THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR heads for the high banks of Talladega

Start your engines! Photo by Getty Images.

Well the time has come, Talladega is here. This is possibly the most famous racetrack on NASCAR's schedule as it's high banks and three and four wide racing is must-see TV. This track is sure to bring many surprises as each driver tries to avoid the big one. It will be an all-out frenzy come Sunday that you won't want to miss.

Last week, Alex Bowman charged to the lead to claim his third career victory and first of 2021. In the closing stages, it looked like it was going to be a battle between Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano until a late race incident by Kevin Harvick put everyone back in it. The lead lap cars all elected to pit, and it looked like the race was going to fall into Hamlin's lap as he won the race off pit road gaining the lead from Logano but, on the restart seemingly from out of nowhere, Alex Bowman went to the inside and was able to make them both and never looked back. This win was huge considering it was the first victory for the #48 since 2017 at Dover. This had to have been a huge shot of confidence for this team considering how difficult these last four years have been for them. This comes as a passing of the torch for Bowman considering the insurmountable success of his predecessor. I look for him and this team to be a real contender this year with crew chief Greg Ives on the pit-board.

Our friends over at Rick Ware Racing are once again in the headlines this week. A couple of weeks ago it was announced that Jennifer Jo Cobb would be piloting the #15 Chevy Camaro for Talladega. This was a relatively big deal considering there hasn't been a woman in NASCAR since Danica Patrick made her one off start back in 2018 in the Daytona 500. The reactions were mixed but most were happy to see her finally get a chance in the Cup Series considering how much experience she has in the truck series. Everything appeared to be going as planned until NASCAR stepped in and barred her from the field. Many were left looking for answers, why would NASCAR do this? She seemed to have plenty of experience at Daytona and Talladega. In fact, she led a few laps here last fall in the truck series. When NASCAR officials gave their explanation, they stated that her results in the trucks are the primary reason why she isn't being allowed to race. Overall, I think this is kind of a ridiculous reason to deny her, I get it, the results have been underwhelming, but it's important to note how much smaller a budget her truck team has compared to everyone else. I hope at some point she gets a chance to make her debut in the Cup Series.

One of the feel good stories of 2021 has been the success of the JTG Racing Team with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Ryan Preece. Going into this season, the team appeared to be in a lot of turmoil. Both drivers were facing a lot of uncertainty regarding their future, Ryan Preece doesn't even have a charter to run all the races this year. In the face of all of this adversity this team has done nothing but push forward as Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has kept his car inside the top twenty in every race this year. For a lot of teams this would be underwhelming but for a team that struggled as much as they did last season, this has been a huge improvement. I wouldn't be surprised to see at least one of their cars in the playoffs this year and see both contend for a win this Sunday at Talladega.

The driver that I have winning this week is Denny Hamlin. While this might not be the exciting long-shot pick we are accustomed to hearing, Denny has been one of the best super-speedway racers in modern history. In his sixty-one starts, he has five victories at Daytona and Talladega including a controversial win last year in the fall. One of the big reasons he is so good here has been his ability to keep his car together the whole race and avoid the big one. If he and his JGR and Toyota teammates can all stay together, he should be very hard to beat once the green flag drops. Look for Hamlin to take the checkered flag come Sunday.

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Jeremy Pena could have some big shoes to fill. Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images.

MLB and the MLBPA are embroiled in yet another labor dispute. The owners and players have both dug in their heels and refuse to budge. No end is in site for the lockout as Spring Training is drawing more and more near each passing day. So what does that mean for our 2022 Astros' season?

One sigh of relief came when Justin Verlander signed his new deal. Two years for $50 million dollars isn't bad at all. Factor in he's closer to my age than my son (coming off Tommy John surgery), and some may worry. Not me. He's the closest thing to Tom Brady MLB has seen since Nolan Ryan. Jim Crane and James Click did a great job bringing him back. His spot as the ace with the rest of the staff they have should help shore up the bullpen if one or two starters can make that transition. I know I said I didn't want him back a few months ago, but time has passed, and wounds have been healed.

When it comes to Carlos Correa, I'm growing more and more comfortable with the thought that he may not be back. I talked about his potential replacement months ago. Maybe the reason being is that the club loves Jeremy Peña at that same position, and Pedro Leon could also factor in. Plus, Peña is tearing the cover off the ball in the winter leagues.

At 24 years old, turning 25 in September, he'll be under team control for the foreseeable future. That truly depends on the new labor agreement. So does Correa's new contract. His contract will be largely based on the parameters set in the new labor agreement, since he didn't sign before the lockout took place. And now we know that contact will be negotiated by Correa's new agent, Scott Boras.

I'm all for the doom and gloom when it comes to an MLB labor issue because they've historically screwed over fans. The most notable and egregious was the '94 World Series being canceled. However, there's way too much money at stake right now. More money than ever to be exact. That said, it's precisely why there's a dispute. That, and the fact that the owners have always gotten over on fans and players, and the players are poised to get their just due.

When the season starts, the Astros should be contenders yet again. Don't look for them to come out the gate firing on all cylinders as this team may look a bit different. Guys may not be fully ready after a lockout and there will be some roster turnover. The bulk of the core will be here, ready, and healthy. Whether Correa is a part of that group remains to be seen. Am I concerned? Hell no! This team has enough to fill that void at least partially and will have either guy under team control for a while. Think about this upcoming season as the time you fixed up your older car. New tires, headlights restored, rims polished, inside made over, and a fresh coat of paint after the transmission rebuild. It still has over 150,000 miles on it, but you wouldn't trade it in for anything because it still runs well and has sentimental value. You know one day it'll give out and need to be put out to pasture, but you're holding on and riding until the wheels fall off. Enjoy Astro fans, because the ride will be over one day. Hopefully much later than sooner.

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