THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR All-Star Race preview

Kevin Harvick is on a roll. Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

This weekend the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for Charlotte Motor Speedway for this year’s All-Star race. This is a race unlike any other; there are no points involved and only the elite are invited. Charlotte is a mile and a half track much like Atlanta or Texas. The track has a curve in the middle of  the front straightaway which is called the “dogleg” and trying to pass in this area is nearly impossible and has been the cause of many accidents over the years, so look for this to possibly play a big factor in both races this weekend.

Last week at Kansas, Kevin Harvick continued his path of destruction upon the field as he went on to take his fifth victory of the season. The race was truly a nail-bitter as Harvick overtook Martin Truex Jr on the final lap.

The Big story coming out of Kansas (aside from Harvick) were more illegal rear windows. Two weeks ago at Dover, both Clint Bowyer and Daniel Suarez were penalized for having an illegal rear window brace, and this week NASCAR dropped the hammer once again. This time Kyle Larson was culprit as it was found in post race inspection that he had -- you guessed it -- an illegal rear window.

Larson is the fifth driver to be penalized for this infraction this year, and he joins the company of  Kevin Harvick (who lost a victory because of it) and Chase Elliott. Overall, like his competition, Larson loses 20 driver points, all of the points he earned for his “stage victory” at Kansas and he loses his car chief David Bryant.

Over the course of last Saturday’s race, Larson and his team were easily the car to beat. He led a race high 101 laps until an altercation with Ryan Blaney caused him to hit the wall. Somehow, he was able to overcome his troubles and finish fourth. While he and his team were frustrated by not winning the race, it might have been a blessing in disguise, seeing how if he was to win the victory probably would have been taken away anyway. Look for Kyle and the Chip Ganassi Racing team to try and bounce back this week in the all-star race.

This weekend is fairly unorthodox in comparison to each of the other 35 races. This race is a non-points paying event which means that overall it has no bearing on the season. According to NASCAR.com The cars will be equipped with a six inch spoiler with twelve inch “ear”  extensions, the splitter borrowed from the 2014 aero package, and a “restrictor plate” that will keep the cars close together.

This was a move that was met with mixed reaction amongst fans, but I personally believe that the change could very well make for much better racing than we have seen in the last few years past in fact NASCAR made similar adjustments to the NASCAR Xfinity series for last years race at Indy. The product was phenomenal. In the closing laps both Willam Byron and Paul Menard had one of the best battles of last season as Byron was able to take the victory. The race was met with positive acclaim amongst fans and drivers. This should be very interesting to see what happens on both Friday and Saturday.

Another facet of this weekend that makes this event stand out is the format and the criteria involved to get into the race. If you are a fan of NASCAR, you know pretty well that the format of this race changes almost every year. This year is no different. Unlike last year, the race will have one 30 lap segment, two 30 lap segments and one final 10 lap dash to decide the winner he is then awarded $1 million. Unlike last year, there will not be a mandatory pit stop so the strategy will be in the drivers' and crew chiefs' hands once the green flag drops.

I personally think NASCAR got this format right, I am glad that they did away with the redundant mandatory pit stop they had last year and think that the longer length of the race will provide a better finish than we have seen over the past few years. Look for it to be one of the best races of the season.

The field for this race will be significantly smaller this week. As usual the 19 winners from both 2017 and 2018 are automatically locked into the race. After that, one driver will also have an automatic bid in the race due to a victory in this race over the last ten years. That driver is Jamie McMurray (who won in 2014).  

All of the remaining full-time drivers will compete in the “All-Star Open.” This race will include all of the drivers who have not won a race in the past two seasons. “The Open” will feature three segments, two of those being 20 laps and like the big race, the final segment will feature a 10 lap dash to the finish.

The winners of all three segments and a driver who will be voted in by the fans will all receive a birth into the main feature in the All-Star Race. Some of the notable names in this race are Chase Elliott, Kasey Kahne, Darrell Wallace Jr, Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez and William Byron. Look for this to possibly be a much better race than the feature itself. Here each driver has much more to race for which creates more urgency to race every lap like it’s the last. Look for William Byron to be the car to beat in this race. As I said earlier, last season Byron won last year in the Xfinity series with a similar aero package we are seeing this week. He should be a big threat to at least win one of the three stages.

The driver that I have winning the All-Star race is Martin Truex Jr. As most NASCAR fans know, mile and a half tracks like Charlotte have been where he has cut his teeth. He has gone to victory lane here twice, including the 2016 Coca Cola 600 where he nearly led all but eight of the 400 laps run. Even though Truex has yet to win the All-Star race over the course of his 12-year career, this track is one of his best. Look for Truex and his Furniture Row team to take the checkered flag and be $1 million dollars richer at the end of the weekend.


 

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

 

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Kyle Tucker had a big day at the plate on Sunday. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

After splitting the first two games of the series, with one team or the other putting on a solid offensive performance in each, the Astros tried to win their fourth series in their last five by taking the rubber game on Sunday against the Blue Jays. Thanks in part to a big day from Kyle Tucker, who played a significant role in the early offense they used to power to the win, they would accomplish their mission.

Final Score: Astros 7, Blue Jays 4

Astros' Record: 18-16, second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Bryan Abreu (2-1)

Losing Pitcher: Nate Pearson (0-1)

Kyle Tucker helps lead the offense to seven unanswered runs

Houston did not go easy on Nate Pearson in his 2021 debut. After a scoreless first, the Astros loaded the bases on two walks and a single, then brought the first run of the day home on an RBI walk by Michael Brantley. Another walk opened the door in the bottom of the third, and Kyle Tucker capitalized with an RBI triple to make it 2-0, followed by an RBI single by Robel Garcia to make it a three-run lead, ending Pearson's day one out into the bottom of the third.

Things didn't get easier for Toronto's pitching in the next inning, as Jose Altuve would lead off the bottom of the fourth with a solo homer. A single and a walk then set up another big hit for Kyle Tucker, a three-run dinger to make it seven unanswered runs and giving Tucker four RBI on the day.

Blue Jays pound Greinke in the fifth

After four shutout innings to start his day on the mound, working around a few hits along the way, Zack Greinke tried to cash in on his team's offense to get another win on his record. He wouldn't be able to get it done, though, as Toronto would get after him in the top of the fifth. They would score four times amongst five batters that came to the plate, with a solo homer by Rowdy Tellez, a two-RBI double by Bo Bichette, and an RBI single by Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

That made it a 7-4 game, and with Greinke still not having recorded an out in the frame, Dusty Baker would lift him at 88 pitches in favor of Bryan Abreu, who would get a pop out and a double play to end the inning and keep the lead at three runs. Greinke's final line: 4.0 IP, 9 H, 4 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 1 HR, 88 P.

Houston takes the series

No more runs would come on either side the rest of the way, with Kent Emanuel working around a single for a scoreless sixth, Ryne Stanek getting a 1-2-3 seventh, and Andre Scrubb doing the same in the eighth to set up Ryan Pressly for the save. Pressly would get the job done, sending the Blue Jays down in order, including two strikeouts to wrap up the win and giving Houston the series victory.

Up Next: The Astros will stay at home to continue this homestand, welcoming in the Angels for three games starting Monday at 7:10 PM Central. The opener will feature a pitching matchup of Alex Cobb (1-2, 5.48 ERA) for Los Angeles and Luis Garcia (0-3, 3.28 ERA) for Houston.

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