THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR: Dixie Vodka 400 preview and predictions

Image via: WikiCommons.

NASCAR heads to Homestead-Miami this week for the Dixie Vodka 400. This is the first time that the series will hold a race at this track during this time as usually the race here has been the season finale. One thing that will really change the complexity of this race is going to be the weather considering how hot it gets in Florida in June, so the track should be way more slippery and hard to find grip. We will see a lot of cars run around the outside next to the wall as that seems to be the preferred line.

There is a chance of rain this weekend and if the race is to be rained out, there is a good chance we could see the race run Monday considering there is no midweek races in the future. Another major storyline going into this race is that it will be the first to feature fans. It was announced that 1,000 service members and frontline workers will be allowed to attend Sunday's event as they will be spread out around the grandstands. This is a major step for the future and I hope they can find a way to get back to full capacity at some point.

On Wednesday, Martin Truex Jr. went on to capture his 27th career victory. Throughout the night, Truex struggled to find speed and even sustained some damage that had to be repaired. The team continued to work on their car and just kept getting better and better as the night went on and took the lead on lap 375 and never looked back. The race overall was really intriguing as there were so many characters that looked like they were going to win. First, there was Joey Lagano who set the tone early, then Jimmie Johnson had his turn at the front as he led 70 laps before Martin Truex finally took over. A lot of this can be attributed to the omission of practice and qualifying that sort of equaled the playing field. It will be interesting to see how this continues to affect things going forward.

In this race we also saw a lot of great runs from some of the smaller teams as well. The biggest example of this has to be Bubba Wallace. All throughout the day, he showed a lot of promise as he ran in the top five for the better part of the day. While he faded a bit towards the middle of the race, his car got better in the final laps, and he clawed his way back to an eleventh place finish. This team continues to improve week in and week out as last week at Bristol he was able to finish tenth and get himself back into playoff contention.

So as we all know, this past week NASCAR announced that it would be banning the display of the Confederate flag at their race track. I applaud NASCAR for finally showing some backbone and making the right decision even if it wasn't the most popular among some of its toothless fan base. It wasn't just fans that decided they wanted to take their ball and go home as truck series regular Ray Ciccarelli also decided he was going to retire at the end of the season because of this.

While the headline may state that Ciccarelli was a driver, his stats prove otherwise as he much like the Confederacy never won, and hardly even cracked the top ten. Overall, no one notices him when he is on the track and I doubt it will be any different when he doesn't come to Daytona next February. Overall, this flag is an outdated representation of a country that no longer exists and I have no idea why some people want to cling to it so badly. I hope that this decision by NASCAR weeds out a lot of morons, and we can finally move forward.

Moving on, the driver that I have winning this weekend at Homestead is Kyle Busch. Last Wednesday's finish at Martinsville was a disaster for the defending champion as they never could find any speed. He struggled and finished 19th. This week I think Kyle will bounce back. Here at Homestead, Kyle has been the model of consistency as he has won here twice and has finished no worse than 6th. While the circumstances at this track are different, it is still the same track, and he definitely knows how to get around this place. Look for Kyle to get his first win of 2020 come Sunday.

All stats and information used in this article are brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com, the best websites for all NASCAR stats)

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The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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