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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There's nothing left to do, but wait. Composite image by Jack Brame.

For the first time in nearly a quarter-century, Major League Baseball has entered into a lockout in which team officials and players cannot communicate with each other until both sides are “satisfied” and have come to an agreement on labor negotiations.

Before December 1st, MLB free agents were being signed left and right with teams like the Rangers spending over half a billion dollars on players that include Kole Calhoun, Jon Grey, Marcus Semien and Corey Seager.

Other teams that opened their wallets this offseason were the Mariners, Mets and Tigers.

Baseball free agency came to a screeching halt once the December 1st MLB CBA ended. As of right now, players can't sign with any team until the lockout has concluded.

Now that Major League Baseball has entered this work stoppage, the question on everyone’s mind is what does this mean for the sport going forward?

The short answer is no one knows. This process will take some time and most owners have a wait and see approach in regard to this stoppage. Labor negations can be a long, meticulous process that could drag out for weeks, if not months.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred seemed optimistic that a deal should get done between both the owners and the MLB Player’s Association sometime before the 2022 regular season starts.

"We believe that an offseason lockout is the best mechanism to protect the 2022 season," Manfred wrote in a letter to fans. "We hope that the lockout will jumpstart the negotiations and get us to an agreement that will allow the season to start on time. This defensive lockout was necessary because the players' association’s vision for Major League Baseball would threaten the ability of most teams to be competitive."

That being said, it may be some time before any deal is made between either side, thus leaving certain free agents in a temporary limbo like Carlos Correa.

The 27-year-old shortstop looked to be the most coveted player available this offseason and would earn a major payday. Just like his fellow shortstops, Correa was looking to earn a deal similar to that of Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr. and the Francisco Lindor. All of whom signed deals or extension’s of at least 10-year $300 million dollars or higher.

The aforementioned Seager signed a 10-year deal worth $325 million with the Texas Rangers two days before the current CBA ended. Correa was looking to earn a deal similar to this, and the Rangers were one of the team’s that looked to obtain the All-Star shortstop.

Another club that had been linked to Correa was the Tigers, but they just signed free agent short stop Javier Baez to a six-year $140 million contract.

With both Texas and Detroit out of the Correa sweepstakes presumably, where would the 27-year-old land?

We won’t know for some time due to the ongoing lockout negotiations, but as soon as there’s an agreement, Correa will sign somewhere and get his money.

According to Bleacher Report, the Gold Glove winning shortstop has drawn interest from the Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers.

All of these clubs are big market teams who are not afraid to spend large sums of money in free agency.

As much as Astros fans would hate to see their beloved shortstop don Yankee pinstripes or wear Dodgers Blue, it seems to be more of a reality Correa won’t be wearing an Astros uniform next season.

Is it possible for Houston to keep Carlos Correa?

Sure, if James Click and the Astros’ front office do something they have never done before and give him an extension of more than $300 million.

The largest contract Houston has ever given out was a 5-year $151 million extension to Jose Altuve.

If they wish to keep Correa, the Astros would have to give him at least a deal similar to what Seager just received in Texas, therefore doubling their largest contract ever given out.

It is not out of the realm of possibilities to believe Houston could accomplish this feat, but it seems unlikely.

A lockout might prolong Correa’s free agency, but once clubs are able to sign again, the All-Star shortstop could sign quicker than we think.

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