? Hell no! This team has enough to fill that void at least partially and will have either guy under team control for a while. Think about this upcoming season as the time you fixed up your older car. New tires, headlights restored, rims polished, inside made over, and a fresh coat of paint after the transmission rebuild. It still has over 150,000 miles on it, but you wouldn't trade it in for anything because it still runs well and has sentimental value. You know one day it'll give out and need to be put out to pasture, but you're holding on and riding until the wheels fall off. Enjoy Astro fans, because the ride will be over one day. Hopefully much later than sooner.

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