THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR: The Geico 500 goes down this Sunday at Talladega

Photo via: WikiCommons.

The time is here. NASCAR heads to the world-famous Talladega Superspeedway for the Geico 500. This track is easily the biggest and baddest racetrack on the face of the planet. Coming into this weekend, the drivers will not have any practice or qualifying sessions so it will be interesting how this changes things. NASCAR will also be implementing more safety regulations including extra roll bars, and they will also be cutting back on horsepower from 550 to 510. The reason for these changes was to try to prevent an accident like we saw at Daytona with Ryan Newman. This could very well mean a much different race on Sunday. It will be interesting to see how this impacts the race.

We will also be seeing fans this weekend as it was announced a few weeks ago that Talladega will allow up to 5,000 spectators including limited camping. While it isn't exactly the full crowds we typically see here, it will be a relief to see at least some normalcy. Last week, Denny Hamlin went on to claim his 40th career victory after fending off Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney. It appeared as if Elliott was on his way to victory until he approached the lapped car of Joey Logano. With Logano still mad about his run-in with Chase at Bristol, he didn't make it easy on Elliott as he held him up and all through the backstretch clearing a path for Denny to take the lead. When the dust settled and Logano was asked about it in a NASCAR Sirius interview, Logano responded by saying "you think I am going to make his life easy after two weeks ago?"

Overall, I have to commend him on how he got back at Elliott. There weren't any wrecked race cars and when it was over, Elliott still had a chance to win. I would like to think that after this, the beef is over, but we will have to see in the coming weeks what's next between these two. While Hamlin was the winner, the story of the race had to be Tyler Redick. The rookie driver went on to claim his first top five finish of the season and his third top ten of the season. This young man has proven that he can run with the best of them week in and week out and what makes it all the more impressive is that his average starting position is 21.4. To see him charge all the way through the pack has been one of the most exciting things about this season. He has rejuvenated this race team and I would not be surprised if he was to win a race this season. Look for Reddick in the #8 Camaro to be a threat.

Another driver who has really been doing a great job these past couple of weeks has been Michael McDowell. The journeyman driver has finished both fourteenth and fifteenth in the last two weeks at Homestead and Martinsville. McDowell has done a great job over the past few weeks and appears to be in position to have another good run this weekend at Talladega considering how good he is at plate tracks. I look for McDowell to be a dark horse contender for a win this week, but the driver that I have winning is Ryan Newman. As we all know, tracks like Talladega and Daytona have been awful to him. He has been involved in some of the worst wrecks on tracks like these, including his vicious crash at Daytona in February. But this week, I think things will be different.

After all, he does have the highest average finish among all drivers on these types of tracks and has been a football field away from winning here twice. Seeing Newman win here would be one of the biggest feel-good stories not just of this year, but in NASCAR's history and I think the veteran will get it done come Sunday. Look for Newman to come back and find redemption and win his first race since 2017.

All stats and information used in this article are brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com, the best websites for all NASCAR stats.

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The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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