NASCAR: The regular season concludes at Daytona

Photo via: Wiki Commons.

It's crunch time, it's the final race of the regular season and what better place to have it than at Daytona International Speedway. This is the first time we will see a NASCAR race at Daytona outside it's February and July dates. At first this move was met with much criticism from fans and media members including myself, but now with the implications we are seeing, the move has shifted more favorably among the NASCAR world. Everything is now on the line now and there is sure to be plenty of drama. I look forward to watching Saturday night.

Unlike this week, last week's doubleheader at Dover was fairly tame as the usual suspects Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick went on to win their 6th and 7th races of 2020. Both of these drivers continue to establish themselves as the two championship favorites as they led a combined 338 laps. During Harvick's win on Sunday he was able to clinch the regular season championship giving him fifteen extra points come the playoffs. These two drivers are almost assured that they will race for the title at Phoenix barring a major collapse. It will be fun to see how this battle rages on over the next eleven weeks.

The silly-season is in full effect as two major rumors came down this week. One of them involves Denny Hamlin. This one seems crazy but after talking to a few of the media members and a MBM Motorsports employee, I can confirm that there are some legs to it. The story is that Michael Jordan is interested in purchasing a stake in Richard Petty Motorsports and bringing Denny Hamlin along with him. They will form an alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing and potentially could bring Denny Hamlin along to drive the #23 Toyota Camry. The other major factor is Bubba Wallace and where he goes and with this arrangement, from what I heard, he would be staying in the #43 car.

Now while yes it is true that one Michael Jordan's reps denied the reports and stated that there was no truth to the rumor, it was also confirmed on the popular Door Bumper Clear podcast that Jordan was the celebrity that RPM owner Andrew Murstein had spoken to about an investment in the team. It makes sense that this podcast in particular would have this sort of information considering one of the hosts, Freddie Kraft, is Bubba Wallace's spotter. Personally I think this will be HUGE for the sport of NASCAR. Over the course of his life, MJ has always been a big racing fan seeing that he is from North Carolina. He is also no stranger to autoracing as he purchased an AMA Motorcycle racing team back in 2006. I look forward to seeing where this goes over the next few weeks.

The other big rumor involved the #48 car and who will be driving it next year. It would appear as a new leading candidate has emerged and it's Xfinity Series regular, Noah Gragson. On Wednesday, Gragson talked about signing some "very important paperwork" and then tweeted a pen alluding to a new deal that he was signing. This set the racing world a flame with speculation and 2021 paint schemes but on Thursday it was announced that Noah will return to the #9 Camaro for Jr Motorsports in the Cup Series. Overall, I think Gragson can be a good driver in NASCAR but another year in the Xfinity Series would do him good.

Speaking of the #48 car, the battle for the final spot in the playoffs continues between Jimmie Johnson and William Byron. After a third place finish on Sunday, Johnson is now a mere four points back from his teammate William Byron. This battle is interesting considering they are both on the same team, not to mention Byron's crew chief Chad Kanaus worked with Jimmie during all seven of his championships. It will be quite the battle as Johnson's Crew Chief Cliff Daniels told the media that working with Byron will be essential to the #48 team making the playoffs. There is a chance that both drivers can get in by one of them winning and the other driver getting the 16th spot, which is very likely considering Matt DiBenedtto is only 9 points above the cut-off line. It will be fun to see this going into Saturday's race. Anything can happen including the possibility of a surprise winner.

And speaking of a surprise winner. The driver I predict to take the checkered flag this week will come as a surprise to most, but I am taking Ricky Stenhouse Jr to win the Coke Zero Sugar 400. As we saw last time here, Stenhouse was well in position to make a run for the victory. He started on pole and was in the lead pack for most of the race but later into the race, Stenhouse crashed coming into pit lane costing him a chance at victory. He followed it up at the next restrictor plate track by finishing second in a photo finish with Ryan Blaney. The results are there and he can make it happen, he just needs to finish the battle. He won here at Daytona back in 2017. Even though he has shown a lot of success and promise on these types of racetracks, he has been under much controversy in his tactics on these types of tracks as he has caused a few incidents over the years. He has seemed to clean up his driving through and I look for him to continue to improve and take the victory come Saturday and punch his ticket to the playoffs.

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Brandin Cooks looks unstoppable.Composite image by Jack Brame.

The Houston Texans had a competitive practice that saw Davis Mills make some mistakes and immediately bounce back. Here are 11 observations.

1. Brandin Cooks can’t be covered. He only lost one rep today, his first one, and then he dominated the rest of the day. I don’t want to exaggerate when I say he had close to 10 touchdowns today. Cooks hauled in one play at the front of the end zone where Steven Nelson was all over him. As the two went to the ground, Cooks hauled in a catch and kept control for a score. Nobody can cover Cooks at Texans camp. Draft him on your fantasy team.

2. Davis Mills doesn’t rely solely on Cooks though. He spreads the ball around. Multiple players had nice catches from Mills today, including the tight ends and wideouts down the depth charts.

3. Davis Mills finally threw an interception. Two actually. Neither felt like his fault, but he threw them. He’s the quarterback. The first was a GREAT play by the defensive back. The second was a risky pass that was tipped by one linebacker and ended up in Blake Cashman’s hands.

4. There wasn’t much worse from Mills other than those two interceptions. He’s been praised for his poise and ability to bounce back and sure enough, he found the end zone plenty after those interceptions.

5. Derek Stingley intercepted Davis Mills for the first time. It was the first interception of camp for Mills and Stingley's first interception as well. It was an amazing play where Stingley almost knew the route and ran it before the wideout. He came down with the ball with ease. He continues to showcase why he was highly touted and highly drafted.

6. Wide receiver Chris Moore has made some nice plays. He is a factor to make the roster with the uncertainty in the wide receiver room. Moore hauled in a nice play in 1-on-1 work against Desmond King. Moore also had a huge grab during a less-than-two-minute drill.

7. Left tackle Laremy Tunsil is a joy to watch compete against the various pass rushers. My favorite reps are Tunsil against Jerry Hughes, although Jonathan Greenard is quickly climbing the ranks in giving Tunsil fits. The offensive and defensive linemen have mentioned multiple times how much they want to help each other grow.

8. Speaking of offensive linemen, Kenyon Green left practice and I didn’t see him return. This created an opportunity for Max Scharping to play some at guard next to Larmey Tunsil. Center Justin Britt and defensive end Mario Addison had veteran days off. Wideout Phillip Dorsett has yet to have a full practice.

9. Ross Blacklock had a phenomenal two-play series. Blacklock bullied an offensive lineman and blew up a run play. On the very next play, he did it again for another tackle for a loss. There is room for Ross Blacklock if he is playing that way.

10. Blake Cashman had two interceptions today. The linebacker acquired by the Texans via trade with the Jets has had a nice camp. He was brought up unprompted by Lovie Smith on Tuesday when talking about the linebackers on the team. Really, it feels like almost every linebacker has had some nice play at one point through five practices. Neville Hewitt once nicknamed “the tackling machine” forced a fumble earlier this week.

11. Another day, another tight end praise observation. This is a two-man room, but those two men are taking care of business! Brevin Jordan darted across the field in a 7-on-7 drill and wheeled up the sideline for a touchdown. In team drills, Pharaoh Brown took his turn impressing. He leaped and hauled in a Davis Mills pass, getting down for a score. The defense was furious the score was allowed, but Brown got down.

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