THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR heads back to Daytona for the O'Reilly Auto Parts 253

Start your engines! Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images.

This week, the NASCAR Cup Series heads back to the beaches of Daytona for the O'Riley Auto Parts 253 on the Daytona Road Course. This will be the third time that the Cup Series has raced on the road course configuration. For years, it was rumored that they would race on this configuration and last year they got their chance to put the Daytona Road Course into action. This race came with a lot of hype as there would be no practice or qualifying on a configuration that hadn't been raced on but overall the race was relatively tame as Chase Elliott cruised to victory. This race has a lot of potential to be much more action packed considering the drivers have more track time. Besides, if this race is exciting as the Clash, I think we are in for a really good one.

Turn one should be the corner to look out for. This has been where most of the issues have come as drivers have a tendency to overshoot the corner like we saw with Ryan Blaney in the Clash. Look out for this come Sunday. Another big point of interest will be the removal of the rumble strips. These caused a lot of issues in the Clash as drivers such as Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick both crashed after hitting them. This should fix a lot of the issues we have seen.

Last week, Michael McDowell shocked the world by winning the Daytona 500. Coming into this race, McDowell was a +6600 underdog to win. While it might have been a surprise to a lot of people, this was a long time coming for the Arizona driver. Every time they went to Daytona or Talladega, that yellow #34 Mustang has been consistently fast. If there was anyone who could pull off the upset, he was a prime candidate. It was good to see him finally get his first win after going winless in his previous 357 starts. This was the longest drought since Michael Waltrip won his first race almost twenty years to the date at Daytona in 2001. It will be interesting to see if McDowell can build on this as he has now clinched a birth into this year's playoffs.

The big storyline this week was the last lap crash between teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. In almost a carbon copy of last year, the two tangled in the late stages once again. When getting out of his car, Brad threw his helmet at his car in disgust. He was also heard on the radio saying, "My teammate wrecked me to win the Daytona 500." This led to speculation once again about the dynamic at Penske racing. I personally believe that this should blow over like it did last year, and we should see Brad return to Penske in 2022. Time will tell what's next over at Penske Racing.

The favorite going into Sunday is Chase Elliott. In the past four road course races, Chase has won all of them. He has become the king of the road on this hot streak. He also won here last year in convincing fashion when he led over half of the race. I could very well see him going five for five and winning again. In fact, he was one corner away from winning the Clash but mistakenly wrecked Ryan Blaney and lost the lead to Kyle Busch. Look for Elliott to be the car to beat on Sunday.

The driver that I have winning this week is Martin Truex Jr. While Elliott has been in the limelight, Truex has been the next car behind him when it comes to speed. Overall, Truex is a pretty good road course racer as he has won four of these in his career. Even before he was at Gibbs, he was fast on these types of tracks as he won a race at Sonoma back in 2013 for Michael Waltrip Racing. He and Chase have had some great battles on road courses but this time, I think Truex will come out on top. Besides, he was well on his way to winning here two weeks ago but hit the curve and crashed from the lead. If he can be as good as he was then, there is no reason he can't close the deal and capture his fifth road course victory. Look for MTJ to take the victory on Sunday.

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Kyle Tucker had a big day at the plate on Sunday. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

After splitting the first two games of the series, with one team or the other putting on a solid offensive performance in each, the Astros tried to win their fourth series in their last five by taking the rubber game on Sunday against the Blue Jays. Thanks in part to a big day from Kyle Tucker, who played a significant role in the early offense they used to power to the win, they would accomplish their mission.

Final Score: Astros 7, Blue Jays 4

Astros' Record: 18-16, second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Bryan Abreu (2-1)

Losing Pitcher: Nate Pearson (0-1)

Kyle Tucker helps lead the offense to seven unanswered runs

Houston did not go easy on Nate Pearson in his 2021 debut. After a scoreless first, the Astros loaded the bases on two walks and a single, then brought the first run of the day home on an RBI walk by Michael Brantley. Another walk opened the door in the bottom of the third, and Kyle Tucker capitalized with an RBI triple to make it 2-0, followed by an RBI single by Robel Garcia to make it a three-run lead, ending Pearson's day one out into the bottom of the third.

Things didn't get easier for Toronto's pitching in the next inning, as Jose Altuve would lead off the bottom of the fourth with a solo homer. A single and a walk then set up another big hit for Kyle Tucker, a three-run dinger to make it seven unanswered runs and giving Tucker four RBI on the day.

Blue Jays pound Greinke in the fifth

After four shutout innings to start his day on the mound, working around a few hits along the way, Zack Greinke tried to cash in on his team's offense to get another win on his record. He wouldn't be able to get it done, though, as Toronto would get after him in the top of the fifth. They would score four times amongst five batters that came to the plate, with a solo homer by Rowdy Tellez, a two-RBI double by Bo Bichette, and an RBI single by Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

That made it a 7-4 game, and with Greinke still not having recorded an out in the frame, Dusty Baker would lift him at 88 pitches in favor of Bryan Abreu, who would get a pop out and a double play to end the inning and keep the lead at three runs. Greinke's final line: 4.0 IP, 9 H, 4 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 1 HR, 88 P.

Houston takes the series

No more runs would come on either side the rest of the way, with Kent Emanuel working around a single for a scoreless sixth, Ryne Stanek getting a 1-2-3 seventh, and Andre Scrubb doing the same in the eighth to set up Ryan Pressly for the save. Pressly would get the job done, sending the Blue Jays down in order, including two strikeouts to wrap up the win and giving Houston the series victory.

Up Next: The Astros will stay at home to continue this homestand, welcoming in the Angels for three games starting Monday at 7:10 PM Central. The opener will feature a pitching matchup of Alex Cobb (1-2, 5.48 ERA) for Los Angeles and Luis Garcia (0-3, 3.28 ERA) for Houston.

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