THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR Quaker State 400 preview

Ryan Blaney is the pick to pull off the win this week. Ryanblaney.com

This Saturday, the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for the bluegrass state at Kentucky speedway for the Quaker State 400. Kentucky Speedway is another 1.5 mile intermediate track, but what makes this track stand out is its extremely difficult turn three. In the exit of this corner the track becomes very flat and much more slippery. It is truly one of the toughest corners in NASCAR. Last year, it got the best of both seven-time Champion Jimmie Johnson and 2012 Champion Brad Keselowski as they  were involved in a multi-car crash also involving Clint Bowyer. If a driver is able to master this corner, he should be a major factor in the race.

Last week, Erik Jones was able to claim his first career NASCAR Cup Series victory after he was able to outduel defending champion Martin Truex Jr. The race was marred by a MASSIVE 26-car mele that eliminated many of the favorites including pole winner Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch and favorite Brad Keselowski.

While there were many cars that went to the garage area, most of the drivers who were involved in the wreck were able to continue on and contend for the victory. The wreck started when Ricky Stenhouse Jr hooked the back of Keselowski on the exit of the back straightaway. It was not a good night for Stenhouse Jr.; he would go on to cause another multi-car accident involving Kyle Busch, William Byron and even race winner  Jones.

In the closing stages, Jones was able to get a big push from Chris Buscher which propelled him to victory. Many considered this to be one of the bigger upsets of the season seeing how most don’t usually think of him for his restrictor plate ability. Aside from Jones, the biggest surprise of the race was the top finishers for this race just in general. Lots of drivers that we don’t usually see run up front got solid finishes. Some of those drivers were Matt DiBenedetto who came home seventh, Jeffrey Earnhardt, who finished 11th and Brendan Gaughan, who finished behind him in 12th.

One Driver who deserves a shout out is Ontario’s own D.J. Kennington. As NASCAR fans know, Kennington is not a full time driver. This season, Kennington has run seven races. At Daytona, he was able to claim his career-best 13th place finish. This race was special for him and his newly formed Gaunt Brothers Racing not only because it was their best finish but also because he was racing with a heavy heart.

Earlier this year, after a bus crash claimed the lives of 16 members of the Humboldt Broncos Hockey Team, Kennington and his team placed the Broncos logo on the hood of their car at Bristol earlier this year. After the race was over, he then auctioned off the hood of the car and donated the proceeds to the Broncos Charity foundation. This finish couldn’t have come to a better group of guys than Crew Chief Mike Hillman, team owners Marty and John Gaunt and of course their drivers Parker Kligerman and Kennington.

The favorite going into this weekend is one of  the usual suspects, Martin Truex Jr. Last season, Truex completely dominated here. He led a race high 152 laps and was able to fend off Kyle Larson for the win. I suspect this weekend should be no different. As most fans know, Truex has cut his teeth on the intermediate half mile tracks like Kentucky Motor Speedway, and he has more wins on these styles of tracks than anyone else in the sport. Look for Truex to be a serious threat come Saturday.

The driver that I have winning this weekend is Ryan Blaney. The 2018 season overall has been somewhat of a disappointment for the third-year driver. Even though he has eight top 10s and three top fives, he still has yet to claim his first win of the season. I think if there is anywhere to do it, Kentucky is near the top of the list for him. Back in 2013, Ryan was able to claim his first Xfinity victory at Kentucky so this is certainly a track where he can succeed. Despite his 22.50 Finishing average here, I believe that this week should be different for him, as he did finish 10th last year. Look for Blaney to take the #12 to victory lane.

A good sleeper for this week is Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. This season has had its ups and downs for the rookie, and while he has struggled at times, there have been races where he legitimately had cars good enough to run around the top 10. This week he goes to a race track where he got his best finish last year in his fourth and final start of 2017. Last year’s race really kind of put Wallace's name on the map as he was able to take home an impressive 11th place finish. I look for him to expand on that run and possibly be in contention to get a top 10. Not only has he run good at this track in the Cup series but he has also excelled in the Camping World Truck series as back in 2014 he was able to take the checkered flag and solidify his name as one of NASCAR’s brightest future stars. Look for Wallace to have a solid run come Saturday.

(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 can win series on Sunday

Timely hitting helps Astros edge out D-backs to even series

Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

The Astros had two losses over the last 24 hours; one a game against the Diamondbacks in the series opener on Friday night, the other the news that their recovering ace, Justin Verlander, announced Saturday afternoon that he is opting to undergo Tommy John surgery. The decision and surgery will likely sideline Verlander through 2021 when his current contract with Houston ends.

With that, the Astros headwinds continued to increase, meaning a win to even the series with Arizona on Saturday would be a much-needed pick-me-up. Here's how they did:

Final Score: Astros 3, Diamondbacks 2.

Record: 26-26, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Enoli Paredes (3-2, 2.84 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Luke Weaver (1-8, 6.51 ERA).

D-backs score two on Javier who is pulled early

Kole Calhoun, who drove in four runs, including a home run in Friday's game, would start the scoring on Saturday with a solo home run off of Cristian Javier in the top of the second, giving Arizona an early 1-0 lead. Javier allowed another run in the top of the third, giving up a leadoff single that would move to third on a groundout then score on a sac fly, doubling the lead to 2-0.

Javier finished the third and tossed a 1-2-3 fourth, but whether it be due to a pre-determined pitch count or other situation, he would not go any further, ending his night there on just 77 pitches. His final line: 4.0 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 1 HR, 77 P.

Astros grab a lead in the sixth

The Astros were able to cut the lead in half in the bottom of the third, getting a leadoff single by Josh Reddick, who would move to third after a walk and fielder's choice before scoring on an RBI-groundout by Jose Altuve, making it 2-1. Enoli Paredes was first out of Houston's bullpen, taking over for Javier in the top of the fifth and retiring six straight batters for two perfect frames.

Houston would get to Luke Weaver in the bottom of the sixth, getting a leadoff single by George Springer, who would score from first on an RBI-double by Altuve to tie the game. Altuve would come around as the go-ahead run later in the inning on an RBI-single by Kyle Tucker, knocking Weaver out of the game as the Astros took their first lead of the game, 3-2.

Houston evens the series and moves back up to .500

Josh James was the next reliever for Houston in the top of the seventh, and despite getting into a jam by issuing a one-out walk and hitting the next batter, he was able to get out of it. It was thanks to a great play by Michael Brantley, who started a double play by catching a lineout and throwing a runner out at second to end the inning.

Brooks Raley had the eighth and erased a one-out walk by retiring the next two batters to maintain the one-run lead. After a scoreless bottom of the eighth, the Astros turned to closer Ryan Pressly to get another save and finish the one-run game. Pressly would do so, as Houston would move back up to .500 and even the series 1-1 heading into the rubber game on Sunday.

Up Next: The finale of this series between Houston and Arizona, and Houston's last regular-season home game of 2020, will get underway at 1:10 PM Central on Sunday. Madison Bumgarner (0-4, 8.53) ERA will be on the mound for the D-backs, while Jose Urquidy (1-1, 2.70 ERA) will start for the Astros.

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