THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR hits the road at Watkins Glen

Joey Logano. Getty Images.

This week, The NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for the finger lakes in Watkins Glen New York. This track is one of the three road courses on the schedule and if you ask me, easily the most exciting. Ever since the dramatic last lap duel between Marcos Ambrose and Brad Keselowski in both 2011 and 2012, this track has not had one bad finish. Besides the obvious Daytona or Talladega, this track poses the biggest chance for a first-time winner. Since 2010, there have been three first time winners including last season when Chase Elliott claimed his first win. This should be a can't miss race for any hardcore race fan.

Last week, Denny Hamlin went on to claim his third victory of 2019 after he was able to save enough fuel to hold off his teammates Erik Jones and Martin Truex Jr. This was Joe Gibbs racing's second 1-2-3 finish of 2019. This was another one of the many races that really ramped up in the final laps. While it appeared as if it was going to come down Hamlin, Jones and Harvick a caution came out after Josh Bilicki broke a driveshaft and stalled. This type of outcome seems to be a trend as it has happened so many times in the past few weeks and it isn't the worst thing for NASCAR right now. While watching the first two stages of the race is essential, everyone comes to see the closing stages of a race when the intensity heats up and lately even if it was unintentional these finishes have been incredible. It should be fun to watch during the remainder of the season.

The Jimmie Johnson saga continues as this week it was announced that he would hire a new crew-chief in Clif Daniels. This doesn't necessarily come as a surprise as Johnson has continued to struggle performance wise with his former Crew-Chief Kevin Meendering. Overall, I think that Kevin could be a good crew chief but the pressure might have been too much for him. Coming into 2019, Meendering was making his debut at crew-chief in the cup series as he worked for JR Motorsports with Elliott Sadler from 2016 to 2019 when he relieved Chad Kanaus. He was fairly successful in his efforts after he was able to guide Sadler to two championship races at Homestead in 2016 and 2017. In time, I think he will find his way back onto a pit-box in the Cup series, maybe some more time as an engineer or possibly crew-chiefing back in the Xfinity series will help him when he gets back whenever that may be. As for the guy they tapped to replace him, I think Daniels can definitely come in and help fix things from a technical standpoint as he has been an engineer at Hendrick since 2015, it should be interesting to see how this team progresses.

The driver that I have winning this weekend is Joey Logano. While it has been a struggle for him here in the past few years, this Sunday should be different; besides what a lot of people forget is that last season, Logano could have been a major contender if he wasn't involved in a first lap crash as he started the race in sixth. This is a track that Joey knows how to get around considering he won here back in 2015. This race also plays into pit strategy as well and for my money, crew-chief Todd Gordon is one of the best race strategists in NASCAR. I look for him to claim his third win of 2019.

(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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