NASCAR PREVIEW

Atlanta Motor Speedway is next up for the Monster Energy Cup series

Atlanta Motor Speedway is next up for the Monster Energy Cup series
Chase Elliot (No. 9 car) could finally get it done this week. Jerry Markland/Getty Images

This week The Monster Energy Cup Series heads to the Peach State for the Quick trip folds of honor 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. This track is a one-and-a-half-mile oval with banking of 24 degrees. These high banked corners and multiple grooves around the track usually call for fast lap times and long green flag runs. In fact, in last year's race the first caution was not displayed until lap 86 and that was for the ending of stage one. This track is known for being a relatively clean race track that doesn't have many wrecks so more than likely there will be an abundance of green flag pit stops. Look for pit stops to be pivotal in deciding who wins this race and any mistake can be the all the difference.

It will be imperative that drivers watch their speed exiting and leaving pit row. Take last year ,for example :Kevin Harvick led a race high 292 laps and swept both stage one and stage two and victory appeared to be in his grasp. However,  after a late race caution came out for the stalled car of Austin Dillion on lap 311, Harvick was penalized for speeding on pit road. This ended any chances of victory for him although he was able to rebound for a respectable ninth place finish.

Weather may also be an issue this weekend. After looking at the forecast for the race it would appear as if there is an 80 percent chance of rain in the forecast for Sunday night and early Monday morning, so if you are a diehard NASCAR fan be sure to have your sick days or your tablets ready if you want to watch the race possibly on Monday. My predictions for this race are that it will be relatively uneventful early until towards the end. My winner of this week's race is Chase Elliott. As most NASCAR fans know Elliot has had a difficult time in his pursuit of his first win. I think this is the place where he gets it done. Not only has he run well at Atlanta, but it is also his home track. Elliott has finished an average of 6.50 here in both of his starts and even though he hasn't led a lap here yet, I think that this week will be different. Look for the Napa Chevrolet to be up front.

My dark horse driver for this week is Ricky Stenhouse Jr. After a disastrous conclusion at Daytona, I think that he has a good chance to have a good finish. While yes, his average at the track is 19th in the last few races he has steadily improved his results. In 2016 he finished 15th, he then backed it up the next year with a 10h-place finish the next year and this year he will get a top five and maybe in contention for a victory at the end of the race. Look for him and his teammate Trevor Bayne to have good results this weekend. Overall, I think this race will have an uneventful beginning with long green flag runs, but when it comes down to the final stage the racing will get closer and the sense of urgency will ramp up. This track is known for classic finishes such as Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson in 2005 and of course Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon in 2001. If you have the patience to sit through the long runs, you won't be disappointed with the outcome It should be an entertaining race.

(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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More changes are coming in MLB. Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images.

Ronald Acuña Jr. and Corbin Carroll just got a little more dangerous. Same for Bobby Witt Jr., Elly De La Cruz and the rest of baseball's fastest players.

Major League Baseball wants umpires to crack down on obstruction, and the commissioner's office outlined plans during a call with managers this week. MLB staff also will meet managers in person during spring training to go over enforcement.

The increased emphasis is only on the bases and not at home plate. The focus is on infielders who drop a knee or leg down in front of a bag while receiving a throw, acting as a deterrence for aggressive baserunning and creating an increased risk of injuries.

“I think with everything, they’re trying to make the game a little safer to avoid some unnecessary injuries," Phillies shortstop Trea Turner said Friday at the team's facility in Florida. “The intentions are always good. It comes down to how it affects the players and the games. I’m sure there will be plays where one team doesn’t like it or one team does.”

With more position players arriving at spring training every day, the topic likely will come up more and more as teams ramp up for the season.

“We'll touch on that. We'll show them some video of what’s good and what’s not,” Texas Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said. “You know, it’s going to be a little adjustment.”

Making obstruction a point of emphasis fits in with an ongoing effort by MLB to create more action. Obstruction calls are not reviewable, which could lead to some disgruntled players and managers as enforcement is stepped up, but it also means it won't create long replay deliberations.

A package of rule changes last season — including pitch clocks, bigger bases and limits on defensive shifts and pickoff attempts — had a dramatic effect. There were 3,503 stolen bases in the regular season, up from 2,486 in 2022 and the most since 1987.

MLB changed a different baserunning rule this offseason, widening the runner’s lane approaching first base to include a portion of fair territory. MLB also shortened the pitch clock with runners on base by two seconds to 18 and further reducing mound visits in an effort to speed games.

“Last year, you know, a lot of our preparation was around like, especially just the unknown of the clock and making sure like we’re really buttoned up on that," New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. "These guys are so used to it in so many ways that sometimes I even forget.”

Increased enforcement could lead to more action on the basepaths. But a significant element of MLB's motivation is injury prevention.

Top players have hurt hands or wrists on headfirst slides into bases blocked by a fielder. White Sox slugger Luis Robert Jr. sprained his left wrist when he slid into Jonathan Schoop's lower left leg on a steal attempt during an August 2022 game against Detroit.

“It’s been happening for a while. It’s been getting out of control," Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “I know some of the players complained about it the last two years.”

While acknowledging his reputation as a significant offender, Phillies second baseman Bryson Stott didn't sound too worried about his play.

“We like to fight for outs at second base,” he said. "It’s never on purpose, blocking the base. For me, or someone covering second to the shortstop side, it’s a natural move for your knee to go down to reach the ball. It’s never intentional. I guess we’ll figure out how to maneuver around that.”

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