THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR: Federated Auto Parts 400 preview

Photo via: Wiki Commons.

This week the NASCAR Cup Series heads for Richmond Raceway for the Federated Auto Parts 400. This will be the second race of the round of 16 as the chase continues on. This is a 0.75 mile short track with high enough banking for plenty of side-by-side racing. There are multiple grooves here, so we will be able to see a lot of high speeds but as they always are, restarts will be pivotal. More often than not, the race will be decided on a restart. I look for the driver who is starting on the inside to have the optimal lane to try and make a pass for the lead. This should be a fun race considering where we are in the playoffs, so don't be surprised if someone uses the bumper for the win.

Last week at Darlington, Kevin Harvick was in the right place at the right time as he was able to capture his eighth win of 2020 after Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr. both crashed into the turn 1 wall in the closing stages. Coming into turn one, Truex thought he had Chase clear, but he didn't and ran into the wall ending any chance of victory. This was the center of much debate as each fan of each driver was highly critical of both Truex and Elliott. When the race was over, Truex took the blame but overall, it seemed like it was just one of those racing deals. Either way, it cost them both a win and now Chase heads to undoubtedly his worst track at Richmond behind the eight ball. This will be an interesting storyline come Saturday. Regardless, Kevin Harvick continued to prove why he is the best out here this season as he was able to capitalize and hold off a hard charging Austin Dillon to win his second race at Darlington in 2020.

While Harvick may have taken home the victory, Austin Dillon was the story of the race. This was a driver that many had counted out. A lot of people didn't believe that he could make it to the round of 12, but he went out there and proved everyone wrong as he nearly went on to win. If there is one driver who can establish himself as a sleeper, it's him as he has been having one of the best years of his career that included a win at Texas Motor Speedway. It hasn't been all sunshine for him this year though as back in August he became the second driver to come down with COVID. But overall, he bounced back and now sits eighth in points and is in a good position to move on. I hope to see Dillon and the #3 Camaro continue to improve this week at Richmond.

The Silly season dominoes continue to fall this week and there were two MAJOR stories that dominated the headlines. On Wednesday, it was announced that 7-time champion Jimmie Johnson would be signing a two-year deal with Chip Ganassi to race on the road courses in IndyCar in 2021. This doesn't come as much of a surprise to me at as this has been speculated on since January when he showed up to the Austin IndyCar test in February. He will be paired up with Scott Dixon who is probably the best driver in the series and Felix Rosenqvist a 2nd year driver who has shown a lot of speed. This will definitely be interesting to watch as the NASCAR legend learns a brand-new series.

The other major headline is where Bubba Wallace will be racing in 2021 as it was announced Thursday that he will not be returning to the #43 team for Richard Petty Motorsports. This doesn't necessarily come as a surprise as he seemed to be fielding offers from other teams such as Chip Ganassi Racing. They become the favorite to land him as the spot was vacated by Kyle Larson earlier this year after he was suspended for using a racial slur. Personally, I think this would give Bubba a good chance to show his talents as he will be taking over a ride that can run around the Top 10 for the most part. Over the last few weeks, he has been gaining a lot of sponsors including Kingsford Charcoal and Urban Outfitters, so the market is there. I look for him to be a big get for any team.

The driver that I have winning this week is Martin Truex Jr. After last week's disappointment, I look for Truex to bounce back and get his second victory of the season. There have been a lot of highs and lows this year for the 2017 Champion, but over the last few weeks until Darlington, he has been on an insane run of top five finishes rattling off eight in a row including five consecutive third place finishes before starting the chase, so he is due for a win. It was hard to believe that last year's win here was his first at a short track but since he finally got over that, he has almost been unstoppable on tracks like these. I look for Truex to dominate this week and clinch his spot into the next round.

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Yordan Alvarez's homer in Wednesday's game gave him 100 RBI on the season. Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Winners of three straight, six of their last seven, and eight of their last ten, the Astros had the chance to move yet another game closer to clinching their playoff spot if they could secure the series with a win against the Angels on Wednesday. Even though it looked as though they were headed towards a loss in extra innings, they would ultimately come out ahead.

Final Score (12 innings): Astros 9, Angels 5

Astros' Record: 91-61, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Yimi Garcia (4-9)

Losing Pitcher: Sam Selman (0-1)

Garcia goes six shutout innings

Although he didn't have swing-and-miss dominance in this start, Luis Garcia could still capitalize on a struggling Angels offense and post a shutout quality start against them. He allowed three walks and three hits throughout his outing but stranded all of them while getting outs on balls in play. His final line: 6.0 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, 79 P.

Alvarez reaches 100 RBI as Houston's offense keeps rolling

That performance had Garcia in line for the win, as two homers handed him a 3-0 advantage which he held. Houston once again used early offense to take a first-inning lead, as a leadoff walk by Jose Altuve turned into a monster 456-foot by Yordan Alvarez, pushing him to 100 RBI on the season. The score held at 2-0 until the top of the fifth, when Jason Castro led that frame off with a solo homer to extend the lead to three runs.

Extras in Anaheim

Phil Maton was first out of Houston's bullpen in the bottom of the seventh, but a single, double, and walk loaded the bases with no outs to put him in a jam. A lineout kept the runners put for the first out, but a single and a walk would make it a one-run game and left the bases loaded as Maton would get pulled.

Kendall Graveman entered to try and stop the bleeding, but after a force out at home to put that within reach, Jack Mayfield came through for Los Angeles with a go-ahead three-run double, giving the Angels their first lead of the series at 5-3. In the top of the eighth, a walk by Alex Bregman brought Alvarez back to the plate, and he would nearly miss a game-tying homer and instead got an RBI-single to make it 5-4.

Alvarez would still come in to tie the game, hustling home from second on an RBI single by Yuli Gurriel to knot things up 5-5. Brooks Raley was Houston's next reliever, and he sat down LA in order with two strikeouts. Still tied in the bottom of the ninth, Ryan Pressly came in to force extras, and despite being shadowed by the winning run on the bases after a leadoff single, retired the next three batters to send the game to the tenth.

Astros keep battling and take it in the twelfth

Jake Meyers took second base as Houston's free runner in the top of the tenth, but he would go nowhere as the Astros went down in order, giving the Angels another chance at a walk-off. Instead of giving Shohei Ohtani a free pass immediately, Houston would let Blake Taylor throw two balls to him before giving him the intentional walk.

Taylor then gave up a single to load the bases with no outs, and after getting a force out at home for the first out, Yimi Garcia would replace him. Thanks to a great play by Chas McCormick, giving him multiple in the game, the Astros would live to see another inning as he would make a great catch in right field and then throw out Ohtani at home.

In the top of the eleventh, a sac fly by Yuli Gurriel moved Aledmys Diaz to third, but that's as close as Houston would come, leaving them stuck at five runs. After Garcia retired three more batters in the bottom of the eleventh, the game moved to the twelfth, where Houston would get back in front on an RBI single by Jake Meyers, then padded the new lead on a two-RBI double by Jose Altuve, who would also score on a sac fly by Alex Bregman, making it 9-5. Josh James came in and wrapped things up in the bottom half as Houston secured the series victory and reduced their magic number to two against Oakland and three against Seattle.

Up Next: The finale of this four-game series, and the last time these two teams will meet this year, will be an 8:38 PM Central start on Thursday. The expected pitching matchup is Alex Cobb (8-3, 3.59 ERA) for Los Angeles and Lance McCullers Jr. (12-4, 3.11 ERA) for Houston.

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