THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR: Xfinity 500 preview, picks

NASCAR: Xfinity 500 preview, picks
Keep an eye on Joey Logano this week. Photo via: Wiki Commons.

It's here, the semi-final race before the championship, the Xfinity 500 at Martinsville. The stakes have never been higher as four drivers will race for a championship at the conclusion. With this track being so narrow, there is a 100 percent chance that we will see a lot of bent fenders at the end of the race. There will be plenty of drama when the smoke clears. The playoff field of eight is as tight as ever, as Ryan Blaney is a single point behind Kyle Busch for the final spot at Phoenix. The rest of the field isn't too far behind either as Martin Truex Jr is three points back and Brad Keselowski is six points out. It is shaping up to be one of the most dramatic races of the season. You won't want to miss it.

The playoff woes continued for some last week at Kansas. Drivers like Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch, and Martin Truex Jr all had tire troubles that gave them bad results. This is a big reason as to why the points are as close as they are going into this race. This has been the general theme all throughout each round. The only driver who hasn't seemed to have any issues has been Kyle Larson as he went on to his ninth victory of the season.

This has been a special season for Kyle Larson. A lot was made about if he should be able to return after all the self-imposed turmoil of 2020, but he has really made the most of his second chance. This victory last week was his third win in a row and the second time he's reached a streak of three consecutive victories. The only other driver to do it, Dale Earnhardt, in 1987 when he won his third NASCAR championship. This season will go down in history as one of the most dominant seasons the sport has ever seen, and I have to give Kyle a lot of credit. Not just because of his performance on the track, but because of how much he has done to try and make things right after his mistake last season. He has proved that it's never about how you fall, but how you make it better and get back up. I commend him on his efforts.

One driver to look out for this week is the driver with the most to gain and the least to lose, and that's Joey Logano. He currently sits in eighth position 26 points below the cutline. While it isn't technically a must-win situation for Logano, it's pretty close. With his aggressive driving style, more than likely if he is in a position to take someone out for the win this week, he will. We watched him do it back in 2018 after knocking Martin Truex Jr out of the lead in the final corner. In a sense, I can't really blame Logano for the way he drives. He doesn't take any prisoners out there, and I expect it to be much of the same this week. He rolls off fifth come Sunday.

A good none-playoff driver to watch out for this week is Kurt Busch. He's been really good at this track, he's won here twice back in 2002 and 2014. While he's had a lot of duds here over the years, he has found a knack for this racetrack. His time at Ganassi Racing is coming to an end, and what better way for him to cap off his tenure here than a good finish. He will start tenth on Sunday.

The driver that I am picking to win this week is Kyle Busch. In the round of eight, Kyle has been pretty consistent and has stayed in the top ten, but last week at Kansas it all came crumbling down like it usually does. He struggled to find any speed after a flat tire pretty much crippled his day. He was so upset that he was screaming inaudible profanities at the top of his lungs on the radio. As I mentioned earlier, Kyle is a single point ahead of Ryan Blaney for the fourth spot and really benefitted from everyone else's misfortunes, but this week, he should be the car to beat. He's been good at this racetrack with three top fives but has yet to score that first win. This Sunday, that should change. He starts seventh.

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The Astros rotation looks like a strength moving forward. Composite Getty Image.

The Houston Astros are coming off a much-needed series win over the White Sox, but have a quick turnaround as they host the Orioles on Friday night at Minute Maid Park.

The 'Stros dropped the first game of the series with Framber Valdez on the mound, but were able to rebound with Hunter Brown and Spencer Arrighetti starting the final two games.

Brown was brilliant once again, and Arrighetti bounced back after a disastrous start against the Tigers over the weekend. Despite all the injures to the Astros staff this season, their young pitchers are stepping up when they need them the most.

Brown has six consecutive quality starts and is beginning to show signs that he can be the top of the rotation pitcher the club always hoped he could develop into.

Arrighetti has stepped in and shown that he belongs in the big leagues, and has provided innings Houston desperately requires with so many pitchers on the injured list.

Speaking of which, with Justin Verlander on the IL, Double A prospect Jake Bloss will make the start for Houston on Friday night. Bloss has quickly progressed through the farm system, having been drafted just a year ago.

We'll see how he performs in his MLB debut, but the club seems to have a lot of quality pitching options moving forward, especially with Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers scheduled to return in late July and early August respectively.

And as we look at the Astros rotation moving forward, perhaps they will go back to a six-man rotation during certain stretches in the second half of the season.

Which could prove to be vital to the team's success. As good as Ronel Blanco has been, he's never pitched as many innings as he'll be asked to pitch this year. Same goes for Arrighetti. And let's face it, sending Verlander out to pitch on four days rest consistently at 41 years old doesn't sound like a wise decision. He's already been on the IL twice this year.

While some see Garcia and McCullers as wild cards to help the team this season, Astros GM Dana Brown doesn't see it that way. He told the Astros flagship station this week that he's counting on those guys to make big contributions when they return. And he's counting on their postseason experience should they get there.

Keep in mind, Garcia has a 3.61 career ERA and has been durable outside the Tommy John surgery. And McCullers has always been good, it's just the health that causes concern.

Garcia is also an example of how a player can skip Double A and Triple A and have success right away in the big leagues. Hopefully, Bloss can follow in his footsteps, since he's bypassing Triple A to make his first start.

So what's the short and long-term outlook for the Astros rotation? And should we expect Verlander to return in 2025?

Be sure to watch the video above as we address those questions and much more!

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