NASCAR at Atlanta: Quaker State 400 picks, preview

Daniel Suarez is a driver to watch this week. Photo via: Wiki Commons.

The NASCAR Cup Series makes its second visit to the famed Atlanta Motor Speedway this week for the Quaker State 400. As we saw the last time they came here, this is not your father’s Atlanta Motor Speedway. We will continue to see the pack-style racing that we saw in the spring, and let's hope that the tires can hold up better than they did then. This has been a season of parity, we have seen 13 different winners, five of them being first-timers. Because of the many changes we have seen to the track, there is a legitimate chance we see a fourteenth different winner on Sunday. The key to the race this weekend will be figuring out how to manipulate the draft and finding the right person to work with, just like we see at Daytona and Talladega. Obviously, when you have big groups of cars, there is always a risk of a major pileup. The biggest cause of these crashes has been flat tires. Every driver will be sweating bullets trying to manage their tires and while we haven’t had too many major issues over the last few weeks, the high rate of speed that the cars are traveling will cause a fair amount of concern all throughout the day.

Last week, Tyler Reddick scored his first career win at Road America. The race was akin to what we are accustomed to seeing in F1, with lots of strategy, very little drama, and only two drivers in Chase Elliott and Tyler Reddick being in the hunt for the win. The opening two stages were won by Chase Briscoe and Ryan Blaney as they stayed out longer to try and get the stage victory. This came back to bite them as they would fall to the back and be out of the hunt. In the late stages, the race ultimately came down to the final pit stop as Reddick followed Elliott into Pit-Lane and was able to keep pace with him exiting, thus setting up the race-winning pass.

After this week, the future remains unclear for Road America. With a race on the Chicago Street Course looming, one track will need to be removed and unfortunately, Road America is looking like it will be that track. While it’s certainly never ideal to see a racetrack lose its date, the silver lining is how many forms of racing there are at this track. Many F1 drivers have said they would love to race there, so the future remains bright.

As I mentioned earlier, NASCAR is almost more than certain to host its first race ever on a temporary street course. Ever since the 1980s, NASCAR has tried to keep up with its open-wheel opposition, but hasn’t ever been able to make a street course race happen. Whether the cars were too heavy to race on that type of surface or certain cities wouldn’t oblige. As hard as they tried, NASCAR just couldn’t seem to make it happen. Fast-Forward nearly 40 years and now it seems as if we are on the cusp of seeing the first-ever NASCAR Street Course in Chicago in 2023. What was once an idea is now becoming reality, and I for one, am extremely excited to see how this plays out.

While Chicago is on the horizon, the focus this week remains on Atlanta and the driver I predict will win this weekend is Daniel Suarez. For many, this seems like an out of left field type of pick, but if you have been following this season, he is in the midst of a career year. This year, Suarez has scored six top tens with four top-fives and has led 203 laps, the most in his career. There have been many occasions this season where he’s had the fastest car on the track, but something would come along to mess everything up. In the spring, he had a great car and finished fourth. If he can show the same type of speed on Sunday, he should be a serious threat to win.

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The Astros have assigned left-handed reliever Matt Gage to minor league camp, which means Houston's pitching staff is likely to head into the season without a lefty in the bullpen.

Ronel Blanco and Seth Martinez are expected to be the last two pitchers in the Astros bullpen now that Gage isn't expected to fill a spot on the club. With the Astros playing so many games in the month of April, could we see Blanco or Martinez making some starts with Lance McCullers still on the shelf?

Plus, should the Astros check in on Yuli Gurriel for some depth considering his versatility and the loss of Jose Altuve for the first couple months of the season? Gurriel still hasn't been added to the Marlins 40-man roster, which means he can opt out of his deal on Saturday if nothing changes.

Based on how things played out for Carlos Correa, the guys aren't very confident the Astros would change their stance on Yuli. But you never know.

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