THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR Hollywood Casino 400 preview

Alex Bowman needs a big effort to advance. Alex Bowman/Facebook

The NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for the heartland in Kansas City, Kansas for the Hollywood Casino 400.

Last week, Stewart-Haas racing teammates Aric Almirola, Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer found a way to pull away from the pack and get a one-two finish as Almirola went to victory lane for the first time since July of 2014 at Daytona, Bowyer finished second.  This victory is huge for Almirola. Not only does he solidify himself as a championship contender, it is also very special due to all of the adversity he has had to face over the past year. Last year at Kansas Motor Speedway of all places, Almirola suffered a back injury which took him out of commission for a month. It was good to see him get redemption and move on after the hard times.

Entering this race, two drivers have already clinched a spot to the next round. Those drivers are Chase Elliott and  Almirola. While not exactly the drivers the casual fans would expect, both drivers are enjoying their best seasons as Almirola has his most top 10s in a season in his career and Elliott was able to claim his first win in his career this year at Watkins Glen followed by a victory at Dover two weeks ago.

The four drivers that are below the cutoff line are Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman. For the two Penske teammates of Keselowski and Blaney they face the easiest path to unseed Martin Truex and Clint Bowyer. While they enter Kansas 18 points out, if both of these drivers can rack up stage points they very well can find themselves in prime position to get back into the round of eight. The next two drivers are Larson and Bowman. These two are in a must-win situation. Bowman and Larson are facing an insurmountable deficit and the only way to advance is to win Kansas. It should be interesting to watch as these two try and claw their way back into the championship picture.

One of The biggest surprises of this round has been the struggles of Martin Truex Jr. After an abysmal 23rd place finish at Talladega and a mediocre 15th-place finish at Dover, Truex comes into Kansas only eight points above the cutoff. While the situation isn’t exactly dire for the defending champ, he still needs to have at least a top 10 finish to securely solidify his spot in the round of eight. He should be a force to be reckoned with come Sunday.

The driver that I have going to victory lane is Larson. Overall, 2018 has been a huge letdown for this team and while they had chances to win races, it just hasn’t seemed to be in the cards for him but this week, I think they finally break through. I know that I have been saying that for quite some time this season but Kansas Motor Speedway is one of the tracks he has been able to really excel at - he just hasn’t seemed to have the results to back up how great he has run here and tracks like it. Even though his average finish here has not been that great, over the years, he has always been in contention for a win. Like I wrote earlier, Larson’s back is very much against the wall when it comes to making the next round, not only is he facing a 36-point deficit but he also faces a 10 point deduction after using metal tabs for damage repair, which is illegal as you can only use metal fasteners or duct tape to repair damage. While the team is appealing, this does not change the situation for him and I think this week he will defy the odds and clinch a spot in the round of eight and maybe this victory can be the catalyst for Larson to get back into championship contetinton.

This should be a great race come Sunday as most cutoff races in this playoff format have been awesome to watch and this week should be no different. I can’t wait to see who moves on as we get closer and closer to crowning a champion in november.

(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).

 

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

Composite photo by Jack Brame

Former Astros manager Andrew Jay Hinch is on a short list of candidates to become manager of the Detroit Tigers in 2021.

The question is, after being suspended and later fired for his role in the Astros sign-stealing scandal, does A.J. Hinch deserve to manage again in baseball?

It's weird to think because so much has happened in 2020, but Hinch was suspended and fired only nine months ago. His banishment, however, ends in a matter of weeks with the final out of the upcoming World Series. At that point, he will be available to manage the Tigers or any other team. There's a possibility that the Mets are interested. Some were hoping it'd be the Astros, but the Astros are committed to manager Dusty Baker for next year. After that … never say never.

Shortly after getting the Astros ax, Hinch went on MLB TV and apologized for his role in the Astros cheating scandal. Although baseball's investigation said the garbage can banging scheme was "with the exception of (Astros coach Alex) Cora, player-driven and player-executed," Hinch took responsibility as manager and didn't challenge his punishment. No players were punished.

"I still feel responsible and will always feel responsible as the man out front," Hinch said. "As the leader, I was in charge of the team. I put out a statement to apologize. But there is something different to doing it on camera and putting a face to an apology, and saying I'm sorry to the league, to baseball, to fans, to players, to the coaches.

"It happened on my watch. I'm not proud of that. I'll never be proud of it. I didn't like it. But I have to own it. And the commissioner's office made very, very clear that the GM and the manager were in position to make sure that nothing like this happened. And we fell short."

In effect, while Hinch didn't authorize or participate in the sign-stealing scandal, he didn't do enough (really anything) to stop it. He is the rare case of being a guilty bystander.

To be clear, Hinch has not been offered the Detroit manager job. However, he has more experience and more wins under his belt than most of the other candidates being considered.

Hinch's reputation is blemished, but his credentials can't be disputed. During his five years as Astros manager, the team never had a losing season, won 100 or more games three times, including a team record 107 wins last year, made the playoffs three times and won a World Series.

Has baseball forgiven Hinch, and does he deserve another chance to manage in the big leagues? This is America, the land of forgiveness and second chances.

As Mahatma Gandhi said, "The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong."

Hinch knew his team was cheating and didn't do enough to stop it. There's no defense for that. But I think he's paid enough of a price to get back in baseball.

Mike Tyson raped a woman, went to jail, and now he's practically America's sweetheart. Hillary forgave Bill. We not only forgave Confederate leaders, we built schools and statues to honor them. Martha Stewart went to jail for insider trading, now she's back on TV baking crumpets. Ozzy Osbourne was arrested for pee'ing on a monument outside the Alamo, there is no more sacred place in Texas, and now he sells out concerts at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion.

Pee-wee Herman, well, let's not say what he was caught doing, but he's planning to tour the U.S. celebrating the 35th anniversary of Pee-wee's Big Adventure movie.

Remember, Hinch was suspended for a year. It could have been worse. Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred has the power to ban people for life. Since becoming the commish, Manfred has permanently banished two people: former St. Louis Cardinals scouting director Chris Correa for hacking into the Astros computer database, and former Atlanta Braves general manager, John Coppolella for signing international players illegally.

Manfred also has temporarily banned Astros assistant general manager Brandon Taubman for shouting inappropriate comments at female reporters last year. Taubman is eligible to apply for reinstatement after this year's World Series. However, if he commits one more violation of baseball rules, he will be banned for life.

Lifetime bans aren't as unusual as you might think. Since baseball's beginnings in the 1800s, dozens of players, managers and team owners have been banned, mostly, like Pete Rose and the Chicago Black Sox, for gambling-related offenses.

A.J. Hinch copped to his crime, suffered the consequences, now it's time for him to manage a baseball team again. It's not like he'd be landing a plum job with Detroit. The Tigers are out of this year's playoff picture. They lost 114 games last season. And were 64-98 the two years prior. Managing the Tigers will be punishment enough.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome