THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR heads to the Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend

NASCAR heads to the Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend
Keep an eye on Denny Hamlin this Sunday. Photo via: Wiki Commons.

The NASCAR Cup Series heads for Atlanta Motor Speedway this week for the Quaker State 400. This will be the final race that NASCAR will run on this configuration before a massive repave and reconfiguration takes place after the race. This race will feature four-hundred miles of slipping and sliding and tire management. The surface for this racetrack is one of the roughest on the schedule, as it hasn't been repaved since 1997. More than likely, the driver who does the best at saving his tires will win the race. Much like we saw earlier here in the season, Lap traffic will also come into play as well. When Kyle Larson had a massive lead on Ryan Blaney, he approached the lapped car of Joey Logano who promptly held him up, allowing his teammate of Blaney to catch up and take the win. Look for that to be a point of contingency come Sunday.

Last week at Road America, Chase Elliott did what he does best and took his seventh career victory on a road course. This is his second victory of 2021. This was another excellent run as he continues to put down solid runs as we get closer to the playoffs. He will be one to watch to tack on more wins as there are four more road courses left this season.

The big story off the track this week have been the rumors about next year's new car and its safety record. The reaction to the crash testing has been mixed, as there have been some reports that the crash test dummies used in the simulations were fatally impacted. This is a very troubling sign for the sport as safety has been NASCAR's strongest attribute since 2001 when Dale Earnhardt was killed. It is important to note that these are rumors and have not been confirmed, but there has been a lot of smoke around these claims. Former Crew-Chief Steve Hmeil claimed on Twitter that the car was "too stiff" and there weren't enough crush zones around the car. And even though he hasn't been in the sport for a while he is certainly a reputable source. I have talked to a few people around the garage and the reaction that I have heard has been mixed. Some have been positive, some have been negative but overall on the bright side, the sectioning body has some time to figure out all the kinks. This will be quite the storyline to follow in the coming months.

A driver who continues to impress this season has been sophomore driver Tyler Reddick. He has been continuing to impress each and every week and continued this by winning stage two at Road America. The Richard Childress Racing team is going through a lot of turmoil right now and there are a lot of questions surrounding this team. If there is one thing this team has really perfected, it's been their ability to stay around the top fifteen for the whole race, as his average running position is 15.8. This team is getting closer and closer to that elusive first career win and is knocking on the door of a playoff berth. Look for Tyler Reddick to continue to improve each week as the season continues.

The driver that I have winning this week is Denny Hamlin. What a year it has been for this team. Overall, Hamlin's 8.4 average finish is the highest of anyone. He has done everything but win this season but that is going to change this week. Atlanta is a track that has treated him well, he has a victory here along with six top fives and four hundred and nineteen laps led, (second only to Kyle Larson among active drivers). He will greatly benefit from a third place starting spot as well, with how much this high downforce package makes it difficult to pass at these types of racetracks. If Hamlin can minimize his mistakes and put a whole race together, this will be the week he gets that elusive first win of 2021. Look for the #11 FedEx Toyota to go to victory lane on Sunday.

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Astros defeat the A's, 6-3. Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images.

Jake Meyers hit a three-run homer to highlight Houston's six-run fourth inning that backed Justin Verlander's winning start, and the Astros beat the Oakland Athletics 6-3 on Friday night.

Verlander (3-2) struck out nine over six innings to increase hit total to 3,377, passing Hall of Famer Greg Maddux (3,371) for 10th on the career strikeouts list. He gave up two runs — one earned — on eight hits and didn't walk a batter for a second straight start and seventh time this year.

After another milestone to add to a long list of them, Verlander wasn't sure exactly how to feel.

“I feel like I should be more excited but I feel like I’m a little more introspective and reflective,” Verlander said. “A lot of sacrifices you make in this game, a lot of time away from the family, but I love it, so it’s pretty amazing. I don’t know if as a 21- or 22-year-old kid in professional baseball if I’d thought I’d be in the top-10 in anything. This sport’s been around for so long. Hard to put into words, but a lot of thoughts, a lot of thoughts went through my mind.”

When his teammates celebrated him once the special outing had ended, Verlander allowed himself to ponder the meaning.

Verlander remembers his first strikeout and he recalls one against Hall of Fame slugger Frank Thomas here at the Coliseum — and the pitcher wears No. 35 because of Thomas.

“I have a lot of great memories here,” he said.

A's manager Mark Kotsay, a former Oakland outfielder, has been witness to some of those.

“He’s just tough. He’s a Hall of Fame pitcher. He knows his game plan and he executes it really well," Kotsay said. "He doesn’t make a ton of mistakes.”

Yordan Alvarez added an RBI double and Josh Hader finished the 2-hour, 31-minute game with his seventh save for the Astros, who began a seven-game road trip.

After right-hander Ross Stripling (1-9) retired the first nine Houston hitters in order, Jose Altuve singled to start the fourth for the first of four straight hits that included Alex Bregman's two-run single.

The A's drew an announced crowd of 9,676 for the series opener after winning two of three against Colorado following an eight-game losing streak.

Miguel Andujar came off the injured list and immediately hit an RBI single in the first off Verlander and finished with three hits in his A's and season debut — including another run-scoring single in the seventh.

Andjuar's RBI marked the first time the A's have scored first in 18 games — ending the longest streak in franchise history. Batting cleanup, he also singled in the third.

Astros left fielder Chas McCormick robbed Max Schuemann of an extra-base hit when he crashed into the wall to make a great catch ending the eighth.

“That was a big play at the moment,” manager Joe Espada said.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Astros: RHP José Urquidy was pulled from his rehab start with Triple-A Sugar Land because of right forearm discomfort. He has been on the injured list with inflammation in his pitching shoulder. ... 1B José Abreu is scheduled to rejoin the club Monday in Seattle after playing at least two games with Triple-A Sugar Land as he works to regain his hitting rhythm.

Athletics: Andujar had been sidelined all season after having meniscus surgery on his right knee. He was claimed off waivers from the Pirates on Nov. 6. Oakland created roster room by optioning INF Brett Harris to Triple-A Las Vegas.

UP NEXT

RHP Spencer Arrighetti (2-4, 7.16 ERA) pitches for the Astros in the middle game opposite A's LHP JP Sears (3-3, 4.31).

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