THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR Toyota/Savemart 350 preview

Sonoma is known for its wine, but this week it will be home to NASCAR. Fred Faour/SportsMap

The Monster Energy Cup series returns from a one week hiatus as the drivers head for wine country in Sonoma, Calif., for the Toyota Savemart 350. Sonoma is one of the three road courses on the NASCAR schedule. The track is 2.52 miles in length and has 12 turns including a hill in the first three turns of the race track.

Sonoma has produced some of the best racing around, it’s not only a host for NASCAR but also for Indycar, IMSA sports cars and even NHRA. While the track is a two and a half mile road course, it has short track characteristics. Due to the tight spaces around the corners, There are plenty of places on the track where drivers have to knock each other out of the way to make a pass for position. Look for there to be a good chance for some angry drivers at some point during the race.

Last week Clint Bowyer went on to claim his second victory of the season for his first multi-win season since 2012. The race ended after one hundred and thirty three laps due to rain. On the final restart Bowyer was able to hold off his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick. My prediction to win for this race was Kyle Larson. The day started out promising for him, he led 18 laps and consistently was one of the quickest cars on the track but on lap 87, Larson spun out in turn four costing him a chance at victory. As a result he finished 28th, a very disappointing result for the winner of the last three Michigan races.

One of the biggest surprises was Paul Menard and his fifth place finish. It has been a solid season for the Wisconsin driver as he scored his best finish of the season. Menard has steadily been creeping into the picture as a driver that can make the “playoffs.” He currently sits tied with Alex Bowman for the 16th and final spot. Menard is sort of NASCAR’s version of Josh McCown; he has driven for five teams over the course of his career including Dale Earnhardt Incorporated and Richard Childress Racing. While he was able to earn a win at RCR in 2011 at the Brickyard, he hasn’t quite achieved the level of success that he would have hoped for but now, it seems like he has found a good home with the Wood Brothers. Menard currently has four top tens and a stage win at Talladega. Don’t be surprised if Menard is able to go to victory lane in 2018.

The favorite going into this race would be Martin Truex Jr. Last season Truex led a race high 25 laps before his Toyota engine let go on lap 86. Truex has always been quite the road racer as he was able to break a 232-race winless streak here in 2013 and has always been upfront when we go to Sonoma or Watkins Glen. While he has a 21st place average finish here, the results are not indicative of how well he has run and he could have at least two or three wins here if it weren’t for bad luck. It wouldn’t shock me if Truex and his crew go to victory lane on sunday.

My prediction to win this weekend is Denny Hamlin. Over the course of his storied career in NASCAR, Hamlin has not been known as a great road course racer, but over the course of the last few years, the results have got much better for him. He comes into this race with two top fives, 44 laps led and an average finish of third. This track has not always been kind to Hamlin. In 2016, he was one corner away from taking the victory until he was pushed aside by Tony Stewart. This would be the final victory for Stewart and his illustrious Hall of Fame worthy career. This year though I think it will be different and Hamlin will break through and get his first win of 2018.

The sleeper pick this week is A.J. Allmendinger. This season has been the season of misery for Allmendinger and team owner Brad Daugherty. They currently sit 23rd in points and have only two top 10 finishes but this week I expect for them to turn it around. Allmendinger grew up racing open-wheel Indy cars around tracks like Sonoma and has shown great promise on the road courses. He is highly regarded as NASCAR’s last true “Road Course Ringer” since Marcos Ambrose left. He captured his first and only victory at the other road course on the Schedule, Watkins Glen. I foresee Allmendinger and the 47 Krogers Chevrolet to be out front and possibly a threat to win on Sunday.

(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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McCullers Jr. out-pitched friend and former teammate Dallas Keuchel on Father's Day. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

With three impressive wins to start this series against the once AL-leading Chicago White Sox, Houston tried to extend their winning streak to seven games and finish a four-game sweep on Father's Day. Thanks to a big inning against former-Astro Dallas Keuchel, they would win to keep their hot streak going.

Final Score: Astros 8, White Sox 2

Astros' Record: 43-28, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (4-1)

Losing Pitcher: Dallas Keuchel (6-2)

Rough return to Houston for Keuchel

In his first game against his old squad, Dallas Keuchel would not have a memorable start on the mound for Chicago. Houston made him labor in the first inning, loading the bases though they only came away with one run on an RBI single by Abraham Toro, grabbing the early 1-0 lead. After going down 1-2-3 in the second, they got after Keuchel again in the third.

They ended up batting around against him that inning, including a two-RBI single by Yordan Alvarez, RBI double by Taylor Jones, and bases-loaded RBI-walk by Jose Altuve, which would end Keuchel's day very early and leave the bases juiced. Chicago's bullpen would walk another batter to give Keuchel another earned run, making it a 6-2 game, with all six going against the former Houston ace. Carlos Correa extended the lead to five runs in the next inning, hitting a leadoff solo home run to make it 7-2.

McCullers Jr. gives up two over six

That gave Lance McCullers Jr. a nice lead to work with, and he managed it well. He had one big mistake in the early goings of the game, giving up a one-out single in the second to set up a two-run home run, which at the time put Chicago in front 2-1 before Houston's offense came alive. He followed that up with four scoreless innings, erasing a walk in each with some tremendous defense behind him—his final line: 6.0 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 4 K, 1 HR, 94 P.

Astros complete the sweep to jump on top of the standings

Still a six-run game in the top of the seventh, Blake Taylor entered as the first reliever out of Houston's bullpen, tossing a 1-2-3 frame. He continued in the top of the eighth, getting two strikeouts in another scoreless inning. The 8-2 score would go final as Ralph Garza Jr. would enter as the third pitcher of the day to wrap things up with a scoreless top of the ninth to finish the four-game sweep. The win, their seventh straight, paired with an Oakland loss earlier in the afternoon, moves Houston into the top spot in the AL West based on winning percentage.

Up Next: This long stretch of consecutive games continues on Monday in Baltimore, as the Astros pick up a seven-game road trip starting with a three-game set against Baltimore getting underway at 6:05 PM Central. Jake Odorizzi (1-3, 5.68 ERA) will get the start for Houston, going opposite of Keegan Akin (0-2, 5.76 ERA) for the Orioles.

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