THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR heads for the high banks of Talladega

Start your engines! Photo by Getty Images.

Well the time has come, Talladega is here. This is possibly the most famous racetrack on NASCAR's schedule as it's high banks and three and four wide racing is must-see TV. This track is sure to bring many surprises as each driver tries to avoid the big one. It will be an all-out frenzy come Sunday that you won't want to miss.

Last week, Alex Bowman charged to the lead to claim his third career victory and first of 2021. In the closing stages, it looked like it was going to be a battle between Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano until a late race incident by Kevin Harvick put everyone back in it. The lead lap cars all elected to pit, and it looked like the race was going to fall into Hamlin's lap as he won the race off pit road gaining the lead from Logano but, on the restart seemingly from out of nowhere, Alex Bowman went to the inside and was able to make them both and never looked back. This win was huge considering it was the first victory for the #48 since 2017 at Dover. This had to have been a huge shot of confidence for this team considering how difficult these last four years have been for them. This comes as a passing of the torch for Bowman considering the insurmountable success of his predecessor. I look for him and this team to be a real contender this year with crew chief Greg Ives on the pit-board.

Our friends over at Rick Ware Racing are once again in the headlines this week. A couple of weeks ago it was announced that Jennifer Jo Cobb would be piloting the #15 Chevy Camaro for Talladega. This was a relatively big deal considering there hasn't been a woman in NASCAR since Danica Patrick made her one off start back in 2018 in the Daytona 500. The reactions were mixed but most were happy to see her finally get a chance in the Cup Series considering how much experience she has in the truck series. Everything appeared to be going as planned until NASCAR stepped in and barred her from the field. Many were left looking for answers, why would NASCAR do this? She seemed to have plenty of experience at Daytona and Talladega. In fact, she led a few laps here last fall in the truck series. When NASCAR officials gave their explanation, they stated that her results in the trucks are the primary reason why she isn't being allowed to race. Overall, I think this is kind of a ridiculous reason to deny her, I get it, the results have been underwhelming, but it's important to note how much smaller a budget her truck team has compared to everyone else. I hope at some point she gets a chance to make her debut in the Cup Series.

One of the feel good stories of 2021 has been the success of the JTG Racing Team with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Ryan Preece. Going into this season, the team appeared to be in a lot of turmoil. Both drivers were facing a lot of uncertainty regarding their future, Ryan Preece doesn't even have a charter to run all the races this year. In the face of all of this adversity this team has done nothing but push forward as Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has kept his car inside the top twenty in every race this year. For a lot of teams this would be underwhelming but for a team that struggled as much as they did last season, this has been a huge improvement. I wouldn't be surprised to see at least one of their cars in the playoffs this year and see both contend for a win this Sunday at Talladega.

The driver that I have winning this week is Denny Hamlin. While this might not be the exciting long-shot pick we are accustomed to hearing, Denny has been one of the best super-speedway racers in modern history. In his sixty-one starts, he has five victories at Daytona and Talladega including a controversial win last year in the fall. One of the big reasons he is so good here has been his ability to keep his car together the whole race and avoid the big one. If he and his JGR and Toyota teammates can all stay together, he should be very hard to beat once the green flag drops. Look for Hamlin to take the checkered flag come Sunday.

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Zack Greinke earned his 10th win of the season in Sunday's finale agains the Rangers. Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

With the first two wins of the series under their belt, the Astros entered Sunday looking to take care of business before heading on the road. Despite the Rangers taking the first lead of the day, the Astros responded on offense and defense to erase the deficit to get the victory.

Final Score: Astros 3, Rangers 1

Astros' Record: 61-39, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Zack Greinke (10-3)

Losing Pitcher: Dennis Santana (0-1)

Greinke, with some help, notches a quality start

Zack Greinke was doing well in the early goings of Sunday's finale. Despite allowing back-to-back singles to start the game, he stranded both runners to finish the top of the first. He followed that by erasing two more runners in the second, starting a stretch of eight straight batters which he would retire to make it through one out in the top of the fifth without allowing a run.

Texas finally added a blemish to his day at that point, getting a solo homer to grab their first lead in weeks. Greinke rebounded from it, sitting down the next two batters to finish the frame, then posted a 1-2-3 sixth. He returned for the top of the seventh, but would end his day with a struggle, loading the bases with no outs on a single, hit batter, and walk. That prompted Dusty Baker to bring in Cristian Javier, who saved Greinke's stat line by getting a strikeout and double play to keep the Rangers from scoring. Greinke's line: 6.0 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 1 HR, 86 P.

Houston grabs the lead

Houston's starter would leave in line for the win, thanks to the work of Cristian Javier, but also some timely offense in the two innings prior. With not much going for them in the first four innings, the Astros tried to take advantage of Chas McCormick being on base in the bottom of the fifth, sending him for a potential hit and run with Abraham Toro swinging.

That turned into two runs, with McCormick able to slow his run as Toro would launch a two-run go-ahead homer to erase the Rangers lead quickly. They extended the lead to two runs in the next inning, with Yordan Alvarez working a walk and then later scoring on an RBI single by Kyle Tucker, making it 3-1.

Astros finish the sweep

After cleaning up the inherited mess in the top of the seventh, Javier remained on the mound in the top of the eighth and made it through a 1-2-3 inning to give him six outs against five batters. With it still a two-run game in the top of the ninth, Ryan Pressly entered for the save opportunity. He notched it, sitting down the Rangers 1-2-3 to finish the sweep, handing Texas their twelfth straight loss.

Up Next: The Astros will head out west for an eight-game road trip starting with a three-game set with the Mariners kicking off at 9:10 PM Central on Monday. In the opener, Luis Garcia (7-5, 2.86 ERA) for Houston is slated to go opposite Darren McCaughan (0-0, 1.80 ERA), who will make his second career appearance and first start for Seattle.

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