THE LEFT TURN

Here's what you need to know about the NASCAR All-Star Race

Photo via: Wiki Commons.

The NASCAR Cup Series heads to Bristol this week for their first annual All-Star race at the popular short-track. It was announced last month that the race would be held here instead of Charlotte where it usually takes place. If you ask everyone from fans, to the drivers, to the media, everyone is extremely excited about how this will turn out. Not to mention it will be the first race with fans as it was also announced that Bristol will allow up to 30,000 of them in the track, so it will be good to see people in the bleachers again. With the All-Star race being a non-points event, there will be a lot of differences than what we see in a normal race. The first major change this year (aside from the track) is when it will be run as for the first time we will see the race on a Wednesday as opposed to the usual Saturday night. It will be an adjustment to see this race during the week but overall, it is definitely something I can see happening in the future. It will be a fun event to watch.

The race's format remains fairly similar. As most fans know the main event will feature a field of each winner from 2019 and this year, a winner of the All-star race from 2010 onwards and a past champion. There will be four cars that advance from the constellation race called the open. Those are the cars that don't fit the criteria that would earn them a birth in the main event. In the open, there will be three segments and the winner of each will earn a spot in the All-Star race and a chance to win $1,000,000. There will also be a driver that will win the fan vote to get in as well.

There will be many cosmetic changes when it comes to the car including the decision to move the number back on the door and put the sponsor there. As you can expect, this was met with a lot of criticism. When I talked to the spotter for Bubba Wallace, Freddie Kraft, he told me that this decision will make it difficult to see which driver is which as the paint schemes change frequently. Hopefully, this will be a one-time thing for the sport as they move on with the new car in the next two years. Another major cosmetic change is NASCAR's decision to put lights underneath the cars to create an "underglow effect." Of all the things they are changing, this by far is my favorite. I look forward to seeing what this looks like.

Another new experiment NASCAR will be enacting is the choose cone rule. This will allow each driver to decide which lane they restart in. While the rule is titled the "choose cone" rule, there won't be an actual cone but instead a spot on the racetrack that will be marked where the drivers will make their selection on where they want to start from. Personally, I think this is a great way to decipher who starts where and I think it will add a lot of interesting strategy to the race. In fact, we see this on all of the short tracks around the country.

Last week, rookie Cole Custer shook the racing world by capturing his first win at Kentucky speedway. In the closing laps, the California native made one of the best passes of the year. On the front-straightaway coming to get the white flag, Custer made a four-wide pass on his teammate Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr and Ryan Blaney. After this he never looked back en route to his first career cup series win making him the first rookie to win a race since 2016 when Chris Buescher did it at Pocono. This young driver had incredible success during his time in the Xfinity series, but this year it seemed like it was taking him a bit more time to adjust to the cup series, so it comes as a surprise that he is the first of the three rookies to win. This sets him up for both the playoffs and Wednesday's All-Star race. It will be fun to watch how he develops during the rest of 2020 and what he can do in the playoffs.

As we all know this race comes with a very different set of circumstances so there will be more predictions for who I think will win come Wednesday. To start off, in the opening race, there will be three drivers that will advance on stages and the drivers I have winning are Clint Bowyer, Bubba Wallace and Christopher Bell. All three are usually pretty fast here, so they will be the ones that I watch the closest. The fourth driver that will advance via the fan vote will be Matt DiBenedetto. As everyone knows, Matty D has built up a great following and has really been running well this year. I wouldn't put it past him to go out and win one of the segments either. I look for all four of those cars to be in the All-star race.

The driver that I have winning the main event is Jimmie Johnson. With everything that has been going on this year, the 7-time champion has especially been affected. It is truly a shame that the greatest NASCAR driver of all-time isn't getting the send-off he deserves but come Wednesday, I think he will finally get his moment. Overall, while in the past Jimmie hasn't had his best results here, this track has been really good to him. Since 2017, JJ has an average finish of eighth including a third place finish here in May. I look for him to finally swing his momentum forward and claim the $1,000,000 prize and claim his fifth All-Star race victory.

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The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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