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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Houston dropped two of three

Astros drop series finale to Oakland, A's win series

Jose Urquidy couldn't hold Oakland back on Saturday. Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

With Oakland finally ending their drought against the Astros on Friday night to split the first two games of the series, and with the Angels staying in step with them as both teams started the day 6-2, the Astros needed a win to keep momentum in their favor on Saturday.

Instead, Oakland would outslug Houston once again to take the series finale and take the series win. The loss moves Houston to 6-3 and down to second place, at least for now, until the 6-2 Angels complete their game on Saturday evening.

Final Score: A's 7, Astros 3

Astros' Record: 6-3, second in AL West

Winning Pitcher: Frankie Montas (1-1)

Losing Pitcher: Jose Urquidy (0-1)

Urquidy gives up four over six

Much like the night before, Oakland was able to bring in runs against Houston's starter, this time Jose Urquidy, Saturday afternoon in their second time through the order. Their first time through, Urquidy was cruising, allowing just one baserunner in the first three innings on a single in the top of the third.

Things shifted in the top of the fourth, with the A's getting back-to-back singles to set the stage for a two-run frame with dual RBI-singles to take a 2-0 lead. Oakland doubled that in the fifth, getting a two-out single to set up a two-run homer by Ramon Laureano to make it 4-0. Urquidy would go on to finish six innings, but with no run support to that point, would leave in line for the loss. His final line: 6.0 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 7 K, 93 P.

A's pad their lead before Houston gets on the board

Meanwhile, although getting five hits, the Astros could not get anything on the board against Frankie Montas through six innings. Brandon Bielak took over out of the bullpen for Urquidy in the top of the seventh, but after loading the bases, he would allow a dagger two-RBI single to make it a 6-0 deficit for Houston.

With Montas starting the seventh looking to face a batter or two before Oakland moved to their bullpen, Kyle Tucker would finally get Houston on the board with a leadoff solo home run, cutting the lead to 6-1 and ending Montas' day. Houston would get a two-out rally going, with an RBI-double by Jose Altuve followed by an RBI-triple by Michael Brantley to make it a three-run game at 6-3.

Oakland takes the series win

Ryne Stanek tried to keep it a three-run game and give the Astros a chance to stay in it in the top of the eighth but instead would give up a two-out solo home run to push Oakland's lead back to four. That 7-3 score would go final as Houston would go scoreless in the eighth and ninth.

Up Next: Houston will have a day off on Sunday before continuing this homestand Monday night by welcoming in Detroit and former manager A.J. Hinch for three games. In the series opener, the Tigers will send young star Casey Mize (0-0, 2.25 ERA) to the mound, while the Astros will get another start by Zack Greinke (1-0, 1.38 ERA).

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