THE LEFT TURN

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Start your engines! Photo via: Wiki Commons.

The time has come, it's the track we all circle on our calendars, Talladega. Easily one of the most famous racetracks in America, no one can predict what's to come and in every corner, the big one is lurking. In this race last season, we saw five wrecks involving four or more cars. With the urgency of the playoffs, there is a good chance we see lots of torn-up race cars this weekend. This will be a race you won't want to miss as there will be drama aplenty. The pit-road strategy will play a part in the race, but will be much different from what we are accustomed to seeing. At Talladega and Daytona we usually see manufacturers pitting together to make sure they can maintain a pack and get back to the front.

Last week at Vegas, Denny Hamlin cruised to his second victory of the season and clinched his spot in the next round. The race was dominated by Hamlin as he led 137 laps. His only real challenger, Kyle Larson was knocked out of contention after a bad pit-stop. Hamlin has really been peaking at the right time, as he won the opening race in the last round. He is going to be one of the threats for the championship.

While most of the playoff drivers took most of the spotlight last week, one of the best stories of the race was Tyler Reddick. It was another great for the second-year driver as he ran as high as second. I have really been impressed with the young California driver as he continues week in and week out to improve. Making the playoffs this year was a big step for this team and they just continue to build. He could very well be rounding into a championship contender next season.

The playoff race after one week has some pretty big names below the cutline including Kevin Harvick, Alex Bowman, William Byron, and Christopher Bell. For Harvick, this is not something he is used to as he has made the championship race five times, a record he shares with Kyle Busch. He currently sits seven points behind Brad Keselowski in ninth. This team has been fast and in the top ten, but just hasn't been able to put it together and score a victory. He will be in a good position to make up some points on Brad and keep it close, but will need to avoid the big wreck. This has plagued him in the past two fall Talladega races, as he has been involved in crashes in both of them.

Alex Bowman came into this season in my eyes as a championship favorite and at the beginning of the season, he looked like he was going to be with three victories. He has really been struggling though since his last victory at Pocono. Last week at Las Vegas, he really seemed to have no speed at all as he finished 22nd. He will need to step it up if he wants to make the next round. Talladega is a tough track for him with a mediocre 19.86 place finish. On the bright side, he will benefit from a good 11th place starting spot and will be lined up with teammate William Byron. He is currently 13 points out of eight in 10th place. It will be quite the uphill climb.

Speaking of Byron, he's in the same situation. He's currently 9th in points, only four points behind Brad Keselowski. He has the easiest path to the next round. All he needs to do is put together two races where he finishes better than Brad and based on the season he has been having, he very well could. Last season, Byron was half a lap away from a chance at victory. He will be a contender to win this weekend.

Lastly, Christopher Bell has the steepest hill to climb to make his way into the next round. It would almost appear that he is in a must-win situation in one of these next two races. He currently sits twenty-five points below the cut-off line in 12th place. He barely scraped into the second round but after a third place finish and a few extra stage points, he's been able to keep his head above water. He will need to be near perfect this round to move on.

The driver that I have winning this weekend is a bit of a wild card, but I am going with Matt DiBenedetto. With his 2022 plans highly uncertain next season, this race could possibly be one of his last chances to get a victory in the Cup Series. He has been so fast at the superspeedways and in contention to win each and every year, but something either goes wrong or he makes the wrong move at the wrong time. This time though, he is going for way more and is coming off a great race last week at Las Vegas after finishing 12th. His 25.54 average finish hasn't been the best, but he has been consistently up front. Look for DiBenedetto to capture his first career victory as he rolls off 15th come Sunday.

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Houston now trails in the fall classic

Astros fall in World Series Game 1 as Braves come out swinging

Framber Valdez had a forgettable start in World Series Game 1 as the Braves tagged him with five runs. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

After a dominant end to win the ALCS and American League pennant, the Houston Astros welcomed in the National League champion Atlanta Braves for World Series Game 1 at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday. With Houston favored to win not just this game but the entire series, the Braves shook up those expectations by finding early success at the plate to build a lead they would hold to take a 1-0 series lead.

Final Score: Braves 6, Astros 2

World Series (Best of Seven): Atlanta leads 1-0

Winning Pitcher: A.J. Minter

Losing Pitcher: Framber Valdez

Valdez unable to replicate ALCS Game 5 success as Braves mount early lead

For the optimist, not having home-field advantage in an MLB postseason series affords you a benefit: you can score first and take captive momentum first in the series. The Braves did that against Framber Valdez, as Jorge Soler became the first player in league history to hit a homer in the first plate appearance of a World Series, putting Atlanta out to an immediate 1-0 lead. They would get another in the first frame, getting a one-out infield single by Ozzie Albies, who would steal second to get in position for an RBI double by Austin Riley.

Houston had the chance to respond in their first inning against former teammate Charlie Morton, getting a single and two walks to load the bases with no outs. They'd strand all three runners, though, as Morton made it through unscathed but having used 26 pitches. Atlanta kept putting stress on Valdez, extending their lead to three runs with back-to-back singles to start the second before later getting an RBI groundout.

Valdez gave up two more in the top of the third, once again allowing a leadoff single, this one setting up a two-run homer to make it a 5-0 Braves lead and forcing Houston's starter out of the game early. Yimi Garcia entered and was able to retire the three batters he faced to end the frame.

Braves lose Morton to injury as both bullpens begin long night

After stranding the bases loaded in the bottom of the first to keep the Astros off the board, Morton followed it up with a 1-2-3 second. He started the bottom of the third by retiring his fifth batter in a row, getting a strikeout of Jose Altuve. He would immediately call trainers to get him out of the game, though, as he would later be diagnosed with a fractured fibula, presumably from a ball that ricocheted off his leg in the prior inning, ending his season in a disappointing turn of events for the Braves.

That set up a long night for both bullpens, and next up for Houston was Jake Odorizzi. He started with a scoreless fourth, working around a two-out error to keep it a five-run game. The Astros began a rally in the bottom of the fourth, getting runners on the corners with one out on a Kyle Tucker double and Yuli Gurriel single. Chas McCormick brought in the first run of the board for Houston, but that's all they would get as Atlanta's lead remained four runs.

Astros drop Game 1

Odorizzi kept going on the mound, tossing a 1-2-3 fifth, then getting one out before a one-out single in the top of the sixth would prompt Dusty Baker to move on to Phil Maton, who finished the inning. Maton returned in the top of the seventh, getting a strikeout before a double and a walk would result in the call to bring in Ryne Stanek.

A double play against his first batter allowed Stanek to finish the seventh, and then he returned in the eighth. He faced three batters that frame, getting one out before a walk and a single would put runners on the corners as Houston moved on to Brooks Raley. A sac fly by Freddie Freeman off of Raley made it a five-run lead again, but a leadoff triple by Yordan Alvarez in the bottom of the inning would set up Carlos Correa for an RBI, a groundout to make it 6-2.

Atlanta's bullpen continued to do well, though, limiting the damage to that one run in the eighth, then returning to hold on to the four-run lead in the bottom of the ninth to give the Braves the upset win to start the series. The loss extends their home losing streak in the World Series to five games (having lost all four at home in the 2019 World Series against the Nationals) and puts them down 0-1 and in need of a win in Game 2 to try and reset the series into a best-of-five.

Up Next: World Series Game 2 will be another 7:09 PM Central scheduled start time on Wednesday from Minute Maid Park. The expected pitching matchup is Max Fried, who is 1-1 with a 3.78 ERA in three postseason starts, for the Braves, and Jose Urquidy, who went just 1.2 innings while allowing six runs (five earned) in his start in the ALCS.

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