THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR Bank Of America 500 preview

Martin Truex does well on road courses. Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

This Sunday, the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads home to Charlotte for the Bank Of America 500. This race is a first for NASCAR as they have now configured Charlotte Motor Speedway into a “roval.” As most know, this is the first time in the sports history that they will a combined oval/road course.

This new layout features 17 turns including two chicanes in both the back stretch and at the exit of turn four. The decision to turn the track into a temporary road course was announced last year after many fans requested that the playoffs feature a road course of some sorts. With every change comes new challenges and concerns and  the major concern going into this race are the two chicanes as both are placed in an area where cars would be entering at a high rate of speed, and if not careful this may be a big factor come race time.

Aside from the layout change, the other major story of this race is that it is also the final race of the round of 16. For Clint Bowyer, Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones and Denny Hamlin, this is the last chance for them to move into the top 12. Of the four mentioned, Clint Bowyer would have the easiest road to get in seeing how he is only four points behind and has more playoff points than the three drivers behind him, so he should be the favorite to survive to the next round. Either way these four drivers should be the ones to watch come sunday.

With the season nearing its twilight, most of the offseason moves and rule changes  are beginning to round into form. Last week, Ryan Newman announced that he would move to Roush next season. One of the main factors into the switch was his engineering expertise he obtained from the University of Notre Dame and with Ford switching to the Mustang next year, car owner Jack Roush thinks that Ryan can really help improve their team's performance.

Another big topic of discussion was the proposed rules package regarding the cars. Earlier this year, NASCAR announced that it would tweak the spoiler on the back of the car and add a “restrictor plate” to curtail the cars from getting too far ahead, the test race was highly acclaimed and many fans stated that they wanted to see this package used in other circumstances. It would appear now there is a change of heart amongst NASCAR’s fan base as many have now threatened to “never watch the sport again” if they go through with the changes.

Me personally, I can see why NASCAR is making this move. If you have read any of my articles, I have been highly critical of the ignorance and arrogance of the leaders that run NASCAR but I think with these rules they truly believe this will make racing better. To some extent, it will. We will see cars closer together and there will be more opportunities for smaller or midpack teams like JTG-Daughtery or Richard Petty Motorsports to be in contention. Only time will tell what will become of these moves, but if we see the kind of racing we saw this year in the all-star race next season at tracks like Indianapolis, I assure you the sport will do OK.

Going into this week, making a prediction as to who will win is extremely difficult because this is the first time they have ever raced on this type of track. If I had to pick a favorite though, it would have to be Martin Truex Jr. Earlier in the season, Truex went on to win at Sonoma. one of the other three road courses on the schedule. Not only was he fast there but he also finished second at Watkins Glen as well. He has been excellent on road courses and this Sunday should be no different

The sleeper going into this week would be NASCAR’s road course specialist AJ Allmendinger. It has been no secret that 2018 has been a season to forget for Allmendinger, as he currently sits 24th in points and has only one top five, but this week he should be one of the drivers to watch. Besides Allmendinger took the first laps around this new track layout when it was announced last year. Last week, JTG Daugherty racing announced that Allmendinger would not be retained for the 2019 season leaving him without a ride, And I can’t think of a better way for Allmendinger to prove himself by going out and running well this Sunday. Look for him to be a major threat to run around the top 10 come Sunday.

(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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Houston is back in the win column

McCullers Jr. spins a gem as Astros get a much-needed win over Giants

Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images

After getting swept by the A's in Oakland to end a road trip with a five-game losing streak, the Astros returned to Houston to try and get back on track. To do so, they'd need a win against the Giants on Monday night. Here is a quick recap of the series opener:

Final Score: Astros 6, Giants 4.

Record: 7-9, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (2-1, 6.10 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Logan Webb (1-1, 2.81 ERA).

Houston builds up an early lead

The early goings of Monday's game went very similar to the last time Lance McCullers Jr. took the mound. He would have a terrific first three innings while his offense gave him an early lead. The first run came in the bottom of the second, with Yuli Gurriel reaching base on a one-out double, moving to third on a wild pitch, then scoring on an RBI-single by Carlos Correa.

Correa would take part in a four-run inning in the third, as Houston would score two on a two-RBI ground-rule double by Michael Brantley, another on an error, then Correa's second RBI of the night, a groundout to bring in a run and make it 5-0. Unlike the last start in Arizona, where the roof opened and McCullers Jr. fell apart in the fourth, he was able to make quick work of his opponent for a 1-2-3 frame. As he kept recording scoreless innings, Martin Maldonado added another run to the lead with a one-out solo home run in the bottom of the sixth, making it 6-0.

McCullers Jr. takes a no-hitter into the seventh

While the Astros were building their lead, McCullers Jr. was spinning a gem on the mound. He allowed just one baserunner through the first six innings, which came on a hit-by-pitch. He entered the seventh with a no-hitter in progress, but the Giants would get their first hit of the night to end the no-hit bid.

Regardless, the start was precisely what McCullers Jr. needed to restore his confidence after the disastrous inning he had in his last appearance. He would go on to complete the seventh inning before Houston would go to the bullpen with the large lead in the eighth. His final line: 7.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 5 K 0 HR, 1 HPB.

Houston gets back in the win column despite more struggles by Josh James

Josh James entered out of the bullpen for the top of the eighth but allowed the first run of the night for San Francisco via a solo home run with one out to make it 6-1. He would complete the inning and then return for the top of the ninth. He would have another rocky inning, issuing a leadoff walk before a single and double would make it a four-run game at 6-2, still with no outs in the inning and runners on second and third, prompting another call to the bullpen.

Dusty Baker would bring in his current closer, Ryan Pressly, to try and finish the game, now in a save situation. Pressly would retire the first two batters he faced before allowing a two-RBI single to make it 6-4, but would eventually get the final out to get Houston the much-needed win. With the victory, the Astros moved back into second place in the AL West standings.

Up Next: The middle game of this three-game set will start Tuesday at 8:10 PM Central. The Giants, working with a fluid rotation, have not yet fully decided on their starter, while the Astros will get another start from Brandon Bielak (2-0, 0.87 ERA) who will look to repeat the success of his five-inning, no-run start in Arizona last week.

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