The Left Turn

NASCAR Coca Cola 600 preview

Kevin Harvick keeps winning. Last week it was the All-Star race. Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

This Sunday, The NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for Charlotte Motor Speedway  for the famed Coca Cola 600. This is race is one of the “Crown Jewels” on the schedule and is always one of the more anticipated races of the season. NASCAR’s field of 40 will do battle for a grueling 400 laps which equals out to of course 600 miles.

Last week, NASCAR decided to take a different approach for the non-points paying All-Star race. The cars came equipped with a smaller spoiler on the decklid and the ever polarizing restrictor plate. Overall the race was met by critical acclaim from all groups of people  that cover and watch the sport as the modifications and rule changes brought a whole new element to a race that had become tedious to some. While the cars were much closer together and there was more passing and battles for position, at the end of the night Kevin Harvick was able to continue his run and take his sixth victory of the season

This week we snap back into reality. All of the cars will go back to the regular aero package that they have been running all season. The racing that we see this week at Charlotte will be drastically different than what we saw at the all-star race as the cars will be much faster and more spread out. Thanks to its length, fuel should play a big factor in determining the outcome as well. In fact, last year’s Coca Cola 600 saw Austin Dillon claim his first career victory after Jimmie Johnson ran out of gas with two laps remaining. This race is so long that almost every year it comes down to who can go the longest on a tank of fuel and you can almost bet that we will see the same thing this year. Look for the driver who can somehow save the most amount of fuel to go to victory lane at the end of the night.

Some of the favorites going into this week are all four drivers at Joe Gibbs racing. On Thursday, the Gibbs team makes up for three of the first four starting spots with Kyle Busch qualifying first, Denny Hamlin third and Erik Jones fourth. While Gibbs and his team have been Kevin Harvick’s main competition this season, the only driver that has won has been Kyle Busch. Earlier in the season, he was able to win three consecutive races at Texas, Bristol and Richmond. This weekend, Busch will try and capture his first Coca Cola 600 victory and he has a better chance than anyone. Even though Charlotte is one of the few tracks he has not won (unless you count the all-star race last season which is not a points paying event)  look for the M&M’s Camry to be a major factor.

The driver that I have going to victory lane this weekend is Denny Hamlin. As I stated earlier in the article, the only driver for Joe Gibbs that has won this season is Kyle Busch and he will definitely be a contender come sunday but this week I just see Hamlin having a breakthrough weekend. Like his teammate, Hamlin has also never won here at Charlotte but he has always been near the top of the charts. In his 25 starts, he has eight top-five’s and 16 top 10s so he has proved that he can run up front here but in the past he just has never quite been able to close the deal. I don’t think this will be the case here, Hamlin has a fast race car from what we have seen in both practice and qualifying. Look for Hamlin to go to victory lane come sunday.

A good sleeper for this race is Jamie McMurray. If you are a fan of the sport, you know that 2018 has been the worst season of McMurray’s career. He is currently 24th in points and has only had two lead lap finishes all season, but this weekend McMurray seems to be in prime position to have a bounce back race. He started the weekend off on the right track with a seventh place qualifying effort and is at a track where he has run well at in the past. In fact, if it weren’t for his  success at this race track, Jamie Mac might not even be where he is today. In 2002, McMurray captured his first career victory here at the fall race as he was able to hold off a hard charging Bobby Labonte. In his second NASCAR start, McMurray went to victory lane. Look for McMurray to try and rekindle that magic come sunday in the No. 1 McDonald’s Chevrolet.

(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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Yordan Alvarez provided the offense to back up more stellar pitching by the Astros as they took ALCS game 6 to advance to the 2021 World Series. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

After splitting the first two games of this series in Houston then falling behind in the series 2-1 by dropping the first of three games in Boston, the Astros took over the ALCS in Games 4 and 5, sending them back to their home crowd with a chance to finish things off in Game 6 at Minute Maid Park. After another stellar performance by their pitching staff and more timely hitting, they would accomplish that mission, winning the series and moving on to the 2021 World Series.

Final Score: Astros 5, Red Sox 0

ALCS Series (Best of Seven): Houston wins 4-2

Winning Pitcher: Luis Garcia

Losing Pitcher: Nathan Eovaldi

Houston strikes first to start tightly-contested Game 6

After a scoreless top of the first inning by Boston's offense, the Astros capitalized on a chance to be first to score in the bottom of the frame. Alex Bregman started the two-out rally, reaching base on a single against Nathan Eovaldi for the first hit of the night. Yordan Alvarez followed, delivering his sixth RBI of the series with a double to put Houston on top 1-0.

That did not spark further immediate scoring, as the one-run score held while both starting pitchers provided solid outings for their team. For Eovaldi, he was able to limit Houston to just that single run through four frames. He returned in the bottom of the fifth, facing two batters, allowing a single, and getting a strikeout to end his night.

Garcia impresses in big start

For the home team, they were recipients of another expectation-exceeding performance from one of their young arms. Only anticipated to go a handful of innings, Luis Garcia worked efficiently and effectively against Boston, keeping them scoreless and hitless through five innings. He continued in the sixth, getting two more outs before allowing a two-out triple, ending his night as Phil Maton would enter to strand the tying run. Garcia's final line: 5.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 7 K, 76 P.

With both teams dipping into their bullpens, the Astros took advantage of Boston's as Yordan Alvarez's dominance went on display once again. He led the inning off with a triple, then scored on a double-play ball to extend Houston's lead to 2-0. Kendall Graveman took over on the mound in the top of the seventh and worked himself into a big moment. He gave up a one-out walk, followed by a single, which put runners on the corners for Boston. He continued to struggle with the zone, falling behind the next batter 3-1, but was able to battle back to get the strikeout paired with a terrific throw by Martin Maldonado to cut down the runner from first trying to steal second, ending the inning and maintaining the two-run advantage.

Astros headed to the World Series

Ryne Stake was Houston's next reliever, and he put Houston three outs away by getting a 1-2-3 eighth. With Ryan Pressly warming, he watched and hoped that his offense could give him some more insurance to work with when he went to the mound in the top of the ninth. His wish would be granted, as after getting two on base, Kyle Tucker would put a major exclamation point on the night's offense, hitting a three-run opposite-field homer to the Crawford Boxes to push the lead to 5-0.

Pressly, now with the five-run lead, came on to try and start the celebration by getting the final three outs. Against the tougher part of Boston's order, he would get a 1-2-3 inning, giving the Astros the American League pennant, which along with those won in 2017 and 2019, puts them back in the World Series for the third time in five years.

Up Next: The Astros will have three days off before The Fall Classic kicks off. While Game 1 will be on Tuesday, October 26th, nothing else has yet been determined as Houston awaits to see which of the Dodgers and Braves will advance out of the NL, which will also dictate if the Astros will host or travel to World Series Game 1.

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