NASCAR heads home to Charlotte for the Coca-Cola 600

Start your engines! Photo via: Wiki Commons.

NASCAR heads home this week to one of the crown jewels of NASCAR for the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. This race is considered by many to be the second most important race on the schedule behind the Daytona 500. Its six-hundred mile distance makes it one of the most difficult races not just in NASCAR but in the world. The race begins in the heat of dusk and as the race winds down the track cools off tremendously and there is a lot more grip. Things will really start to change late in the race as there are four stages instead of the regular three. Considering this race is the Coca-Cola 600, there will also be practice and qualifying this week, so that could really give us a good idea of who has speed this week.

Last week's race at Circuit of the Americas we saw something we have never seen before and may never see again, racing in the rain. This was an absolute disaster, and it wasn't because of the rain itself but the standing water that came with the rain. Because of the large puddles of water around this massive 3 mile racetrack, it was next to impossible to see through the spray. There were multiple serious accidents involving Bubba Wallace, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Cole Custer. When asked about the conditions, Harvick responded by saying "We don't have any business doing this. This was the most unsafe I have ever felt in a race car." The race was red-flagged and the track was dried enough to where it was serviceable, but there were still plenty of drivers who drove off track or spun out. When the waters settled, it appeared that it was going to come down to Hendrick teammates, Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson but along came the rain again. It got so bad that NASCAR decided to end the race early and award Chase Elliott the victory. This is the sixth victory on a road course for the defending champion and his first win of the season.

With Chase's victory, this now means that all four Hendrick Motorsports cars have clinched a spot in the playoffs. This is the first time since 2014 that this team has been able to accomplish this feat. These last couple of years have been especially tough for the winningest team in NASCAR and while they did win the title last year, it seemed like the team as a whole had a hard time finding speed. What a difference a year makes as now each driver has won a race this year. One thing I can attribute to this run of success was the decision to move crew-chief Chad Kanus to Vice President of Competition. Because of this, he can now focus on making the entire team better as a whole and not just one car in William Byron. Look for Hendrick Motorsports to continue to be the team to beat in the future.

While all eyes will be on the Hendrick four horsemen, the driver I have winning this week is Penske driver Joey Logano. The 2018 champion punched his ticket to the round of 16 by winning at the Bristol dirt race, since then it has been up and down. He has found a bit of a groove here in the past two weeks with back to back top fives at Darlington and COTA. I think he is due for another win. This track has been pretty good to him, and he has the highest average finish here of all active drivers. Look for Logano to take the #22 Mustang to his second victory of 2021.

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Luis Garcia played his part in a pitcher's duel with Carlos Rodon on Friday night. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

With an impressive offensive onslaught to overpower Chicago in game one of this series, the Astros entered this second of four games hoping to keep their momentum going. After an impressive pitcher's duel left the game tied late into the game, Houston would edge out the win with a big walk-off in the ninth.

Final Score: Astros 2, White Sox 1

Astros' Record: 41-28, second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Ryan Pressly (4-1)

Losing Pitcher: Garrett Crochet (2-3)

Garcia matches Rodon in a pitcher's duel

Both starting pitchers were very effective, save one inning, in their respective seven innings of work. For Luis Garcia, he had his struggles in the top of the first to start the game, allowing a one-out double and single to put runners on second and third, setting up an RBI single to give Chicago an early 1-0 lead.

He limited the damage to that one run, both in that inning and the rest of his night, as he would follow that with six straight scoreless frames. Once he found his groove in the fourth, he would retire 12 of 13 batters he faced over that span to get through seven one-run innings. His final line: 7.0 IP, 7 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 8 K, 96 P.

For Houston, it took until one out into the fifth inning to get a hit and their first baserunner against Carlos Rodon. That sparked an opportunity to grab a lead, as they would go on to load the bases still with one out but would get just one run out of it with a two-out RBI walk by Martin Maldonado to tie the game up 1-1.

Astros walk it off in the ninth

Ryne Stanek was first out of Houston's bullpen in the top of the eighth, erasing a one-out walk for a scoreless inning to keep things gridlocked. Still in a stalemate in the top of the ninth, the Astros opted to bring in closer Ryan Pressly to try and keep it tied to set up a potential walk-off. He was perfect, striking out Chicago 1-2-3 to send it to the home half.

In the bottom of the ninth, Yuli Gurriel got the winning run on base by hitting a one-out single. That brought Yordan Alvarez to the plate, who got the walk-off hit, roping a ball into the right-field corner deep enough for Gurriel to hustle from first to home to win it for Houston, 2-1.

Up Next: Now having won five in a row, the Astros will try to lock up this series in game three of four on Saturday at 6:15 PM Central. Lance Lynn (7-2, 1.51 ERA) will try to get a win for the White Sox, while Framber Valdez (3-0, 1.42 ERA) will look to continue his 2021 success for Houston.

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