THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR Hollywood Casino 400 preview

Alex Bowman needs a big effort to advance. Alex Bowman/Facebook

The NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for the heartland in Kansas City, Kansas for the Hollywood Casino 400.

Last week, Stewart-Haas racing teammates Aric Almirola, Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer found a way to pull away from the pack and get a one-two finish as Almirola went to victory lane for the first time since July of 2014 at Daytona, Bowyer finished second.  This victory is huge for Almirola. Not only does he solidify himself as a championship contender, it is also very special due to all of the adversity he has had to face over the past year. Last year at Kansas Motor Speedway of all places, Almirola suffered a back injury which took him out of commission for a month. It was good to see him get redemption and move on after the hard times.

Entering this race, two drivers have already clinched a spot to the next round. Those drivers are Chase Elliott and  Almirola. While not exactly the drivers the casual fans would expect, both drivers are enjoying their best seasons as Almirola has his most top 10s in a season in his career and Elliott was able to claim his first win in his career this year at Watkins Glen followed by a victory at Dover two weeks ago.

The four drivers that are below the cutoff line are Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman. For the two Penske teammates of Keselowski and Blaney they face the easiest path to unseed Martin Truex and Clint Bowyer. While they enter Kansas 18 points out, if both of these drivers can rack up stage points they very well can find themselves in prime position to get back into the round of eight. The next two drivers are Larson and Bowman. These two are in a must-win situation. Bowman and Larson are facing an insurmountable deficit and the only way to advance is to win Kansas. It should be interesting to watch as these two try and claw their way back into the championship picture.

One of The biggest surprises of this round has been the struggles of Martin Truex Jr. After an abysmal 23rd place finish at Talladega and a mediocre 15th-place finish at Dover, Truex comes into Kansas only eight points above the cutoff. While the situation isn’t exactly dire for the defending champ, he still needs to have at least a top 10 finish to securely solidify his spot in the round of eight. He should be a force to be reckoned with come Sunday.

The driver that I have going to victory lane is Larson. Overall, 2018 has been a huge letdown for this team and while they had chances to win races, it just hasn’t seemed to be in the cards for him but this week, I think they finally break through. I know that I have been saying that for quite some time this season but Kansas Motor Speedway is one of the tracks he has been able to really excel at - he just hasn’t seemed to have the results to back up how great he has run here and tracks like it. Even though his average finish here has not been that great, over the years, he has always been in contention for a win. Like I wrote earlier, Larson’s back is very much against the wall when it comes to making the next round, not only is he facing a 36-point deficit but he also faces a 10 point deduction after using metal tabs for damage repair, which is illegal as you can only use metal fasteners or duct tape to repair damage. While the team is appealing, this does not change the situation for him and I think this week he will defy the odds and clinch a spot in the round of eight and maybe this victory can be the catalyst for Larson to get back into championship contetinton.

This should be a great race come Sunday as most cutoff races in this playoff format have been awesome to watch and this week should be no different. I can’t wait to see who moves on as we get closer and closer to crowning a champion in november.

(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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Houston drops the opener

Angels use big sixth inning to take opener from Astros

Houston's offense started hot, then went cold Monday. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

With a 2-1 series win under their belt to start this ten-game homestand, the Astros turned the page to a three-game set with the Angels on Monday night. Things started strong for Houston, building an early lead, but it would erode in the middle innings as the Angels would respond with a big sixth inning to take the opener.

Final Score: Angels 5, Astros 4

Astros' Record: 18-17, tied for second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jose Suarez (1-0)

Losing Pitcher: Brandon Bielak (1-2)

Houston Builds an early lead

After a 1-2-3 top of the first by Luis Garcia, Houston would start the scoring in the bottom of the inning. Back-to-back walks set things off, setting up an RBI ground-rule double by Alex Bregman, giving them the 1-0 lead. Kyle Tucker lead the bottom of the second off with a double, then came around to score on an RBI single by Myles Straw, then Michael Brantley made it 3-0 with an RBI double later in the inning.

Los Angeles roars back to take the lead

Los Angeles trimmed the lead to two runs in the top of the fourth with an RBI double, but Houston was able to get that run back on another RBI by Straw in the bottom of the fifth. Things fell apart for Garcia in the top of the sixth, with back-to-back one-out solo homers trimming the lead to one run and ending his night there: 5.1 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 2 HR, 92 P.

The Angels didn't stop there, getting two more runs to take the lead off of Brandon Bielak, who managed just one out while blowing the lead. Brooks Raley would enter to get the final out of the inning, then tried to keep the deficit at one run when he returned in the top of the seventh. It looked like things might unravel for him, allowing the first two batters to reach base on a walk and single, but he would battle back to strike out the next three straight to strand both.

Angels take the opener

Joe Smith took over in the top of the eighth, still 5-4, but would get two outs while allowing a double in his three batters before Houston moved on to Kent Emanuel, who finished the inning off. After another scoreless inning for Houston's offense, Emanuel remained in the game in the top of the ninth to keep a walk-off chance alive, and he would do so by erasing a walk to send the one-run game to the bottom half. The Astros wouldn't pull off a comeback, though, dropping the opener to Los Angeles.

Up Next: The middle game of this series will be another 7:10 PM Central start on Tuesday night. It shapes up to be an exciting pitching matchup, with Lance McCullers Jr. (2-1, 3.58 ERA) for Houston going up against the two-way star Shohei Ohtani (1-0, 2.41 ERA) for Los Angeles.

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