The Left Turn

NASCAR heads to Pocono this week

Ryanblaney.com

NASCAR heads for the tricky triangle this week for the Pocono 400. Located in Long Pond Pennsylvania, this track is NASCAR's most unique on the schedule. This track is 2.5 miles long and is the only track that features only three turns as opposed to four. Another unique aspect is how each corner is banked differently. The one part of the track to look out for though is easily turn two. Nicknamed "the tunnel turn" we have seen so many drivers run into trouble here. Look for this to come up Sunday.

Last week, Martin Truex Jr was able to fend off Joey Logano for his third win of the season and his second Coca-Cola 600 victory and overall If you ask me we saw another great race. This event had everything, lots of cautions, tire-ware, lots of passing and even some strategy as well. For the past couple of weeks, NASCAR has really done a good job at improving their product especially on the mile and a half tracks like Charlotte or Kansas. One added factor that might have helped improve things as well was the added traction they have placed around the track; we saw how much it improved racing at Texas Motor Speedway and it looks like it has worked wonders for Charlotte. This week we go to a much different race track than what we have seen but it's good to see the sport take a step in the right direction as we move forward.

The other big story this week was NASCAR's purchase of International Speedway Corp. (ISC for short.) The purchase was made last week for a cool two billion dollars. With the new deal, NASCAR becomes the owner of thirteen race tracks including Daytona and Talladega. This now clears a path for NASCAR to make schedule changes for 2021 and beyond. While it may sound exciting for NASCAR to finally change things up, I can feel for some of the tracks that may lose a race. Let's hope NASCAR is able to do the right thing and find some way to accommodate each race track.

The driver that I have winning this weekend is Ryan Blaney. As most NASCAR fans know, this track is where he was able to claim his first career win but ever since then his results have been mixed. In his last three starts here, he has finished in the top 10 once. It's also safe to say that this season hasn't been as good as he would have liked it to be. This week, I think a win will put him back in the hunt. I expect a lot from this young driver this season and has shown flashes that he can win and that will be exactly what he does this Sunday. Look for Blaney to go to victory lane.

Another driver who has really done a great job this year is Chris Buescher. If you have read some of my articles, I have been really high on this driver after how much he has improved his performance towards the closing stages of 2018. Last week he was able to wheel his damaged car to a sixth place finish, this is his second consecutive top ten. While he wasn't on a lot of peoples radar this year, the Prosper Texas native has turned a lot of heads and will definitely be a driver to keep in eye on in the not to distant future. Right now he appears to be in a good position to make a run for the playoffs and now he goes to a track where he also claimed his first career win. Look for the Bushes Baked Beans Camaro to be solid this week.

(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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Yainer Diaz should be a big factor early in the season. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images.

Opening Day for the Houston Astros is right around the corner and the reigning champions of the baseball world have set their final roster.

Three players whose names stood on the final 26 were catchers Yainer Diaz and Cesar Salazar as well as right-handed pitcher Ronel Blanco, and outfielder Corey Julks.

While some might be surprised to see their names on the main roster, the Astros’ logic behind it reveals the focus is not just on this season, but for the future as well.

Let’s start with Diaz and Salazar, who both edged out prospect Korey Lee for the backup catcher position. Lee was the Astros’ first-round selection in the 2019 draft. His numbers during 2023 spring training were .258/.343/.827 with two home runs and six RBI in 31 at-bats.

In comparison, Diaz’s slashes were .325/.317/.892 with one home run and eight RBI in 40 at-bats. Salazar put together a slash line of .286/.407/.978 with a home run and seven RBI in 21 at-bats.

While not making the opening day roster is a blow for Lee, Houston general manager Dana Brown said it is not necessarily a reflection of where the organization views him as a player.

Brown said it is vital for Lee to play every single day being a first-round sound selection. That would not be the case had he made the Astros roster, with Martin Maldonaldo solidified as the starter.

“He's like a big time, frontline guy with some power, so you can't have guys like that sitting on the bench at the Major League level, so you have to get him playing time,” Brown said. “Whereas Salazar is a backup catcher, and he fills that role better.”

While that argument works regarding Salazar, it will be interesting to see what Diaz does with his roster spot. Both Diaz and Lee are 24 years old. Diaz made his MLB debut last September and appeared in only six games for the Astros.

As for Blanco, the right-handed pitcher put together an impressive spring training for Houston that earned him his spot in the bullpen. The Dominican Republic native pitched 14 innings, giving up only one run. He put together a 0.64 ERA.

Blanco is going to be raring to showcase to Houston his improvement from last season. He had a rough 2022 season in the big leagues, appearing in only seven games and giving up five runs and accumulating a 7.11 ERA.

The 29-year-old beat out pitchers like Brandon Bielak and veteran Austin Davis to make the team’s crowded bullpen. For Blanco, it is all about producing in the majors.

One final player to spotlight is Corey Julks. He came as a bit of a surprise as well, with many thinking Justin Dirden's impressive spring could get him a spot on the roster. But Julks has more experience and posted a big year with the Space Cowboys in 2022. The former University of Houston Cougar crushed 31 home runs for Sugar Land last year and had a slash line this spring of .275/.318/.550 with 2 homers.

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