NASCAR: Cook Out Southern 500 preview

The big favorite this week has to be Martin Truex Jr. Photo by Wiki Commons.

The NASCAR Cup Series heads for the track they call too tough to tame, Darlington Raceway. This is undoubtedly the most challenging racetrack on the schedule as its abrasive concrete surface is one of the most difficult to drive on. Recently turn two has been repaved making this corner much quicker, so we should see a lot of passes here throughout the race. Overall though, the track will remain mostly the same as it's always been. The wall will be lurking at every corner and with this race being a high horsepower race it will be easy to overdrive the corners. Getting through traffic will also be a big point of contingency as well.

Last week at Daytona was a wild one as Ryan Blaney was able to avoid the chaos and take his second consecutive victory. It's been a breakout season for the #12 team as they have now scored more than two victories in a season for the first time in Blaney's career. The race was mired by three multi-car crashes that took out the likes of Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr, Brad Keselowski, and Austin Dillon. These incidents would have major implications on the playoff standings, and we never really knew who was going to get the final spot. When the dust settled, Tyler Reddick was able to limp his way into the playoffs by finishing ahead of his teammate Austin Dillon.

In a silly-season update, it was announced the morning before the race began that 2004 champion Kurt Busch would be moving to a newly formed second team for 23XI racing next season. Many considered this the worst kept secret in the garage, as there was a lot of speculation that went all the way back to the summer that he was being considered. Kurt will be driving the #45 Monster Energy Toyota, this is significant as it was co-owner Michael Jordan's basketball number when he returned in 1995. When making this move, they are hoping that adding a veteran voice to the fray will help their other driver, Bubba Wallace, and have another contending driver to make the playoffs. With things looking like they will relatively return to normal next year with practice and qualifying more than likely returning, this team should improve dramatically.

The big favorite this week has to be Martin Truex Jr. Not only did he win here back in May, but he has been one of the fastest drivers when it comes to these 750 horsepower races. He has accumulated more fastest laps than anyone with 132.5 and has two victories to his name. A win in the opening round would be a huge statement for this team after being swept up in a crash last week at Daytona and on the bright side, they start tenth this week, so track position won't be too much of an issue on Sunday. Look for the orange #19 to be a contender when the green flag drops.

The driver that I am picking to win this week is Chase Elliott. Last season, Darlington was tough on the defending champion. In all three races, he had an excellent car that could win but in two of the three, he was swept up in an accident that was not of his making. This year he is out for revenge and will be starting fourth after a quiet ninth-place finish last week at Daytona. Elliott may not have the best numbers but mainly because he was run into by either Kyle Busch or Martin Truex Jr in both races. If he can stay out of trouble, he should be the car to beat on Sunday.

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MLB Network released their list of the top 10 starting pitchers in baseball this week, and two names were suspiciously left off. Framber Valdez and Cristian Javier are nowhere to be found on the list. Apparently, dominating one of the best lineups in baseball on the biggest stage means nothing?

Be sure to check out the video above as Paul Gallant shares his thoughts on the rankings.

Listen to The Paul Gallant Show from 10am-12pm weekdays on ESPN 97.5 & 92.5 FM!

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