THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR: Cook Out Southern 500 preview

NASCAR: Cook Out Southern 500 preview
The big favorite this week has to be Martin Truex Jr. Photo by Wiki Commons.

The NASCAR Cup Series heads for the track they call too tough to tame, Darlington Raceway. This is undoubtedly the most challenging racetrack on the schedule as its abrasive concrete surface is one of the most difficult to drive on. Recently turn two has been repaved making this corner much quicker, so we should see a lot of passes here throughout the race. Overall though, the track will remain mostly the same as it's always been. The wall will be lurking at every corner and with this race being a high horsepower race it will be easy to overdrive the corners. Getting through traffic will also be a big point of contingency as well.

Last week at Daytona was a wild one as Ryan Blaney was able to avoid the chaos and take his second consecutive victory. It's been a breakout season for the #12 team as they have now scored more than two victories in a season for the first time in Blaney's career. The race was mired by three multi-car crashes that took out the likes of Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr, Brad Keselowski, and Austin Dillon. These incidents would have major implications on the playoff standings, and we never really knew who was going to get the final spot. When the dust settled, Tyler Reddick was able to limp his way into the playoffs by finishing ahead of his teammate Austin Dillon.

In a silly-season update, it was announced the morning before the race began that 2004 champion Kurt Busch would be moving to a newly formed second team for 23XI racing next season. Many considered this the worst kept secret in the garage, as there was a lot of speculation that went all the way back to the summer that he was being considered. Kurt will be driving the #45 Monster Energy Toyota, this is significant as it was co-owner Michael Jordan's basketball number when he returned in 1995. When making this move, they are hoping that adding a veteran voice to the fray will help their other driver, Bubba Wallace, and have another contending driver to make the playoffs. With things looking like they will relatively return to normal next year with practice and qualifying more than likely returning, this team should improve dramatically.

The big favorite this week has to be Martin Truex Jr. Not only did he win here back in May, but he has been one of the fastest drivers when it comes to these 750 horsepower races. He has accumulated more fastest laps than anyone with 132.5 and has two victories to his name. A win in the opening round would be a huge statement for this team after being swept up in a crash last week at Daytona and on the bright side, they start tenth this week, so track position won't be too much of an issue on Sunday. Look for the orange #19 to be a contender when the green flag drops.

The driver that I am picking to win this week is Chase Elliott. Last season, Darlington was tough on the defending champion. In all three races, he had an excellent car that could win but in two of the three, he was swept up in an accident that was not of his making. This year he is out for revenge and will be starting fourth after a quiet ninth-place finish last week at Daytona. Elliott may not have the best numbers but mainly because he was run into by either Kyle Busch or Martin Truex Jr in both races. If he can stay out of trouble, he should be the car to beat on Sunday.

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Astros defeat the A's, 6-3. Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images.

Jake Meyers hit a three-run homer to highlight Houston's six-run fourth inning that backed Justin Verlander's winning start, and the Astros beat the Oakland Athletics 6-3 on Friday night.

Verlander (3-2) struck out nine over six innings to increase hit total to 3,377, passing Hall of Famer Greg Maddux (3,371) for 10th on the career strikeouts list. He gave up two runs — one earned — on eight hits and didn't walk a batter for a second straight start and seventh time this year.

After another milestone to add to a long list of them, Verlander wasn't sure exactly how to feel.

“I feel like I should be more excited but I feel like I’m a little more introspective and reflective,” Verlander said. “A lot of sacrifices you make in this game, a lot of time away from the family, but I love it, so it’s pretty amazing. I don’t know if as a 21- or 22-year-old kid in professional baseball if I’d thought I’d be in the top-10 in anything. This sport’s been around for so long. Hard to put into words, but a lot of thoughts, a lot of thoughts went through my mind.”

When his teammates celebrated him once the special outing had ended, Verlander allowed himself to ponder the meaning.

Verlander remembers his first strikeout and he recalls one against Hall of Fame slugger Frank Thomas here at the Coliseum — and the pitcher wears No. 35 because of Thomas.

“I have a lot of great memories here,” he said.

A's manager Mark Kotsay, a former Oakland outfielder, has been witness to some of those.

“He’s just tough. He’s a Hall of Fame pitcher. He knows his game plan and he executes it really well," Kotsay said. "He doesn’t make a ton of mistakes.”

Yordan Alvarez added an RBI double and Josh Hader finished the 2-hour, 31-minute game with his seventh save for the Astros, who began a seven-game road trip.

After right-hander Ross Stripling (1-9) retired the first nine Houston hitters in order, Jose Altuve singled to start the fourth for the first of four straight hits that included Alex Bregman's two-run single.

The A's drew an announced crowd of 9,676 for the series opener after winning two of three against Colorado following an eight-game losing streak.

Miguel Andujar came off the injured list and immediately hit an RBI single in the first off Verlander and finished with three hits in his A's and season debut — including another run-scoring single in the seventh.

Andjuar's RBI marked the first time the A's have scored first in 18 games — ending the longest streak in franchise history. Batting cleanup, he also singled in the third.

Astros left fielder Chas McCormick robbed Max Schuemann of an extra-base hit when he crashed into the wall to make a great catch ending the eighth.

“That was a big play at the moment,” manager Joe Espada said.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Astros: RHP José Urquidy was pulled from his rehab start with Triple-A Sugar Land because of right forearm discomfort. He has been on the injured list with inflammation in his pitching shoulder. ... 1B José Abreu is scheduled to rejoin the club Monday in Seattle after playing at least two games with Triple-A Sugar Land as he works to regain his hitting rhythm.

Athletics: Andujar had been sidelined all season after having meniscus surgery on his right knee. He was claimed off waivers from the Pirates on Nov. 6. Oakland created roster room by optioning INF Brett Harris to Triple-A Las Vegas.

UP NEXT

RHP Spencer Arrighetti (2-4, 7.16 ERA) pitches for the Astros in the middle game opposite A's LHP JP Sears (3-3, 4.31).

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