The Left Turn

NASCAR Watkins Glen preview

Kyle Busch won again. Kylebusch.com

NASCAR turns right and left this week as they head for Watkins Glen International raceway  for their second of three road course races in 2018. Located in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York, this track is easily one of the most difficult on the schedule. It is 2.45 miles in length and has eleven corners making it the longest road course in NASCAR. The toughest corner on the track is the chicane in turn five. In 1992, this was added to the track due to the major crashes including the late J.D. McDuffie who died a year earlier in this corner. This Corner is also difficult due to the high rate of speed the drivers are carrying from the straightaways exiting corners two,three and four. Due to how fast they are going, it is easy to miss the corner and possibly crash.

This track arguably has provided one of the greatest finishes in NASCAR history back in 2012, when former driver Marcos Ambrose fought off future champion Brad Keselowski in possibly the greatest last lap battle of all time. Ever since then this track has been one of the most anticipated races of the whole season so look for a great race come Sunday.

Last week it was much of the same as we have seen all season as Kyle Busch was able to take his sixth checkered flag of the year. His Joe Gibbs racing teammates Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones gave him a big challenge in the closing laps but the M&M’s Camry was too quick for them to really do anything.

In spite of the fact that they were not able to win, this was an excellent result for NASCAR’s next generation, as sophomore driver Suarez got his career best finish of second, Alex Bowman finished third, Jones fifth and William Byron was able to claim his second top 10 of his career as he finished sixth. Sure at the end of the day, the experienced veteran in Kyle Busch won the race but this race could very well be a shifting of the tide for the sport. Look for any one of the drivers mentioned above to be a force to be reckoned with in the not to distant future.

As I covered last week, Ryan Newman seems to be getting back on the right track. Last week he was able to back up his sixth place finish at New Hampshire with an impressive eighth place finish at Pocono. All throughout the day, Newman laid in the weeds and wasn’t really in contention but in the closing stages, he and his crew used pit road strategy by only taking two tires and gaining more track position. His tires were able to hold up and he scored his sixth top 10 of the season. Currently, the rocketman is 34 points out of the playoffs but if there is anyone who can get in by points it’s Ryan Newman. This was a guy who nearly won the championship in 2014 without winning a race due to the sheer number of top 10 finishes he had all season. Look for Newman to be exciting going into the final weeks of the regular season

The favorite to win this week is who else? But defending champion himself Martin Truex Jr. He comes to this track as the defender after he held off Matt Kenseth for his then fourth win of the 2017 season. This week, he looks to settle the score amongst his rivals in “the big three” after Kevin Harvick won two weeks ago at New Hampshire and Kyle Busch won last week at Pocono. He goes to a track where he has run extremely well at over his last three starts in fact, he has the third highest average finish amongst all active drivers here since 2016. It truly would surprise no one if Truex is able to repeat come sunday, he surely will be the car to beat come sunday.

My prediction to win this weekend is sort of a wild card but, I am going with Suarez. This season has been an uphill battle for the 2015 Xfinity series champion but I think he is in the best position to get his first career win here. Last year, Suarez won the second stage of the race and then brought home his Stanley Tools Camry in third, his career best finish at that point. Suarez at that time was on the same strategy as his former teammate Matt Kenseth and was catching race leader Martin Truex Jr., who didn’t look to have enough fuel. Unfortunately for him, he was much too far back to really do anything with the front two cars. This year, Suarez has a whole year of experience under his belt and is improving each and every week and I think Sunday he breaks through. Look for Suarez to drive the No. 19 Stanley Tools Toyota all the way to winners circle and clinch a spot in the playoffs.

 

(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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The Astros need to beat up on the lowly Rangers. Composite image by Jack Brame.

Collectively so far this season the Astros would not make for very good garbage men. Meaning they haven't been so good at taking out the trash. Swept in a series at Detroit when the Tigers were terrible, swept at Minute Maid Park by the sorry Orioles, swept in an early season series at the Rangers. Presently the Rangers are an atrocity. A nine game losing streak has them 35-62, buried deeply in last place in the American League West, 23 games behind the Astros. So the Astros need to whip up on them in this weekend's three game set, before the Astros head west for a three city road trip with stops in Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

15. The number of home runs Jose Altuve has hit over his last 37 games. Multiply by four and that's a 60 homers in 148 games pace. Over those 37 games, Altuve is batting just .242. But slugging .577.

.029. Carlos Correa's batting average dating back 10 games played. One hit in his last 34 at bats. 14 strikeouts and just one walk over the stretch. That is what you call a funk. Certainly not a way to curry 300 million dollar contract offers.

The Rangers have just two 100 loss seasons in their history, their first two seasons after becoming the Rangers upon moving from Washington D.C. In 1972 the Ted Williams managed squad went 62-100, Ted quit, and the next year the Rangers finished 57-105. If the Astros sweep them this weekend, the Rangers will be on pace to lose 105 games.

It will be a decade ago this October that the Rangers came as close to winning a World Series as any team has ever come without winning the Series. In 2011 the Rangers carried a three games to two lead into game six at St. Louis. The Rangers led game six 7-5 with two on, two out, and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth. The Cardinals' David Freese drilled a ball toward the base of the right field wall. Rangers' right fielder Nelson Cruz didn't make an error but didn't play the ball well, going back awkwardly and reaching out at the last second as if afraid of the wall. It went for a two run triple to tie the game. Two innings later Freese hit a game winning homer to force game seven.

The inning before that the Rangers again came within one strike of winning it all. A Josh Hamilton two run homer had the Rangers up 9-7 going to the bottom of the 10th. The Cards got within 9-8. With the tying run on second and two out, Rangers' Manager Ron Washington opted to intentionally walk Albert Pujols. Albert was still a tremendous player in 2011 (his last with the Redbirds), but he was not better than Lance Berkman that season, definitely not against right-handed pitching. Walking Pujols brought up Berkman to face right-hander Scott Feldman (a matchup of former Astro and future Astro). Berkman lined a two-two pitch to center field tying the game 9-9, ahead of Freese's 11th inning walk-off homer. One of the most incredible games in World Series history.

NCAA

Quite the story hitting that Texas and Oklahoma may be plotting to bolt the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference. That neither UT, OU, nor the SEC denied it has smoke billowing. The Sooners have won the last six Big 12 football championships. The Longhorns last won in 2009. Oklahoma St., Kansas St., Baylor, TCU, all have more recently won at least a share of the conference title. An SEC UT could be looking at being in a division with Oklahoma, Alabama, LSU, and Texas A&M. UT marketing folks should be exploring a huge sponsorship deal with 7-Eleven. You know, Big Gulp. But as usual, follow the money.

The week ahead…

Wednesday: The Texans open training camp! Wait. Delete the exclamation point. Whither Deshaun Watson?

Thursday: The NBA Draft. Unless the Rockets pull off a thunderbolt of a trade to move up to number one and select Cade Cunningham, the winds of opinion are blowing in the direction of the Rockets taking wing Jalen Green second overall pick. That would be fine. Green is generally considered the most potential-laden explosive scorer on the board. The Rockets can use just about everything, a premium wing scorer would be excellent.

Friday: The MLB trade deadline. Does James Click bolster the Astros' shaky bullpen. The Astros have also been linked to Marlins' center fielder Starling Marte. Growing from his wretched start Myles Straw has been plenty acceptable. Free agent-to-be Marte would be a notable upgrade.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. First big beat the deadline win goes to the Rays. 41-year-old designated hitter Nelson Cruz still mashes. Simple frame of reference: he's been notably better than Yordan Alvarez this year.

2. The delayed by a year 2020 Summer Olympics are underway. Any interest at all?

3. Baseball's greatest Cruzes: Bronze-Jose Jr. Silver-Nelson Gold-Jose Sr.

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