THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR: The Playoffs wind down at Martinsville

Martin Treux Jr. is a threat to win each week. Photo via: Wiki Commons

The NASCAR Cup series heads for the paperclip this week for the Xfinity 500. This will be one of if not the most important race of 2020. This will be the final race before we decide who races for a championship in two weeks at Phoenix and what better place to decide that than here at one of NASCAR's most legendary tracks. There is a good chance we see a driver put the bumper to someone for the win as everything will be on the line for the eight drivers who are trying to punch their ticket. You definitely won't want to miss this race as there are sure to be hurt fenders and hurt feelings.

Last week NASCAR had maybe the longest rain delay in the history of the sport as mist halted the field for nearly four days. On Wednesday the race was finally restarted around the evening as they were finally able to complete the remainder of the race. When they finally got started, Kyle Busch was able to drive away from the field and claim his 57th career victory. While in the grand scheme of things this victory won't have too much of an effect on the championship, for Kyle to finally break that winless streak and make it to victory lane for the first time in 2020 had to have been special for him.

Another bright spot for this race was the emergence of rookie phenom Christopher Bell. In the closing stages, he seemed like he had the fastest car on the racetrack and was suddenly reeling in Martin Truex Jr and Kyle Busch for first and second but just couldn't seem to find the momentum to pass them. This race was special for Bob Leavine and his race team as this would be their final race at their home track. To commemorate this, they drove a throwback paint scheme to 2011 when the team started. I don't know if Bell and this team will get a win this year but I can see them rattling off some good runs before Leavine Family Racing closes its doors at the end of the year.

The final domino to fall in this year's insane Silly Season has finally come down as it was announced that Kyle Larson will drive the #5 Chevy for Hendrick Motorsports next season. Now everyone knows what happened with Larson earlier this year when he used a racial slur that cost him a job at Chip Ganassi Racing. This was one of the most embarrassing moments for the sport in recent memory and there isn't any doubt that Kyle deserved to be suspended. But I have to say I have been impressed with his community outreach efforts. Overall, I think that he is truly sorry for what he did and has learned from his mistake and that is something I can respect. I hope that he can continue down his road of improvement but now he will have to remember that he will be under constant media scrutiny and will have to be very conscious of what he says. But I think he will understand that and do just fine. Regardless, I wish him nothing but success going forward as he is one of the most talented race car drivers around.

So it has come down to this, eight drivers will have one more chance to qualify for the championship race. The four drivers that are currently in are Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, and Brad Keselowski. Without a doubt, these four drivers are probably the most deserving as there have been 23 victories combined between all four of them. While these are the four most likely drivers to get in, there is always a good chance that one of the drivers on the outside looking in can win and take a spot from one of those four. Those four drivers are Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr, and Kurt Busch. While Bowman and Elliott can still mathematically get in on points, for the other two, it is win or be eliminated. While Busch has shown speed here I am not sure if he can run with some of the faster cars in the field. But if there is one thing we know, him and his crew-chief can get in on strategy as they did at Vegas. Martin Treux Jr is another threat to win each week, but he will be without his crew-chief James Small after it was discovered last week that he had an illegal spoiler as his crew-chief was ejected, and he was docked 20 points. If there is one thing the 2017 champion has on his side though is that he did win here earlier in the year. This battle will be fun to watch for sure.

The driver that I have winning this week was one I mentioned earlier and that's Chase Elliott. Over the course of his seven starts here, he has three top fives and five top tens. He has been so fast here ever since his rookie year in 2016 and even made his first start here one year earlier in 2015. This track is similar to what he cut his teeth on in the late models around the southeast and that has reflected in his performance. While he hasn't won here yet, he has been very close including back in 2017 when he was leading the race before being taken out by Denny Hamlin. I look for him to break through this weekend and clinch a spot in the championship race at Phoenix.

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Houston's offense had another strong day at the plate in Seattle against the Mariners on Wednesday. Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

After striking a deal with the Mariners before Tuesday's game, along with a reported deal with the Marlins on Wednesday before the finale, the Astros continued to try and bolster their bullpen with fresh arms while also focusing on this series against Seattle. Having won the night prior to even it up, it came down to the rubber game on Wednesday afternoon to decide the series.

Final Score: Astros 11, Mariners 4

Astros' Record: 63-40, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jake Odorizzi (4-5)

Losing Pitcher: Yusei Kikuchi (6-6)

Astros continue to score runs in Seattle

Just like in the earlier games in this series, the Astros had no problems offensively. They strung together four consecutive one-run innings, starting in the top of the second when they loaded the bases, then got an RBI groundout by Myles Straw to go up 1-0. In the top of the third, Yuli Gurriel drove one in on a two-out RBI double, bringing in Jose Altuve, who led the inning off with a double of his own. Chas McCormick led off with a single in the fourth, then later scored on an RBI single by Aledmys Diaz.

The fourth run in as many innings came in the top of the fifth, as Gurriel would notch his second RBI with a solo homer to start that inning, pushing the lead to 4-0. They didn't stop there, and neither did Gurriel, as he would get RBI number three on the day as part of a four-run top of the sixth, with RBI hits him, Altuve, Diaz, and Carlos Correa, doubling the lead to 8-0.

Odorizzi gets to the sixth before allowing two homers

The run support gave Jake Odorizzi plenty of leeway, which he didn't need until the bottom of the sixth. He held Seattle scoreless over the first five frames, allowing just four baserunners on a hit by pitch, a walk, and two singles, all peppered over that span and erased in each inning. Kyle Seager would get the Mariners on the board in the bottom of the sixth, blasting a one-out solo homer to cut the lead to seven runs at 8-1. After a single in the next at-bat, recently traded Abraham Toro made it four games in a row with a homer, this one a two-run shot to cut the lead to 8-3 and end Odorizzi's day. His final line: 5.1 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 2 HR, 95 P.

Houston wins the series

Houston brought in Brooks Raley to finish the sixth, issuing two walks but stranding them to keep it a five-run lead. Myles Straw helped push that back to six in the top of the seventh, reaching on a single to start the innings, then stealing both second and third to get in position for Diaz's third RBI of the day, a groundout to make it 9-3. Cristian Javier was the next reliever out for the Astros, but he would not make it through the bottom of the seventh, allowing a single and three walks, the third with the bases loaded to bring in a run.

Bryan Abreu was brought in to get out of the jam, getting a strikeout to end the seventh. Then, in the top of the eighth, Kyle Tucker would put two more runs on the board with a two-run homer making the lead seven runs at 11-4. Abreu remained in for the bottom of the eighth, erasing two one-out singles to get through the frame. Brandon Bielak took over in the bottom of the ninth to close things out, posting a 1-2-3 inning to wrap up the win and give Houston the series victory.

Up Next: Houston will travel down the coast to San Fransisco before getting a day off on Thursday. They'll pick up an exciting three-game series with the Giants on Friday, with the opener slated to start at 8:45 PM Central. Framber Valdez (6-2, 2.97 ERA) will take the mound for the Astros, while San Fransisco's starter is TBD.

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