THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR: Super Start Batteries 400 preview and picks

Photo via: Wiki Commons.

The NASCAR Cup Series heads to the heartland for the Super Start Batteries 400 at Kansas Speedway. This race will be run on Thursday as NASCAR continues their mid to late-week races. This week, they will be running the first race that I can remember on a Thursday. It will definitely be interesting as NASCAR will lead off the weekend of racing with the Truck and Xfinity Series following them on Friday and Saturday.

Also, for the first time in series history there will be a two-day doubleheader for the truck series on Friday and Saturday. Personally, I really like this idea by NASCAR. It gives the teams a full week to get to go back to the shop and prepare for the Daytona Road Course coming up. It will be fun to get to watch a race on a Thursday. While Kansas Motor Speedway may look like any average mile and a half-track, this track has really benefited from this high downforce low horsepower package and there has been some very good racing here since 2018 as the last two races have been decided in the final laps. I look forward to this week's race.

Last week, at Texas Motor Speedway we saw a bit of an upset as Austin Dillon and crew chief Justin Alexander implored a two-tire strategy to take the lead with 22 laps to go. And after numerous cautions, he never looked back en route to his third career victory. In back-to-back weeks now, we have seen two winners we didn't expect to see, last week it was Cole Custer and this week it was Austin Dillon. While we have seen a dominant effort from both Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick, it has been great to see some of these guys get victories and good results and I look for it to continue the rest of the season.

While Austin Dillon went to victory lane, he shared some of the spotlight with his rookie teammate Tyler Reddick who came home second. This is a career best for the rookie as he continues to be one of the more pleasant storylines of 2020. The California native now has 6 top tens and two top fives including another impressive fourth place finish at Homestead earlier in the year. He has continued to improve week in and week out and is getting closer and closer to a victory here in the near future. Look for Reddick to win a race before the year is out.

While it was a great race for one rookie, it was a much different story for one of the other rookies, Quin Houff. In the late stages of the race, Houff decided he was going to pit but the only problem was he missed pit-road entrance by about a football field. Thinking he can make it, he still peeled to the bottom of the track and collided with Chrisotpher Bell and Matt DiBenedetto and then hit the wall hard in turn four. This not only ruined DiBenedtto's race but it put Ryan Blaney back in traffic after making a pit-stop that ultimately cost him the win. After the race, Brad Keselowski came up with a solid idea by suggesting that drivers should be demoted and promoted from the Truck and Xfinity Series to the Cup Series should they perform well enough. Overall, I really like this idea and think it can prevent rushing some of these drivers up too soon.

Another major story in the headlines this week is the omission of practice and qualifying for the remainder of the season. I have a major issue with this and while I understand why they want to keep as few people at the track as possible, it is really affecting the racing. It will also put these drivers in a bind as well as they don't have the extra time to work out some of the minor issues with their car. For example, last week at Texas Aric Almirola had some break issues before the race began that could very well have been resolved should they have had a practice session to bleed the air out of the breaks. It will also be a detriment when the drivers go to a new track like the Daytona Road Course. This configuration has never been raced before in the Cup Series and could leave them unprepared for the race. I hope NASCAR can come up with a compromise here soon.

The driver I have winning this week is Ryan Blaney. This has been a career year for Blaney as he currently sits second in points and has nine top fives this year with a win at Talladega. All season he has shown more speed than anyone but for some reason, it hasn't translated to another victory. I think that will change this week. While his average finish here hasn't been great, he has come out and led a lot of laps and put himself in a great spot to win, but something comes up and ruins his day. This week he will finally be able to put a race together and take his #12 Mustang to victory lane.

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Houston looked much more like themselves

Astros return to form in win over Angels at home

Cristian Javier was impressive Thursday night. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Hoping to avoid spiraling further out of control, the Astros turned the page from their disappointing road trip and the recent stretch of games. They hoped to start this new homestand on a good note, welcoming in the Angels for four games of this eight-game stint at Minute Maid Park.

Houston would get the much-needed win, with their offense coming alive early in the game to put up big innings, which they rode to the victory thanks in part to a great start by Cristian Javier.

Final Score: Astros 8, Angels 2

Astros' Record: 8-10, fifth in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Cristian Javier (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Alex Cobb (1-1)

Astros' offense starts clicking early

Houston would grab the early momentum, despite leaving the bases loaded in the first inning. They would get a leadoff double by Aledmys Diaz in the bottom of the second, followed by an RBI triple by Myles Straw to jump in front 1-0. They made it a three-run inning, with an RBI by Carlos Correa then a bases-loaded RBI-walk by Yuli Gurriel, though for consecutive innings would leave three runners stranded on base.

Correa drove in another in the bottom of the next inning, getting an RBI single to push the lead to four runs, then would come in on a two-run single by Alex Bregman, who made it 6-0. That set things up nicely for Cristian Javier, who was on the mound trying to take advantage of the opportunity for another start.

Javier has an electric start



Javier was electric over the first three innings, including getting eight of the first nine outs by strikeout while allowing only a walk and double during that span. He would have longer innings in the next two, but in both cases would keep the Angels off the board, finishing in line for the win. His final line: 5.0 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 9 K, 98 P.

Houston gets the much-needed win

Meanwhile, Houston's offense kept scoring. They pushed the lead two runs further over the fourth and fifth, getting a run in each with another RBI each for Straw and Bregman. With Javier's night done, Bryan Abreu was first out of the Astros bullpen, and despite allowing a controversial two-run home run to Albert Pujols, of all people, that looked to be a foul ball, got through the inning.

Abreu remained in the game in the top of the seventh but would get just one out while hitting a batter and allowing a single before Dusty Baker brought in Brooks Raley to face the heavy left-handed part of the Angels lineup. Raley would get through it, sending things to the seventh-inning stretch with the six-run lead intact.

Raley would get another out before Joe Smith would finish that inning in the top of the eighth. Ryan Pressly, who has been starved for work lately with no save opportunities, would close things out in the ninth as Houston would start this series off with a win.

Up Next: Game two of this four-game set will be another 7:10 PM start on Friday night. Andrew Heaney (1-1, 5.65 ERA) will be on the mound for the Angels, while Zack Greinke (2-1, 2.81 ERA) will look to repeat the success of his last start; an eight-inning shutout performance for the Astros.

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