THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 preview: Blaney may be poised for victory

Ryan Blaney could finish first this week. Ryanblaney.com

After a one-week hiatus for Easter, The Monster Energy Cup Series makes its return at Texas Motor Speedway for the O'Reilly Auto Parts 500. Two weeks ago, before the break Clint Bowyer went on to break a one-hundred and ninety race winless streak as he was able to fend off Kyle Busch for the victory.

It is the fourth victory for Ford and Stewart-Haas Racing as they continue their incredible start to the 2018 season. This has been the best beginning to a season for the team seeing how all four of their cars are in the top sixteen in points. Stewart-Haas has always been a championship contending race team but this year they have catapulted to the top and to top it all off they head to a track where they have been successful in Texas Motor Speedway.

Last November, Kevin Harvick went on to pass Martin Truex Jr in the waning laps to take the victory and solidify his spot in the championship race. He would be the favorite going into this race seeing how intermediate tracks like Texas really play to his strengths.

Look for him to be out front this weekend. More than likely we will be seeing more long green flag runs. In the last race here, the first stage went completely incident free and we didn't see a yellow flag for an on-track incident until lap 94 when Kasey Kahne and Daniel Suarez both crashed in turn two, so expect more of the same this weekend.

My prediction to win the race this weekend is Ryan Blaney. Last year, Blaney appeared to be on his way to his first career victory. He dominated the first two stages and led the most laps (148) but ran into trouble when he contacted the lapped car of Corey Lajoie after he held him up in turn four. To show his displeasure, Blaney slammed into him in the tri-oval which cost him the victory. He would however bounce back somewhat to finish in 12th. Blaney had a hard time finishing races before he claimed his first victory last year at Pocono Motor Speedway, but this is not uncommon for younger drivers. We saw this with Kyle Larson two years ago and it even goes as far back as Jeff Gordon.

Drivers like Blaney, Chase Elliott and Daniel Saurez are accustomed to driving shorter races in the Xfinity series, so it is understandable why they have that issue. Blaney has appeared to be the first to correct it though seeing how he was the first "young gun" to come out and win a race.

Blaney has been running exceptionally well this season. He is currently third in points behind Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. He is due for at least a couple of wins this year and this is where I think it begins. One thing that Blaney struggled with last week though was his long run speed but that was a much different race track. Look for the Number 12 to take the checkered flag.

My Darkhorse for this week's race is Aric Almirola. This has been a career year for Almirola. While he has finished in the top 10 only twice, he has been solidly running around there this whole year. As I wrote in my season preview article, Almirola was due to have a great season and so far he has. His career stats should not overshadow how talented he is.

While not a knock to the legendary Richard Petty ,the resources that they have are good but not at the level of Stewart-Haas and now that he is in a little bit better equipment he is finally getting the chance he deserves. He is 11th in points and was two corners away from winning the Daytona 500 until  Austin Dillion turned him head-on into the wall on the last lap. 

While he has struggled here at Texas, I think a better team and a change of scenery will make a world of difference. Keep an eye out for Almirola and the Smithfield Ford to be a contender.

 (All stats and information used in this article is brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Refrence.com the best website for all NASCAR stats)

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After the Mariners came alive late in Monday's series opener to hand the Houston the loss and keep their playoff picture hanging in the balance, the Astros returned to T-Mobile Park on Tuesday to try and decrease their magic number. Here's how the middle game went:

Final Score: Astros 6, Mariners 1.

Record: 28-27, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Framber Valdez (5-3, 3.57 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Casey Sadler (1-2, 5.40 ERA).

Both teams trade first-inning runs

The Astros struck first in Tuesday's game, not waiting around until the ninth inning to get on the board. Instead, they jumped out to an immediate 1-0 lead after a two-out RBI-single by Kyle Tucker in the top of the first. The Mariners responded quickly, though, getting a leadoff single in the bottom of the inning before a two-out RBI-double of their own to tie it 1-1.

Astros score five in the sixth

The 1-1 score held all the way until the top of the sixth when the Astros would flip the script from the night prior, taking advantage of some mistakes by Seattle to put up a big inning. First, Michael Brantley started the inning with a solo go-ahead homer to make it 2-1. Then, Kyle Tucker would get his third hit of the night with one out before eventually scoring after a walk and two wild pitches, making it 3-2. With two walks to keep the inning alive and put some insurance runs on base, Martin Maldonado took advantage with a big three-run home run to extend the lead to 6-1.

Valdez finishes seven strong, Astros even series

After allowing the one run in the bottom of the first, Framber Valdez recovered and put together a solid outing on the mound. He allowed just five hits total, two of which came in the first, then back-to-back singles in the fourth and a single in the fifth, while otherwise keeping the Mariners at bay. He would end up completing seven innings of one-run baseball while striking out eight. His final line: 7.0 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 8 K, 0 HR, 108 P.

After Valdez, Enoli Paredes would take over in the bottom of the eighth, working around a leadoff single to get a scoreless inning to keep it 6-1. In the non-save situation, Josh James would come in for the bottom of the ninth and finish off the win for Houston.

Up Next: The finale and rubber game of this three-game set will start a bit earlier on Wednesday, with first pitch scheduled for 5:40 PM Central. The pitching matchup will be Nick Margevicius (1-3, 5.35 ERA) for the Mariners going against Zack Greinke (3-2, 3.90 ERA) for the Astros.

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