THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR preview: KC Masterpiece 400

Kevin Harvick is spending a lot of time in the winner's circle. Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

This week, the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for the Heartland for the KC Masterpiece 400 at Kansas Motor Speedway. Last week, Kevin Harvick went on to his fourth win of the season. It was another dominating performance for the 2014 Champion as he went on to lead a race high 201 laps and was able to easily win the first two stages of the race. It was not only another signature performance by Harvick but also by his teammates as well. Both Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch both finished second and sixth also Aric Almirola continued his string of good runs as he finished 11th.

While Bowyer and his team can hold their head up high after a runner-up finish, it was announced on Wednesday that they would be docked 20 driver and owner points for rear-window violations, they will also be fined $50,000 and lose their car-chief Jerry Cook  for two weeks as well.

The biggest surprise of sorts to come out of last weekend was Daniel Suarez. In my last article previewing this race, I stated that Daniel Suarez and his team would be a top 10 or maybe even a top five contender and the Sophomore driver exceeded expectations by finishing third. Suarez was the model of consistency for the most part of the day. He began his weekend with an impressive seventh place qualifying effort and stayed around the top 10 all day. Look for Suarez to continue to ride this new wave of success into Kansas this week as he continues to chip away at his first career win.

Although it was a great day for him and his team, Suarez was also penalized. He too had a rear window violation. Like Bowyer, he will lose 20 driver and owner points, $50,000 and his car chief Todd Brewer will also be suspended as well.

This weekend, we head for Kansas Motor Speedway. This track is another one of NASCAR’s MANY mile and a half intermediate tracks. It was recently just re-configured in 2011, as they repaved the surface and added five more degrees of banking. Like most of its mile and a half predecessors, Kansas is known for long green flag runs and a big emphasis on  pit strategy.

The biggest story of this week is the return of 2003 NASCAR Champion, Matt Kenseth. As most fans know, last year Kenseth was released from Joe Gibbs Racing as they were not able to find enough sponsorship to keep him around. For the beginning of 2018, Kenseth was without a ride until his former boss Jack Roush made the decision to bring him on and replace Trevor Bayne in the number six Advocare/Wyndham Hotels Ford. The 18-year stock car veteran heads to a track where he has had a great deal of success driving for both Jack Roush and Joe Gibbs. He has two victories, seven top fives and 13 top 10s at Kansas. Even though he has a stacked resume here, the situation he is getting into will not be easy. Kenseth will be stepping into a car that is currently 24th in points but Kenseth is one of the best drivers of his time and should have no problem adjusting. Look For Kenseth to be a factor on Saturday.

The favorite this weekend is easily Harvick. This has been probably the best start of his illustrious 17-year career. Not only does he lead the series in race wins but he also has more stage wins than anyone as well. It just seems that Harvick and his team are one step ahead of everyone and now to top it all off they go to another track where they have run well at. Of all drivers, only Jimmie Johnson has a better average finish than him. He has won at this track twice in 2013 and 2016 so he definitely has a knack for this place. Look for him to continue his success this weekend.

The driver that I have winning this weekend is Bowyer. This is a race track that is very special to Bowyer seeing how it is his home track and while he has never won here his results here have been pretty solid. Over his 19 starts here Bowyer has six top 10s and two top fives. While he hasn’t been the best driver here in the past, I think that this year is different. After finally ending that 190 race winless streak, Bowyer now has a newfound confidence in his team and his Crew Chief Mike Bugarewicz. Look for the Number 14 Haas-Automations Ford to head for victory lane.

(All stats and information used in this article is brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Refrence.com the best website for all NASCAR stats).

 

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

ESPN Houston 97.5 FM
Good news for Jose Altuve. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images.

One never knows how things will play out but of the known General Manager candidates, Jim Crane nailed it in hiring Dana Brown out of the Atlanta Braves' organization where he was Vice President of Scouting. The 55-year-old Brown's scouting and development pedigree is stellar. The Braves have been a talent-producing machine in recent years. Obviously all the credit isn't Brown's but his four years with the Braves preceded by a productive pipeline he was part of in Toronto speak highly of him. Not that it was or should have been the guiding principle to Crane's decision-making, but the Astros now have the only African-American General Manager in Major League Baseball (Ken Williams is Executive Vice President of the Chicago White Sox).

Brad Ausmus is a super-smart guy, but if had he gotten the GM gig it would have been in large part because he was teammate besties with Jeff Bagwell. While “It's not what you know it's who you know” plays a role in many, many hires, it would have been a poor rationale for tabbing Ausmus. Maybe Ausmus would have done a great job. Maybe Brown does a lousy job. Brown was the much more strongly credentialed candidate. While Bagwell has moved way up Crane's confidante list, Brown played college baseball with Craig Biggio at Seton Hall.

Speaking of Halls…

If I could tell you as absolute fact that exactly two members of the 2023 Houston Astros will someday make the Baseball Hall of Fame, who are you picking? Jose Altuve isn’t a lock just yet but he is obvious pick number one. So for the second spot are you going with Alex Bregman or Yordan Alvarez? We’ll get back to this a couple of paragraphs down.

As was basically a given, former Astro (and Phillie, Met, Red Sox, and Brave) Billy Wagner was not elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame this week, but as I suggested last week the voting returns were very favorable toward Wagner making the Hall next year, or if not next year in his final year of eligibility on the Baseball Writers Association ballot for the Class of 2025. “Wags” in the Class of ’24 is looking good. Wagner jumped from 51 percent to 68 percent “put him in” votes. The only guy this year to get the necessary 75 percent for election is worthy third baseman Scott Rolen. Two years ago Rolen got 53 percent of the votes needed, last year 63 percent, before getting the call to Cooperstown with 76.5 percent this year. Wagner going from 51 to 68 to 75-plus looks likely. Of course it’s not as if Wagner can pad his case with a good 2023 season, but this is how the process works. The other ballot returnee well positioned to make it next year is former Colorado first baseman Todd Helton. Unlike this year there’s a sure-fire first time ballot guy going in next year. Third baseman Adrian Beltre will undoubtedly wear a Texas Rangers cap on his plaque.

As expected Carlos Beltran didn’t come close to election in his first year of eligibility, but drawing 46 percent of the votes sets him up well to eventually get the Cooperstown call. Beltran was a fabulous player and his Hall credentials are solid. However, no one reasonable would argue that Carlos Beltran was as good or better than Barry Bonds. In his first year of eligibility back in 2013 Bonds garnered 36 percent of the vote. There has been some turnover in the voter pool over the last decade, but it's clear that Beltran’s central role in the Astros’ sign stealing scheme was not held against him to the extent that PED use (actual and/or suspected) was held against Bonds and Roger Clemens. And Alex Rodriguez. And Sammy Sosa. And Manny Ramirez. And others. Foremost right now that’s encouraging for Beltran, but it’s also encouraging down the line for fellow Astros of 2017-18.

What does this mean for Jose Altuve?

If Jose Altuve retired today (perish the thought!) he’d have a good case for the Hall. He had superstar seasons in 2016, 2017, and 2022, and has five other seasons that while not in the realm of his three best certainly rate as excellent. If you judge a player by his five best seasons, there aren’t 10 second basemen in the history of the sport who’d rank ahead of Altuve. Among those who clearly would: Joe Morgan, Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, and Nap Lajoie. Among those four only Morgan played more recently than 1937. Then there’s a group of arguable guys like Jackie Robinson, Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar, and yes Craig Biggio. Altuve has had the prime of a Hall of Famer. What sort of final numbers will he accrue? In late May or early June he should reach the 2000 hit plateau. How many more prime years does Altuve have left before inevitable decline? His career batting average is .307. Four years ago it was .316. Will Altuve retire a .300 hitter?

Bregman or Alvarez? Bregman gets extra points for being an everyday third baseman as opposed to a left fielder-designated hitter, but by age alone Yordan is the better play. Bregman turns 29 on opening day this year. Yordan doesn’t turn 26 until late June. When Bregman was 25 (2019 season) he put up a season more valuable than Alvarez’s tremendous 2022. In the three years since Bregman hasn’t approached that level, though his big second half last season could be a springboard back to that stratosphere. Yordan is in that stratosphere and figures to stay there for a while if his health holds up.

Can't get enough Astros coverage?

Stone Cold ‘Stros is the weekly Astro-centric podcast I am part of alongside Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. On our regular schedule it airs live at 3PM Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, is available there for playback at any point, and also becomes available in podcast form at outlets galore. Such as:

Apple Podcasts

AudioBoom

Google Podcasts

iHeart

RSS

Spotify

Stitcher

YouTube

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome