THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR: Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 preview, picks

NASCAR: Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 preview, picks
Kyle Busch rolls off fourth this weekend. Photo via: Wiki Commons.

The Round of 8 kicks off this weekend at Texas as the championship battle continues on. This track is one groove 1.5 mile racetrack, it is extremely tough to pass here so restarts will be essential. If last season's race here is any indication, tire fall off won't play as much a factor, so we could see the possibility of two tires or gas-only pit stops at some point during the race.

Last week, Kyle Larson went on to his seventh victory of the season after battling back from a battery issue. While there were many obstacles for this team, Cliff Daniels and this team were able to continue to fix the issue and get back to the front. The dominant car of the day though was his teammate William Byron. In the closing stages, it looked like he was on his way to a win and would lock himself into the next round, but after contact with Tyler Reddick, Byron's chances seemed to be dashed. He did make a run towards the end, but there simply wasn't enough time for him to come back.

While there were plenty of battles for the lead between Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Byron and Kyle Larson. What everyone really paid attention to was Kevin Harvick and Chase Elliott as their feud came to an ugly conclusion. On lap 56, Kevin Harvick decided it was time to even the score after their dust up at Bristol. Going into turn 8, Harvick jumped on the throttle and turned Chase into the wall. This gave the #9 major damage and appeared that it would end any chances of advancing but miraculously, Alan Gustafson and his crew were able to get the car in good enough condition to keep him on the racetrack. For a while, Elliott was limping around badly and appeared to be dead in the water but then his back bumper cover fell off, and everything changed. After catching a break with a debris caution, Elliott caught fire. He drove all the way back up into the top 20 right into Kevin Harvick's rearview mirror, then it happened. Going into Turn 1, Harvick missed turn one and slammed the wall head-on ending his day.

Easily this was the biggest topic of discussion in the NASCAR world. Who was at fault? Who overreacted? If you ask me, Kevin Harvick was completely out of line to go and make a move like that. I know he was upset about getting held up at Bristol, but never once did he get wrecked by Chase. And for him to come out here and potentially end someone's championship chances is disgraceful. Of all the active drivers in the sport, no one has logged as many laps as Harvick. He has been doing this for 20 years. For a champion of this sport to do something like that is embarrassing. There has been a pattern of this over the years though. He is known as a selfish racecar driver, granted a talented driver, but he will do whatever it takes to win. This crossed the line though, if it were my call, I would have suspended Harvick for at least two races as they did when Matt Kenseth did the same thing to Joey Logano at Martinsville in 2015.

Lost in all of the controversies, a driver who really impressed this week was Chris Buescher. He went on to score his first top-five of the season after coming home third. This team has really improved a lot this season and with the addition of Brad Keselowski, I think that we will see this team really break out into a playoff contender. Look for Buescher to only improve.

The driver that I have winning this weekend is Kyle Busch. The round of 12 was quiet for the two time champion. Although he seemed to be in a bit of jeopardy coming into the Roval, he really shined by winning a stage and finishing fourth. This type of racetrack is where he makes his hay. Besides, he is the defending winner here, so he can get around this track. With all the stats, the most important factor is where he will be starting as he rolls off fourth. If he can get to the lead, don't expect him to be easy to pass. Look for Kyle to capture his 3rd victory at Texas.

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It's not time to panic, yet. Composite Getty Image.

This is not a column for fanboys or sugarcoating. To this point in the season the Astros stink like rotten eggs. They stink like Angel Hernandez’s umpiring. They stink like Bill O'Brien's general manager skills. The Astros are a bad team right now. That’s notably different from being a bad team. Their 4-10 record is well-earned and it is definitely possible that the Astros’ run of high quality and annual playoff appearances crashes and burns this season. But it’s laughable to declare so after just 14 games of the 162 scheduled have been played.

Last June the Astros had a lousy window in which they went 3-10. In August they had a 4-8 funk. In September it was a 3-9 stretch of collapse. The 2022 World Series Champions had a 3-8 hiccup in April, and a 2-6 blotch overlapping July and August that included getting swept in a three-game series by the then and now awful Oakland A’s.

Now the Astros are back home (Oh No!) for six games, three vs. the Rangers then three with the Braves. The Rangers lead the American League West but are just 7-6, so despite their cellar-dwelling status, the Astros are just three and a half games out of first. A winning homestand is obviously the goal. No, really. 3-3 would be ok, even though that would just about clinch a losing record heading into May.

Mandatory aside: spectacular weather is the Friday night forecast. Stop being stubborn and lame, Astros. Open the roof! I don’t mean just for the postgame fireworks.

On the mend?

The Astros’ track record of downplaying pitching injuries that turned out to be major certainly causes angst as we await Framber Valdez’s return from a sore elbow. If Valdez ultimately winds up out for months, the Astros’ starting rotation is in deep trouble. Even more so if upon the approaching delayed start to his season, 41-year-old Justin Verlander pitches to his age in terms of results and/or durability. However, if Valdez is ok within a month and JV is solid, those two, and Cristian Javier can stabilize the rotation quite nicely.

The Astros started three guys in the last four games who belong in the minor leagues. It was a sad sign of the times that the Astros were reduced to calling up Blair Henley to make the start Monday in Arlington. Except for Rangers fans and Astros haters, it grew uncomfortable watching Henley give up four hits, walk three, record just one out, and wind up charged with seven earned runs. But it’s not Henley’s fault that he was thrust into a role for which he was utterly unqualified.

Last season at Double-A Corpus Christi, Henley’s earned run average was 5.06. Because of the crummy state of the Astros’ farm system, Henley failed up to Triple-A Sugar Land to start this season. After one not good start for the Space Cowboys, “Hey, go get out big leaguers Blair!” Henley turns 27 next month, he is not a prospect of any note. If he never again pitches in the majors Henley forever carries a 135.00 ERA.

But you know what? It was still a great day for the guy. Even if undeserved, Henley made “The Show.” For one day on the Astros’ 26-man roster, Henley made over four thousand dollars. To make him eligible for call up, the Astros first had to put Henley on their 40-man roster and sign him to a split contract. That means that until/unless the Astros release him, Henley’s AAA salary jumps from approximately $36,000 for the season to over 60K.

Lastly, while Henley’s ERA could remain 135.00 in perpetuity, at least he’s no Fred Bruckbauer. In 1961 Bruckbauer made his big league debut and bade his big league farewell in the same game. He faced four batters, giving up three earned runs on three hits and one walk. Career ERA: Infinity! Bruckbauer is the most recent of the more than a dozen pitchers to retire with the infinity ERA.

Spencer Arrighetti’s debut start went much better. For two innings, before it unraveled in a seven run Royals third. Arrighetti has good stuff, but not great stuff. Control has been an issue for him in the minor leagues. Without better command Arrighetti cannot be a plus starter in the majors.

Then there’s Hunter Brown. We could go decades without seeing another pitcher give up nine runs and 11 hits in two-thirds of an inning as Brown did Thursday. It had never happened in MLB history! To this point, Brown is an overhyped hope. ERA last July: 5.92, August: 6.23, September 1 on: 8.74. Three starts into 2024: 16.43.

Jose Abreu watch

It's still early enough in the season that even just a couple of big games can markedly improve a stat line but Jose Abreu continues to look washed up at the plate. Three hits in 37 at bats (.081 batting average), with the most recent hit a questionable official scoring decision. Manager Joe Espada has already dropped Abreu from fifth in the lineup to sixth, then seventh, then eighth. Two more slots down to go, Joe! Continuing to act like Jon Singleton could be a competent bat in the lineup is just silly though.

Catch the weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week now generally goes up after Sunday’s game (second part released Tuesday, sometimes a third part Wednesday) via YouTube: stone cold stros - YouTubewith the complete audio available via Apple Podcast, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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