THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR heads for the high banks of Michigan

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This week, the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for the high banks of Michigan International Raceway for the Consumer Energy's 400. This is the second race of the season here and while it is still the same high banked two mile oval, there will be many different characteristics then there were here in June. Over the course of the past few weeks, NASCAR has been using a traction compound called PJ1 to help give the tracks more grip and so far it has worked to perfection as there have been some incredible finishes. Coming to a track as large as Michigan with extra grip should really provide for some high stakes racing come Sunday and with the new aero package. Now obviously this race won't be like what we see at Daytona or Talladega but I think there is a real possibility that it could be very similar. This should be a good race if it keeps up with the trends of the last few weeks.

Last week, Chase Elliott went on to claim his second win of the season and his second consecutive victory at Watkins Glen. Both of his victories were almost identical as he was able to once again outrun Martin Truex Jr in the closing stages of the race. Although Truex gave him quite a run, this was still easily the most dominating performance in Elliott's career. Of the 90 laps ran, Elliott led all but ten and went on to not only win the race but sweep both stages as well. This was very different from what we are accustomed to seeing with a Chase Elliott victory. When he won races, it was usually because the other contenders either had mechanical issues or a pit-road speeding penalty that eliminated them from winning. It was definitely a welcoming sight for fans everywhere to see Elliott put a whole race together and further establish himself as a championship contender.

While Elliott and his crew were celebrating their win, other drivers weren't as happy when the race was finished. This race was filled with short fenders and even shorter tempers as there were multiple retaliations all throughout the race involving some of the sports biggest names including Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson. The first incident came after Kyle Busch and Willam Byron tangled in the first corner. In response, Busch punted Byron through the grass entering the Innerloop nearly sending him into a spin. During a yellow, Byron was urged by legendary crew-chief Chad Kanaus to "Knock the [Expletive] out of him or there was going to be a problem" and that's exactly what he did. Byron smashed into Kyle's back bumper after Busch stood on the breaks. This nearly destroyed the front end of his #24 car and ultimately eliminated Byron from contention for the victory. This wasn't the only incident Kyle was involved in. He was also involved in an altercation with Darrell Wallace Jr as well. In nearly the same place he hit Byron, he decided to drive through Wallace as well. After the wreck, tracked him down under caution and hit him in the right rear quarter panel spinning him head first towards the wall. Fortunately for him, Kyle was able to save it and somehow rebound for an eleventh place finish. Overall, while it is clear he is easily the most talented driver on the track, Kyle Busch has not done himself any favors going towards the playoffs considering all of the drivers he has made mad. While I highly doubt this will carry over, these drivers simply don't forget about instances like these. This should be an interesting storyline to follow throughout the season.

Kyle Busch comes into Michigan as the odds on favorite to win this week as he has the highest average finish of all active drivers here in the past five races. While his results here have been great, Busch has only won at this track once back in 2011. If there aren't any issues with some of the drivers he upset last week, he is a lock to run around the top five. Look for Rowdy to be the car to beat come sunday.

My pick to win this week is the elder Busch brother Kurt. Overall, this season has been a revitalization for the veteran driver as he has singlehandedly carried his team to success and while some drivers sort of fade off into the sunset at this stage of their career, Kurt is having one of his best seasons. Behind his brother, Kurt has the second highest average finish here in the past five races including a runner up finish here back in June. Even though there have been struggles in the last few races for him, I look for Kurt to continue his stellar season and claim his second win of 2019. He should be fun to watch come Sunday as he looks to bank more bonus points going 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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