NASCAR Cup Series at Pocono: M&M's Fan Appreciation 400 preview, picks

NASCAR Cup Series at Pocono: M&M's Fan Appreciation 400 preview, picks
Kyle Larson looks like a solid bet this week. Photo via: Wiki Commons.

The NASCAR Cup Series heads for the Pocono Mountains this week for the M&M’s Fan Appreciation 400. This track is the only one on the schedule that is shaped as a triangle, its long straightaways usually bring long green flag runs, so we will see a lot of strategies come into play similar to what we saw last season. It will be interesting to see what kind of tire wear we see with these brand-new cars at this 2-mile racetrack.

Last week, Christopher Bell claimed his second career victory and his first of 2022 at New Hampshire. In the closing laps, Chase Elliott and Kurt Busch were racing hard for the lead, and Bell was able to sneak past both of them and never look back. This had been a long time coming for the third-year driver, he had been rattling off a lot of quality runs up near the top 5. It seems like this team just gets better around the end of the summer, we saw it with Erik Jones and Tony Stewart. This team will be a threat in the playoffs if they continue to run this well.

After his win in New Hampshire, Christopher bell became the 14th different winner of the season, and now only two spots remain in the playoffs with five races remaining in the regular season. The drivers currently on the cut-line are Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. They are currently third and fifth in points. If there haven’t already been enough questions about the legitimacy of these playoffs and this format, I can’t imagine the debate that will take place if two drivers who are in the top five in points miss out on the playoffs. Would it be fair? Absolutely not, but at the end of the day, these drivers needed a win and, they have yet to get one. 2014 champion Kevin Harvick is the first car out of the playoffs and at this point, getting in on points is pretty much out of the question. His only option is to win a race. If he can’t, it’s over and there is a legitimate chance that Kevin Harvick will retire at season's end. It is sure to be a dramatic next month of August to decide the field on who will run for the championship at year's end. I don’t envy these drivers or crews that are fighting to get in.

It was announced on Tuesday that NASCAR will make its street racing debut in 2023 in Chicago. The track will be a 12-turn, two-mile track through the streets of downtown. This race will take place as we all expected it to on the July 4th weekend. There will be a lot of intrigue with this race as each corner will be 90 degrees, so we will more than likely see a lot of bumping and banging. This is truly a landmark moment for the sport and I look forward to seeing how this works out.

With the excitement of one move comes the heartbreak of a track losing its date. It was announced that this race will take the place of Road America. I was a little bit surprised at the move considering how many people showed up to watch the race. There were plenty of other options for NASCAR to make this work logistically. One idea was it could have been used for the All-Star race. Regardless, this is a huge blow for a lot of fans that live in the Elkhart Lake region of Wisconsin and my heart truly breaks for them as they don’t have many other races they can go to as the Milwaukee Mile remains in limbo. Let's hope that Road America finds success with another series like IMSA or IndyCar, and the great fans that they have keep showing up.

Drama building?

The Kyle Busch contract drama continues, but now things are looking a bit bleaker. "We’re in a bad place right now,” said David Wilson, Toyota Racing CEO about his contract situation. It appeared that they were making significant strides in their search for a sponsor and were close to coming to an agreement, but the deal fell through. The fact that Kyle Busch may not return to Joe Gibbs Racing next year is something a lot of NASCAR fans have had a hard time grasping. He’s easily been the greatest driver that Toyota has ever seen. He even scored the manufacturer's first win back in 2008 at Atlanta. It’s clear that Toyota and Joe Gibbs want him to stay, but they have a young driver in Ty Gibbs who is dominating in the Xfinity Series. The whole situation is similar to Tony Stewart back in 2008. While Gibbs wanted to keep him, Joey Logano was next in line and Tony had ownership plans. This will easily be the biggest storyline going forward into the next few months.

This week, though, the focus shifts to Pocono and the driver I have winning on Sunday is Kyle Larson. Ever since his win at Auto-Club, the defending champion has been up and down, but has yet to win a race this season. If you had told me at this point last year that he would only have one win on the whole year, I would have thought you were crazy, but here we are. By no means has this been a bad season for him, but there have been so many disappointments from losing his crew chief Cliff Daniels at Sonoma because of a loose wheel, to last week at New Hampshire when the handling went away, and he was regulated to a disappointing 14th place finish. This week he is going to a track where he’s shown a lot of speed, in fact, last season he was one corner away from winning here before blowing a tire. A win couldn’t come at a better time for Larson, look for the #5 Camaro to go to victory lane this Sunday.

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Are they the best duo in the league moving forward? Composite Getty Image.

In the post-Super Bowl analysis, one key observation was … if you want success in today’s NFL, before anything else, you need a great coach and a great quarterback.

Like the Kansas City Chiefs duo of coach Andy Reid and quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

“As long as those two are together, the Chiefs will be serious contenders for the Super Bowl.”

If Houston Texans fans weren’t already champing at the bit for the 2024 season to start, this should put them over the moon.

Great coach? Check! Rookie coach DeMeco Ryans brought respectability back to a doddering franchise with a wave of his hand. He took a team that had won 11 games over the past three seasons – combined – and pushed the Texans to a 10-7 regular season record, an AFC South title and a home playoff victory. No wonder he tied Cleveland Browns coach Kevin Stefanski for NFL Coach of the Year only to lose the crown based on one measly first-place vote edge to Stefanski. Texans fans were livid. Where’s the My Pillow guy when you need him?

Great quarterback? Check! Rookie C.J. Stroud set the NFL on fire last season, throwing 23 touchdowns and only five interceptions. His accuracy and touch had NFL experts scratching their heads – has there ever been a rookie quarterback to match Stroud’s talent?

Let’s say it’s true, the key to success is having a great coach and great quarterback. The Texans would be a safe investment for the future.

Right now, the NFL is all about the Kansas City Chiefs. Coach Andy Reid is 65 and quarterback Mahomes is 28. They ain’t going anywhere for the next few seasons.

But not far behind in the coach-quarterback theorem are the Texans. DeMeco Ryans is 39 years old. C.J. Stroud is 22.

If you had to rate coach-quarterback combos, who are you taking for the next 10 years? Give me Ryans and Stroud. The Texans future is bright and young. You can’t even say, just wait for them to develop. The Texans are already there. Just wait till next season.

Back on Earth: I’m not comparing Stroud and Mahomes as players. Mahomes is the best, most talented quarterback I’ve ever seen. But it’s fair to compare their statistics from 2023 – and looking at raw numbers, Stroud stands toe-to-toe with Mahomes and had a better year in certain columns, like touchdowns vs. interceptions. Mahomes threw 27 touchdowns and 14 interceptions last season.

Of course statistics are funny numbers. After the Chiefs victory over the 49ers, the networks were comparing Mahomes’ Super Bowl performances against the all-time greats.

It’s a fruitless challenge – comparing Mahomes to, say Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw is not oranges to oranges. The game has changed drastically since Bradshaw was throwing ropes to superstar receivers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth, both of whom are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Bradshaw went 4-0 in Super Bowls. His stats must be elite, right? Not exactly. For his career, which included an MVP season and multiple Pro Bowl selections, Bradshaw completed a paltry 51.9 percent of his passes, a stat that would put him well at the bottom of the barrel in today’s NFL. Even more surprising, he threw 212 touchdowns and 210 interceptions – a ratio that would bench a modern quarterback.

The great Joe Namath? He’s in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, too. Broadway Joe barely completed half of his passes, a career mark of 50.1 percent. He threw 173 touchdowns and a staggering 220 interceptions. Both numbers would have today’s fans screaming to put in the backup quarterback.

Like Jets fans hooted their quarterback Zach Wilson this year? Wilson was dead last, the lowest-rated quarterback in the entire NFL this season. Here’s how horrible Wilson was – he completed 60.1 percent of his passes in 2023, a significant improvement over Hall of Famers Bradshaw and Namath.

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