THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR: The regular season concludes at Daytona

Photo via: Wiki Commons.

It's crunch time, it's the final race of the regular season and what better place to have it than at Daytona International Speedway. This is the first time we will see a NASCAR race at Daytona outside it's February and July dates. At first this move was met with much criticism from fans and media members including myself, but now with the implications we are seeing, the move has shifted more favorably among the NASCAR world. Everything is now on the line now and there is sure to be plenty of drama. I look forward to watching Saturday night.

Unlike this week, last week's doubleheader at Dover was fairly tame as the usual suspects Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick went on to win their 6th and 7th races of 2020. Both of these drivers continue to establish themselves as the two championship favorites as they led a combined 338 laps. During Harvick's win on Sunday he was able to clinch the regular season championship giving him fifteen extra points come the playoffs. These two drivers are almost assured that they will race for the title at Phoenix barring a major collapse. It will be fun to see how this battle rages on over the next eleven weeks.

The silly-season is in full effect as two major rumors came down this week. One of them involves Denny Hamlin. This one seems crazy but after talking to a few of the media members and a MBM Motorsports employee, I can confirm that there are some legs to it. The story is that Michael Jordan is interested in purchasing a stake in Richard Petty Motorsports and bringing Denny Hamlin along with him. They will form an alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing and potentially could bring Denny Hamlin along to drive the #23 Toyota Camry. The other major factor is Bubba Wallace and where he goes and with this arrangement, from what I heard, he would be staying in the #43 car.

Now while yes it is true that one Michael Jordan's reps denied the reports and stated that there was no truth to the rumor, it was also confirmed on the popular Door Bumper Clear podcast that Jordan was the celebrity that RPM owner Andrew Murstein had spoken to about an investment in the team. It makes sense that this podcast in particular would have this sort of information considering one of the hosts, Freddie Kraft, is Bubba Wallace's spotter. Personally I think this will be HUGE for the sport of NASCAR. Over the course of his life, MJ has always been a big racing fan seeing that he is from North Carolina. He is also no stranger to autoracing as he purchased an AMA Motorcycle racing team back in 2006. I look forward to seeing where this goes over the next few weeks.

The other big rumor involved the #48 car and who will be driving it next year. It would appear as a new leading candidate has emerged and it's Xfinity Series regular, Noah Gragson. On Wednesday, Gragson talked about signing some "very important paperwork" and then tweeted a pen alluding to a new deal that he was signing. This set the racing world a flame with speculation and 2021 paint schemes but on Thursday it was announced that Noah will return to the #9 Camaro for Jr Motorsports in the Cup Series. Overall, I think Gragson can be a good driver in NASCAR but another year in the Xfinity Series would do him good.

Speaking of the #48 car, the battle for the final spot in the playoffs continues between Jimmie Johnson and William Byron. After a third place finish on Sunday, Johnson is now a mere four points back from his teammate William Byron. This battle is interesting considering they are both on the same team, not to mention Byron's crew chief Chad Kanaus worked with Jimmie during all seven of his championships. It will be quite the battle as Johnson's Crew Chief Cliff Daniels told the media that working with Byron will be essential to the #48 team making the playoffs. There is a chance that both drivers can get in by one of them winning and the other driver getting the 16th spot, which is very likely considering Matt DiBenedtto is only 9 points above the cut-off line. It will be fun to see this going into Saturday's race. Anything can happen including the possibility of a surprise winner.

And speaking of a surprise winner. The driver I predict to take the checkered flag this week will come as a surprise to most, but I am taking Ricky Stenhouse Jr to win the Coke Zero Sugar 400. As we saw last time here, Stenhouse was well in position to make a run for the victory. He started on pole and was in the lead pack for most of the race but later into the race, Stenhouse crashed coming into pit lane costing him a chance at victory. He followed it up at the next restrictor plate track by finishing second in a photo finish with Ryan Blaney. The results are there and he can make it happen, he just needs to finish the battle. He won here at Daytona back in 2017. Even though he has shown a lot of success and promise on these types of racetracks, he has been under much controversy in his tactics on these types of tracks as he has caused a few incidents over the years. He has seemed to clean up his driving through and I look for him to continue to improve and take the victory come Saturday and punch his ticket to the playoffs.

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Houston gets the lopsided win

Valdez, Astros dominate the Angels in 10-0 rout in Anaheim

Framber Valdez was dominant against the Angels on Monday night. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

With a series win at home over the weekend, the Astros started their final regular-season road trip on Monday, squaring off against the Angels in Anaheim. They held the momentum firmly in their favor all night, dominating both sides of the game to start the series with a victory.

Final Score: Astros 10, Angels 0

Astros' Record: 89-61, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Framber Valdez (11-5)

Losing Pitcher: Jaime Barria (2-4)

Siri leads off with a bang

With Jose Altuve being given the night off, Houston gave Jose Siri a shot at the leadoff spot, and he delivered to start the opener in Anaheim. He launched a missile to left field, 426 feet, to put the Astros in front 1-0 before the Angels could record an out. Later that same inning, they strung together three singles, the third being an RBI by Carlos Correa to double the lead.

Valdez goes seven shutout innings

That gave Framber Valdez a lead to work with as he stepped on the rubber in the bottom of the inning, and he didn't give it up as he would post a dominant start. He started with a 1-2-3 first, worked around a couple of singles in the second, then used a double play to face the minimum in the third.

He retired Los Angeles in order again in the fourth, stranded a two-out single in the fifth and a single and a walk in the sixth. He had his worst inning of the night in the seventh, giving up a leadoff single then loading the bases on back-to-back two-out walks. He'd escape the jam, though, keeping the shutout alive and finalizing his impressive line: 7.0 IP, 6 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 98 P.

Astros take the opener in lopsided fashion

Houston tacked on an insurance run in the top of the eighth, getting a one-out double by Correa to set up an RBI single by Marwin Gonzalez, pushing the lead to 3-0. Things escalated from there, as another single put two on base for Martin Maldonado, who blew the game open with a three-run homer to make it a six-run lead.

Brooks Raley took over for Valdez in the bottom of the inning, and with a 1-2-3 inning, made it his eighth appearance in a row without allowing a run. The Astros didn't let up in the top of the ninth, getting two hits and a walk to load the bases before a grand slam by Gonzalez made it 10-0 and gave him 5 RBI in a two-inning span. Seth Martinez, called up by the Astros earlier in the day, made his big-league debut in the bottom of the ninth and closed out the lopsided win to put Houston's magic number at 6.

Up Next: The second of this four-game set will be another 8:38 PM Central start on Tuesday. Jose Urquidy (7-3, 3.38 ERA) will take the mound for the Astros, going opposite Packy Naughton (0-2, 4.32 ERA) for the Angels.

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