The Left Turn

NASCAR Consumers Energy 400 preview

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 and the best website for all NASCAR stats).


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With their closer revealed, here are the Astros top bullpen X-factors

Houston Astros skipper Joe Espada wasted no time this week at spring training by answering one of the most talked about questions of the offseason.

Espada revealed that newly-acquired free agent Josh Hader will be the team's closer and will pitch the ninth inning, with Ryan Pressly working as the setup man.

Bryan Abreu will be tapped to pitch the seventh inning, but it wouldn't shock anyone if he had the best season of the three. But after Abreu, things get interesting in the bullpen.

Who pitches the sixth inning?

Astros GM Dana Brown gave Rafael Montero a vote of confidence, saying he's “legit.”

While we have our concerns about Montero after he finished with an ERA over five last year, there's reason for hope. The nature of relief pitchers halving up and down seasons from year to year could work in Montero's favor.

And with the salary that's already committed to him, Brown will likely give him every opportunity to justify his contract. It will be fascinating to see how Espada deploys him early on. You have to think with the boss man backing Montero, Espada will be on board too.

But if he does struggle, will Espada quickly stop using him in critical situations? The good news is, the team won't often have to turn to him in high leverage situations with Abreu, Pressly, and Hader ready to handle those duties.

Be sure to watch the video above for the full discussion about the Astros 'pen, and much more!

Don't miss Stone Cold 'Stros (an Astros podcast) every week on SportsMapHouston's YouTube channel!

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