NASCAR: Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 preview, picks

Kyle Busch rolls off fourth this weekend. Photo via: Wiki Commons.

The Round of 8 kicks off this weekend at Texas as the championship battle continues on. This track is one groove 1.5 mile racetrack, it is extremely tough to pass here so restarts will be essential. If last season's race here is any indication, tire fall off won't play as much a factor, so we could see the possibility of two tires or gas-only pit stops at some point during the race.

Last week, Kyle Larson went on to his seventh victory of the season after battling back from a battery issue. While there were many obstacles for this team, Cliff Daniels and this team were able to continue to fix the issue and get back to the front. The dominant car of the day though was his teammate William Byron. In the closing stages, it looked like he was on his way to a win and would lock himself into the next round, but after contact with Tyler Reddick, Byron's chances seemed to be dashed. He did make a run towards the end, but there simply wasn't enough time for him to come back.

While there were plenty of battles for the lead between Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Byron and Kyle Larson. What everyone really paid attention to was Kevin Harvick and Chase Elliott as their feud came to an ugly conclusion. On lap 56, Kevin Harvick decided it was time to even the score after their dust up at Bristol. Going into turn 8, Harvick jumped on the throttle and turned Chase into the wall. This gave the #9 major damage and appeared that it would end any chances of advancing but miraculously, Alan Gustafson and his crew were able to get the car in good enough condition to keep him on the racetrack. For a while, Elliott was limping around badly and appeared to be dead in the water but then his back bumper cover fell off, and everything changed. After catching a break with a debris caution, Elliott caught fire. He drove all the way back up into the top 20 right into Kevin Harvick's rearview mirror, then it happened. Going into Turn 1, Harvick missed turn one and slammed the wall head-on ending his day.

Easily this was the biggest topic of discussion in the NASCAR world. Who was at fault? Who overreacted? If you ask me, Kevin Harvick was completely out of line to go and make a move like that. I know he was upset about getting held up at Bristol, but never once did he get wrecked by Chase. And for him to come out here and potentially end someone's championship chances is disgraceful. Of all the active drivers in the sport, no one has logged as many laps as Harvick. He has been doing this for 20 years. For a champion of this sport to do something like that is embarrassing. There has been a pattern of this over the years though. He is known as a selfish racecar driver, granted a talented driver, but he will do whatever it takes to win. This crossed the line though, if it were my call, I would have suspended Harvick for at least two races as they did when Matt Kenseth did the same thing to Joey Logano at Martinsville in 2015.

Lost in all of the controversies, a driver who really impressed this week was Chris Buescher. He went on to score his first top-five of the season after coming home third. This team has really improved a lot this season and with the addition of Brad Keselowski, I think that we will see this team really break out into a playoff contender. Look for Buescher to only improve.

The driver that I have winning this weekend is Kyle Busch. The round of 12 was quiet for the two time champion. Although he seemed to be in a bit of jeopardy coming into the Roval, he really shined by winning a stage and finishing fourth. This type of racetrack is where he makes his hay. Besides, he is the defending winner here, so he can get around this track. With all the stats, the most important factor is where he will be starting as he rolls off fourth. If he can get to the lead, don't expect him to be easy to pass. Look for Kyle to capture his 3rd victory at Texas.

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

ESPN Houston 97.5 FM
The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome