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NASCAR: EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix preview, picks

NASCAR is back in Texas! Photo via: Wiki Commons.

The NASCAR Cup Series heads to Austin, Texas for the EchoPark Grand Prix at the famed Circuit of the Americas. This is NASCAR’s second race here and if it’s anything like last season, there will be plenty of challenges for each driver. One major difference about this year's race is the weather. Come Sunday, the forecast calls for partly cloudy skies and no rain like we saw last year. Overall, the strategy is completely different, and the drivers won’t have to worry about switching to wet tires or visibility concerns. The race will be 68 laps which may not seem like a lot, but usually laps around this racetrack take about 2-3 minutes to complete. Because of its massive lengths and abundance of corners, this race will be tough on brakes. This is pretty standard on road courses, and it will be imperative for drivers to conserve them. We can expect a 3-4 pit stop race throughout the stages which end on laps 15 and 32 and then the final 36 laps, so we will see a lot of strategies play out on when to pit. Some drivers may try to split the stages by pitting twice, some will only pit once but at the end of the day, the driver who survives will more than likely go to victory lane.

Last week, William Byron picked up his third career victory at Atlanta Superspeedway. Throughout the day, the race was marred by tire failures and crashes, as there were 11 cautions and a whopping 30 cars that had damage when the race was over. It was known that chaos was a strong possibility, which is exactly what we got. In the end, the car that was upfront for the better part of the day did pick up the win. But it was frustrating to watch drivers like Ross Chastain and Ricky Stenhouse crash while leading the race. These tire issues are becoming a major problem for the sport, it seems like every week there is an issue. Hopefully, this can be sorted out before they get to the dirt race at Bristol in the next month.

Regardless of all the issues during the race, William Byron’s command of the field was impressive. It seemed like he was the pied piper, he led a race high 111 laps and was able to control the draft for most of the race. Byron has shown a lot of speed when racing in a pack and this week was no different. Atlanta was a nice rebound for Byron after a disappointing 18th place finish in Phoenix the week before. This week’s race will be a little bit more of a challenge though, his average finish on road courses is 18.50. He will have a lot of work to do to build on last week's win.

Throughout the first five races this season, no one has been on a hot streak like Ross Chastain. In the last three races, he’s finished no worse than third, including an amazing comeback at Atlanta. His team Trackhouse racing has dramatically improved from a top 15 team to a race-winning team, and it seems like that victory is coming soon. COTA is a track where he’s been fast at, last season he was able to brave the elements and record an impressive fourth-place finish. Chastain is sure to be a contender come Sunday.

The driver that I have winning this weekend is Chase Elliott. When picking a favorite for this race, it wasn’t difficult to decide who’s had the most success on road courses. Over the past 12 round course races run since 2019, Elliott has won half of them, so why would this week be any different? It’s been a frustrating season for the 2020 champion, from getting crashed out by his teammate Kyle Larson at Auto Club to spinning out in the closing laps at Phoenix. There have been plenty of bumps in the road for him, but this is the perfect place for him to rebound and turn his luck around. Chase will be the car to beat when the green flag drops.

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Another tough loss for Houston. Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images.

The Houston Texans remain winless as the team comes up short against the Bears in Chicago. Here are 11 observations from the game.

1. Davis Mills made two costly mistakes with interceptions. The first one took points off the board and the second allowed the Bears to kick a game-winning field goal. These were the first two of the season and they highlight the need for near perfection from the offense.

2. Davis Mills claimed he made the correct read on the second interception. He said the tip is the reason the Bears intercepted it. I disagree. It looks like Roquan Smith read it like a book and might have been there anyway.

3. The other interception from Davis Mills wasn’t a good read either. Mills made a quick decision and rifled the ball to Brandin Cooks but the defensive back basically had his whole body between Cooks and the ball. The Bears made a nice play to come down with the deflection.

4. Davis Mills is not to be trusted in moments where most quarterbacks can move the football. The Texans failed to get into field goal range at the end of both halves. Mills has consistently failed in those spots this season.

5. There were some curious calls from Pep Hamilton. The Texans don’t have much talent, but Hamilton has had some unique moments. There was a screen to Pharaoh Brown on third and long. The team called a screen on third and one. There was a telegraph on third and short in the red zone.

6. Why can’t this team get the wideouts more heavily involved? Rex Burkhead shouldn’t be getting the second greatest number of targets. Brandin Cooks shouldn’t leave a game where he has less than 10 targets. It would be worth scheming the ball to Cooks a few more times than he is currently getting the ball.

7. Kamu Grugier-Hill is not playing well right now. The veteran just bounced right off a Bears running back at one point. He is also a liability in coverage. Christian Harris is hopefully back after next week but it would be worth seeing if Garrett Wallow has anything more to his game than the veteran.

8. The rushing defense was assaulted again. This time by running wideouts and a backup running back. Lovie Smith needs to look at playing time and the depth chart to see if something can get corrected here. This can’t keep happening earlier and earlier in games each week.

9. Jerry Hughes has been one of the best players on this team through three games. The veteran has been consistent and flashed more than a few times. A nice addition by the team this offseason.

10. Jalen Pitre is so damn good. He’s already one of the best players on this team. He had two interceptions today to go along with a sack. He wasn’t fooled on play action and nailed Justin Fields for the sack. When it felt like the Bears were getting whatever they wanted, Pitre darted in for a tackle in the backfield. He’s been awesome.

11. There must be some evaluation from the Texans. The team might need to ask if everything they’ve put together at this point is the right direction. There is a sound argument the team should be 3-0. Instead, the team is winless, and closing in on hopelessness

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