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Alsco Uniforms 500: More NASCAR midweek racing coming your way

Alsco Uniforms 500: More NASCAR midweek racing coming your way
Image via: Wiki Commons

The NASCAR Cup Series returns to Charlotte Motor Speedway once again for the Alsco Uniforms 500. This will be the second midweek race of this young 2020 season as the Cup Series continues to roll on. This race will be much different from what we saw on Sunday as it's a much shorter race, so the urgency will be ramped up as they return to their normal three stage format. While at first it has been a bit of an adjustment to see Cup Racing on Wednesdays, this has so far been a home run for NASCAR as viewership among non-race fans continues to grow exponentially.

In the Coke 600, it appeared as if team Hendrick was on their way to another victory as Chase Elliott was driving away in the closing stages, but with two laps to go his teammate William Byron cut down a tire and spun forcing a green white checkered. In a questionable decision, Elliott's Crew-Chief Alan Gustafson decided to bring his driver down pit-road to get tires that left him marred back in traffic and handed the victory to Brad Keselowski. While he did recover to finish in second, this was easily a race he could have won. According to Chase, the caution left the #9 team in a no win situation. If they didn't decide to pit then everyone behind them would have, and if they did, the rest of the field would have stayed out.

Even if I can understand the logic behind it, staying out would have given him the best chance to win considering he had the clean air and only needed to fend off the traffic for two laps. While this one will definitely sting for Chase and his crew, it is a welcome sight to see how well they ran before the unfortunate circumstances. While Chase might have been disappointed, his teammate Jimmie Johnson's night was much worse. Originally, Johnson finished second but after post-race inspection it was determined that the 7-time champion had a rear-end realignment failure. As a result he was disqualified and finished 40th. This is only the second time in NASCAR Cup Series history that a race result has been taken away. Last season, Erik Jones was disqualified at Richmond. It will be a quick turnaround for the team as they look to get back on track on Wednesday.

While Hendrick was licking their wounds, team Penske was celebrating after their driver Brad Keselowski went on to claim his thirty-first career victory. Even though his teammate Joey Logano struggled a bit, both Brad and Ryan Blaney were able to get good results as Blaney was able to rebound for a third-place finish after struggling all throughout the night. While the win for Brad might have come under unusual circumstances, he showed that he was a threat to win as he led twenty-one laps earlier in the race. As we all know, there is much speculation as to where Brad is going to go next season, will he return to the #2 car or will he jump ship and move on to Hendrick motorsports? With this victory, I believe that this could very well restore his confidence back in his team and bring him back. Only time will tell as the 2020 season continues on.

In the pre-season there was a lot of hype and intrigue surrounding this year's rookie class. Drivers Tyler Reddick, Cole Custer and Christopher Bell were highly regarded as the three names that will mold the future of the sport and this week they were all very impressive. Norman Oklahoma native Christopher Bell was able to claim his best finish of 9th after rebounding from a spin earlier in the race. His rival Tyler Reddick was also equally fast as he finished one spot higher in 9th. Both drivers have put together two really great showings as last week at Darlington, Bell was able to finish 11th with Reddick finishing 13th respectably. This year, I believe both drivers are dark-horse candidates to win a race or make the playoffs at least on points.

The third driver of this trio, Cole Custer was able to get a good showing as well as he finished 12th in his Stewart-Haas Mustang. With the equipment he has, everyone has been waiting for the other shoe to drop for him but it just seemed like they couldn't get the results to go their way. I look for him to continue to improve and score more points as he tries to make the playoffs. Last but not least, John-Hunter Nemechek continues to exceed everyone's expectations as he went on to finish in 16th position. After a disappointing performance during the mid-week Darlington race, the second generation driver was able to rebound with another solid top-twenty finish. This young man continues to prove why he is a name to look out for in the future should there be a ride that opens up. This rookie battle will certainly be one of the more intriguing storylines of the season.

The driver that I think will win Wednesday is Kyle Busch. This season has been very controversial for the two-time and defending champion. From wrecking one of NASCAR's most popular drivers to his decision to run in all the races including the ones in the truck and Xfinity series. Busch has been under immense scrutiny by the media and fans alike and surprisingly has yet to win a race this year. While he has great results this year, it hasn't looked like Kyle and his team have had race winning cars, but I think Wednesday will be different for him. He currently has the highest average finish of anyone here since 2018 as he's yet to finish lower than fourth including a win in the 2018 Coke 600. If there is anyone due for a victory, it's him. Plus, it will definitely help considering how much track time he will be getting by running the other two races including the Xfinity race he won on Monday. Look for Rowdy to get the ball rolling and claim another victory at Charlotte.

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

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Astros on the hunt. Composite Getty Image.

With the Astros' surge from 10 games out of first place to within two games of Seattle, catching and going past the Mariners has naturally become the top objective. It's no given to happen but it's right there. In the final series ahead of the All-Star break, while the Mariners are in the midst of four games with the lowly Angels, the last two World Series champions renew (un)pleasantries at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros enter the weekend five games ahead of the Rangers. They lead the season series with the reigning champs four wins to three. While the Astros can't quite finish off the Arlingtonians by sweeping them in this three game set, shoving them eight games back (even further back of Seattle and the current Wild Card teams) and clinching the tiebreaker would seem close to a death blow. Taking two out of three would be fine for the Astros. If the Rangers win the series, they are clearly still in the American League West and Wild Card races coming out of the All-Star break.

Last year the Rangers had the best offense in the AL. So far in 2024 they rank a mediocre eighth in runs per game. Nathaniel Lowe is the lone Ranger (get it?!?) regular playing as well as he did last season. Corey Seager has been fine but not at the MVP runner-up level of last year. Marcus Semien is notably down, as is 2023 ALCS Astros-obliterater Adolis Garcia. Stud 2023 rookie Josh Jung has been out with a broken wrist since ex-Astro Phil Maton hit him with a pitch in the fourth game of this season, though fill-in third baseman Josh Smith has been the Rangers' best player. 21-year-old late season phenom Evan Carter largely stunk the first two months this season and has been out since late May with a back injury. Repeating is hard, never harder than it is now. Hence no Major League Baseball has done it since the Yankees won three straight World Series 1998-2000.

Chasing down the Division at a crazy clip

From the abyss of their 7-19 start, the Astros sweep over the Marlins clinched a winning record at the break with them at 49-44. Heading into the Texas matchup the Astros have won at a .627 clip since they were 7-19. A full season of .627 ball wins 101 games. If the Astros win at a .627 rate the rest of the way they'll finish with 92 wins, almost certainly enough to secure a postseason slot and likely enough to win the West. Expecting .627 the rest of the way is ambitious.

With it fairly clear that Lance McCullers is highly unlikely to contribute anything after his latest recovery setback, and Luis Garcia a major question mark, what Justin Verlander has left in 2024 grows more important. With the way the Astros often dissemble or poorly forecast when discussing injuries, for all we know Verlander could be cooked. Inside three weeks to the trade deadline, General Manager Dana Brown can't be thinking a back end of the rotation comprised of Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss should be good enough. The Astros have 66 games to play after the All-Star break, including separate stretches with games on 18 and 16 consecutive days.

All-Star MIAs

Viewership for Tuesday's All-Star game at Globe Life Field in Arlington will be pretty, pretty, pretty low in Houston. One, All-Star Game ratings are pitiful every year compared to where they used to be. Two, the Astros could be down to zero representatives at Tuesday's showcase. Kyle Tucker was rightfully named a reserve but had no shot at playing as he continues the loooong recovery from a bone bruise (or worse) suffered June 3. Being named an All-Star for a ninth time was enough for Jose Altuve. He opts out of spending unnecessary time in Texas Rangers territory citing a sore wrist. This despite Altuve playing four games in a row since sitting out the day after he was plunked and highly likely to play in all three games versus the Rangers this weekend. Yordan Alvarez exiting Wednesday's rout of the Marlins with hip discomfort and then missing Thursday's game seem clear reasons for him to skip, though he has indicated thus far he intends to take part. Yordan is the most essential lineup component to the Astros' hopes of making an eighth straight playoff appearance.

Ronel Blanco should have made the American League squad on performance, but pretty obviously his 10 game illegal substance use suspension was held against him. As it works out, Blanco will pitch Sunday in the last game before the break which would render him unavailable for the All-Star Game anyway. Blanco is eligible to pitch, but given the career high-shattering innings workload Blanco is headed for, no way the Astros want him on the mound Tuesday. Just last year the Astros kept Framber Valdez from pitching in the game.

While waiting, and waiting, and waiting on Tucker's return, the Astros have also been waiting on Chas McCormick to get back to something even faintly resembling the hitter he was last year. McCormick routinely looks lost at the plate. He has four hits (all singles) in his last 32 at bats with his season OPS pitiful at .572. During the break the Astros should seriously weigh sending McCormick to AAA Sugar Land and giving Pedro Leon a try in a job share with Joey Loperfido.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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