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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1. Davis Mills had an up-and-down day under center Friday. One play saw Mills drop back and try to get rid of the ball as Jonathan Greenard was rushing him only to have Greenard leap up and intercept Mills for what would have been an interception returned for a score.

2. A few plays later Davis Mills showcased his short memory. Mills surveyed the field, looked off the safety, and pitched a strike to Brevin Jordan over the middle, wide open, for a touchdown.

3. Davis Mills doesn’t stack bad plays. It is rare to see multiple bad plays happen in a row and Mills be the cause, or a cause, of the play not working. When he misses something, he usually makes up for it the next play.

4. It was a makeshift offensive line on Friday. Max Scharping played a lot at left guard. Charlie Heck saw some snaps at left tackle while Laremy Tunsil took a breather. Veteran lineman Cedric Ogbuehi played some at right tackle. There was plenty of work emphasized on the rushing attack Friday. The offensive line was fine, nothing special. I would say slight edge to the defense overall.

5. Rookie Kenyon Green didn’t practice. Right tackle Tytus Howard didn’t practice either. Pro Football Network is reporting Tytus Howard is out with a positive Covid test. Kenyon Green was banged up last practice, but Lovie Smith expects both back in the coming days.

6.The offensive line had its hands full with the defensive line today. Jonathan Greenard made the above-mentioned play of the practice with an interception. It felt constantly like there was some level of success from the defensive line. Not to say they dominated, but I would think the defense is happy with their day.

7. Maliek Collins has been a nice player in camp. He looks a bit quicker than last year. Collins downplayed how many “close” plays he had last year citing that everyone knows the saying “close but no cigar.” I asked him if he expected a lot of cigars this year. He chuckled and said yes. Teammate Roy Lopez gushed about what he believes Collins can be for this team and called his teammate one of the best defensive tackles in the league.

8. I almost wonder if quiet Derek Stingley days are good days. Stingley wasn’t involved in a lot of plays, but I know Davis Mills saw him on Friday. Mills dropped back on one play and made a read to his left seeing Chris Moore. Stingley darted from coverage towards Moore causing Mills to move off Moore and head to Nico Collins for a score. Yes, the defense allowed a touchdown, but Stingley did his job.

9. Rookie safety Jalen Pitre is a “starting” safety for the team according to Lovie Smith. Pitre had an interception, depending on who you ask, in practice. It is clear the Texans trust him and have put a lot on his plate. I would expect to see a lot of the rookie safety, good or bad, this season.

10. Lovie Smith praised the team’s depth at linebacker earlier in camp. I scoffed a little at the notion, but there seems to be a new linebacker making a play each day. Christian Kirksey had a nice stop in the run game today. Kevin Pierre-Louis, who played very little last year, has flashed. There’s some depth here, despite my skepticism.

11. Ka'imi Fairbairn doesn’t have a challenger in camp this year. I believed this offseason should have seen at the very least someone to challenge the kicker heading into his seventh year in the league. He’s been solid in camp so far, but there have been some misses. It is tough to judge distance, but the team clearly has faith in him with no challenger in sight.

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