STP 500 preview: NASCAR returns to Martinsville

Chase Elliot (top car) will finally break through this week. Jerry Markland/Getty Images

The NASCAR Monster Energy cup series heads to the Martinsville Speedway -- AKA "the paper clip" -- in Ridgeway, Virgina for the STP 500. As most fans know this track is the smallest on the schedule. Martinsville is an 0.526-mile short track that is indeed shaped like a paperclip. The corners are narrow, and the straightaways like drag strips.

Due to the corners being the way that they are this track is HELL on brakes. While the cars don't go all that fast, knowing when to brake is essential and it takes a lot of skill to master this track. Martinsville is one of the most popular race tracks in the country because of all the beating and the banging we see every year not to mention it is in the heart of NASCAR country.

 Even in the sport's "decline," loyal NASCAR fans continue to flock to this little old short track in Virgina. If there is one track that is the most like your local race track it is this one. It doesn't even have a victory lane. The winner instead parks right under the start/ finish line where he is met by his pit-crew, a moving stage with all the sponsor banners on it and arguably the most unique trophy in all of NASCAR, a longcase clock made nearby.

While there is a lot of hype surrounding the race, it is important to note that there is a chance that there will be snow in forecast. You read that right folks, according to AccuWeather there is a 37 percent chance of the track getting less than two inches and a 20 percent chance of getting 4-6 inches of snow for Saturday's Camping World Truck race and the main event on Sunday. On the bright side all the precipitation appears to be earlier in the morning and should clear up around the afternoon when the race begins.

Last year, this race was won by Brad Keselowski, although he was not the most dominant car; that was his nemesis Kyle Busch, who led a race high 274 laps until Keselowski finally got around him with 43 laps to go and never looked back in route to his second win of the 2017 season. This year I think that it will be a little bit different, and while  Keselowski will be a contender, I think it's his teammate Joey Logano that fans should watch.

Martinsville has not been kind to Logano in the past, the most notable example being the infamous 2015 Goody's Headache Relief 500 when he was on path to victory and to getting into the championship four until Matt Kenseth turned him into the turn one wall. Luckily for Logano, Kenseth is retired so he won't have to worry about that anymore, not to mention he has run well here. Yes, he struggled last year in the second Martinsville race, but he is usually a contender in the first race last year he finished fourth. Look for Logano to be a serious threat to take the checkered flag this Sunday. 

Another driver to look out for is obviously the favorite Kyle Busch. He has easily been a step ahead of everyone else here with an average finish of 2.25 here in the last four races and has led over 40 percent of all laps run here. While he has dominated here as of late, I think this weekend is different.

Earlier this year on my season preview write-up, I stated that Chase Elliott has unfinished business at this track. Last year Elliott was two laps away from winning when he was pushed aside by NASCAR's newest villain, Denny Hamlin. It cost him not only his first win but a chance to race for a championship. I know that many times, NASCAR writers such as myself have predicted that "this is the week Chase Elliott finally breaks through and wins" and it is becoming a bit frustrating for some fans but this is the week that Chase Elliott finally breaks through and wins. With all that he has been through at this track, I predict that he finally gets his first win at the track where he made his NASCAR debut in 2015.

(All stats and information used in this article is brought to you by the good folks at and the best website for all NASCAR stats)

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Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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