NASCAR: 2021 Federated Auto Parts 400 preview, predictions

The playoffs continue on Saturday. Photo via: Wiki Commons.

The NASCAR Cup Series heads to the Commonwealth of Virginia this week for the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway. This race is number two of three in the first round of the playoffs as each of the 16 drivers look to extend their season. This track is probably the tamest of the three in this round, so it will be important to get a good finish here before one of the wildcard races at Bristol next week. Richmond is a track that usually features a lot of side-by-side racing and long green flag runs, as there were only two cautions for accidents in the spring. Look for many crew chiefs to use pit strategy to play a role in the results.

Last week, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson battled it out all the way to the final corner in one of the best finishes of the season. On the last lap of the race, Kyle Larson decided to go full-throttle all the way in turn four and ride the wall in a last-ditch effort to pass Hamlin, but to no avail as Hamlin picked up his first win of 2021.

While Larson and Hamlin came out pretty well, the same couldn't be said for most of the playoff field, ten drivers were involved in accidents including Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, and Alex Bowman. It was Kyle who got himself into trouble though. In stage one, Busch moved down on Austin Dillon and crashed in turn two. It wasn't until after he got to pit lane where the real trouble began. Entering the garage area, Busch plowed through most of the orange cones at the entrance and nearly ran over multiple crew members. Because of this, Kyle was fined $50,000. Many thought the penalty was not nearly as severe as it should have been, some even called for a suspension which would have crippled his championship chances. While I agree that the move was incredibly stupid and some sort of action was needed, I believe a suspension would have been too harsh.

On the other side of the Busch gene pool, Kyle's brother Kurt had an excellent showing after coming home sixth. This team continues to quietly impress as he scored 44 points by finishing in the top ten in both stages. He is becoming quite the dark horse to really do some damage and make it out of the first round. Kurt will be one to watch, come Saturday.

There were headlines aplenty off the track as rumors are now swirling that two new tracks will be added to the 2022 schedule, one of those tracks being World Wide Technology Raceway in St. Louis, a short track staple among the Midwest. This was certainly a big announcement, but what really grabbed most people's attention was the possibility of a Cup Series race at the LA Coliseum! The race would take the place of the Clash at Daytona as the cars will run a short-track configuration. This will be quite the experiment as this hasn't happened since the 1950s when they raced at Solider Field. If they make this work, it will be a marvel of engineering. I look forward to hearing more about this in the coming months.

For now the focus remains at Richmond Raceway and the favorite to win this week has to be Kyle Larson. After last week's performance, he will be starting from the pole come Saturday and this is a track he's fast at as he's led 129 laps over the past three races here. Despite all the speed he's had at Richmond, he still has yet to score a victory there, but I have a feeling that could all change this week. Look for Larson to punch his ticket to the next round with a victory this weekend.

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Here's why the Texans will make the playoffs under Lovie Smith

1. The Houston Texans had a mentally tough practice Saturday. The team has worked a lot in pads and Lovie Smith noted the days starting to build up on them during this practice. The head coach said this is a good practice because it is like the fourth quarter of the games the team will end up playing.

2. Davis Mills threw one of the best passes he has thrown all camp on Saturday. In a red zone drill, he dropped back and whipped a pass between two defenders into the tightest window he has had all camp. Nico Collins hauled in the threaded pass for a score.

3. A few reps later Davis Mills struck again. With traffic from linebackers and defensive backs, he found Chris Conley for a score. It wasn’t as tight of a window as the first one, but Mills snapped it off nonetheless.

4. Pharaoh Brown made something hard look very easy on Saturday. With Mills rolling out and tossing the ball to Brown in the back corner Brown hauled in a one-handed catch and had both feet down. Touchdown. Brown then acted like it was no big deal.

5. Pharaoh Brown has had a wonderful camp. Lovie Smith named him the starting tight end. The thing that really jumped out to me today is he makes his work look easy. He isn’t straining to excel in his opportunities. The good ones always make it look easy and it has looked easy for Brown so far.

6. Rookie linebacker Christian Harris is on the shelf for a few days. He joins fellow rookie Kenyon Green as players who are injured. Max Scharping played left guard with Green down. Wide receiver Phillip Dorset practiced while veteran wideout Chester Rodgers did not.

7. Roy Lopez flashed again today. While Friday was about the rushing attack and Lopez made his presence felt at defensive tackle, he got into the pass rush Saturday. Lopez would have had a bone-crushing sack in a live rep.

8. Ross Blacklock hasn’t been consistent. A statement like that is good and evil. There are some plays where Blacklock looks like he isn’t a factor. I watched one today. A play later he had what would have been a sack on the play. He’s a player to watch in the preseason games closely.

9. Don’t expect to see Derek Stingley in the preseason opener next Saturday. Lovie Smith wouldn’t commit to the rookie cornerback playing in the preseason. Smith did say Stingley is on track to play week one in the regular season.

10. Brevin Jordan has had a nice camp and should be an important piece for the team. Jordan had a bad drop in 7-on-7 drills that he was beating himself up over for a few minutes. That was out of the norm. He’s been used a lot and will be on the field a bit it seems for the Texans.

11. Brevin Jordan also rattled off a few contenders for the quote of the day. He exclaimed he had taken care of himself this offseason and he finally had abs. He also revealed he’s quite the fisherman and once caught a 125-pound tuna. When asked what he did with the tuna Jordan laughed and said “RIP tuna!”

Listen to Cody Stoots weekdays afternoons 3-7pm on his show "The Wheelhouse" live on ESPN 97.5 + 92.5 FM or anytime on demand at the podcast here.

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