THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR: Hollywood Casino 400 preview and predictions

Look for Denny Hamlin to win this weekend. Photo via: Wiki Commons.

The NASCAR Cup Series heads for Kansas Speedway this week for the Hollywood Casino 400. This is the first race of the Round of 8 as the season gets one step closer to crowning a champion as there are four more races left in this crazy 2020 season. This track is a one and a half mile oval and it fits this package almost perfectly as there has been much closer racing since NASCAR started running it back in 2018. I look forward to seeing how this race plays out as strategy could very well play a part as it usually does here. The last time the Cup Series was here there were a lot of wrecks so that could be something to look out for as well.

Last week, Chase Elliott went on to capture his fourth consecutive road course win. The race was highlighted by the on and off rain that would soak the track and make finding grip next to impossible. We saw lots of cars spinning into the grass including Ryan Blaney who was leading at the time he spun. As crazy as the racing was we saw some surprises up near the front as Ty Dillon went on to win stage one of the race. Many people didn't care for what we saw as there were a multitude of fans on Twitter proclaiming that what they saw "was not racing." While yes, it was crazy, I think this was awesome to watch. I hope if there is ever more rain on road courses we can see more of this in the future.

The big surprise of the weekend was Kyle Busch. As we all know this has been the worst year of his racing career, he has yet to win a race this year and was eliminated from championship contention. The day started off pretty bad for him after getting a flat tire but as he always does, the defending champion went on a tear driving all the way back to the lead. It looked like the stars were going to align for him but a late race caution and the decision to stay out on cold tires cost him as his M&M's Camry gave up the ghost. While this season hasn't been the best, I would expect him to still be a major contender in the coming weeks for a victory.

The silly season continues this week as the rumors continue to swirl around who will go where next season. There are reports that next season Hendrick Motorsports will be renumbering the #88 back to the legendary #5. While the driver remains unknown, this is a big deal for Hendrick Racing as many people had been speculating that this would happen and now it seems as if it's coming to fruition. This was brought up by Dale Earnhardt Jr on his podcast. The other big story is the possibility that Erik Jones will be driving for Richard Petty Motorsports in 2021. This comes as a bit of a surprise considering the struggles that this team has endured but overall maybe there are improvements being made over there that we don't know about. If I personally was Rick Hendrick, I would hire Erik Jones to drive the #5 car next year but it is becoming more and more clear who he is going to go with next season and that doesn't appear to be an option. If Jones can come in and run well in the #43 car next season, I would think his stock will go up for 2022.

The driver that I have winning this week is Denny Hamlin. This 2020 season has been a career year for Hamlin as he has won seven races and has scored almost more points than anyone. Now he heads for a track that he has made his own where he won back in July. He has been phenomenal on these types of racetracks and this weekend should be no different. Look for Denny Hamlin to take the #11 FedEx Toyota to victory lane and lock himself into the championship race at Phoenix.

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Houston loses first game to Oakland

A's end losing streak against Astros with late homers

Lance McCullers Jr. went five innings of one-run ball Friday night. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

After maintaining their stronghold against the A's in Thursday's home opener, the Astros had the chance to lock up the three-game series victory against Oakland with a win on Friday night. On the mound, Lance McCullers Jr. hoped to improve upon his first start against this same team, a five-inning one-run outing.

Instead, he would have the same outcome, once again lasting five innings while allowing one run, before a big tie-breaking home run late in the game would push Oakland out of their losing skid against the Astros.

Final Score: A's 6, Astros 2

Astros' Record: 6-2, tied for first in AL West

Winning Pitcher: Yusmeiro Petit (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Bryan Abreu (1-1)

McCullers Jr. makes it through five

McCullers Jr. looked sharp through the first three innings, allowing just two baserunners, one on a second-inning single, then a walk in the third. Oakland did better against him the second time through their order in the fourth, with Jed Lowrie leading the inning off with a solo home run to put Oakland in front 1-0.

They went on to load the bases with one out on an error and two walks, but McCullers would strand them all. He returned for the fifth, a much cleaner inning where a caught stealing by Martin Maldonado would help him face just three batters. His final line: 5.0 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 88 P.

Oakland gets homer-happy to even the series

McCullers Jr. would leave the game without being eligible for the winning or losing decision, as an RBI-groundout by Kyle Tucker in the fourth would have it tied 1-1. Bryan Abreu was the first out of Houston's bullpen, and he would attempt to eat up multiple innings. He had perfect innings in the sixth and seventh, retiring six A's in order to maintain the stalemate.

Abreu remained in the game in the top of the eighth, allowing a single before getting a strikeout, ending his run as Dusty Baker would bring in left-handed Blake Taylor. Taylor would give up a single against his first batter, then a loud go-ahead three-run home run to Matt Olson to push the A's back in front 4-1. They'd add two more insurance runs off of Joe Smith in the top of the ninth, getting a two-run home run by Mark Canha to extend the lead to 6-1.

Oakland's bullpen would hold on to the newly created lead, allowing just one run on a sac fly by Jose Altuve in the bottom of the ninth, finally ending their losing streak against Houston and setting up the rubber game on Saturday to be for the series victory.

Up Next: This series's finale will be a Saturday afternoon start, with first pitch scheduled for 3:05 PM. For the Astros, Jose Urquidy (0-0, 4.15 ERA) will look to get a win on the board, while Oakland will hand the ball to Frankie Montas (0-1, 23.63 ERA).

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