NASCAR: Blue Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 preview plus predictions

Photo via:WikiCommons.

Midweek racing makes its return this week as they head for the track they call the paperclip at Martinsville, Virginia for the Blue Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500. This will be the first race in the track's storied history that will be run under the lights. Originally, this was supposed to be the first race back but plans fell through as Virginia's stay at home order was not lifted at the time. It will definitely be a welcomed sight to go back to this track as this has been one of the most anticipated races of the year.

It is a shame that there will be no fans to see it there but when they do, it will definitely be one of the biggest draws of the season. Opened in 1947, this track is one of NASCAR's landmarks. It is 0.526 miles in length making it the smallest track on the schedule. You can rest assured that we will see some bent up bumpers during the races considering that is one of the few ways to pass. I can't wait for this race! It will especially be fun considering this race will be using the original 750 horsepower package that they use at short-tracks. It should be an awesome race!

Last week, Kevin Harvick pretty much dominated en route to his second victory of the season at Atlanta. As a race fan, this was an extremely difficult race to watch. While the racing after the restarts was good, there wasn't very much going on as Kevin Harvick led over 150 laps and won by three seconds. The track's surface is so rough that it makes it difficult to drive on and while most of the time that is good, in this case it was extremely rough on the tires as well. Another facet of the race was the heat and the toll it took on the drivers. When the race was over, Bubba Wallace passed out during his post-race interview.

This was terrifying to watch but after going to the care center the fan favorite was checked and released. This brought questions from fans as to why the race was run in the daytime considering the heat in the deep south and I completely concur with those fans. Overall, there wasn't really any reason why the race couldn't have been run at night when it was much cooler, there weren't any other sporting events going on and running the race in prime-time would have been another great opportunity to bring in a new audience. Let's hope they keep this in mind as they go to Homestead-Miami at the end of the week.

When it was all said and done, the main headline was what happened before the race even started. As everyone in this country knows, there is a lot of racial turmoil because of the police brutality we have seen nationwide. Over the past week, we have seen most athletes take a stand against these heinous crimes committed by those four officers that murdered George Floyd and thankfully NASCAR and their participants have also stepped in and taken a stand as well. At the beginning of the race, Jimmie Johnson and others including Bubba Wallace, Daniel Suarez, Ty Dillon and even Dale Earnhardt Jr all recorded a message talking about how they hope to learn from this and do a much better job at how they treat people of color within their sport. The drivers also stopped on the front-stretch before the race to reflect on how they can do better.

Personally, I believe that NASCAR as a sanctioning body has come a long way with social justice, considering how the sport was in the past. While NASCAR and it's dignitaries have improved, it is a shame to say that most of its fan base has not. If you go on any one of NASCAR's social media platforms and see what the majority of NASCAR fans have to say about all this, you would have a pretty good idea of why people think so negatively about our sport and that truly is a shame. This shows the disconnect these morons have with reality, a lot of these people have stated how they are "done with NASCAR because they don't want to hear about it," which I say is the best thing that can ever happen to this sport. The sooner we can get all these idiots out of here the better. I hope that NASCAR and society continues to work hard to bring meaningful change even when all the tension dies down. But overall I am happy to see that the drivers are listening and doing all they can to make a change and stop police brutality and racism.

On a much lighter note, the driver that I have winning this weekend is Jimmie Johnson. As we all know, this has been a track that Johnson has pretty much owned all throughout his career. He has a career-high nine victories here and has the highest active finish among all drivers. I can't think of a better place for the seven-time champion to come out and break his winless streak than at the track he has made his personal playground. With his team getting much better week by week, I believe this will be the race where he breaks through. While he may be starting twenty-first, on a track like this, track position doesn't matter as much as it does at a place like Atlanta or Homestead. Look for the #48 Ally Camaro to come charging through the field and take the checkered flag come Wednesday.

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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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