THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR heads back to Kansas

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NASCAR makes their second trip to Kansas this week for the Hollywood Casino 400. This is the final race in NASCAR's round of 12 as each driver looks to get closer to the semifinal round of eight. The last time the Cup series was here was back in May, Brad Keselowski pulled off the victory in one of the best races of 2019 as he held off a charge from Alex Bowman and Clint Bowyer to claim his second win of the season. When the cup series came here in year's past, this was one of the more calmer races but ever since NASCAR introduced the new Aero Package, the field has been way closer. According to racing-reference, the spring race here had an average of 15 green flag passes per lap. While many fans have been extremely critical of NASCAR's new package, they simply cannot deny how much it has improved the racing on tracks like Kansas and Chicago. It will be interesting to see how much the circumstances of this being an elimination race will raise the urgency come Sunday.

Last week, the finish of Talladega was pushed back a day after rains suspended all on track activity on Sunday. After the conclusion of the first stage, the field was halted for over two hours until race officials decided to call it a day. During the rain delay, Chevrolet executive Jim Campbell called in an impromptu meeting with all of his drivers and demanded they all form a single-file line to help a Chevy win the race. According to driver Corey LaJoie, if drivers didn't comply, they would lose their company car and would lose time on the team's simulator which is a valuable tool for divers to get better at certain tracks. As you can tell, this was not received well by drivers and fans alike. One of the critics of this decision was 1999 Winston Cup Champion Dale Jarrett. When asked about it, he responded by saying "this has no place in NASCAR."And as a lifelong fan and owner of a Chevrolet, I must say that I agree with the critics on this. Working together on tracks like Talladega is one thing but to threaten drivers who don't comply by taking away time on the simulator is incredibly stupid. This is another example of how corporate this sport has become over the years and is simply not a good direction for the sport. As the race went on, it appeared as if the manufacturer was actually hurt by this as their top drivers Alex Bowman, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Larson were all collected in an incident that ended their chances to win and quite possibly might cost Bowman a shot at the championship.

Needless to say, the race went on and featured one of the all-time greatest finishes in NASCAR History as Ryan Blaney was able to pass Ryan Newman in the final hundred yards and win by a margin of 00.7 tenths of a second making it the ninth closest finish in NASCAR History. Overall, this race had everything you would expect in a race at Talladega. It had multiple big crashes (including a flip by Brendan Gaughan), the lead changes and of course to top it all off, a photo finish. This great finish came at a good time for NASCAR considering the race at Dover a week earlier wasn't all that exciting.

Last week's race at Talladega was riddled with playoff implications as all twelve drivers were involved in some sort of incident including race winner Ryan Blaney. Overall, the drivers outside of the top eight are William Byron, Clint Bowyer, Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman. It is going to be extremely difficult for any one of these drivers to get it on points so it is more than likely that they will have to win to get in. When I look at these four drivers, I think all of them have a good shot to win as they have all been fast here.

This leads me to the driver I predict will win come Sunday and that driver is Alex Bowman. This track falls right into his wheel-house, he ran extremely well here as he led 63 laps and came extremely close to winning but had to settle for second place. This was tough for Bowman considering he had finished second three times in a row up to that point. This week, I think that Bowman gets his redemption for the spring race and he does it when he needs it the most to get into the round of 8. Look for Bowman to take the #88 Camaro to victory lane for his second career win.

(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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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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