NASCAR at Daytona: Coke Zero Sugar 400 preview, picks

Kyle Larson got a big victory last week. Photo via: Wiki Commons.

The stars of the NASCAR Cup Series head for the sandy shores of Daytona Beach, Florida for the Coke Zero Sugar 400. This is the final race of the regular season, as there are now two spots available to race for a championship in the playoffs. Daytona is the most prestigious racetrack on the NASCAR schedule, winning here would be a huge accomplishment for any driver. The track is a two mile superspeedway so here anything goes. As we all know, avoiding the big one will be the primary goal of each driver if they want a shot at winning. There is a chance of rain in the forecast this weekend, so we could very well see them race on Sunday.

Last week, Kyle Larson broke out of his slump by capturing his second win of the season at Watkins Glen. On the final restart, Larson drove into turn one as deep as he could and moved his teammate Chase Elliott aside. This was controversial, as Elliott was seen venting to car-owners Rick Hendrick and Jeff Gordon. The team would hold an emergency meeting the next day to hash it out, and everything seems to be back in order at Hendrick Motorsports.

On Wednesday, Kurt Busch announced that while he may return this season, that he will not race for a championship in the playoffs. This has been tough to hear considering Busch was having a pretty good season with a victory. Over the course of the year, Kurt took some hard hits, including a head on crash at the LA Coliseum. There had already been plenty of questions as to if Kurt will return for next season, and unfortunately we might have our answer. It has been quite a career for the 2004 Cup Series champion, let’s hope Kurt is able to come a decision on his terms. Because Kurt is out, this means there are now two spots available in the playoffs. This definitely makes an easier path for Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr to get in on points, but if there is a new winner, one of them will be the odd man out.

The driver that I have winning this weekend is Austin Cindric. While it’s difficult to predict who usually wins these types of races, taking the guy who won here last would be a good bet. Cindric has a knack for this kind of racing, as he also has the highest average finish among all active drivers on superspeedways. Team Penske has sort of become the team to beat on these superspeedway type tracks, and I don’t see that changing now. It is important to note that Cindric is locked into the playoffs so his motivation to win this weekend isn’t as high as it was back in February, but if he’s in the picture, I believe that he will have the best chance at taking victory.

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The Houston Astros haven't counted on their catchers to deliver much offensive production in recent years, with defensive specialist Martin Maldonado being their primary catcher for the last few seasons. But top hitting prospect Yainer Diaz is making a case to get more playing time behind the plate and at first, based on his ability to swing the bat.

Until recently, he hasn't been able to get any meaningful playing time. Even David Hensley, who was optioned to Sugar Land a few weeks ago, has more plate appearances than Diaz this season.

So how does manager Dusty Baker find more opportunities for Diaz? Should he use him more often as a DH, along with getting time at first base and catcher?

And what does that mean for Jose Abreu, Martin Maldonado, and to a lesser extent, former first round pick and Sugar Land Space Cowboy catcher, Korey Lee?

Plus, considering how good the Astros outfielders have been this year, does the team need to grab another bat before the trade deadline?

Don't miss the video above as we break it all down!

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