THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR heads to the Texas Motor Speedway for the O'Reilly Auto Parts 500

NASCAR heads to the Texas Motor Speedway for the O'Reilly Auto Parts 500
Photo via: Wiki Commons.

After much speculation, the NASCAR Cup Series heads to the Lone Star State for the O'Reilly Auto Parts 500. Over the past week there were rumors that NASCAR was going to relocate the race after alleged pressure from the state to cancel. But alas the show goes on and the race will continue. Like the All-Star race, Texas Motor Speedway will also allow fans on the premises as well. This track will more than likely be able to operate at fifty percent capacity so this will likely be the largest crowd since the shutdown. While there is still a lot that is unclear in the world, there will be at least some sense of normalcy come Sunday in the crowd. Hopefully everyone stays safe, wears a mask and follows social distancing guidelines. This could very well be a barometer for future fans in the stands at any point during this season. I hope that all goes well.

Chase Elliott went on to capture his first All-Star race on Wednesday. The race itself was rather lackluster as there wasn't the excitement most fans expected to see. Overall, the reason for this in my opinion was how short the race was, especially the last segment. In the final laps when Kyle Busch was chasing down Elliott, he would get closer and closer but simply didn't have enough laps to run him down and do anything with him. If this race had been fifteen laps longer, there probably would have been a lot more excitement towards the front. In the end, this idea to move the All-Star race to Bristol was well-intentioned but there were a few minor kinks. But overall it was a fairly successful All-Star race.

The one thing I hope they continue to go with in the future is the lights they put underneath the cars, that was incredible. Wouldn't it be awesome to see those at tracks like Daytona? Initially, I was a naysayer when it was announced but after seeing it in action I thought it was awesome! The two things I hope they tweak is that they put the lights on all sides of the cars, and they let the teams dictate what the color is. If they can do that, I think it would be a neat way to promote their sponsors.

As NASCAR tries to navigate its way through this global pandemic, some parts of the schedule still remain unclear as Watkins Glen will cancel their race in August and move the race to the road course at Daytona. This is something that I have been looking forward to seeing for years, and I am glad to see it is finally coming to light. It will be interesting to see how close the cars are when they enter the oval portion of the racetrack and if the leader will be able to pull away unlike what we see at a regular Daytona race. It should be fun to see how this goes. I predict it will be similar to the first race at the oval in Charlotte so you know it will be good. I look forward to seeing the end results come next month and what the future holds for this configuration.

This week, the driver I have winning is Kevin Harvick. As we all know, the 2014 champion has been head and shoulders above everyone this week, and on Sunday we will see much of the same. Since 2017, he's made this track his personal playground. He has three victories in the last six races there and hasn't finished worse than eighth. So to say he has been good there would be an understatement. I look for him to put a beatdown on the field this weekend and capture his fifth victory of the season. Look for Harvick to take his #4 back to victory lane come Sunday.

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Astros on the hunt. Composite Getty Image.

With the Astros' surge from 10 games out of first place to within two games of Seattle, catching and going past the Mariners has naturally become the top objective. It's no given to happen but it's right there. In the final series ahead of the All-Star break, while the Mariners are in the midst of four games with the lowly Angels, the last two World Series champions renew (un)pleasantries at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros enter the weekend five games ahead of the Rangers. They lead the season series with the reigning champs four wins to three. While the Astros can't quite finish off the Arlingtonians by sweeping them in this three game set, shoving them eight games back (even further back of Seattle and the current Wild Card teams) and clinching the tiebreaker would seem close to a death blow. Taking two out of three would be fine for the Astros. If the Rangers win the series, they are clearly still in the American League West and Wild Card races coming out of the All-Star break.

Last year the Rangers had the best offense in the AL. So far in 2024 they rank a mediocre eighth in runs per game. Nathaniel Lowe is the lone Ranger (get it?!?) regular playing as well as he did last season. Corey Seager has been fine but not at the MVP runner-up level of last year. Marcus Semien is notably down, as is 2023 ALCS Astros-obliterater Adolis Garcia. Stud 2023 rookie Josh Jung has been out with a broken wrist since ex-Astro Phil Maton hit him with a pitch in the fourth game of this season, though fill-in third baseman Josh Smith has been the Rangers' best player. 21-year-old late season phenom Evan Carter largely stunk the first two months this season and has been out since late May with a back injury. Repeating is hard, never harder than it is now. Hence no Major League Baseball has done it since the Yankees won three straight World Series 1998-2000.

Chasing down the Division at a crazy clip

From the abyss of their 7-19 start, the Astros sweep over the Marlins clinched a winning record at the break with them at 49-44. Heading into the Texas matchup the Astros have won at a .627 clip since they were 7-19. A full season of .627 ball wins 101 games. If the Astros win at a .627 rate the rest of the way they'll finish with 92 wins, almost certainly enough to secure a postseason slot and likely enough to win the West. Expecting .627 the rest of the way is ambitious.

With it fairly clear that Lance McCullers is highly unlikely to contribute anything after his latest recovery setback, and Luis Garcia a major question mark, what Justin Verlander has left in 2024 grows more important. With the way the Astros often dissemble or poorly forecast when discussing injuries, for all we know Verlander could be cooked. Inside three weeks to the trade deadline, General Manager Dana Brown can't be thinking a back end of the rotation comprised of Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss should be good enough. The Astros have 66 games to play after the All-Star break, including separate stretches with games on 18 and 16 consecutive days.

All-Star MIAs

Viewership for Tuesday's All-Star game at Globe Life Field in Arlington will be pretty, pretty, pretty low in Houston. One, All-Star Game ratings are pitiful every year compared to where they used to be. Two, the Astros could be down to zero representatives at Tuesday's showcase. Kyle Tucker was rightfully named a reserve but had no shot at playing as he continues the loooong recovery from a bone bruise (or worse) suffered June 3. Being named an All-Star for a ninth time was enough for Jose Altuve. He opts out of spending unnecessary time in Texas Rangers territory citing a sore wrist. This despite Altuve playing four games in a row since sitting out the day after he was plunked and highly likely to play in all three games versus the Rangers this weekend. Yordan Alvarez exiting Wednesday's rout of the Marlins with hip discomfort and then missing Thursday's game seem clear reasons for him to skip, though he has indicated thus far he intends to take part. Yordan is the most essential lineup component to the Astros' hopes of making an eighth straight playoff appearance.

Ronel Blanco should have made the American League squad on performance, but pretty obviously his 10 game illegal substance use suspension was held against him. As it works out, Blanco will pitch Sunday in the last game before the break which would render him unavailable for the All-Star Game anyway. Blanco is eligible to pitch, but given the career high-shattering innings workload Blanco is headed for, no way the Astros want him on the mound Tuesday. Just last year the Astros kept Framber Valdez from pitching in the game.

While waiting, and waiting, and waiting on Tucker's return, the Astros have also been waiting on Chas McCormick to get back to something even faintly resembling the hitter he was last year. McCormick routinely looks lost at the plate. He has four hits (all singles) in his last 32 at bats with his season OPS pitiful at .572. During the break the Astros should seriously weigh sending McCormick to AAA Sugar Land and giving Pedro Leon a try in a job share with Joey Loperfido.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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