THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR: Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 preview, predictions

NASCAR is back in action! Photo via Wiki Commons.

The NASCAR Cup Series heads for the track they call the Paperclip this week at Martinsville Speedway for the Blu-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500. This track is a staple among the NASCAR lore as this track has been around since the beginning. There will be plenty of beating and banging as the stars of the Cup Series will race under the lights here on a Saturday for the first time.

Last week, Joey Logano became the ninth different winner this season after a wild Bristol dirt race. In the beginning of the weekend, things didn't get off to a great start as the rain came and postponed the event to Monday. Then the event was marred by numerous surface issues and many drivers had a hard time seeing through a major dust cloud that popped up when the track got too dry. This lead to NASCAR having to stop the race and water the track down. Multiple drivers such as Kyle Busch were involved in incidents that would ruin their day. As the race went on the wrecks got so bad that NASCAR called an audible and decided to go back to single file restarts, something we hadn't seen since 2009. Once the dust settled (literally) things were able to calm down and there was some awesome racing. Bitter Rivals, Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin battled it out all the way to the final restart until Denny lost ground and second place to Ricky Stenhouse Jr as Logano went on to claim his first win of 2021. The race was very popular among the fans, so much so that Bristol Motor Speedway announced during the race that they would do it again in 2022. While there might have been a few issues, NASCAR did a great job with the surface and should definitely get some credit for how this race went.

A driver and team that really had a good showing last week was Daniel Suarez. The fifth year driver has really been rattling off a lot of good runs this year and for a team that just started within the last year, it has been really impressive to see how fast they have been. The team was really boosted when it was announced that rapper Pitbull would be joining as the team's co-owner. Many people didn't have very high expectations for the team considering how new it was, but he has turned the team into a legitimate playoff contender. Last week at Bristol was his breakout race as he led fifty-eight laps and captured his first top five of the season. Daniel is a talented race-car driver and has a great team around him including crew-chief Travis Mack. I look for Suarez to continue to impress this season.

Last week, NASCAR announced they would be unveiling the new body's for each Manufacturer on May 5th. This was a move that was met with great intrigue by fans as NASCAR teased the "return to stock" slogan on the announcement. It has been a while since the sport has run a true "Stock Car." So it will be interesting to see what they come up with. Personally, I would love to see all three manufacturers design a car that is almost exactly what you would see on the road. This could really bring a lot of fans that left back to the sport. There will be a lot more information here in the coming weeks.

This year has been the year of parody as we have seen seven different winners so far. And this week, we could see the eighth and that driver very well could be Brad Keselowski. It has been a big surprise that the 2012 Cup Champion hasn't won a race yet considering how fast he has been all season. He showed tremendous speed this year and now is going to the track where he has had the highest average finish of anyone since 2018. In the last four races, Brad hasn't finished as low as fourth including a win here in the spring of 2019, so it's clear that he is good here. Not only has Brad ran well this year but both of his teammates have as well. This could be the best place Penske has been in a while as Logano and Blaney have both gone to victory lane in the last two weeks. I look for Brad to have the car to beat here and make it three in a row for Penske Racing.

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Houston went yard several times

Astros take series from Angels with a home run parade

Houston homered their way to another series win Wednesday night. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

After losing the opener then winning an exciting game Tuesday night, the Astros were seeking another series victory by winning the rubber match on Wednesday. They would blast homers all through the night, pushing them over the Angels in the finale.

Final Score: Astros 9, Angels 1

Astros' Record: 20-17, second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Brandon Bielak (2-2)

Losing Pitcher: Andrew Heaney (1-3)

Astros grab an early lead, Urquidy exits with injury

Houston made early noise in Wednesday night's game, with Jose Altuve turning around the very first pitch of the bottom of the first inning for a solo homer. A two-out single later in the inning set up Yuli Gurriel for his seventh home run and 30th RBI of the season, putting the Astros out to an early 3-0 lead.

Jose Urquidy looked in control through the first three innings, allowing just two hits while maintaining the lead. However, after recording the second out of the fourth, he would be visited by training and coaching staff on the mound before being removed, later diagnosed with posterior shoulder discomfort. Brandon Bielak would quickly enter the game, picking up where Urquidy left off by keeping the Angels off the board.

Tucker stays hot as Bielak locks in out of the bullpen

Still 3-0 in the bottom of the sixth, Kyle Tucker would extend his recent hot streak by putting two more runs on the board with a blast to extend the lead to 5-0. Bielak remained in the game in the top of the seventh, having allowed just one hit while retiring all other batters since entering in the top of the fourth. He made it through that inning, putting Los Angeles down 1-2-3, and stayed on the mound in the top of the eighth.

He wouldn't be able to get any further, allowing a leadoff walk followed by a single, putting runners on the corners and prompting Dusty Baker to go to the third pitcher of the night, Andre Scrubb. The Angels would get on the board with a sac fly to make it 5-1, but Scrubb would finish the inning with no further damage.

Astros continue the home run barrage to take the series

Yordan Alvarez would get the run back with Houston's fourth dinger of the night, a solo shot to make it 6-1. They continued to pour it on, with Chaz McCormick joining the home run parade with a three-run blast later in the inning, making it 9-1. Joe Smith would take over on the mound in the top of the ninth, finishing off the lopsided win to give Houston the series victory as they turn the page to another division opponent.

Up Next: Having already faced the rest of the division in 2021 multiple times, the Astros will have their first series against the Texas Rangers starting Thursday at 7:10 PM Central at Minute Maid Park. In the opener, Cristian Javier (3-1, 2.90 ERA) will be on the mound for Houston, going up against Mike Foltynewicz (1-3, 4.50 ERA).

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