THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR heads to the Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend

Keep an eye on Denny Hamlin this Sunday. Photo via: Wiki Commons.

The NASCAR Cup Series heads for Atlanta Motor Speedway this week for the Quaker State 400. This will be the final race that NASCAR will run on this configuration before a massive repave and reconfiguration takes place after the race. This race will feature four-hundred miles of slipping and sliding and tire management. The surface for this racetrack is one of the roughest on the schedule, as it hasn't been repaved since 1997. More than likely, the driver who does the best at saving his tires will win the race. Much like we saw earlier here in the season, Lap traffic will also come into play as well. When Kyle Larson had a massive lead on Ryan Blaney, he approached the lapped car of Joey Logano who promptly held him up, allowing his teammate of Blaney to catch up and take the win. Look for that to be a point of contingency come Sunday.

Last week at Road America, Chase Elliott did what he does best and took his seventh career victory on a road course. This is his second victory of 2021. This was another excellent run as he continues to put down solid runs as we get closer to the playoffs. He will be one to watch to tack on more wins as there are four more road courses left this season.

The big story off the track this week have been the rumors about next year's new car and its safety record. The reaction to the crash testing has been mixed, as there have been some reports that the crash test dummies used in the simulations were fatally impacted. This is a very troubling sign for the sport as safety has been NASCAR's strongest attribute since 2001 when Dale Earnhardt was killed. It is important to note that these are rumors and have not been confirmed, but there has been a lot of smoke around these claims. Former Crew-Chief Steve Hmeil claimed on Twitter that the car was "too stiff" and there weren't enough crush zones around the car. And even though he hasn't been in the sport for a while he is certainly a reputable source. I have talked to a few people around the garage and the reaction that I have heard has been mixed. Some have been positive, some have been negative but overall on the bright side, the sectioning body has some time to figure out all the kinks. This will be quite the storyline to follow in the coming months.

A driver who continues to impress this season has been sophomore driver Tyler Reddick. He has been continuing to impress each and every week and continued this by winning stage two at Road America. The Richard Childress Racing team is going through a lot of turmoil right now and there are a lot of questions surrounding this team. If there is one thing this team has really perfected, it's been their ability to stay around the top fifteen for the whole race, as his average running position is 15.8. This team is getting closer and closer to that elusive first career win and is knocking on the door of a playoff berth. Look for Tyler Reddick to continue to improve each week as the season continues.

The driver that I have winning this week is Denny Hamlin. What a year it has been for this team. Overall, Hamlin's 8.4 average finish is the highest of anyone. He has done everything but win this season but that is going to change this week. Atlanta is a track that has treated him well, he has a victory here along with six top fives and four hundred and nineteen laps led, (second only to Kyle Larson among active drivers). He will greatly benefit from a third place starting spot as well, with how much this high downforce package makes it difficult to pass at these types of racetracks. If Hamlin can minimize his mistakes and put a whole race together, this will be the week he gets that elusive first win of 2021. Look for the #11 FedEx Toyota to go to victory lane on Sunday.

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We'll see if Watson is in pads on Tuesday. Photo courtesy of the Houston Texans.

The Houston Texans had their last practice before pads come on for the first time on Tuesday. There was plenty to see on Monday.

1. Deshaun Watson had his usual extremely light level of work. He did very little throwing to teammates, though he did throw to the tight ends in 1-on-1 drills.

2. Texans head coach David Culley said "nothing has changed" when asked if Deshaun Watson will be in pads Tuesday. Culley has maintained that answer for a couple of sessions now.

3. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor was back after missing Saturday with an excused personal day. Taylor has been the best quarterback in camp by a wide margin. Taylor makes better decisions with the football than other quarterbacks, but he does struggle on deeper passes. Taylor missed wildly on one deep ball and was a little wobbly on another.

4. Nobody in camp can cover wide receiver Brandin Cooks. This could be the easiest training camp of his life. He easily gets open in 1-on-1 situations.

5. Rookie wide receiver Nico Collins continues to flash his abilities in camp. Collins easily shook loose from defensive back John Reid and took the route vertical for an easy score. Collins later had a tough catch in traffic.

6. It's only been a few days, but the competition for inside wide receiver reps is tough. Former Bears wideout Anthony Miller has looked quick and nothing like the "draft bust" the Bears fans watched. Keke Coutee has rarely lost a rep, but Desmond King did win a few times over Coutee in the opening days of camp. Former Bengals wideout Alex Erickson finds himself constantly open. The cuts at wide receiver are already shaking out to be difficult.

7. Davis Mills bounced back in a sense that he couldn't be worse than he was on Saturday. The performance from Mills on Saturday was abysmal, but head coach David Culley said he liked how Mills responded today. With Tyrod Taylor back, there were fewer reps for Mills, but he had some impressive throws to go along with an off-target throw or two. Mills was far better than Jeff Driskel on Monday. Driskel tossed two interceptions right to defenders, including one that would've gone the wrong way for a score.

8. This linebacker group is interesting. With a new defensive scheme under Lovie Smith, the type of linebacker is very different from previous years. There was a clear emphasis on cover ability as these linebackers were added to the team.

9. Kamu Grugier-Hill and Kevin Pierre-Louis have both had some significant wins for the linebackers in coverage.

10. Rookie tight end Brevin Jordan looks the part physically, but he's had a rough few days, including a drop on Monday.

11. With the pads coming on Tuesday, it will be fun to watch the rebuilt defensive line clash with the many combinations of the offensive line. There will be no J.J. Watt who historically stirred up the team on day one of pads. Laremy Tunsil's cool confidence about the offensive line over the weekend leads me to believe they are a confident group, while there are spots to be won on the defensive side of the line.

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