The Left Turn

NASCAR Toyota Owners 400 preview

Kyle Busch won last week and will be favored again this week. Kylebusch.com

The NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for the Commonwealth of Virginia this week for the Toyota Owners 400. Last Monday, we saw Kyle Busch capture his second consecutive victory at Bristol Motor Speedway. During the final five laps, he moved Kyle Larson out of the way and never looked back to claim his seventh Bristol Victory.


While the race was able to begin on Sunday, It was delayed due to rain on lap two-hundred and three. When the action resumed, there were wrecks aplenty. In total there were 13 caution flags and three multi-car incidents involving at least three or more cars. Most notably the first caution was a nine-car pile-up featuring Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr.  It is safe to say that the old Bristol that NASCAR fans loved is now back in full force. This race had it all, Crashes, lead changes and lots of beating and banging.


The driver I predicted to win last week was Erik Jones. The sophomore driver struggled immensely. After a good start on Sunday, a tire failure would end his chances of victory. He would finish 26th. One thing he and his crew can take away is how well he was running before everything went wrong. Look for him to be a contender and eventually a race winner in the near-future.


One of the biggest surprises of last week was  Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Earlier in the race, Stenhouse was a pinball out there. He spun out on lap 62 and appeared to be in deep trouble, but on Monday, he looked like a completely different driver. He was able to bounce back and earn a fourth-place finish.


This Saturday, we head for Richmond Raceway. This track is a 0.75 mile oval with fourteen degree banked corners. It is a track that is wide enough for cars to run side-by-side and not get congested as we see on a lot of the other short tracks including Bristol or Martinsville.  Look for there to be a lot of lead changes and battles for position. Another factor that could play a significant role is the time of the race. Last year this race was run on Sunday afternoon as opposed to this year's Saturday night. While it may seem trivial, the time that a race takes place plays a significant role in the conditions of the track.  For example, during a day race, the track's surface is much hotter and slicker and more difficult to drive around. Look for this to be a difference on race day.


The favorite going into this week again is last week's winner Kyle Busch. After his win at Bristol, Busch goes to another one of his best tracks. Here he leads all active drivers in Average Finish with a 7.40 and in victories with four. Kyle is a solid pick to win at any race track, but Richmond is another one of his tracks where he especially thrives, in fact, he was able to win his first NASCAR Xfinity (then Busch Series) race here when he drove for Rick Hendrick. Look for the M&M's Camry to be a threat this weekend.


My pick to win this weekend is Denny Hamlin. Richmond is a track that Hamlin dominates. In 2008 he led over 380 laps before a tire failure cost him a shot at victory. While times have indeed changed since then, his results have not. Since 2016, Denny has the highest finishing average of 3.75! Look for the Fedex Camry to go to victory lane.

My sleeper pick is Ryan Newman. This has been a track that he has run well at in the past and  has seven top five finishes and 18 top 10 finishes. While it has not been the best start to the season for the “Rocketman,” last week’s top 10 finish at Bristol should be a catalyst for him to run well this weekend. While he is a longshot for victory, if the chips fall in the right places it would not surprise me to see the No. 31 Camaro take the checkered flag. It should be an interesting 400 laps come Saturday.

Overall Richmond has the potential for many things including short fenders and short tempers at the end of the race. We have seen it many times in the past and even as recently as three years ago when the recently retired Carl Edwards bumped his teammate Kyle Busch out of the way for the victory or last year when Denny Hamlin wrecked Martin Truex Jr out of a chance at victory in the fall race here. It should be a weekend filled with fantastic racing.  

(All stats and information used in this article is brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Refrence.com the best website 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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