The Left Turn

NASCAR Consumers Energy 400 preview

Chase Elliot won his first race. Jerry Markland/Getty Images

The Monster Energy Cup series hits the high banks of Michigan international Sunday for this week's Consumers Energy 400. Last week at Watkins Glen, Chase Elliott FINALLY was able to pick up his first career victory. While he was clearly the best car in the closing stages, the win did not come easy for the third year driver as he not only had to outrun the defending champion in Martin Truex Jr, but also he had to save enough gas to make sure he could even get to the finish line.

During the final laps, it looked like Truex was going to steal another victory this season but just couldn’t seem to get around Elliott. Due to how hard he was driving to catch him, Truex ran out of fuel in the final turn sealing the win for Elliott. For many, this was a very popular victory as Chase was greeted with thundering applause from the crowd, and the fans at the track and at home all knew that they had truly witnessed something special. Overall, was Watkins Glen the most exciting finish of the season? No. Probably not, but who knows, this could very well be the beginning of a legendary career for one of NASCAR’s many rising talents.

One of the biggest storylines of last week was the struggles  of Jimmie Johnson. All throughout the day, his Lowes Camaro ran mediocre at best and while he wasn’t the worst, he had nowhere near the speed that his teammates Chase Elliott and William Byron had.

He ran around 16th for the most part of the race until he was involved a crash with A.J. Allmendinger with 10 laps remaining that relegated him to a 13th place finish. While he may make the playoffs since at this point he has a pretty substantial lead over 17th, there are a lot of things that can happen that would see Johnson miss the playoffs for the first time over the course of his illustrious 16 year career.

For this to happen, two drivers  currently outside of the top 15 in points would need to win a race. This is truly uncharted water for Johnson as he as now in the midst of his longest winless streak of his career. Will he win a race this year? If you would have asked me maybe two months ago, I would have said absolutely, but right now I just don’t know. Over the course of his last four starts, his best finish is 10th at New Hampshire, and this race team has just not shown me that they can contend for victories. Regardless, I still think that he will be able to make the round of 16 on points and then after that who knows what could happen. Look for Jimmie to try and rebound and get back in a rhythm at Michigan.

The favorite going into this week has to be  defending Michigan winner Clint Bowyer. The last time the Monster Energy Cup Series came here in June, Bowyer was able to fend off his Stewart Haas racing teammates of Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch before the rain came and ended the race prematurely. Regardless of Michigan not being anywhere close to his best race track over the course of his career, winning this race in June had to be a big momentum booster and I would not be surprised in the slightest if he was able to go out and sweep both races this year and further solidify himself as the fourth championship contender.

This weekend's winner will be the same guy who won last weekend at Watkins Glen, Chase Elliott. Listen, while Kyle Larson might be the more logical choice I am still going with NASCAR’s newest golden child. Last weekend, Chase drove  the best race that I have seen him run his entire career and now that he has that elusive first win what's to stop him from him from backing it up with another one? Besides, this is easily his best track. In all five of his starts at Michigan, he could have won here at least three times. I think this year, Elliott will battle Larson all the way down to the final laps and finally get revenge on Larson and all those times he has finished second to him over the last two years. Look for Elliott to get Hendrick Motorsports back to their old ways 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's losing streak extended to five games

With key Astros missing, Detroit completes the series sweep

An overall bad day for the Astros on Wednesday. Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

On Wednesday afternoon, the Astros received a big blow to their chances in the series finale against Detroit and potentially longer. Five players: Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, Martin Maldonado, and Robel Garcia would all be moved to the IL due to health and safety protocols, leaving them scrambling to get a whole team together for the game against the Tigers.

The Astros would not be able to overcome both the loss of players and the onslaught of another strong start by Detroit in Wednesday's game which put them too far out front for Houston to come back from to avoid a series sweep.

Final Score: Tigers 6, Astros 4

Astros' Record: 6-6, third in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Michael Fulmer (1-0)

Losing Pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (1-1)

Tigers knock out another starter early

Detroit continued their success of making Houston's starter work hard in early innings, getting after Lance McCullers Jr., and giving him an early exit. After a lengthy fist, they broke through in the second getting two hits, a walk, a hit batter, and an RBI groundout to put up three runs on 34 pitches.

He would have a quicker 1-2-3 third, but after giving up a single, a walk, and hitting another batter to load the bases and reach 87 pitches, he would be removed in favor of Joe Smith. Smith would allow all three of the inherited runners to score, adding those runs to McCullers Jr.'s final line: 3.2 IP, 4 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 3 BB, 3 K, 87 P.

Astros try to claw back into it

After Smith would go on to load the bases again in the inning, still with two outs, Houston made another pitching change to bring in Brandon Bielak to get the third out and stop the bleeding at 6-0. The Astros would get on the board in the fifth, getting a runner on base to set up a two-run homer by Jason Castro to cut the lead to 6-2.



Bielak remained in the game to try and eat up as many innings as possible. While he continued to hold the Tigers to their six runs through the six innings, the Astros clawed back into the game. In the bottom of the sixth, Houston put their first two batters on base with a walk and single before an RBI-single by Yuli Gurriel to make it 6-3. They would threaten for more but be held there for the time being.

Astros can't cash in, Tigers complete sweep

Ryne Stanek was Houston's next reliever in the top of the seventh, getting a 1-2-3 frame to keep it a three-run game, as did Brooks Raley in the eighth. In the home part of the inning, the Astros put their first two runners on base on an error and a walk, then loaded them with a one-out single by Carlos Correa. They'd waste their chance to make something happen, though, with an inning-ending double-play.

Ryan Pressly, who had no save opportunities in recent games, entered to get some work in the top of the ninth. He worked around a leadoff double for a scoreless inning, sending the 6-3 game to the bottom of the ninth. The Astros had yet another chance to make something happen, loading the bases with no outs to bring the go-ahead run to the plate. After two outs, Yuli Gurriel would bring one run in with a walk, but that's as close as they'd come, extending their losing streak to five games and getting swept by the Tigers.

Up Next: Houston will get a much-needed day off tomorrow to try and leave this poor homestand behind them. They'll pick things up in Seattle on Friday, with first pitch of the opener of three games at 9:10 PM Central. The expected pitching matchup is Jose Urquidy (0-1, 5.23 ERA) for the Astros and Yusei Kikuchi (0-0, 3.75 ERA) for the Mariners.

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