THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR Pocono 400 preview

Kyle Busch picked up another win. Kylebusch.com

This Sunday, we head for the tricky triangle at Pocono Motor Speedway for the annual Pocono 400. Pocono is a 2.5 mile triangle, the only race track on the schedule that has three turns as opposed to four. Last week, Kyle Busch dominated the Coca-Cola 600 as he led 377  laps en route to his fourth victory of 2018.

Throughout the weekend, Busch and his team never really had any competition as he not only won the race but the pole position as well. Aside from Busch, the other big story was the radio and the issues that the drivers faced. Somehow, a fan or a group of fans  were able to tap into the radio communications of the drivers and their crew chiefs. This proved to be an issue with drivers like Busch, Alex Bowman, David Regan and Jamie McMurray. Busch who was leading at the time, was shocked to hear a muffled voice “how his tires were.” this caused Busch to be without communication with his team for five laps.

The snafu brought on debate of whether or not NASCAR should better encrypt the radios to where fans can not hear the teams' communications with the drivers. I personally believe taking away these capabilities amongst fans would make the sport less unique but if it comes down to where it is a distraction maybe upgrading their means of communications would not be a bad idea.

One of the biggest surprises of last week's race was  Jamie McMurray after he was able to come out of Charlotte with his second top 10 of the season. The veteran was near the front for most of the race and even ran as high as second at one point. Even though McMurray did not have a car capable of winning, this run was still a big confidence booster for a driver that has struggled immensely this season. McMurray and his Earnhardt-Ganassi teammate Kyle Larson both were able to finish sixth and seventh respectfully. The Driver that I had winning last week was Denny Hamlin. Going into the weekend, Hamlin and his team had an impressive qualifying effort as Hamlin rolled off third; he would go on to finish exactly where he started in third.

Kevin Harvick came into the week as one of the heavy favorites to take his third Coca-Cola 600. Prior to the weekend, he won the last three races at Dover, Kansas and the All-Star race. Going into the race, Harvick was not able to make a qualifying attempt and was forced to start last. When the race began, Harvick appeared to be on the move but on lap 85, he cut down a tire and slammed the wall in turn four ending his day.  Look for Harvick to be a threat to bounce back at Pocono this sunday.

The favorite going into this weekend is Brad Keselowski. Over the past four races here at Pocono, Keselowski has an average finish of 3.75 and has not finished lower than fifth. He also has a victory here in 2011 when he beat Busch for his third career victory. Not only was this win important for that season for Brad, it was also a major step forward for his career as he went on to win two more races that season at Bristol and Dover and then win the championship the following year. Look for Brad and his team to try and duplicate what he did then and get his first win of 2018 and solidify his spot in the chase.

The driver that I predict will take the checkered flag is Kurt Busch. The 2004 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series Champion has flown under the radar this year. He has seven top-10s and two top fives and is currently sixth in the points standings. While he has been consistently in the top 10 for nearly half of the season, he still has yet to claim his first win of 2018.

This should change come Sunday. Kurt is going to a race track where he has ran well at over the years, as in his 33 starts, Busch has won here three times. In all active drivers, only Denny Hamlin has more wins here. Look for Kurt Busch to become the third Stewart-Haas racing car to go to victory lane in 2018.

A dark horse driver to keep an eye on this week is Ricky Stenhouse Jr. as 2018 has been pretty solid for the sixth-year driver as he has four top 10s and two top fives so far. He currently sits in 15th in the points and is in contention to make the playoffs for a second consecutive year. By no means has Pocono been a good race track for Stenhouse Jr. In fact, he has never finished higher than 11th here but I think this weekend will be different. Last week he claimed his third top 10 of the season in the Coca-Cola 600, so look for Stenhouse to build on last week as he continues to try and get Roush Racing back on track.

(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's losing streak extended to five games

With key Astros missing, Detroit completes the series sweep

An overall bad day for the Astros on Wednesday. Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

On Wednesday afternoon, the Astros received a big blow to their chances in the series finale against Detroit and potentially longer. Five players: Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, Martin Maldonado, and Robel Garcia would all be moved to the IL due to health and safety protocols, leaving them scrambling to get a whole team together for the game against the Tigers.

The Astros would not be able to overcome both the loss of players and the onslaught of another strong start by Detroit in Wednesday's game which put them too far out front for Houston to come back from to avoid a series sweep.

Final Score: Tigers 6, Astros 4

Astros' Record: 6-6, third in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Michael Fulmer (1-0)

Losing Pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (1-1)

Tigers knock out another starter early

Detroit continued their success of making Houston's starter work hard in early innings, getting after Lance McCullers Jr., and giving him an early exit. After a lengthy fist, they broke through in the second getting two hits, a walk, a hit batter, and an RBI groundout to put up three runs on 34 pitches.

He would have a quicker 1-2-3 third, but after giving up a single, a walk, and hitting another batter to load the bases and reach 87 pitches, he would be removed in favor of Joe Smith. Smith would allow all three of the inherited runners to score, adding those runs to McCullers Jr.'s final line: 3.2 IP, 4 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 3 BB, 3 K, 87 P.

Astros try to claw back into it

After Smith would go on to load the bases again in the inning, still with two outs, Houston made another pitching change to bring in Brandon Bielak to get the third out and stop the bleeding at 6-0. The Astros would get on the board in the fifth, getting a runner on base to set up a two-run homer by Jason Castro to cut the lead to 6-2.



Bielak remained in the game to try and eat up as many innings as possible. While he continued to hold the Tigers to their six runs through the six innings, the Astros clawed back into the game. In the bottom of the sixth, Houston put their first two batters on base with a walk and single before an RBI-single by Yuli Gurriel to make it 6-3. They would threaten for more but be held there for the time being.

Astros can't cash in, Tigers complete sweep

Ryne Stanek was Houston's next reliever in the top of the seventh, getting a 1-2-3 frame to keep it a three-run game, as did Brooks Raley in the eighth. In the home part of the inning, the Astros put their first two runners on base on an error and a walk, then loaded them with a one-out single by Carlos Correa. They'd waste their chance to make something happen, though, with an inning-ending double-play.

Ryan Pressly, who had no save opportunities in recent games, entered to get some work in the top of the ninth. He worked around a leadoff double for a scoreless inning, sending the 6-3 game to the bottom of the ninth. The Astros had yet another chance to make something happen, loading the bases with no outs to bring the go-ahead run to the plate. After two outs, Yuli Gurriel would bring one run in with a walk, but that's as close as they'd come, extending their losing streak to five games and getting swept by the Tigers.

Up Next: Houston will get a much-needed day off tomorrow to try and leave this poor homestand behind them. They'll pick things up in Seattle on Friday, with first pitch of the opener of three games at 9:10 PM Central. The expected pitching matchup is Jose Urquidy (0-1, 5.23 ERA) for the Astros and Yusei Kikuchi (0-0, 3.75 ERA) for the Mariners.

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