NASCAR heads to the desert for the Instacart 500

Look for Denny Hamlin to win this weekend. Photo via: Wiki Commons.

The NASCAR Cup Series heads for the Valley of the Sun this weekend at Phoenix Raceway. This track currently hosts two races including the season finale in November as well. This will be an important race for drivers that should be championship contenders. This track is a mile and a half, but it races very much like a short-track. We could very well see a lot of three and four-wide after the restart as they go down the sweeping front-stretch. We will also see the return of the higher horsepower package this week as well, so that will also play a part in the racing.

Last week at Vegas, Kyle Larson captured his first win of 2021 and first win with Hendrick Motorsports. His #5 Camaro was head and shoulders above everyone the entire race as he led a race-high 103 laps. Despite all that, Brad Keselowski didn't make it easy on the California phenom as it came down to a late race pit-stop where Larson would win the race off pit-road and pull away to victory. This victory really put the racing world on notice as this team has been strong all year. But now, this could very well be the catalyst that pushes him over the hump as a championship contender.

With Larson's performance, Hendrick Motorsports appears to be back where they were in their glory days of Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon. Not only was Kyle Larson dominant but William Byron was also very competitive as well as he led 21 laps early in the race. When the race started, it looked like Chase Elliott was the car to beat but after falling off the jack in pit-road his chances took a hit. While it looked like he was going to storm back through the field, Elliott lost grip and spun out during a late race restart and spun out. He was still able to rebound and finish 13th. This is a welcomed sight for a lot of race fans, but it's not really new considering Eliott and his Hendrick team won the title last year. Regardless, it should be interesting to see what this team can do and if Alex Bowman the fourth driver there can catch up and also contend for wins.

While the Hendrick Chevy's are thriving, on the other end of the spectrum the Stewart-Haas team continues to struggle. While Kevin Harvick had strung together three top ten finishes to start the season, last week at Vegas the car seemed to have absolutely no speed. When the race started things looked promising as he started on the pole but after that, it seemed like they fell off a cliff. They had to limp to a 20th place finish. His teammates didn't fare much better as rookie Chase Briscoe finished one spot behind him in twenty-first. The driver who had it the worst was Aric Almirola who was involved in numerous accidents and finished an abysmal 30th place. This has been a horrendous start for the Florida native as he has now had two consecutive races where he was involved in an accident, and has crashed in four of the five races this season. The pressure is definitely going to be on him considering his 2022 plans are unclear. Stewart-Haas is in a strange place right now, but I am confident they will be able to turn it around. Well see what happens with this team down the line

Ironically enough, the favorite this week has to be Kevin Harivck. He has won here an unprecedented nine times and has almost led over three times more laps than any active driver. He will be coming from the back this week, but it shouldn't be too much of a challenge considering this is easily his best racetrack. I look for Harvick to bounce-back this week and really be a threat to win come Sunday.

The driver that I have winning is Denny Hamlin. When you look at the stats this year, no one has been better. But closing the deal has been the biggest challenge for him. Luckily, he's going to a track where he has been the next best driver behind Harvick and Kyle Busch. He has two victories here and nearly won here last year in the championship race. I look for him to finally put it all together and take the #11 Offerpad Toyota to victory lane this Sunday.

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Houston loses in San Francisco

Astros drop back-and-forth middle game to Giants to even series

Houston's offense couldn't keep up with the Giants on Saturday. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

With the impressive win in the opener to start the series, the Astros entered Saturday's middle game against the Giants with an opportunity to not just secure the series but surpass San Francisco for the best record in the league. They'd have to wait to take that crown, as the Giants would out-slug the Astros to even the series.

Final Score: Giants 8, Astros 6

Astros' Record: 64-41, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jay Jackson (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Blake Taylor (2-3)

Teams trade blows early, Giants chase Greinke out early

The teams traded blows early in this one, with the Giants tagging Zack Greinke with six runs, all on homers. The first was a solo shot in the bottom of the second to start the scoring before hitting one in each inning through the fourth: two-run blasts in the third and fourth, then a go-ahead solo shot in the bottom of the fifth, putting them ahead 6-5 at the time. Greinke would face one more batter, allowing a single to end his lackluster day: 4.0 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 4 HR, 93 P.

Houston's offense kept things close to try and keep Greinke in a position to win, going up 3-1 in the third on a two-run Aledmys Diaz homer and another coming in on an error. After San Francisco scored four unanswered to make it 5-3, Diaz homered again in the top of the fifth to cut the deficit to one run before Yuli Gurriel would tie it with an RBI double.

Astros stay in it, but Giants even the series by winning the slug-fest

With Greinke exiting with no outs in the fifth, Houston handed the ball to Phil Maton, acquired in the recent Myles Straw trade, to make his debut for his new team. He worked himself into a jam, allowing a single and hitting a batter to load the bases with one out, but was able to get back-to-back strikeouts to strike out the side and strand all three runners, keeping it a one-run game.

That proved pivotal in the top of the sixth, as with two outs, Martin Maldonado would launch a game-tying solo homer, making it 6-6. Blake Taylor took over out of the bullpen in the bottom of the inning but would face just three batters, getting two outs while leaving one on as Dusty Baker moved on to Cristian Javier. Javier would watch the Giants retake the lead, getting back-to-back singles to bring in a run and make it 7-6.

Javier stayed in the game in the bottom of the seventh, allowing a leadoff single but erasing it by striking out the next three batters. Still a 7-6 game in the bottom of the eighth, Yimi Garcia made his Astros debut but did not keep the score there, allowing a leadoff solo homer to make it a two-run game. The 8-6 score would go final as Houston's offense came up empty again in the top of the ninth, setting up a rubber game in the finale.

Up Next: The series finale will get underway at 3:05 PM Central on Sunday in San Francisco. Luis Garcia (7-5, 3.19 ERA) will take the mound for Houston, going opposite Logan Webb (4-3, 3.36 ERA) for the Giants.

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