THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR heads for Talladega for the 1000blubs.com 500

Talladega. Getty Images.


This Sunday, the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for the baddest race track on the planet, Talladega Super-speedway. This is easily the most unpredictable track on the schedule considering how massive this racetrack is. The track is 2.66 miles in length, making it the largest race track on the schedule. This track is known for its three and four wide racing as each car comes equipped with a tapered spacer that restricts speed and bunches everyone up in one big pack. This has been the cause of many massive wrecks that sometimes involve half the field. Back in 2003, one of the largest pileups in history took place here after 27 cars were involved. There truly is danger lurking around every corner at this track and there is no safe space to avoid what they call "the big one." This will be the main point of intrigue come Sunday as each playoff driver looks to survive and keep their playoff hopes alive by staying out of trouble.

Last week at Dover, Kyle Larson went on to claim his first victory in over 75 races. In the final laps, Larson was able to hold off a charge from Martin Truex Jr and cruise to the checkered flag. Because of his win, Larson is now guaranteed a spot in the round of eight and one step closer to getting to race for his first championship. This couldn't have come at a better time considering how much trouble he has had at this track over the years. The last time he raced here, he ended his day on his roof and finished 24th. While a good run would definitely help him, I look for him to stay out of trouble and try to keep his Camaro in one piece.

One of the main headlines of last week's race was the mechanical problems that Joey Logano, Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney each faced. Before the race even began, Logano broke an axle that would keep him the garage for 24 laps. Fan favorite Elliott was the next to break as his engine would go belly up after eight laps of racing. While Logano was able to get back out on the track, his teammate Ryan Blaney wasn't so lucky after his suspension quit on him on lap 297 causing him to retire early. So with all of these mechanical issues, many wondered what was the cause of these malfunctions? On this week's edition of Dale Earnhardt Jr's podcast, he and driver Darrell Wallace Jr both believed that the tracks concrete surface was to blame. The track is so rough on each of these cars and the wear and tear causes many mechanical and tire failures. Overall, I think a repave wouldn't be the worst thing considering how hit or miss the racing has been. I know that being one of the few concrete tracks on the schedule is part of their charm but I think it's time for a change.

After months of speculation, NASCAR finally gave the fans a peek at the "next gen" car that will be run in 2021. Ever since NASCAR announced that they would be rolling out a new model, many fans had some interesting ideas on what this new car would look like but when it was announced the car didn't look all that out of the ordinary but there were a few very noticeable differences including the new tires that will be eighteen inches instead of the normal fifteen we see now, the car will also feature a diffuser towards the bottom of the rear of the car like we see on the sports cars in IMSA. This will increase the downforce of a car to help increase drag and ideally keep the cars closer. While this is base design of what the car will look like, it is important to note that this is only a prototype of what we will see in two years as the Manufacturers will be building their own styles in the near future. The sanctioning body called on 2018 Daytona 500 Champion Austin Dillion to test the car at Richmond Raceway and he gave warm reviews to the new race car. He was quoted as saying "was a blast to drive and stops on a dime." This will definitely be interesting to see what is next and if this new car will offer any improvement on the racing we see now.

The driver that I have winning this weekend at Talladega is Alex Bowman. Over the last few weeks, Alex has been in the spotlight and while they may have not been for the best reasons he has really been fast over the last couple of races. Last week, he followed up his controversial second place finish at the roval with a third place at Dover. He has been sneaky fast and currently sits seventh in points. This track is also a place where he has shown speed as well, in the spring race he nearly claimed his first win until a caution came out on the last lap that kept him from getting around his Hendrick racing teammate Elliott. This week, I have a feeling Bowman will come around and continue to build on his momentum and capture his second win of 2019 and move on to the round of eight.

(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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