THE LEFT TURN

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Look for Kyle Busch to be the car to beat. Photo via: Wiki Commons.

It's an elimination race this week at Bristol Motor Speedway. This is the last chance for the last four drivers in points to try and survive and advance to the next round. This is one of the most challenging and unforgiving racetracks in the sport. It has been a whole year since they raced on pavement and if we see what we have seen with the truck series, the surface should be fairly slippery and difficult to find grip. With all that is on the line, there's sure to be plenty of drama all throughout the race. One of the things to look out for in this race is how the leader deals with traffic. With this track being as short as it is, the laps will fly by quickly and the leaders will catch the tail end of the field and with a lot of these guys not wanting to go a lap down, this can be a big headache. We saw it two seasons ago when Matt DiBenedetto appeared to have the race in hand until making contact with the lap car of Ryan Newman, and it cost him the victory. In the end, the driver who is the most patient getting through the field will have the best chance.

Last week, Martin Truex Jr punched his ticket to the Round of 12 after fending off a late-race charge from his teammate Denny Hamlin. It was a race that was dominated by strategy and the Joe Gibbs Toyota's as they swept the top three with Christopher Bell coming home in third.

Most of the top 12 were able to stay out of trouble, with the exception of Kurt Busch. When the green flag dropped, everything looked promising for the 2004 champion until he crashed out on lap 42. Because of his misfortune, he dropped from fourth place in points all the way to 12th in a tie with Alex Bowman. Another playoff driver that struggled to get anything going last week was William Byron. After crashing at Darlington, he truly needed a big race to get back into the hunt but when they got to Richmond, the car just didn't have any speed. Going into this week, Byron is 18 points out. He will need to gain points in both stages to make up ground in the playoffs.

As I mentioned, there will be four drivers that are on the outside looking in, but let's not forget about the drivers above the cutline who are in just as much danger. Because of the high attrition at Darlington, the gap between 12th and 8th is very slim. One of the drivers in a tough position is Kyle Busch. After his inexcusable mishap at Darlington, he was able to rebound quite nicely at Richmond with a ninth-place finish. This team is still going to need a lot of things to fall into place at Bristol to make the next round. When you look at the four drivers below the cutline, the two drivers that are in the win-now territory are Michael McDowell and William Byron. Both drivers sit 38 and 18 points out of the top 12 and while it is not mathematically impossible for them to point their way into the next round, they need two perfect stages to get in. Look for a Hail Mary from them.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the massive storylines off the track this week. On Wednesday, the 2022 NASCAR schedule was released. While a lot of things remained the same, there were three major differences from this season compared to the next season. Next season, to kick off the year, NASCAR will hold an exhibition race inside the LA Coliseum. This was met with the familiar polarity we see amongst the fan base, there were some that believed it was a neat concept and some that didn't. In my personal opinion, I have to say that this has the potential to really be special. This brings NASCAR to a newer audience and with the race being a week before the Super Bowl, there is so much room for positive growth. On the flip side, this will make things much more difficult logistically for the road crew in getting back to Daytona. Regardless, racing in football stadiums could be a trend we see in the future.

Before NASCAR goes to the Coliseum in LA, we still have a race in the Coliseum in Bristol to think about, and the driver that I have winning this week is Kyle Busch. As I mentioned earlier, arguably NASCAR's greatest talent of the 21st century is coming into this week with little room for mistakes but on the bright side, this is by far his best racetrack as he's won there eight times. Rowdy can get around this track better than anyone, as he has led over 2,000 laps here in his career. He will roll off ninth when the green flag drops, but don't expect him to stay there long. Look for Kyle to be the car to beat come Saturday as he looks to complete the Joe Gibbs Racing sweep of the opening round of the playoffs.

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Boston's two grand slams in the first two innings were too much for Houston to overcome in ALCS Game 2. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

After a win in ALCS Game 1 that had the prototypical fingerprints of this Astros team all over it, Houston returned to Minute Maid Park on Saturday, hoping to take a dominant 2-0 series lead if they could grab another victory. The Red Sox dashed those hopes very early, though, scoring eight runs across the first two innings to build the lead they would hold on to even the series.

Final Score: Boston 9, Astros 5

ALCS Series (Best of Seven): tied 1-1

Winning Pitcher: Nathan Eovaldi

Losing Pitcher: Luis Garcia

Houston met with disaster to start Game 2

You couldn't have drawn up a much better start for the Red Sox or a worse one for the Astros in Saturday's ALCS Game 2. Luis Garcia met early disaster in the top of the first inning, allowing a leadoff double, then got two outs while issuing two walks to load the bases. That brought up Boston's designated hitter, J.D. Martinez, to the plate, and he delivered a crushing blow to Houston, launching a grand slam to put the Red Sox up 4-0 before Houston could even get to the plate.

After a scoreless bottom of the inning by his offense, things got worse for Garcia in the top of the second, as after issuing a four-pitch walk to start the frame, he would become the center of a meeting at the mound with trainers, ultimately leaving the game with an injury. Houston opted to bring in Jake Odorizzi for the emergency call to the bullpen, but things did not start well for him either. He would put two of his own batters on base with two singles, then gave up the second grand slam in as many innings, this one to Rafael Devers to double Boston's lead to 8-0, doubling down on Houston's disastrous start to the game.

Odorizzi rebounded with a 1-2-3 third, but with one out in the top of the fourth allowed a solo homer to Kiké Hernández, his third homer of the series so far. He would still get the job done of eating up a few innings, finishing the fourth, and retiring Boston in order in the fifth, giving Houston just four more innings to cover with the rest of their relievers.

Astros get a few runs back

Over that span, Houston did trim the lead by three runs, getting an RBI double by Kyle Tucker and a two-RBI single by Yuli Gurriel in the bottom of the fourth, making it a six-run game at 9-3. Their next reliever was Blake Taylor in the top of the sixth, and he would keep the score where it stood by sitting down the three batters he faced that frame.

The Astros threatened again in the bottom of the sixth, getting two singles to put two aboard, but would come out empty, sending the game on to the seventh, where Taylor would remain on the mound. He faced three more batters, getting two out while allowing a single before Yimi Garcia would come in to get the third out.

Red Sox even the series as it shifts to Boston

Garcia returned in the top of the eighth, getting through that inning despite a walk and hit by pitch, stranding both runners. Boston's bullpen kept Houston from getting any closer in the bottom of the eighth, then Ryne Stanek came in for the Astros in the top of the ninth. Stanek allowed a leadoff double, but with a groundout and double play, held the score at 9-3. Yuli Gurriel and Jason Castro did their part to keep the Astros alive in the bottom of the ninth, each hitting solo homers to make it 9-5, but that's as close as they'd come, dropping Game 2 to tie the series at one game apiece.

Up Next: The ALCS now moves to Boston for the next three games after a day off on Sunday, with Game 3 on Monday at 7:08 PM Central. While the Astros have named Jose Urquidy as their starter, the Red Sox have not yet determined theirs.

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