The Left Turn

NASCAR Toyota Owners 400 preview

Kyle Busch won last week and will be favored again this week. Kylebusch.com

The NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for the Commonwealth of Virginia this week for the Toyota Owners 400. Last Monday, we saw Kyle Busch capture his second consecutive victory at Bristol Motor Speedway. During the final five laps, he moved Kyle Larson out of the way and never looked back to claim his seventh Bristol Victory.


While the race was able to begin on Sunday, It was delayed due to rain on lap two-hundred and three. When the action resumed, there were wrecks aplenty. In total there were 13 caution flags and three multi-car incidents involving at least three or more cars. Most notably the first caution was a nine-car pile-up featuring Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr.  It is safe to say that the old Bristol that NASCAR fans loved is now back in full force. This race had it all, Crashes, lead changes and lots of beating and banging.


The driver I predicted to win last week was Erik Jones. The sophomore driver struggled immensely. After a good start on Sunday, a tire failure would end his chances of victory. He would finish 26th. One thing he and his crew can take away is how well he was running before everything went wrong. Look for him to be a contender and eventually a race winner in the near-future.


One of the biggest surprises of last week was  Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Earlier in the race, Stenhouse was a pinball out there. He spun out on lap 62 and appeared to be in deep trouble, but on Monday, he looked like a completely different driver. He was able to bounce back and earn a fourth-place finish.


This Saturday, we head for Richmond Raceway. This track is a 0.75 mile oval with fourteen degree banked corners. It is a track that is wide enough for cars to run side-by-side and not get congested as we see on a lot of the other short tracks including Bristol or Martinsville.  Look for there to be a lot of lead changes and battles for position. Another factor that could play a significant role is the time of the race. Last year this race was run on Sunday afternoon as opposed to this year's Saturday night. While it may seem trivial, the time that a race takes place plays a significant role in the conditions of the track.  For example, during a day race, the track's surface is much hotter and slicker and more difficult to drive around. Look for this to be a difference on race day.


The favorite going into this week again is last week's winner Kyle Busch. After his win at Bristol, Busch goes to another one of his best tracks. Here he leads all active drivers in Average Finish with a 7.40 and in victories with four. Kyle is a solid pick to win at any race track, but Richmond is another one of his tracks where he especially thrives, in fact, he was able to win his first NASCAR Xfinity (then Busch Series) race here when he drove for Rick Hendrick. Look for the M&M's Camry to be a threat this weekend.


My pick to win this weekend is Denny Hamlin. Richmond is a track that Hamlin dominates. In 2008 he led over 380 laps before a tire failure cost him a shot at victory. While times have indeed changed since then, his results have not. Since 2016, Denny has the highest finishing average of 3.75! Look for the Fedex Camry to go to victory lane.

My sleeper pick is Ryan Newman. This has been a track that he has run well at in the past and  has seven top five finishes and 18 top 10 finishes. While it has not been the best start to the season for the “Rocketman,” last week’s top 10 finish at Bristol should be a catalyst for him to run well this weekend. While he is a longshot for victory, if the chips fall in the right places it would not surprise me to see the No. 31 Camaro take the checkered flag. It should be an interesting 400 laps come Saturday.

Overall Richmond has the potential for many things including short fenders and short tempers at the end of the race. We have seen it many times in the past and even as recently as three years ago when the recently retired Carl Edwards bumped his teammate Kyle Busch out of the way for the victory or last year when Denny Hamlin wrecked Martin Truex Jr out of a chance at victory in the fall race here. It should be a weekend filled with fantastic racing.  

(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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Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March. Photo via: NRG Park/Facebook

Football players, coaches and general managers have come and gone, but only one person has been running the business side of the Texans, well, even before they were the Texans. Jamey Rootes has been President of the Houston Texans since 1999, when an NFL team in Houston was still just a gleam in owner Bob McNair's eyes. That's before the team adopted the name "Texans" in 2000, before there was NRG Stadium, which opened as Reliant Stadium in 2000, and before they became serial champs of the AFC South, six titles between 2011-2019.

The precise date was Oct. 6, 1999 when NFL owners voted 29-0 to award the NFL's 32nd and newest franchise to Houston. Not only that, Houston was awarded the 2004 Super Bowl. Rootes, 34 years old with no NFL experience, had his work cut out for him. Before taking the job in Houston, Rootes was team president, general manager and CEO of selling peanuts and popcorn for the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer.

Major League Soccer, with all due respect, is not nearly a national obsession like the National Football League.

"I wasn't intimidated," Rootes said. "There's a quote that I love, 'Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.' I've always been a purpose-driven person. As for the step up to the NFL, I went from knowing nothing at the start of my time in Columbus to five years later thinking, OK, I've got this sports thing down. Actually, I had a very significant reduction in my responsibilities in Houston. When I was in Columbus, I ran the stadium, I ran the team's business, I was the general manager so I did the talent side of it, too. When I came to Houston, all I had to do was the business, so that was great."

Rootes has captured his remarkable journey from the soccer team at Clemson to grad school at Indiana University to the business world at IBM and Proctor & Gamble to the Clemson Crew, to ultimately being named President of the Houston Texans in his new book, The Winning Game Plan: A Proven Leadership Playbook for Continuous Business Success, available next week.

I've known Rootes from his day one with the Texans, but I still had to ask: everybody knows what the general manager does, and what the head coach does. What exactly does the President of an NFL team worth $3.3 billion do?

"I like to use the parallel of a pharmaceutical company to describe my job. There are two sides to that company. First you put scientists in one building and you leave them alone. They create products, which is what our football team is. The football side has a coach and general manager and all the people who prepare the team to play on Sunday. But getting that product to market is done by the business side, traditional business disciplines. Those are the things that fall to me. Basically, everything between the white lines is run by the football side. Everything outside of those lines, I do," Rootes said.

Between 1999 and 2002, when the Texans played their first game (let the record show the Texans defeated the Dallas Cowboy, 19-10), the team was essentially a massive start-up project. First orders of business for Rootes involved building a new stadium, developing relationships with suppliers, contractors and government officials, preparing for a Super Bowl and, most important, developing a relationship with fans.

Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March, but it's really an accumulation of lessons learned and behind-the-scenes stories about building the Texans from scratch into one of the most admired and valuable franchises in all of sports.

"I've always been a meticulous note-taker. I've kept every presentation I've ever done. I took all of my notes and concepts and put those down on paper," Rootes said. "To be a good leader, you need a wild imagination. You can show me a blank piece of paper, but I don't see it as blank. To me, it's a finished product that hasn't been created yet," Rootes said.

Rootes lays out his leadership strategy in seven chapters: Are You a Manager or a Leader, Get the Right People on Your Team, Build a Winning Culture, Create Raving Fans, a Winning Playbook for Adversity and Success, Your Leadership Playbook and Play to Win.

He learned lesson No. 1 the hard way. A friend once counseled Rootes, "your staff doesn't like the way you're all up in their business, you need to back off." Rootes took that advice to heart.

"It was an epiphany. I wasn't a leader. That's when I truly began thinking about leadership. I say this all the time, I don't do anything. All I do is create an environment where exceptional people can be their very best self. I know what's going on. I'm fully informed. I leave every game day exhausted. I get there early. I do the things I need to do. I kiss babies. I shake hands. I present checks. I entertain clients. I'm dialed in. It absolutely wears me out because I love this organization so much. I am so proud of what we've been able to do for this great city of Houston."

I asked Rootes, as someone who lives for Game Day and a packed NRG Stadium, are you devastated by 2020, the year of COVID-19 and small crowds limited by Centers for Disease Control guidelines?

"I don't look at it that way. I think there's a song by 10,000 Maniacs that said, these are the days that you'll remember. I told my staff, I know you're all going through hell right now, but later on in life, you'll talk about this year. Things that are important are memorable, for the positive and those things that leave a scar. You learn from adversity and you're a better person for enduring it. Victor Frankl said 'We can discover meaning in life in three different ways, by creating a work or doing a deed, experiencing something or encountering someone, and by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.' Suffering is part of life. He should know, he survived a Nazi concentration camp," Rootes said.

H-E-B President Scott McClelland wrote the forward to The Winning Game Plan. Rootes dedicates the book to late Texans owner Bob McNair. Rootes' book is a fun read. All I kept thinking was, where was this book when I needed it? And before you buy too much into Rootes as a leader, consider that Rootes admits that he had to ask for wife Melissa's permission before he could accept the Texans job.

Personal note: I believe that a big part of leadership is the ability to keep a promise. Several years ago, I was riding my bicycle with my dog Lilly on a leash. It was the only way I could keep up with her. Well, one time Lilly saw a squirrel and pulled me off my bicycle. I tumbled a few times and rolled next to the curb. When I looked up, there was Jamey Rootes. I told him, "There's no need for you to tell anybody about this." He never said a word.

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