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NASCAR: AAA 500 At Dover preview

Chase Elliot should be in the mix this weekend. Jerry Markland/Getty Images

The NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads to Dover Delaware for the AAA 500. Last week at Talladega, Joey Logano was able to capture his first win of the season after he was able to hold off Kurt Busch and Chase Elliott. From the beginning of the day to the end, it was clear that Logano was the car to beat. Overall, Logano led a race high 70 laps and was able to obtain 58 points from each stage. With this victory, he gets his first win since Richmond last year.

This weekend, we head for the “Monster Mile” at Dover International Speedway for the AAA 500: Drive For Autism. This track is a 1-mile oval with 24 degrees of banking. One of the many things that makes this race track unique is its concrete surface, Dover is one of three other tracks including Bristol and Martinsville that uses this surface as opposed to the regular asphalt we see at the remaining 23 other tracks. While it is not the only track that uses this surface, it is by far the longest of the three in length which means the speeds here are far greater than they are at Martinsville and Bristol and that is what makes this race track so tough for drivers to master.

One of The biggest challenges here is getting through traffic. Here at Dover, there is a stark contrast between the banking in the corners and the banking in the straightaways; the corners are 24 degrees as the straightaways are nine degrees. Passing in the straightaways here is much more difficult at Dover than it is anywhere else and catching lapped traffic at the wrong time can really cost a driver a chance at winning.

Take last year’s fall race here, for example. In the closing laps Chase Elliott appeared to be en route to his first career victory but in the final stages, Elliott caught the lapped car of Ryan Newman. For many laps, Chase tried and tried to get around him he even tried to let Newman drive away from him for a while but once he caught back up to him, Newman would not budge. After all the time it took for Elliott to finally get around him, Kyle Busch was able to run him down and steal the victory away from Elliot, as he passed him with two laps remaining to claim the win. Look for lapped traffic to play a big role in sunday’s race.

The favorite going into this race is Elliott. As I mentioned earlier in the article, Elliott was two laps away from victory here last year in the fall, and this is easily been his best race track. While Elliot and his team always seem to have a car that is capable of winning, they either can’t catch a break in traffic or they just aren’t the best car there but nonetheless Elliott has almost been flawless here. Of his four starts, he never has finished outside of the top-five and has an average finish of 3.3. If the third year driver can run a perfect race from start to finish and can get through traffic at the right time, then I see no reason why he can’t finally get that first win here on Sunday. Look for the Napa Camaro to be a serious contender to win this weekend.

My Dark Horse pick for this week is Daniel Suarez. The Sophomore driver got two of his 12 top 10 finishes here at Dover, finishing sixth in the spring and eighth in the fall. To say that Dover is his best race track so early in his career is a bit of a stretch but his results speak for themselves. Not only has he runn well here in the Cup series but also in the NASCAR Xfinity series as well, where he owns an average finish of 8.17 including a fourth place effort in his debut in 2015.  I Look for Suarez and his team to be up near the front as they try to get their season back on the right track.

My winner this weekend is Jimmie Johnson. If you follow the sport, it is no secret that it has been a rough beginning to the season for the seven-time champion. He is currently 14th in points and only has one top five so far but this weekend, I think Jimmie gets out of his slump and what better place to do it at than at a track he has won at 11 times. No one in NASCAR HISTORY Is better than Jimmie Johnson. If there is any track where Jimmie can get his first win of the season it has to be here for sure. Look for the Lowe's Chevrolet to take the checkered flag this sunday at Dover.

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

 

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These next six games will be very telling. Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images.

Houston has six games left in the 2022 regular season, two three-game series in which they need just one more win, or a Yankees loss, to secure the top seed for the AL side of the postseason bracket. They've accomplished what they set out to do over the 162-game drudge that is the regular season, so you're likely to see them use the opportunity to get some players off their feet in the remaining games.

Even so, having one of the best teams means that while putting out a lineup with some starters missing, they can still beat most teams on any given day. So then, what could that mean for the teams still vying for postseason spots or positioning in the remaining games?

Affecting the NL playoffs

It's a relatively sure bet that if they haven't locked up that top seed by the time they enter the final three games, they will before that last series is over. That means that when the Phillies come to Minute Maid Park to close out the season next week, Philadelphia will have much higher stakes in those games than Houston.

Under the expanded playoff format starting this season, the two best teams in each league receive a bye, while the remaining four teams square off in a Wild Card series, with all those games taking place at the better seed's stadium. That means teams will be very motivated to secure their best Wild Card positioning.

As of now, the Phillies hold just a half-game lead over the Brewers for the third and final Wild Card spot for the National League. Things could change this weekend, but whether they still lead or have fallen back and have ground to makeup, the games will matter to them against the Astros.

They also sit 2.5 games behind the Padres, meaning that Philadelphia could potentially be looking at a chance to jump into the second Wild Card spot. However, it's questionable if that's an envious position or not. With the juggernaut battle between the Mets and Braves coming down to the wire, with one team winning the NL East and a first-round bye and the other starting with home-field advantage in a Wild Card series, whoever gets the second Wild Card spot is going to be heading to face a really tough, and potentially angry, team on the road.

It will make things interesting for the Phillies when they face the Astros. They could be playing for their playoff lives or jockeying for position. Either way, the games will be meaningful.

Affecting the AL playoffs

There's a similar scenario at play for the American League side of things with the Astros' three-game series against the Rays this weekend. Just like the Phillies, the Rays enter the weekend holding on to the third and final spot in the AL Wild Card race.

Tampa Bay is only 0.5 games back of the Mariners for the second spot and two games back of the Blue Jays for the first Wild Card spot. Farther behind, the Orioles still have a chance for something crazy to happen, sitting five games behind.

So based on the result of their series with the Astros and how the other teams fare this weekend and in the final stretch of games, the Rays have a range of outcomes that could cause havoc in the AL bracket. They could end up taking the top Wild Card spot and hosting a series, traveling to face the Blue Jays, Mariners, or Guardians, or, less likely, missing the playoffs altogether.

This variance in positioning could have ramifications for the Astros directly in the ALDS round as well. The Astros are likely to be favored regardless of the three potential teams they face; however, some matchups would make things easier.

Houston went 2-4 against the Blue Jays this year and are currently up 3-0 on the Rays with the three games remaining in the season series. And while the Astros took the season series 12-7 against division-rival Seattle, that could give the Mariners all the more reason to be ultra-motivated for the ALDS if they faced the Astros.

So, while the Astros may not have any direct milestones to play for other than locking up their top seed, these remaining six games will have plenty of storylines and drama to follow for them and their opponent.

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