NASCAR UPDATE

Can Johnson pull off a miracle in Phoenix?

Can Johnson pull off a miracle in Phoenix?
NASCAR goes to Phoenix this week. NASCAR.com

The NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads to Phoenix this week for the semifinal
race of the 2017 season and the final race to decide the Championship four. This race -- aside
from maybe the Daytona 500 or the last race of the year -- is possibly the most important race of
the season. It plays a huge role in who makes it and who doesn't and after this weekend we will
be one step closer to crowning a champion at Homestead-Miami.

Phoenix International raceway is one mile in length but has short track characteristics; the track
has a "dog leg" that allows drivers to go all the way down off the racing surface to make passes. 
This could be both a blessing and a curse seeing how if a driver is to come back up onto to the
track they could find themselves in a lot of trouble. With the past two races we have seen and the
drama that comes along with it, look for this race to be no different. Look for tire wear to also
come up seeing how this is an asphalt track as well. Three spots in the championship four
are already locked up for Martin Truex Jr, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick. The pressure is on for the
remaining six other drivers that need to either win the race or get in on points. For the most part
unless something crazy happens the bottom four are in a must win situation to get in. The first
driver in the top four is Brad Keselowski. He has done a great job staying out of trouble this year
and appears to be in good shape to contend for his second title at Homestead. 

The first driver looking out is Denny Hamlin. He comes into this weekend 19 points out of the
championship four behind Keselowski. Hamlin is not going to his best track this week. His
average finish since 2015 has been 10.20, While this is not a bad finishing average by any means, in the
situation he is in it does not bode well for him going into this weekend. The next driver in points is
Ryan Blaney. It has truly been a dream season for the sophomore driver from his first career win at Pocono to his 14 top 10 finishes this season. 

This young man has truly exceeded everyone's expectations. I don't see him making the final round this year seeing how he is
22 points out of fourth but this has truly been a magnificent season for him in his final two races with the famous Wood Brothers racing team.

The driver seventh in points is Chase Elliott; around here is where the desperation begins to set in. Elliot is mathematically not going
to get to the championship race next week without winning seeing how he is 49 points behind and the most you can get without winning is 40. He is going to need a Hail Mary to qualify.

Even though this has been one of his better race tracks I don't see him winning this race.

The eighth and final driver is none other than Jimmie Johnson. This is truly uncharted water for a
man who has won seven championship. Johnson comes into this race a staggering 50
behind fourth place but in no way would it ever be smart to count out the legend which leads me
to my predictions for this race. Johnson will defy all the odds this week and win 
this weekend. Even though he has struggled at Phoenix he has won at this track four times and
has the highest finishing average amongst all active drivers who have raced here more than once.
Getting a victory when their backs are up against the wall is something this team is not used to
doing seeing how in the past they have already had the championship all but locked up but this
time it will be different. Johnson is going to win a race for the ages this weekend. My Dark horse
driver this weekend is Erik Jones. This year's likely Rookie of the year has been so impressive at
tracks like this and even though in his two starts at this track he has finished 19th and 8th,
I think that he will only get better this week. Look for him to finish in the top ten this week and
who knows maybe even contend to win it. Keep a look out for the number 77 to have
a good run this week at Phoenix

(All stats and information used in this article is brought to you by the good folks at driver
averages.com and Racing-Refrence.com the best website for all NASCAR stats)

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The Astros rotation looks like a strength moving forward. Composite Getty Image.

The Houston Astros are coming off a much-needed series win over the White Sox, but have a quick turnaround as they host the Orioles on Friday night at Minute Maid Park.

The 'Stros dropped the first game of the series with Framber Valdez on the mound, but were able to rebound with Hunter Brown and Spencer Arrighetti starting the final two games.

Brown was brilliant once again, and Arrighetti bounced back after a disastrous start against the Tigers over the weekend. Despite all the injures to the Astros staff this season, their young pitchers are stepping up when they need them the most.

Brown has six consecutive quality starts and is beginning to show signs that he can be the top of the rotation pitcher the club always hoped he could develop into.

Arrighetti has stepped in and shown that he belongs in the big leagues, and has provided innings Houston desperately requires with so many pitchers on the injured list.

Speaking of which, with Justin Verlander on the IL, Double A prospect Jake Bloss will make the start for Houston on Friday night. Bloss has quickly progressed through the farm system, having been drafted just a year ago.

We'll see how he performs in his MLB debut, but the club seems to have a lot of quality pitching options moving forward, especially with Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers scheduled to return in late July and early August respectively.

And as we look at the Astros rotation moving forward, perhaps they will go back to a six-man rotation during certain stretches in the second half of the season.

Which could prove to be vital to the team's success. As good as Ronel Blanco has been, he's never pitched as many innings as he'll be asked to pitch this year. Same goes for Arrighetti. And let's face it, sending Verlander out to pitch on four days rest consistently at 41 years old doesn't sound like a wise decision. He's already been on the IL twice this year.

While some see Garcia and McCullers as wild cards to help the team this season, Astros GM Dana Brown doesn't see it that way. He told the Astros flagship station this week that he's counting on those guys to make big contributions when they return. And he's counting on their postseason experience should they get there.

Keep in mind, Garcia has a 3.61 career ERA and has been durable outside the Tommy John surgery. And McCullers has always been good, it's just the health that causes concern.

Garcia is also an example of how a player can skip Double A and Triple A and have success right away in the big leagues. Hopefully, Bloss can follow in his footsteps, since he's bypassing Triple A to make his first start.

So what's the short and long-term outlook for the Astros rotation? And should we expect Verlander to return in 2025?

Be sure to watch the video above as we address those questions and much more!

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