THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR Federated Auto Parts 400 preview

Brad Keselowski continues to own Vegas. Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

This Saturday the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for Richmond Raceway for the Federated Auto Parts 400. The track is 0.75 miles in length and has much higher banking than you would see on your average short track so there is plenty of room for side-by-side racing and plenty of room for passing as well. Richmond is one of the two short tracks in the playoffs (the other being Martinsville.) So it is sure to provide some of the great racing we usually see when the Cup series comes to a short track.  Ever since NASCAR began its first variant of the playoffs back in 2004, Richmond had always been the cutoff race before they would reset the points but not this season. For the first time in the track's history Richmond is included in the playoffs.

Last week Brad Keselowski went on to win his third consecutive race at Las Vegas after he was able to hold off the hard charging Kyle Larson. This victory seals advancement to the round of 12 for Brad as he continues his sensational late season surge. Overall, the biggest storyline of the race were all of the tire failures that occurred to playoff contenders. In total 12 of the 16 car playoff field had some sort of tire issue. The drivers affected by this the most were Chase Elliott, Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones, and Denny Hamlin as all four fell below the cutline to advance to the round of 12. Even though they still have two races remaining to get in, things are now a million times more stressful for them. For Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones, it would appear that they are both almost in  must win situations to move on as they are  18 and 19 points out of 12. Look for both to be desperate to go to the front and collect as much points as possible come Saturday.

NASCAR’s “Silly Season” is continuing to make major headlines this week as it was announced that long time veteran Ryan Newman will not return to Richard Childress Racing in 2019. Ever since his breakout debut season in 2014 for the team, the results for Newman and the 31 team have not been exactly ideal as he has only made the playoffs one time prior in 2015. Many have speculated that maybe it is time for Newman to call it a career but all signs point to him moving over to Roush racing and taking over the No. 6 Ford Mustang in 2019 replacing Trevor Bayne. Another possibility for him could be that he reunites with his old boss and close friend Tony Stewart and he would replace Kurt Busch in the No. 41 car. A move for Newman would be beneficial to both him and the driver that Childress brings to replace him. For Newman he gets a fresh start somewhere else and for RCR, they get a young driver they can build around for the future. It will be very interesting to see where all the drivers will land in the coming weeks.

As usual Kyle Busch is the 2/1 favorite going into this week. Over the span of 26 races, Busch has won here five times and has led over 1,000 laps here. As usual, anytime the cup series goes anywhere Busch is always one of the drivers to beat and this week appears to be no exception. The No. 18 M&M’s Camry should be a force to be reckoned with as he tries to claim his spot in the next round.

My prediction for this week’s winner is Denny Hamlin. Going into this race, like I had written earlier, Hamlin is behind the eight ball coming into this race as he is outside of the round of 12 but this week I think he breaks through and gets his first win of 2018 and moves on to the next round. In the beginning, this track was always one where he would dominate and lead more laps than anyone but in the end something would always seem to go wrong and he would not end up winning. It wasn’t till 2009 when he was finally able to win here and he has been on a tear ever since then. He has finished in the top five eight times and has led 1,207 laps, more than anyone. It is clear that he knows his way around the racetrack better than anyone else in the field and what better way to get out of a slump and move on than to win at where you know best, not to mention, this is his home track making it all the more special to win in front of his family in friends. Look for Hamlin to take the No. 11 Fedex Camry to victory lane.

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

 

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Houston's winning streak moves to six

Eighth-inning rally powers Astros to series sweep over Rangers

Yuli Gurriel brought in the go-ahead run late in Sunday's game. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Winners in the first three games of this series and their last five games overall, the Astros continued their climb towards the A's for first place in the AL West. They completed the four-game sweep, ending a successful homestand on a positive note before heading on the road.

Final Score: Astros 6, Rangers 2

Astros' Record: 24-17, tied for first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Brooks Raley (2-2)

Losing Pitcher: Joely Rodriguez (1-2)

Astros strike first, McCullers Jr. goes six scoreless

After the Rangers went down 1-2-3 in the top of the first, Houston grabbed an early lead off the bat of Alex Bregman. He provided the third single of the inning, a one-out RBI to put the Astros in front 1-0, a score which would hold steady for a while. Another run didn't come across until the bottom of the fifth when Houston would load the bases with one out when Carlos Correa would get an RBI groundball to double the lead to 2-0.

Lance McCullers Jr. did well with the small lead, backing up his recent eight-inning gem with a quality start against Texas. He allowed a couple of hits each in the third and fourth but would erase the runners with no damage allowed. The Rangers threatened in the top of the sixth with a leadoff double before the runner moved to third on a wild pitch, putting him in a great position with no outs. McCullers Jr. would come away unscathed, finishing the inning and his day by retiring the next three batters. His final line: 6.0 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 95 P.

Rangers tie it against Scrubb

First out of Houston's bullpen was Andre Scrubb, and he would not fare as well as the Astros starter. A leadoff single turned into a two-run game-tying homer, making it 2-2 before Scrubb would sit down the next three in order. Still tied in the top of the eighth, Brooks Raley had a terrific inning, striking out the three batters he faced.

Houston rallies ahead in the eighth for the four-game sweep

The top of Houston's order mounted a threat in the bottom of the eighth, loading the bases with one out to try and regain the lead. Yuli Gurriel would come through with the go-ahead at-bat, getting a sac fly to put the Astros back in front 3-2. A two-out walk loaded the bases again, setting up Chas McCormick to provide two insurance runs on a two-RBI single.

Myles Straw added one more on an RBI single, making it a four-run game at 6-2 heading to the ninth. Enoli Paredes made his long-awaited return from the IL, appearing for the first time since April 8th to try and close things out in the ninth. He tossed a scoreless inning, finishing off the four-game sweep, extending Houston's winning streak to six games, and keeping them in step with Oakland for the AL West lead.

Up Next: After a day off on Monday, the Astros will begin a six-game road trip on Tuesday. They'll kick off a three-game set in Oakland against the A's at 8:40 PM, an exciting matchup to determine who will head into the weekend atop the division. While Cristian Javier (3-1, 3.08 ERA) is the expected starter for Houston, Oakland has not yet determined their rotation for the series.

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