The Left Turn

NASCAR heads for Kentucky for the Quaker State 400

Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

This week, NASCAR heads for the Bluegrass state for the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Motor Speedway. This track is a 1.5 mile tri-oval with tightly banked corners of seventeen and fourteen degrees. Back in 2010, NASCAR announced that it would add this track to the schedule and while it was met with much intrigue then, this track has provided much more tame racing than many would expect. Back in 2015, it was announced that this track would be repaved and reconfigured to fix some of the track's issues with moisture. After this repave, the part of the track that was most affected was turn three. This part of the track is easily the most challenging as there have been multiple incidents on this corner. This should be were all the action is come saturday.

Last week at Daytona,part-time driver Justin Haley pulled off arguably the biggest upset in NASCAR history as he was able to claim his first career win after the rain ended the race prematurely. Driving for newly formed Spire Motorsports, he was able to avoid the big wreck that claimed 18 cars and take the lead right before the rain came. Many would label this victory as a fluke considering he only led one lap but it is important to note that he was running around the lead pack before the last caution.

Another facet fans took issue with was how this team came about in the first place. Back in the off-season, owners TJ Puchyr and Jeff Dickerson purchased the charter from Furniture Row racing and announced that they would be the newest team on the grid. This charter ensured that the team would be assured a spot in each of the thirty-six races in 2019 as opposed to open teams that do not have a charter and are not assured a spot. Many also thought that the team's victory had no bearing on the regular season considering that neither Haley or the team would be eligible for the playoffs. When not racing in the Cup Series, Haley is an Xfinity series regular so that is where he collects his driver points making him only eligible to compete for a championship in that series. Overall, while this wouldn't happen in almost any other circumstance, I think that it is pretty neat to see a new driver go to victory lane for his first win. While I will agree that NASCAR's new charter method is severely flawed in every way, you can't really blame Sprie Motorsports for taking advantage of this and finding success. I wish them the best for the remainder of 2019.

Going into this weekend, the driver that I have winning this weekend is Martin Truex Jr. Over the last two races here, Truex has won both of them. In both of those starts, Truex has lead sixty percent of the laps run here so it's clear this track is basically Truex's playground. While I think that the new aero package may change things up a little bit, I still see Truex winning because of how well he has qualified here as well. Since 2017, he hasn't started worse than second and with Qualifying meaning as much as it does I think he should have no issue with that as well. He will be tough to beat come Saturday night.

(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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