THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR Brickyard 400 preview

Jimmie Johnson hopes to get back on track. Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

This week, we head for quite possibly the most prestigious tracks in all of the world, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. For the first time in NASCAR’s 24-year history with the track, this race will be run in September as opposed to its traditional late July, early August date it has run since its first race in 1994. Last week Brad Keselowski pulled off a late race pass on Kyle Larson to claim his first victory of the 2018 season.

While it was a big win for Keselowski, on the other side of the coin it was heart shattering for Larson as he led a race high 284 laps and won both stages before surrendering the lead and second place to Keselowski and Joey Logano. Both Keselowski and Larson should be serious contenders going into the playoffs.

Another new element to this race is that it will be the cutoff race before the long awaited “playoffs” begin next week in Las Vegas. This race will be the last chance for the drivers on the outside looking in to win and clinch their spot in the round of 16.  Anything can happen here at the brickyard and last year's race was a prime example of this track's unpredictability. In the closing stages, both Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch were involved in an collision in turn one following a restart. At this point, both cars were easily the two best cars on the track, but in one corner any chance of victory was dashed for both of them. The dispute between Busch and Truex seemed to set up a domino effect as there were five cautions including two pileups. When it was all said and done Kasey Kahne was able to avoid all the calamity and take his first win of the 2017 season. At that time, Kahne needed a victory to lock down a place in the playoffs and he did just that. If last season’s finish is any indication to what we could see this Sunday, look to see a surprise winner.

Going into this week, 14 spots have already been accounted for to make the opening round of the playoffs which means there are still two spots up for grabs this Sunday. Some of the drivers on the outside looking in are Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ryan Newman and Daniel Suarez. With getting in on points more than likely out the window, these three drivers have one more shot to solidify their spot in the playoffs.

On Tuesday,  fans were shocked to hear that Furniture Row Racing will cease operations at the end of the season. How is it possible that a team that won a NASCAR championship last season and possibly contend for another title this year could close their doors after such success? Well there are many variables that could factor into why this is happening. One of them is their relationship with team Joe Gibbs and Toyota. In 2015, it was announced that Furniture Row racing would switch to Toyota racing and form an alliance with Gibbs. The team would receive chassis and engines amongst other resources the following season in 2016.

While this worked well for Furniture Row, Joe Gibbs and his team seemed to fall off in performance. Each week, it would seem like Truex Jr. and his team were always outrunning the team that they were getting parts from. As a result, this season their deal with Toyota was up at the end of the year and many believe that Gibbs raised the price on all of the resources for Furniture Row Racing thus putting them out of business. What makes matters worse for them is that next season more than likely Martin Truex Jr. and crew chief Cole Pearn will go and drive for Joe Gibbs Racing. Not only does he run them out of business but he gets their driver as well. At the end of the day it is a shame that both of these teams couldn’t coexist as it hurts the competition of the sport in the long run.

This week the driver that I have winning is Jimmie Johnson. It has been no secret that this has been the worst year of his career, as he is in the midst of the longest winless streak in his career; it has been a downward spiral for the seven time champion but he is coming to a track where he has a loads of success. He leads all active drivers in victories and laps led. It seemed like last year he was on his way to victory until his engine gave way causing him to crash in the final laps. This victory very well could put him back on track and possibly give him the confidence needed to score his record setting eight title. This week, look for Johnson to put the Number f48 Lowes Camaro in victory lane for a fifth victory at the brickyard.  It should be an interesting end to the regular season as we inch closer and closer to crowning a champion

(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 goes up 1-0 in the series

Altuve, Correa help lift Astros to ALCS Game 1 win over Red Sox

Carlos Correa's go-ahead homer in the seventh inning of ALCS Game 1 helped lift the Astros to a 1-0 series lead. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Despite one rough loss to the White Sox in the ALDS, the Astros looked like the dominant team they are capable of being, taking that series 3-1 to advance and taking ownership of home-field advantage in the ALCS against the Red Sox, who upset the Rays. In Game 1, despite trailing for the middle portions of the game, Houston would get more highlight moments from the faces of the franchise to start the series with a win.

Final Score: Astros 5, Red Sox 4

ALCS Series (Best of Seven): Houston leads 1-0

Winning Pitcher: Ryne Stanek

Losing Pitcher: Hansel Robles

Houston strikes first, but Boston sends Valdez to an early exit

Both starting pitchers worked in and out of trouble in the early goings of ALCS Game 1, starting with Framber Valdez in the top of the first. After erasing a leadoff single by inducing a double play, he went on to load the bases on a single and two walks but would strand all three runners to keep Boston off the board. The Astros jumped in front in the bottom half, with Jose Altuve working a leadoff walk, moving to second on a one-out single by Alex Bregman, advancing to third on a wild pitch, then ultimately scoring on a sac fly by Yordan Alvarez to put Houston ahead 1-0 after one frame.

They had a chance to extend their lead in the bottom of the second, taking advantage of a shaky inning by Chris Sale, who loaded the bases with one out as Houston would get two singles and a hit-by-pitch. That flipped the order over to the top, but a great diving catch by former Astro Kiké Hernández would end the inning. Hernández led off the top of the third against Valdez, and he would tie things up with a solo homer.

Things went downhill from there for Valdez and the Astros, as a one-out walk followed by a single gave the Red Sox the go-ahead run in scoring position. On a groundball that likely should have been a double play to end the inning, it would get through Altuve's legs, scoring a run and keeping the inning alive for Boston. They took advantage, getting an RBI double to extend their new lead to 3-1. Valdez would get one more out before Dusty Baker would give him the early hook, bringing in Yimi Garcia, who finished the frame.

A battle of the bullpens, Altuve ties it up

Like Valdez, Sale would also not make it through three innings, getting two outs while putting two on base before Boston would start their bullpen's night as well. Both sets of relievers settled the game down, with the Red Sox stranding two of Houston's runners in the third as well as the fifth, maintaining their two-run lead. After Garcia finished the third, Cristian Javier entered to eat up a couple of innings, and he would do just that by getting through two frames with just one hit, four strikeouts, and no runs.

Next, Phil Maton took over in the top of the sixth and erased a leadoff walk to keep things in striking distance for the home team. In the bottom of the sixth, Houston put another runner on base, getting a one-out single by Chas McCormick. Two batters later, with two outs, Jose Altuve provided yet another career postseason highlight, tying the game 3-3 with a two-run home to re-energize the Minute Maid Park crowd.

Astros take ALCS Game 1

Now a brand new ballgame in the top of the seventh, Brooks Raley came in to face three batters, getting two strikeouts while allowing a single before Dusty Baker would move on to Ryne Stanek, who would get the third out. With two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Carlos Correa continued his march to a monster off-season contract, putting Houston back on top with a solo homer, making it 4-3.

Houston kept the script after Stanek with the new lead in hand, going to Kendall Graveman as the setup man in the top of the eighth. Despite a two-out single, he would get out of the inning with the lead intact, putting Houston three outs away from the victory. After a walk, single, and hit by pitch to start the bottom of the eighth with the bases loaded, Altuve would drive in his third run of the game, getting a sac fly to extend the lead to two runs at 5-3.

That insurance run proved pivotal, as closer Ryan Pressly was met with a leadoff solo home run by Hernandez, his second of the night for Boston, to make it 5-4. Pressly refocused and was able to get the next three batters in order, though, wrapping up the win to start Houston off with a 1-0 series lead and putting them three wins away from advancing to the World Series.

Up Next: The two teams will have a moderately quick turnaround, with ALCS Game 2 scheduled to start at 3:20 PM Central on Saturday ahead of NLCS Game 1 between the Dodgers and Braves getting the night slot. The pitching matchup is expected to be Nathan Eovaldi for Boston, who is 1-0 with a 2.61 ERA in his two starts this postseason, going opposite Luis Garcia, who had a rough outing in the ALDS for Houston, giving up five runs without completing three innings in Chicago.

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