THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR: Pocono preview and predictions

Photo via: Wiki Commons

The NASCAR Cup Series heads to the Tricky Triangle this weekend for a doubleheader weekend. This will be a milestone race for NASCAR as for the first time there will be two races on both Saturday and Sunday. The first race on Saturday will be a 130 lap race around the two and a half mile track and the race on Sunday will be a little bit longer as it is a 140 lap race. The field will be set similarly as it has been all season after the shutdown. The top 16 in points will start from a random draw. After the race on Saturday, the field will see an invert like we have seen for the mid-week races only this time the invert will only include the lead lap cars. The one thing about these races is that the drivers will use the same cars for both races should they finish on Saturday. The backup car regulations will remain the same as any other weekend. I personally can't wait to see how this goes.

Last week, Ryan Blaney took home the checkered flag in one of the most sensational finishes in NASCAR History. On the final lap, Blaney edged out Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in a photo finish as Aric Almirola finished third backwards. The race was unusual for Talladega's standards as the dreaded "big one" didn't happen until the final 300 yards of the race. Coming to the checkered flag, Ryan Blaney threw a block to try to stop Erik Jones from taking the spot. This led to a chain reaction causing Jones and John-Hunter Nemechek to smash into the wall causing a melee at the finish-line. The finish reminded me much of the 2007 Daytona 500 when Mark Martin and Kevin Harvick both finished side-by-side as chaos took place behind him. It was truly a spectacle to behold and it definitely made up for the rain-delay that pushed the race back to Sunday.

I would be remiss if I didn't talk about what happened with Darrell Wallace Jr. Overall, the sport was in the headlines once again after it appeared a noose was found in Wallace's garage stall. This sparked outrage not only on the track but off it as well as major news outlets picked up this story. Before the race started, the sport rallied behind Wallace and walked with him and his car to the front of the grid and stood with him at the front of the grid. Even car owner and legendary driver, Richard Petty, made the trip to be with his driver. After a fourteenth place finish for Bubba, the FBI concluded that the rope was indeed fashioned like a noose but Wallace was not the victim of a hate crime. It was discovered that the noose on the rope pull was there since October 2019. How or why it got there is beyond anyone's knowledge. Was it maliciously placed there, absolutely not, but was it the right move for NASCAR to look into it? Yes.

In these times of racial tension in America and with everything that has gone on with the Confederate flag, NASCAR took every precaution to make sure their driver wasn't a victim of a hate crime. And I commend them for that. Was the statement that was put out by Steve Phelps worded the best? No, but you have to realize what the man was dealing with over the past couple of weeks and why he felt so strongly about what was going on. And for everyone who says this was a hoax or wants to compare it to Jussie Smollett, they obviously didn't look at the rope and see how strongly it resembles a noose. These people claim that they see knots like this at tracks all the time which is ridiculous considering NASCAR looked over all 1,684 garage stalls and came to the conclusion that only one was tied like that. Any person that sees all that evidence and is still convinced it's a conspiracy is lying to themselves and should never be taken seriously when it comes to anything.

Okay so on a much lighter note, the driver that I have winning Saturday is Kevin Harvick. Over the course of his illustrious career, Harvick has come extremely close to victory here but somehow has yet to win. Back in July 2017, he seemed to have the race in hand until Kyle Busch moved him out of the way. In 2018, he led with 89 laps only to fall to fourth as Martin Truex Jr. went on to win. On Saturday, I can see him finally breaking the streak and getting his third win of the season. He has been too strong here to be winless, and this weekend I think there is a very good chance he at least gets a victory in one of the races. Look for Harvick in the #4 Mustang to take the checkered flag.

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The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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