Race Rundown

The NASCAR report: Ticket Guardian 500 preview

Alex Bowman has a good shot to get his first career win on Sunday. Alex Bowman/Facebook

This Sunday, the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads to Valley of the Sun in Avondale Arizona for the Ticket Guardian 500 at the newly renamed ISM Raceway. In the past two weeks, it has been all Kevin Harvick. Not only has he won the previous two races, but he has utterly dominated the competition. Overall, Harvick has led 395 laps while the rest of the field has led 404 laps! Not only is he the best driver in NASCAR right now but this week he goes to his best track. Over his thirty starts there he has won eight times, no driver in history has more wins or laps led than Kevin Harvick. It makes sense why he is so hard to beat there seeing how this track has many of the same characteristics as the old NASCAR Winston West Series and Truck Series.

While ISM is not the same type of track as the late Mesa Marin or Irwindale, the track has narrow corners and lower banking that you would see at a short track. In the Back straightway, there is a “Dogleg” that causes most drivers to dip below the yellow line and try to make a pass in the third corner, sometimes it works, most times it doesn’t. The track will also play host to lots of side-by-side racing. Two years ago Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards finished nose-to-nose in one of the most memorable finishes in NASCAR history. Look for there to be close racing this Sunday.

Here are my predictions, the obvious choice this week would be the 9/4 favorite and the man I mentioned earlier in the article, Kevin Harvick. Winning three out of the first four races of the season is almost unheard-of. The only times I can remember where someone even got close to doing this was David Person in 1976, Jeff Gordon in 1997 and Matt Kenseth in 2009. These drivers won the first two races of the season while Harvick won the second and third. But to start the season 3-1 would be uncharted waters in the sport, and if anyone can do it, I believe that Harvick has the best chance to. While he is the heavy favorite, I believe this week’s winner will be Alex Bowman. That's right, the Phoenix native will get his first career win at his home track.

While he isn’t the favorite for many, most have forgotten how close he came to victory here in 2016, but I haven’t. Bowman led a race-high, 194 laps and was two laps away from the finish when a crash involving him and Matt Kenseth ruined his chances and dropped him to sixth giving the victory to Joey Logano. Bowman comes into this race at 40/1 odds, but if there is any sleeper that can come out and surprise us, it would be him. This race has produced some memorable finishes in the past and hopefully, this week is no different.

(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).

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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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