THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR preview: KC Masterpiece 400

Kevin Harvick is spending a lot of time in the winner's circle. Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

This week, the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for the Heartland for the KC Masterpiece 400 at Kansas Motor Speedway. Last week, Kevin Harvick went on to his fourth win of the season. It was another dominating performance for the 2014 Champion as he went on to lead a race high 201 laps and was able to easily win the first two stages of the race. It was not only another signature performance by Harvick but also by his teammates as well. Both Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch both finished second and sixth also Aric Almirola continued his string of good runs as he finished 11th.

While Bowyer and his team can hold their head up high after a runner-up finish, it was announced on Wednesday that they would be docked 20 driver and owner points for rear-window violations, they will also be fined $50,000 and lose their car-chief Jerry Cook  for two weeks as well.

The biggest surprise of sorts to come out of last weekend was Daniel Suarez. In my last article previewing this race, I stated that Daniel Suarez and his team would be a top 10 or maybe even a top five contender and the Sophomore driver exceeded expectations by finishing third. Suarez was the model of consistency for the most part of the day. He began his weekend with an impressive seventh place qualifying effort and stayed around the top 10 all day. Look for Suarez to continue to ride this new wave of success into Kansas this week as he continues to chip away at his first career win.

Although it was a great day for him and his team, Suarez was also penalized. He too had a rear window violation. Like Bowyer, he will lose 20 driver and owner points, $50,000 and his car chief Todd Brewer will also be suspended as well.

This weekend, we head for Kansas Motor Speedway. This track is another one of NASCAR’s MANY mile and a half intermediate tracks. It was recently just re-configured in 2011, as they repaved the surface and added five more degrees of banking. Like most of its mile and a half predecessors, Kansas is known for long green flag runs and a big emphasis on  pit strategy.

The biggest story of this week is the return of 2003 NASCAR Champion, Matt Kenseth. As most fans know, last year Kenseth was released from Joe Gibbs Racing as they were not able to find enough sponsorship to keep him around. For the beginning of 2018, Kenseth was without a ride until his former boss Jack Roush made the decision to bring him on and replace Trevor Bayne in the number six Advocare/Wyndham Hotels Ford. The 18-year stock car veteran heads to a track where he has had a great deal of success driving for both Jack Roush and Joe Gibbs. He has two victories, seven top fives and 13 top 10s at Kansas. Even though he has a stacked resume here, the situation he is getting into will not be easy. Kenseth will be stepping into a car that is currently 24th in points but Kenseth is one of the best drivers of his time and should have no problem adjusting. Look For Kenseth to be a factor on Saturday.

The favorite this weekend is easily Harvick. This has been probably the best start of his illustrious 17-year career. Not only does he lead the series in race wins but he also has more stage wins than anyone as well. It just seems that Harvick and his team are one step ahead of everyone and now to top it all off they go to another track where they have run well at. Of all drivers, only Jimmie Johnson has a better average finish than him. He has won at this track twice in 2013 and 2016 so he definitely has a knack for this place. Look for him to continue his success this weekend.

The driver that I have winning this weekend is Bowyer. This is a race track that is very special to Bowyer seeing how it is his home track and while he has never won here his results here have been pretty solid. Over his 19 starts here Bowyer has six top 10s and two top fives. While he hasn’t been the best driver here in the past, I think that this year is different. After finally ending that 190 race winless streak, Bowyer now has a newfound confidence in his team and his Crew Chief Mike Bugarewicz. Look for the Number 14 Haas-Automations Ford to head for victory lane.

(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 couldn't keep up

Astros fall to Blue Jays as Toronto gets homer-happy

Houston's bats couldn't keep up with Toronto's Saturday night. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

With an offensive clinic in the opener on Friday night, which helped them handily defeat the Blue Jays, the Astros returned to Minute Maid Park Saturday with a chance to secure another series. Toronto had other plans, though, reversing roles with Houston by getting big home runs to even the series.

Final Score: Blue Jays 8, Astros 4

Astros' Record: 17-16, third in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Steven Matz (5-2)

Losing Pitcher: Cristian Javier (3-1)

Toronto flips the script and turns on their offense against Javier

Toronto flipped the script from the night before early in this middle game of the series, dealing damage to Cristian Javier, who so far in 2021 had been able to limit his amount of earned runs. After retiring the first four batters he faced, a one-out walk in the top of the second set up the Blue Jays' first hit of the night, a two-run home run by Cavan Biggio, giving them a 2-0 lead over Houston.

After a leadoff home run made it a 3-0 score, Javier would deal with the fallout of more walks in the top of the third, issuing two to set up a two-out two-RBI double to give the Jays a commanding 5-0 advantage. Javier would battle back and complete five full innings, getting one out into the sixth before a walk would prompt Dusty Baker to make the call to the bullpen. His final line: 5.1 IP, 4 H, 5 ER, 4 BB, 8 K, 2 HR, 91 P.

Alvarez keeps mashing as Houston tries to claw back into it

Javier would exit with at least some runs on the board in support of him, with Yordan Alvarez hitting a two-run opposite-field homer in the bottom of the fourth to cut the lead to three runs. Alvarez accounted for another run in the next inning, coming through with an RBI-single to make it 5-3, which is where the game stood as Andre Scrubb would take over in the top of the sixth.

Scrubb finished that inning for Javier and returned for a 1-2-3 seventh to keep it a two-run game. Bryan Abreu was the next reliever, and he, too, was able to retire the Blue Jays in order in the top of the eighth. The Astros continued to chip away at Toronto's lead, getting another run in the bottom of the inning on an RBI by Yuli Gurriel to make it 5-4 heading to the ninth.

Toronto evens the series

Brooks Raley entered to try and keep it a one-run game with a clean inning, but instead, two runners would reach on a walk and error before Joe Smith would enter to try and strand them. Instead, a two-out home run put the game back out of reach at 8-4, with Houston coming up empty in the bottom of the inning, setting up a rubber match in the finale.

Up Next: This series's third and final game will be an afternoon start of 1:10 PM Central on Sunday. Zack Greinke (2-1, 3.76 ERA) will try to add more wins to his record for Houston, while Nate Pearson will be making his 2021 debut for Toronto.

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