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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Houston dropped two of three

Astros drop series finale to Oakland, A's win series

Jose Urquidy couldn't hold Oakland back on Saturday. Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

With Oakland finally ending their drought against the Astros on Friday night to split the first two games of the series, and with the Angels staying in step with them as both teams started the day 6-2, the Astros needed a win to keep momentum in their favor on Saturday.

Instead, Oakland would outslug Houston once again to take the series finale and take the series win. The loss moves Houston to 6-3 and down to second place, at least for now, until the 6-2 Angels complete their game on Saturday evening.

Final Score: A's 7, Astros 3

Astros' Record: 6-3, second in AL West

Winning Pitcher: Frankie Montas (1-1)

Losing Pitcher: Jose Urquidy (0-1)

Urquidy gives up four over six

Much like the night before, Oakland was able to bring in runs against Houston's starter, this time Jose Urquidy, Saturday afternoon in their second time through the order. Their first time through, Urquidy was cruising, allowing just one baserunner in the first three innings on a single in the top of the third.

Things shifted in the top of the fourth, with the A's getting back-to-back singles to set the stage for a two-run frame with dual RBI-singles to take a 2-0 lead. Oakland doubled that in the fifth, getting a two-out single to set up a two-run homer by Ramon Laureano to make it 4-0. Urquidy would go on to finish six innings, but with no run support to that point, would leave in line for the loss. His final line: 6.0 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 7 K, 93 P.

A's pad their lead before Houston gets on the board

Meanwhile, although getting five hits, the Astros could not get anything on the board against Frankie Montas through six innings. Brandon Bielak took over out of the bullpen for Urquidy in the top of the seventh, but after loading the bases, he would allow a dagger two-RBI single to make it a 6-0 deficit for Houston.

With Montas starting the seventh looking to face a batter or two before Oakland moved to their bullpen, Kyle Tucker would finally get Houston on the board with a leadoff solo home run, cutting the lead to 6-1 and ending Montas' day. Houston would get a two-out rally going, with an RBI-double by Jose Altuve followed by an RBI-triple by Michael Brantley to make it a three-run game at 6-3.

Oakland takes the series win

Ryne Stanek tried to keep it a three-run game and give the Astros a chance to stay in it in the top of the eighth but instead would give up a two-out solo home run to push Oakland's lead back to four. That 7-3 score would go final as Houston would go scoreless in the eighth and ninth.

Up Next: Houston will have a day off on Sunday before continuing this homestand Monday night by welcoming in Detroit and former manager A.J. Hinch for three games. In the series opener, the Tigers will send young star Casey Mize (0-0, 2.25 ERA) to the mound, while the Astros will get another start by Zack Greinke (1-0, 1.38 ERA).

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