THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR: Super Start Batteries 400 preview and picks

Photo via: Wiki Commons.

The NASCAR Cup Series heads to the heartland for the Super Start Batteries 400 at Kansas Speedway. This race will be run on Thursday as NASCAR continues their mid to late-week races. This week, they will be running the first race that I can remember on a Thursday. It will definitely be interesting as NASCAR will lead off the weekend of racing with the Truck and Xfinity Series following them on Friday and Saturday.

Also, for the first time in series history there will be a two-day doubleheader for the truck series on Friday and Saturday. Personally, I really like this idea by NASCAR. It gives the teams a full week to get to go back to the shop and prepare for the Daytona Road Course coming up. It will be fun to get to watch a race on a Thursday. While Kansas Motor Speedway may look like any average mile and a half-track, this track has really benefited from this high downforce low horsepower package and there has been some very good racing here since 2018 as the last two races have been decided in the final laps. I look forward to this week's race.

Last week, at Texas Motor Speedway we saw a bit of an upset as Austin Dillon and crew chief Justin Alexander implored a two-tire strategy to take the lead with 22 laps to go. And after numerous cautions, he never looked back en route to his third career victory. In back-to-back weeks now, we have seen two winners we didn't expect to see, last week it was Cole Custer and this week it was Austin Dillon. While we have seen a dominant effort from both Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick, it has been great to see some of these guys get victories and good results and I look for it to continue the rest of the season.

While Austin Dillon went to victory lane, he shared some of the spotlight with his rookie teammate Tyler Reddick who came home second. This is a career best for the rookie as he continues to be one of the more pleasant storylines of 2020. The California native now has 6 top tens and two top fives including another impressive fourth place finish at Homestead earlier in the year. He has continued to improve week in and week out and is getting closer and closer to a victory here in the near future. Look for Reddick to win a race before the year is out.

While it was a great race for one rookie, it was a much different story for one of the other rookies, Quin Houff. In the late stages of the race, Houff decided he was going to pit but the only problem was he missed pit-road entrance by about a football field. Thinking he can make it, he still peeled to the bottom of the track and collided with Chrisotpher Bell and Matt DiBenedetto and then hit the wall hard in turn four. This not only ruined DiBenedtto's race but it put Ryan Blaney back in traffic after making a pit-stop that ultimately cost him the win. After the race, Brad Keselowski came up with a solid idea by suggesting that drivers should be demoted and promoted from the Truck and Xfinity Series to the Cup Series should they perform well enough. Overall, I really like this idea and think it can prevent rushing some of these drivers up too soon.

Another major story in the headlines this week is the omission of practice and qualifying for the remainder of the season. I have a major issue with this and while I understand why they want to keep as few people at the track as possible, it is really affecting the racing. It will also put these drivers in a bind as well as they don't have the extra time to work out some of the minor issues with their car. For example, last week at Texas Aric Almirola had some break issues before the race began that could very well have been resolved should they have had a practice session to bleed the air out of the breaks. It will also be a detriment when the drivers go to a new track like the Daytona Road Course. This configuration has never been raced before in the Cup Series and could leave them unprepared for the race. I hope NASCAR can come up with a compromise here soon.

The driver I have winning this week is Ryan Blaney. This has been a career year for Blaney as he currently sits second in points and has nine top fives this year with a win at Talladega. All season he has shown more speed than anyone but for some reason, it hasn't translated to another victory. I think that will change this week. While his average finish here hasn't been great, he has come out and led a lot of laps and put himself in a great spot to win, but something comes up and ruins his day. This week he will finally be able to put a race together and take his #12 Mustang to victory lane.

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The power struggle continues. Photo by Getty Images.

Boy, with the recent blizzard of negative publicity – searing magazine cover stories with headlines blasting "Houston Has a Problem" and "The Chaplain Who Won a Power Struggle and Plunged a Franchise into Chaos" – I'll bet the Houston Texans wished they had a seasoned, respected and award-winning media director to handle damage control.

Oh yeah, that's exactly what they had in Amy Palcic, but she was fired last year. Reason: she "wasn't the right culture fit."

What exactly is the Houston Texans culture these days? Apparently the culture is players disliking and distrusting the team executive specifically charged with managing the team's culture. It's that same executive whose resume has more fudging than the Keebler Cookie Company. It's that executive who's accused of authorizing illegal practices and hiring private eyes to follow players in their private activities. It's that executive who's accused of intimidating employees who trash him to the media and threatening to sue media outlets. It's that executive who imposes his religious fervor on lower-ranked employees. It's that executive who has created a culture where gifted quarterback Deshaun Watson is said to want a trade out of Houston.

That executive is Jack Easterby - the backstabbing, butt-smooching BS'er who seems to have a Svengali hold on Texans chairman Cal McNair.

If it comes down to one stays and one has to go between Watson and Easterby … hmmm, let's see. Deshaun Watson threw for 4,823 yards and 33 touchdowns last season. Jack Easterby, zero and zero.

Last week, Texans legend Andre Johnson, who usually speaks up less than the magician Teller, tweeted: "Since Jack Easterby walk into the building nothing good has happened. For some reason someone can't seem to see what's going on. Pathetic!!!"

That "someone" would be Texans chairman Cal McNair, who continues to support Easterby despite all the accusations and revelations hurled Easterby's way.

By the way, Easterby has not sued any media outlet that is publishing stories about his bullying and sneakiness. And he won't sue because that last thing he wants is to be put in a witness chair and swear to tell the truth.

In the past 12 months, with Easterby sticking his nose in McNair's ear, the Texans have managed to alienate and infuriate superstar Watson: trade All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins and create a losing, uninspired clubhouse that has favorite son J.J. Watt wanting a trade to leave his beloved Houston.

It's not like Easterby is some mad genius who somehow produces spectacular results despite his unorthodox tactics. The Texans finished 2020 with a disastrous 4-12 record, with little to show for it, not even a top draft pick to honor their futility. The Texans are clearly in need of divine intervention, and not from huckster Easterby, whose degree is in sports management from Newberry College. Easterby is only dimples and wavy hair short of being a TV preacher.

You can't deny that Easterby is inspiration. He recently inspired a public protest on the sidewalk outside NRG Stadium and signs swaying over Southwest Freeway with the same message: #FireJackEasterby. Watson asked his supporters not to attend the rally due to COVID precaution.

Then there's the case of Deshaun Watson v. Cal McNair.

Watson was born into an economically disadvantaged family and has worked for, and deserves, every penny he is paid. He is a champion.

Cal McNair found the Houston Texans under his Christmas tree in 2018 after his father Texans original owner Bob McNair died.

Watson is an extremely bright and sensitive man who is deeply involved in social issues off the field. Last year, during the summer of racial upheaval in America, he led the charge to have the name of a former slave owner removed from a building on his alma mater Clemson's campus.

McNair hardly ever speaks in public and his stumbling, confused performance at a press conference to announce the hire of general manager Nick Caserio showed why. It's rare when a team owner has to apologize after making what should have been a happy statement promising fans a better future. However, if a stage production of the Beverly Hillbillies ever goes to Broadway, we've got our Jethro.

Many times when a player gets into a public spat with a team owner, it's a dumb jock player vs. the super-smart businessman who owns a billion-dollar company. It's usually over money. And the public typically thinks, "just get rid of the ungrateful, overpaid and greedy player."

Not this time. Watson already got his – four years at $156 million. This is a war of morality. Watson is the hero here, McNair the fool being played by Easterby, who like Cassius is Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar, "has a lean and hungry look."

If it came to a public vote between Watson and McNair (Easterby), Watson's landslide win would rival Kim Jong-Un in North Korea … or LeAnn Rimes on The Masked Singer.

It's unfair to call McNair and Easterby polarizing figures because polarizing implies that there are two sides to the issue.

There is only one side. Houston loves Deshaun Watson and wants McNair to sell the team, right after he fires Easterby.

Seemingly the only defender rushing to Easterby's side is a Twitter account allegedly owned by Easterby under a fake name. If it is a burner account, Easterby has a whole lot of faith in himself.

Although football insiders say that Watson is all but out the door at NRG Stadium, there is still a chance that McNair could save the day, and do what is needed to keep Watson in Texans' gear. And that would be to fire Easterby. Now.

Sadly, given McNair's repeated pledges of loyalty to Easterby and insistence that criticism of Easterby is unwarranted, Watson's leaving Houston gets more likely each day. Andre Johnson had it right … "pathetic!!!"

Three exclamation points.

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