THE LEFT TURN

Here's everything you need to know about NASCAR's midweek racing

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The Cup Series returns to Darlington for the Darlington 500k. This will be an important race in NASCAR history as it will be the first race to ever be run on a Wednesday. This is a huge milestone for the sport considering there has never been a race run this late in the week. For years, the idea of racing during the middle of the week had been floated around but it took a global pandemic to finally convince NASCAR to pull the trigger. Considering that the race will be on in prime-time and that there isn't much going on in the sports-world, all eyes will be on Darlington. The field will be set with Ryan Preece and Ty Dillion on the front row as both drivers finished 20th and 19th.

On Sunday, Kevin Harvick drove off into the sunset en route to his fifteenth career win. While Harvick did lead a race-high 159 laps, the story of the race was Hendrick Motorsports and what appeared to be their breakout race. In the early stages of the race all four team cars occupied four of the top five spots as Jimmie Johnson took the lead from Brad Keselowski with his teammate's William Byron, Alex Bowman and Chase Elliott behind him. Jimmie and his teammates appeared to be in position for a great result until lap eighty-nine when Johnson ran into the lapped car of Chris Buescher sending him into the backstretch wall ending his day.

After this, it was the young William Byron's turn to find misfortune as he would suffer a blown tire sending him around and ending any chances of him getting his first win. Even Chase Elliott ran into trouble as well after he was nabbed for speeding off pit-road, he would however recover to finish fourth. The only Hendrick driver who really had a clean race was Alex Bowman as he spent most of the day in the top three. While the results may not have been exactly what Rick Hendrick and his team would have hoped for, Sunday's race was definitely a breath of fresh air for the struggling team. They will be the team to watch come Wednesday.

Lost in all the storylines, one pleasant surprise was John-Hunter Nemechek and Tyler Reddick and their impressive 6th and 9th place finishes. For Nemechek, this is not only his first top ten finish but the first top ten finish for his team on a track that isn't Talladega or Daytona. The second generation driver has shown flashes of potential in all of his other previous starts but to come to arguably the toughest race track in America and run as good as he did really speaks volumes to how talented this young man is and what he can do in the future. His rookie counterpart Tyler Reddick also had a great showing as he went on to finish 6th. In his opportunities in the cup series, the California native continues to impress fans and drivers alike as he continues to run near the top-5 and top-10 on a weekly basis. I look forward to seeing how he follows this up.

Racing wasn't the only thing that made its comeback on Sunday as both Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth also made their return as well. As we all know, Newman was involved in one of the scariest accidents we have ever seen. Because of the injuries he sustained, he missed three races but because of the break, Newman had time to heal and miraculously was able to return to racing. For most of the race, he ran around the top ten until spinning out in turn 1 on lap 254. Despite all this he was able to rebound and finish sixteenth. Matt Kenseth was also impressive in his return as well as he finished tenth. What made this so impressive was how long was out and how much the sport has changed in his absence. For both of these drivers to run as well as they did really shows how talented these drivers are. It will be fun to watch how they do come Wednesday.

The driver I have winning is Kurt Busch. After an impressive third place showing on Sunday, Kurt has shown a lot of speed this year and has been one of the most consistent drivers on the grid. Over the last three races, he has yet to finish worse than third. The 2004 champion is primed for a breakthrough, Look for him to capture his first win here and secure his spot in the playoffs.


(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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The Astros head to New York to face the Yankees. Composite image by Jack Brame.

After sweeping the Mets in a two-game series at Minute Maid Park, the Astros will head to the Big Apple to square off against Yankees in what will be the most anticipated matchup of the season thus far.

Both Houston (43-25) and New York (50-18) have been the top two teams in the American League since May 11 and will play the first of a four-game series starting on Thursday.

If the Astros want to prove they are the best team in baseball, their elite players need to showcase their skills and win on the biggest stage in the biggest city.

1. Altuve must silence the crowd again

Last season, the Astros only managed to win one game in The Bronx thanks to some late inning heroics from New York “fan favorite” Jose Altuve who powered a game-winning home run to silence the relentless crowd.

It’s not a stretch to say Altuve might be the most hated baseball player in New York, but that doesn’t seem to affect him.

Although Yankee elites will continue to spew their venom towards the 2017 A.L. MVP, his ability to shut out the noise and perform at the plate under these circumstances will be one of the Astros' best assets during the series.

Throughout his career, Altuve has consistently been able to drive a stake into the heart of Yankee fans time after time.

The All-Star second baseman is currently hitting .269 and has no fear of taking on the Yankees in New York.

2. Bregman’s bat stays hot

Similarly to Altuve, Alex Bregman is no stranger to the boo birds, and doesn’t seem too affected by the harassment. So playing in front of the relentless crowd at Yankee Stadium won’t be a problem for him either.

Sure, it’s no secret that the former All-Star isn’t having a great season so far, but things seem to be turning around as Bregman has a .292 batting average with two home runs and four RBI over his last seven games.

It was only a matter of time before the former 1st round pick would start to figure things out at the plate.

This Astros' lineup is already potent as it stands, but when Bregman returns to form, more than the Yankees should be concerned when facing Houston.

3. Air Yordan takes flight in the Big Apple

Yordan Alvarez is having a tremendous season, and has been on a tear as of late.

Since signing his six-year extension on June 6, the 24-year-old is hitting .429 with five home runs, 17 RBI and a 1.347 OPS.

Alvarez is on pace to earn the American League Player of the Month for June and doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon.

The last time the Cuban native went to Yankee Stadium, he hit two homers off of former Astros’ pitcher Gerrit Cole, and looks forward to returning to the Big Apple.

"Whenever a player goes to New York and plays there, it's just really exciting with the history of that team and the ballpark," Álvarez said through a translator. "We know they're a really good team so we're just going to compete and try to win."

Alvarez will certainly be looking forward to hitting bombs towards the infamously short right field porch at Yankee Stadium.

4. The pitching staff stays strong

The Astros are scheduled to have Framber Valdez, Justin Verlander, Cristian Javier and Jose Urquidy take the mound this series and all of them have some varying degree of previous success against the Yankees.

Justin Verlander (albeit more in the postseason) has had multiple dominating performances against the Bronx Bombers and will take the mound on Friday against Luis Severio in what should be an elite pitcher's duel.

The other three aforementioned starters will look to continue their impressive season thus far as well.

If the Astros' starting pitchers can continue to keep them in games like they have all season, there is no reason Houston won’t be ready to face whatever the Yankees throw at them.

5. One bonus note

Astros’ shortstop Jeremy Pena has been on the injured list since June 15 with left thumb discomfort but will be eligible to come off the IL as early as this Friday.

Pena took swings in the batting cage and was spotted fielding ground balls Tuesday and assuming all goes well these next few days, he could rejoin the Astros sometime during the Yankee series

If the 24-year-old rookie does return, it will give Houston one more deadly weapon that the Yankees would rather not face.

Jake Meyers could also make his 2022 season debut as his minor league rehab assignment runs out this week. Other moves would have to be made, but the potential for Meyers to return could bolster this already lethal lineup.

Pena and Meyers may not come back in time for the Yankee series, but if they do, the Astros may have the best lineup in the league.

Watch out New York, Houston is coming.

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