NASCAR UPDATE

Can Johnson pull off a miracle in Phoenix?

NASCAR goes to Phoenix this week. NASCAR.com

The NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads to Phoenix this week for the semifinal
race of the 2017 season and the final race to decide the Championship four. This race -- aside
from maybe the Daytona 500 or the last race of the year -- is possibly the most important race of
the season. It plays a huge role in who makes it and who doesn't and after this weekend we will
be one step closer to crowning a champion at Homestead-Miami.

Phoenix International raceway is one mile in length but has short track characteristics; the track
has a "dog leg" that allows drivers to go all the way down off the racing surface to make passes. 
This could be both a blessing and a curse seeing how if a driver is to come back up onto to the
track they could find themselves in a lot of trouble. With the past two races we have seen and the
drama that comes along with it, look for this race to be no different. Look for tire wear to also
come up seeing how this is an asphalt track as well. Three spots in the championship four
are already locked up for Martin Truex Jr, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick. The pressure is on for the
remaining six other drivers that need to either win the race or get in on points. For the most part
unless something crazy happens the bottom four are in a must win situation to get in. The first
driver in the top four is Brad Keselowski. He has done a great job staying out of trouble this year
and appears to be in good shape to contend for his second title at Homestead. 

The first driver looking out is Denny Hamlin. He comes into this weekend 19 points out of the
championship four behind Keselowski. Hamlin is not going to his best track this week. His
average finish since 2015 has been 10.20, While this is not a bad finishing average by any means, in the
situation he is in it does not bode well for him going into this weekend. The next driver in points is
Ryan Blaney. It has truly been a dream season for the sophomore driver from his first career win at Pocono to his 14 top 10 finishes this season. 

This young man has truly exceeded everyone's expectations. I don't see him making the final round this year seeing how he is
22 points out of fourth but this has truly been a magnificent season for him in his final two races with the famous Wood Brothers racing team.

The driver seventh in points is Chase Elliott; around here is where the desperation begins to set in. Elliot is mathematically not going
to get to the championship race next week without winning seeing how he is 49 points behind and the most you can get without winning is 40. He is going to need a Hail Mary to qualify.

Even though this has been one of his better race tracks I don't see him winning this race.

The eighth and final driver is none other than Jimmie Johnson. This is truly uncharted water for a
man who has won seven championship. Johnson comes into this race a staggering 50
behind fourth place but in no way would it ever be smart to count out the legend which leads me
to my predictions for this race. Johnson will defy all the odds this week and win 
this weekend. Even though he has struggled at Phoenix he has won at this track four times and
has the highest finishing average amongst all active drivers who have raced here more than once.
Getting a victory when their backs are up against the wall is something this team is not used to
doing seeing how in the past they have already had the championship all but locked up but this
time it will be different. Johnson is going to win a race for the ages this weekend. My Dark horse
driver this weekend is Erik Jones. This year's likely Rookie of the year has been so impressive at
tracks like this and even though in his two starts at this track he has finished 19th and 8th,
I think that he will only get better this week. Look for him to finish in the top ten this week and
who knows maybe even contend to win it. Keep a look out for the number 77 to have
a good run this week at Phoenix

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

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The losing streak continues

Mariners get walk-off win over short-staffed Astros

Alex De Goti had an impressive debut. Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

After a brutal homestand capped off by losing five players to the IL for health and safety protocols, the once 5-1 Astros brought their now 6-6 record to T-Mobile park in Seattle to try and right the ship. They'd have to do it with new and young players in the lineup using the "next man up" mentality to get some wins against the first-place Mariners.

Though the young bats would work themselves into a lead most of the night, Houston's bullpen wouldn't be able to hold the Mariners down, with Seattle ultimately walking things off in the ninth.

Final Score: Mariners 6, Astros 5

Astros' Record: 6-7, fourth in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Anthony Misiewicz (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Ryne Stanek (0-1)

After a quiet start, Houston gets three in the fifth

After cruising through the Astros through the first four innings, allowing only a walk over that span, Houston was able to put up a big inning against Yusei Kikuchi in the top of the fifth. Carlos Correa notched the first hit of the night, followed by a walk by Taylor Jones to put two on base.



That brought Alex De Goti, making his major-league debut, to the plate and, in his second career at-bat, would get his first hit and RBI, bringing in Correa from second on a single. A second run would come on the same play on a throwing error, then Chaz McCormick made it a three-run inning with an RBI-double, putting Houston out front 3-0.

Urquidy comes an out shy of a quality start

Meanwhile, Jose Urquidy was doing well through five innings. On track for a much-needed quality start, the Mariners would tag him in the bottom of the sixth, getting three-straight hits to bring in two runs to lead off the frame and leaving a runner on second base with no outs.

Urquidy would rebound to get the next two batters on strikeouts, but at 90 pitches and with a left-handed hitter up next, Dusty Baker would bring in lefty Brooks Raley to try and get out of the inning with the one-run lead intact. Raley would do his job, putting Uruidy's line final: 5.2 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 90 P.

Teams trade two-run seventh innings

The young bats for Houston struck again in the top of the seventh, with Jones and De Goti leading it off with back-to-back singles before Jason Castro would load the bases with a walk. With two outs, Aledmys Diaz would push the lead back to three with a two-RBI single, making it 5-2.

With Raley out after facing his one batter, next out of Houston's bullpen was Bryan Abreu to help maintain Houston's lead. Instead, he would give up two runs on two hits and a walk while getting just two outs before Baker moved on to Blake Taylor, who would get the last out of the seventh with Houston hanging on to a one-run lead at 5-4.

Mariners get the walk-off win

Taylor remained in the game in the bottom of the eighth, and after getting an out, would allow a game-tying solo home run to Evan White before injuring himself trying to field an infield single. Ryne Stanek entered and finished off the eighth, sending the tie game to the ninth.

After Houston came up empty in the top half, Stanek remained in the game in the bottom of the ninth, attempting to force extras. Back-to-back walks ended Stanek's night, with the Astros hoping Ryan Pressly could bail them out. He couldn't, though, giving up the walk-off hit as the Mariners would take the opener, 6-5.

Up Next: Game two of this three-game set will start an hour earlier on Saturday, with first pitch at 8:10 PM Central. Zack Greinke (1-1, 4.08 ERA) will try to rebound from a poor start his last time out for the Astros, while the Mariners will hand the ball to Chris Flexen (1-0, 4.50 ERA).

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