THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR: It's a doubleheader weekend at Dover

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The NASCAR Cup Series heads for the Monster Mile in Dover, Delaware for a Saturday-Sunday doubleheader. This is the third and final doubleheader of 2020 as we saw the other two were run at Pocono and Michigan. This Dover track is called the Monster Mile because of its rough and abrasive concrete surface. There have been some massive wrecks here so it is never out of the question to see a pile-up that can take out multiple cars. It will be fun to see what lies ahead for this weekend's doubleheader.

Last week, Chase Elliott went on to capture his eighth career victory in the first ever running of the Daytona Roval and while the race definitely had its moments, it was much more tame than expected. It seemed like there weren't very many places where anyone could pass especially in the chicane in the turns three and four. I have to applaud these drivers though, with this being a brand-new track layout, all of these drivers did an excellent job at handling this track. We could have very well seen the field go into turn one and forget they are on a road-course and miss the turn completely, but they all kept it straight and there were hardly any big accidents. There were also some pleasant surprises in this race as well including a fifth place finish by Chris Buescher and a tenth place finish by Michael McDowell.

Like everywhere else in the world, the Ccoronavirus has taken the NASCAR world by storm as Austin Dillion announced that he had tested positive the morning of the race. This came as a shock to everyone around the NASCAR world especially considering the timing of his diagnosis. Thankfully, Dillion appears to have recovered and will be racing this weekend at Dover. This proves that even though the sport has been doing really well, they are not invincible to this virus. I have to say though, considering what we have seen in other sports such as baseball, I will say that NASCAR has done exceptionally well at not having an outbreak. Needless to say, this will be another wake-up call for the sport especially as it draws ever closer to the playoffs.

While Dillon was at home recovering, it was announced that RCR Xfinity driver Kaz Grala would be tapped to fill in, and he went out and absolutely crushed it! This young man got into a race car that he had never seen, hadn't run a single lap of practice in and went out there and led a few laps and finished in seventh! I am so impressed with how well he did this weekend. This isn't the first time the Massachusetts driver has exceeded expectations. Back in 2018 at an Xfinity race in Daytona, Grala took a car with a ten-year-old chassis and nearly won. If Kaz is given a chance in a good ride, it may take some time for him to grow but given the opportunity, I really believe he can make some noise. Be on the lookout for Kaz in the future.

One driver who experienced the exact opposite of the spectrum was Kyle Busch. As we all know this has been the season from hell for the defending champion. He has yet to win this year, something that has never happened in his whole career as he has won at least one race since his rookie year back in 2005. The Daytona Road course only put salt on the wounds as he was involved in multiple accidents including the final caution that took him out of the race. Because he has accumulated a bunch of stage points, he is solidly in the playoffs but this is nowhere near the position he wants to be in. I wouldn't fade him though going forward considering how talented he is.

Speaking of the playoffs, the battle for the 16th and final spot in the chase is becoming less and less of a battle as Jimmie Johnson sits twenty-five points behind his Hendrick racing teammate William Byron. It would almost seem as if Jimmie needs to win one of these next two races to get in. Recently, Johnson changed up his paint scheme from black and purple to white and purple. He called it his "RAlly" scheme considering Ally Bank is his sponsor. It seems as if that he has found a little bit of luck considering he finished fourth last week at Daytona and is moving on the right track coming into Dover. I look for him to be upfront this weekend.

The drivers that I have winning this weekend are Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Elliott. To start, this has been a track that Martin Truex has pretty much owned ever since he began his career here. In four of the last five races he has finished in the top five and 300 laps in total. I look for him to take one of the two races. The other driver that I think will win is Chase Elliott. This has also been a track he has run exceptionally well at. He has led 294 laps and despite mechanical issues at the last race here, he has been extremely fast including when he won the fall race back in 2018. I look for those two to go to victory lane during this doubleheader weekend.

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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