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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McCullers Jr. out-pitched friend and former teammate Dallas Keuchel on Father's Day. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

With three impressive wins to start this series against the once AL-leading Chicago White Sox, Houston tried to extend their winning streak to seven games and finish a four-game sweep on Father's Day. Thanks to a big inning against former-Astro Dallas Keuchel, they would win to keep their hot streak going.

Final Score: Astros 8, White Sox 2

Astros' Record: 43-28, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (4-1)

Losing Pitcher: Dallas Keuchel (6-2)

Rough return to Houston for Keuchel

In his first game against his old squad, Dallas Keuchel would not have a memorable start on the mound for Chicago. Houston made him labor in the first inning, loading the bases though they only came away with one run on an RBI single by Abraham Toro, grabbing the early 1-0 lead. After going down 1-2-3 in the second, they got after Keuchel again in the third.

They ended up batting around against him that inning, including a two-RBI single by Yordan Alvarez, RBI double by Taylor Jones, and bases-loaded RBI-walk by Jose Altuve, which would end Keuchel's day very early and leave the bases juiced. Chicago's bullpen would walk another batter to give Keuchel another earned run, making it a 6-2 game, with all six going against the former Houston ace. Carlos Correa extended the lead to five runs in the next inning, hitting a leadoff solo home run to make it 7-2.

McCullers Jr. gives up two over six

That gave Lance McCullers Jr. a nice lead to work with, and he managed it well. He had one big mistake in the early goings of the game, giving up a one-out single in the second to set up a two-run home run, which at the time put Chicago in front 2-1 before Houston's offense came alive. He followed that up with four scoreless innings, erasing a walk in each with some tremendous defense behind him—his final line: 6.0 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 4 K, 1 HR, 94 P.

Astros complete the sweep to jump on top of the standings

Still a six-run game in the top of the seventh, Blake Taylor entered as the first reliever out of Houston's bullpen, tossing a 1-2-3 frame. He continued in the top of the eighth, getting two strikeouts in another scoreless inning. The 8-2 score would go final as Ralph Garza Jr. would enter as the third pitcher of the day to wrap things up with a scoreless top of the ninth to finish the four-game sweep. The win, their seventh straight, paired with an Oakland loss earlier in the afternoon, moves Houston into the top spot in the AL West based on winning percentage.

Up Next: This long stretch of consecutive games continues on Monday in Baltimore, as the Astros pick up a seven-game road trip starting with a three-game set against Baltimore getting underway at 6:05 PM Central. Jake Odorizzi (1-3, 5.68 ERA) will get the start for Houston, going opposite of Keegan Akin (0-2, 5.76 ERA) for the Orioles.

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