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 now focused on postseason

Altuve and Correa homer, Astros drop final regular-season game

Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

With no playoff impact at stake if the Astros won or lost the game, Houston took Sunday's final regular-season game as a chance to get their lineup a few more at-bats before shifting focus to Tuesday's first game of the post-season. Here is a quick recap of the game against the Rangers:

Final Score: Rangers 8, Astros 4.

Record: 29-31, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Wes Benjamin (2-1, 4.84 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Chase De Jong (0-1, 14.73 ERA).

Houston's main bats get a final tune-up

Knowing they'd only have a couple of at-bats to work with, some of Houston's big bats took advantage, starting with Jose Altuve. He crushed a pitch in the top of the first, a solo homer to put the Astros in front 1-0. After the Rangers tied the game 1-1 in the bottom of the second, Altuve started the third with a walk before moving to third base on a Michael Brantley single, which improved Brantley's season average to .300.

Aledmys Diaz would pick up the RBI on a groundout to score Altuve, putting Houston back in front 2-1. In Correa's last at-bat in the top of the fourth, he extended the lead to 3-1 with a solo home run of his own.

Rangers hand Astros a loss to end the regular season

After getting the early run against Chase De Jong, the Rangers would put together a big inning against him in the fourth. After two one-out singles, Rougned Odor would give Texas their first lead of the day on a three-run homer to make it 4-3.

De Jong would continue to struggle in the inning, getting just one more out while loading the bases, prompting a move to the bullpen to bring in Nivaldo Rodriguez to try and eat up more innings. The Rangers greeted him with a two-RBI single to extend their lead to 6-3 before ending the fourth. Odor would hit his second home run of the game in the bottom of the fifth, a solo shot to make it a four-run lead at 7-3.

Rodriguez allowed another run in the bottom of the seventh, making it 8-3. Diaz, who drove in a run earlier, would account for another RBI in the top of the eighth, getting Houston's third solo homer of the day. That would make it an 8-4 game, which would go final as the Rangers would win the regular season's last game.

Up Next: Houston's first game of the playoffs will be on Tuesday, with the start time and opponent TBD while the rest of today's games wrap up, and the schedule is announced. Regardless, the Astros are expected to begin that best-of-three series with Zack Greinke (3-3, 4.03 ERA).

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