NASCAR Geico 500 preview

NASCAR heads to the legendary Talladega Super Speedway for the Geico 500

Talladega. Getty Images.

This Sunday, The NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for the largest oval in the world, Talladega Super Speedway. This race is one of the most anticipated races on all of the schedule as it is known for its three and four wide racing and the amount of surprise winners we usually see here. This is the race that I always circle on the calendar to watch; there is simply no predicting on what will happen when the green flag drops at the self-proclaimed "Baddest racetrack on the planet." The obvious variable to watch out for this weekend is the infamous "big one." It seems every time they come to a track like Talladega or Daytona, there has been a multi-car wreck that wipes out most or a lot of the field.

We have seen it every year they have come here so there will be strategy to try and avoid it. One of the most popular ways drivers try and steer clear of this is by riding around towards the back of the field. This has worked very few times. Drivers like Dale Jr and Jeff Gordon have done this and won races because of it. On the other hand, there have been many times to where it hasn't worked. It should be interesting to see how these drivers tackle the high banks.

One of the main headlines of this race is the decision to ditch the Restrictor-plates here that NASCAR has used for nearly 30 years. The new cars will carry a larger tapered spacer and will make their spoiler on the back of the car much larger. These changes are to reduce Horsepower down to 550 which in large part will slow the cars down. While it sounds like a lot, NASCAR officials say they don't expect the style of racing to change too much. A lot of people scoffed at this decision but overall, I am not sure it will make too much a difference come race day. On the bright side, a lot of racing fans will get their wish as the sport has finally abandoned plate racing. It should be a sight to see come first practice on Friday afternoon.

The clear favorite coming into this weekend has to be Aric Almirola. As you know when we come to tracks like this, I have always had him as king of the underdog but this weekend, I truly think he has the best chance to win. Since 2016, he has a 4.25 average finish including a win in last year's fall race so it's clear he knows how to get around tracks like this. It has been good to see one of the good guys in NASCAR get a chance driving for one of the sport's top teams and he has made the most of his opportunity. Look for Aric to be one to watch come sunday.

If you are looking for sort of an underdog story this week, look no further than Matt DiBenedetto. As everyone knows, Bob Leavine and his group of guys have really done a lot to help improve their race team, from forming an alliance with Toyota and Joe Gibbs to hiring a new crew-chief in Mike Wheeler who has been successful with Denny Hamlin. They had a great run going in the Daytona 500 after Matt lead a race high 49 laps until a late race incident knocked them out of contention. This week, I think they get their redemption and get a solid finish if not a victory. I think that Matt can win in this series and what a statement it would be if he was to get his first win here at Talladega.

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

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Rockets get another much-needed win. Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets went on a redemption tour by beating the Detroit Pistons and Dallas Mavericks. But the most pivotal win was against the Mavericks as the Rockets finally showed their true potential. John Wall finally made his return from his injury hiatus and played with a lot of energy. DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Gordon combined for 61 points. It was great to see Stephan Silas crack a smile as he was able to beat his former team.

The Rockets clearly missed Wall during his eight-game absense. This season, the Rockets are a .500 team with Wall on the court. Wall is the Rockets' floor general that leads, constructs, and also pushes his teammates to become better.

Wall only played 21 minutes in the 133-108 win over the Mavericks but still had eight assists. Even though Wall only had 7 points, his presence was still felt by finding his teammates for open looks beyond the perimeter. Wall made sure Cousins and Gordon got a plethora of touches. He called multiple actions, so they got open looks from three, which was mainly Gordon. Gordon and Cousins' struggles have been similar but with Wall on the court, they were successful against the Mavericks. According to NBA Stats, Wall posted a 111 offensive rating with the starters versus the Mavericks, which included Gordon and Cousins.

"He's the engine to this team. He gets everybody going. He makes the game easy," Cousins told a reporter after the game. "The pressure that he constantly puts on the defense is a tough thing to deal with."

Gordon has struggled all season long with three-point shooting and relied on his slashing abilities. Saturday night, Gordon made six three pointers against the Mavericks, which was 66 percent from beyond the perimeter. Gordon increased his three-point percentage from 31 percent to 34.5 percent after Saturday night's game. Gordon's 33 points came from being able to attack the entire Mavericks' defense. Willy Cauley-Stein didn't stand a chance against Gordon as he was burned multiple times. Gordon's been a lifesaver for the Rockets in the last two games, and hopefully he maintains his play.

Cousins played fantastic against the Mavericks scoring 28 points and grabbing 17 rebounds. This is Cousins' first double-double with the Rockets this season. Cousins became the vintage player from the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings. It was extremely fun watching Cousins push the ball up the court and aggressively snatch rebounds. Boogie shot 50 percent from behind the arc by making four three-pointers. He was dominant inside the paint as Cousins went 7/8 from the restricted area versus the Mavericks. This was the game Cousins needed after having a poor performance against the Pistons Friday night.

"It was really, really good. He did it all. He's a physical presence on both ends of the floor," as Silas said on Cousins' performance.

David Nwaba and Mason Jones were big factors off the Rockets' bench by having a combined total of 34 points together. Nwaba has been great in transition for the Rockets the entire season. Keep in mind that Nwaba is returning from an Achilles injury he suffered with his former team, the Brooklyn Nets. Nwaba has became a great defender, slasher, and is averaging a career-high nine points per game with the Rockets. He finished with 18 points on Saturday night versus the Mavericks.

Mason Jones has become a fan favorite of the Rockets because of his confidence. Silas is loving the usage of Jones off the bench but wants to find more minutes for him. Jones had a breakout performance versus the San Antonio Spurs with 24 points off 66 percent shooting from the field. He continues to get better with his reads from the point guard position. Jones' knowledge of running the offense has helped his efficiency on the court. He is never afraid to take clutch shots in pivotal moments of the game.

"To have a young kid who can come in and not be afraid of the moment, that's big. That's a tough position to be in as an undrafted rookie. I trust him. It's a good problem to have," Silas mentioned after the game. "He's showing me he's ready. He's a confident kid, and he should be. That's why he's good. He's not afraid of the moment, at all. He can get us organized, run plays, and score the basketball."

Hopefully, the Rockets can sustain their level of play when Victor Oladipo returns against the Washington Wizards, Tuesday. It will be interesting to watch Oladipo and Wall play in the same backcourt.

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