THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR: Food City 500 preview and predictions

Photo via: Wiki Commons.

NASCAR heads to Thunder Valley on Sunday for the Food City 500. This will be the first short track race of the season as the guys will make a quick turnaround after running their second race at Charlotte on Thursday. This track is easily one of the most intense and high intensity type racetracks on the schedule. It's a 0.5 mile one groove race track with twenty-six degrees of banking in the corners. Its layout is similar to the nearby Nashville Fairgrounds.

This track is known for its close quarter beatin' and bangin' type racing, so there's a good chance that somewhere along the line someone will put the bumper to someone else which could cause upset drivers at the end of the race. The one thing I am looking forward to during this race is the return of the 750 horsepower package. Over the last couple of years this has provided the best finishes of the season including a fantastic battle between Denny Hamlin and Matt DiBenedetto last fall. Should Mother Nature cooperate this race will definitely be a good one.

On Wednesday when we were all ready to go racing, Mother Nature had other ideas as the race was postponed to Thursday. When the green flag flew, it appeared as if Joey Logano would be the car to beat as he went on to take the first stage of the race. But after that, he faded to fourth after Alex Bowman and Kevin Harvick took over the top two spots. They would battle it out until the late stages of the race when Bowman smacked the wall in turn four ending his chances of victory.

Later, when it seemed like Kevin Harvick was able to get away with twenty-eight to go, Chase Elliott took over the lead and never looked back as he went on to take the victory. It was finally sweet redemption for NASCAR's most popular driver. After the heartbreak of the 600 and Darlington, lady luck finally smiled upon the #9 Camaro. With the victory, Chase and his team proved that they are a force to be reckoned with all throughout the 2020 season.

While Elliott might have taken most of the spotlight, a driver that had a great result was Ricky Stenhouse Jr as he went on to finish 4th. When the teams got to Daytona, things seemed promising for the Mississippi driver as he won the pole for the 500 and seemed to be in contention, but late in the race things went haywire after crashing entering pit-road ending his chances. As the season went on the struggles continued. His average finish over the last five races would be 22nd including a disastrous lap one crash in the return race at Darlington.

Overall, while it wasn't a winning result, Ricky's #47 Krogers Camaro showed great progress as he was able to drive all the way to the top three at one point and looked to have a car to contend with Elliott and Harvick for a while. It is good to see this driver run well considering how much criticism he has received over the last couple of years. I look for him to follow up at Bristol with another good run.

The driver I think will win this weekend is Matt DiBenedetto. Now I am sure you may think I am going on a limb here but let's not forget, Dibenedetto had this race won in the fall until he collided with the lapped car of Ryan Newman. He comes to this track in a great situation and has been running extremely well this year as he finished 2nd at Las Vegas and is currently in the playoffs. As we all know, he has come from the small teams like the now defunct BK Racing. He has made the steep climb to where he is now and this week, I think he will give this historic team their 100th career victory and punch their ticket to the playoffs.

(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 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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