THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR heads back to Pocono for the Gander RV 400

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This weekend, the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series makes its second trip to Long Pond, Pennsylvania for the Gander RV 400 at Pocono Raceway. Unlike last time, this track will feature a new traction control compound to help provide for more traction and more racing lines around the track. With this track being as wide as it is, this possibly could really improve the product on the track. The decision received positive feedback from two time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin. In an interview with journalist Jim Utter, he was quoted as saying "I've been an advocate for using traction compound at Pocono for a while now. It gives us much more lane options and that's what this aero package needs." This is a welcomed change after the last race here was fairly lackluster with Kyle Busch pretty much running away and winning by two seconds. We shall see what the future holds and if there are more lead changes than we saw back in June.

Last week, Kevin Harvick was able to claim his first win of 2019. He was able to hold off Denny Hamlin and score not only his first win but his team's first win as well. The conclusion of this race continued with NASCAR's recent run of fairly tame races with incredible finishes. On the last lap, Hamlin attempted to move Harvick out of the way but to no avail as he was able to save the car and drive to victory. Getting this victory was huge for him as he is now guaranteed a spot in the round of 16 and while he has run well enough to be in pretty good shape, they needed to get this monkey off their backs. Look for Harvick and his team to be legitimate favorites to win the title.

As we draw closer to the playoffs, the race to crack the top 16 is heating up. With nine drivers having already clinched a spot by winning, everyone else is battling to get above the sixteenth place cut-line in points. The most notable of those drivers is Jimmie Johnson. He currently sits 17 points out of the chase behind Clint Bowyer. This is truly uncharted waters for the seven time champion, as he has never missed the postseason since it was implemented back in 2004.

These last couple of weeks for Johnson have been horrendous as he has finished 30th in back to back races. Many have begun to speculate about what is going on with this team and why they are struggling as bad as they are. One aspect that most point to is the split between Jimmie Johnson and longtime crew chief Chad Kanus, while this definitely has some impact on his performance, one of the main reasons I believe is because of their inability to adapt to stage racing. Since stage racing was implemented back in 2017, Jimmie has all of one stage victory so he is definitely leaving a lot of points on the table when it comes to getting into the playoffs and whether we like it or not, stage racing is not going away anytime soon. This season Jimmie has amassed only 47 stage points from each race and with the drivers ahead of him and behind him in the standings accumulating more points, it doesn't seem to be getting any easier for him to get into the chase at the rate he is going. Overall, while he has shown flashes of being the driver of old a win is almost essential to get him into the playoffs. This week at Pocono, he is going to a track where he has won three times but has struggled as of late as his average finish here since 2017 has been 23rd. Jimmie will definitely be a driver to keep an eye on come Sunday as he looks to get back into the chase.

The driver I have winning is Erik Jones. Overall, he has been on a roll for the last two weeks as he has finished in third place at Kentucky and New Hampshire and after a difficult start to the season, he is beginning to establish himself as a driver that can contend for wins on a weekly basis and now he gets to race at a track where he has performed extremely well. Over the course of his five starts at Pocono, he has finished in the top five three times including a third place finish here back in June. Going into this season, this team has flown under the radar and has quietly been improving week in and week out and now they will finally get to reap the rewards of their hard work. I look for Erik to get his second career win come Sunday and get each of the four Joe Gibbs Racing cars comfortably into 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 website for all NASCAR stats).

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Altuve's homer starting the scoring for Houston on Friday night. Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
After a solid showing to take the three of the four-game series in Arlington against the Rangers to start the week, the Astros returned home for three against the Diamondbacks in a weekend series. They would have a slow start to the opener but would ultimately come away victorious.

Final Score (10 innings): Astros 4, Diamondbacks 3

Astros' Record: 87-60, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Ryne Stanek (3-4)

Losing Pitcher: Tyler Clippard (1-1)

Bielak makes the impromptu start

With Luis Garcia having to move his start ahead by a day on Thursday instead of Friday with Framber Valdez's finger cut, Brandon Bielak made a start for Houston in the opener against Arizona. He didn't go as deep as he probably would have wanted and certainly ventured out of his comfort zone with traffic on the bases.

He loaded the bases in the top of the first, allowing a single and two walks, but was able to strand all three to keep it a scoreless game. He rebounded with a 1-2-3 second, but he dealt with a threat again in the third as back-to-back singles pressured him to start the inning. He would get back-to-back strikeouts, but that's as far as he would go as Houston moved on to Blake Taylor. Taylor got the final out of the third on one pitch, then erased a two-out double in the top of the fourth.

Altuve breaks up the no-no with a go-ahead homer

Brooks Raley took over in the top of the fifth, but in his three batters, he faced allowed a single while getting two outs before Cristian Javier took over to end the frame. Javier allowed the first run of the game in the top of the sixth, a leadoff solo homer to Kole Calhoun to put the Diamondbacks in front 1-0 before he finished the inning.

Madison Bumgarner didn't allow a single hit to the Astros through the first five and two-thirds innings. He allowed a one-out walk in the bottom of the sixth, which proved costly as Jose Altuve would get the first knock of the game for Houston, a two-run go-ahead homer. Phil Maton was the next reliever for the Astros in the top of the seventh, maintaining the new one-run lead by erasing a leadoff single.

Astros get the win in extras

The Diamondbacks tied it up in the top of the eighth against Kendall Graveman, getting a leadoff single followed by a walk, then later an RBI single to knot things up 2-2. Houston stranded a runner in the bottom of the eighth, then brought in Ryan Pressly, who tossed a 1-2-3 top of the ninth to keep the game tied.

Despite getting the winning run in scoring position with a leadoff ground-rule double by Jason Castro to start the bottom of the ninth, they would strand it as the game went to extras. Arizona scored their free runner in the top of the tenth, getting a sac fly to move it to third then going in front on an RBI single.

The Astros matched that and more in the bottom of the inning, moving their runner to third on a lineout to start the frame, followed by an intentional walk to Yordan Alvarez. Jake Meyers tied the game with an RBI single, then after another walk to load the bases, Chas McCormick was hit by a pitch to bring in the winning run, moving the Astros closer to clinching their playoff berth.

Up Next: The middle game of this three-game set will have a start time of 6:10 PM Central on Saturday. Tyler Gilbert (2-2, 3.15 ERA) is expected to make a start for Arizona, while Lance McCullers Jr. (12-4, 3.12 ERA) will be on the mound for Houston.

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