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's offense once again obliterated Baltimore in Wednesday's finale. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Owners of a nine-game winning streak, the Astros tried to keep the train rolling to make it double digits and complete the three-game sweep of the Orioles in Baltimore. Not only would they get the win, but they also did it by dominating on both sides of the ball again in a one-sided shutout.

Final Score: Astros 13, Orioles 0

Astros' Record: 46-28, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jose Urquidy (6-3)

Losing Pitcher: Thomas Eshelman (0-1)

Houston keeps mashing

Unlike Tuesday's game which ended 3-1 in a much closer affair, the finale on Wednesday was once again a lopsided affair like Monda's opener, favoring the Astros. Houston once again put up double-digit runs in an offensive explosion. It started right off the bat, with three runs scoring in the top of the first on a two-RBI double by Carlos Correa and an RBI single by Kyle Tucker to grab a 3-0 lead.

Yuli Gurriel extended it to 4-0 with a two-out RBI single in the second, then Jose Altuve made it a six-run game with a two-run blast in the top of the fourth. Michael Brantley joined in with an RBI single in the top of the sixth, then Yordan Alvarez led off a four-run seventh with a solo bomb before a three-run homer by Abraham Toro made it 11-0.

Urquidy cruises through seven scoreless

Jose Urquidy was cruising all the while, allowing just three baserunners over that span, a double to start his night, which he erased, then a one-out walk in the second and leadoff single in the sixth. He returned at the bottom of the seventh with a manageable pitch count, where he'd erase a one-out single to keep Baltimore scoreless. With the insurmountable lead, he'd be given the rest of the night off. His final line: 7.0 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 84 P.

Astros complete the sweep and grab tenth straight win

Chas McCormick, who came off the bench defensively in the bottom of the seventh, made it a twelve-run lead with a one-out solo homer in the top of the eighth, then later Abraham Toro notched his fourth RBI with a run-scoring single to make it 13-0. Brandon Bielak took over for Urquidy in the bottom of the eighth, and after loading the bases with no outs, was able to escape with a strikeout and double play.

Ralph Garza Jr. was Houston's third pitcher, wrapping things up at the bottom of the ninth. He erased a one-out walk and a single with a double play to end the game, giving Houston the three-game sweep and extending their winning streak to ten games as they continue to look like baseball's best team.

Up Next: The next stop on this road trip for Houston is Detroit, where they will kick off a four-game set with the Tigers on Thursday at 6:10 PM Central. The pitching matchup for the opener will be Luis Garcia (5-4, 2.82 ERA) for Houston and Jose Urena (2-7, 5.79 ERA) for Detroit.

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