THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR: Dixie Vodka 400 preview and predictions

Martin Truex
Image via: WikiCommons.

NASCAR heads to Homestead-Miami this week for the Dixie Vodka 400. This is the first time that the series will hold a race at this track during this time as usually the race here has been the season finale. One thing that will really change the complexity of this race is going to be the weather considering how hot it gets in Florida in June, so the track should be way more slippery and hard to find grip. We will see a lot of cars run around the outside next to the wall as that seems to be the preferred line.

There is a chance of rain this weekend and if the race is to be rained out, there is a good chance we could see the race run Monday considering there is no midweek races in the future. Another major storyline going into this race is that it will be the first to feature fans. It was announced that 1,000 service members and frontline workers will be allowed to attend Sunday's event as they will be spread out around the grandstands. This is a major step for the future and I hope they can find a way to get back to full capacity at some point.

On Wednesday, Martin Truex Jr. went on to capture his 27th career victory. Throughout the night, Truex struggled to find speed and even sustained some damage that had to be repaired. The team continued to work on their car and just kept getting better and better as the night went on and took the lead on lap 375 and never looked back. The race overall was really intriguing as there were so many characters that looked like they were going to win. First, there was Joey Lagano who set the tone early, then Jimmie Johnson had his turn at the front as he led 70 laps before Martin Truex finally took over. A lot of this can be attributed to the omission of practice and qualifying that sort of equaled the playing field. It will be interesting to see how this continues to affect things going forward.

In this race we also saw a lot of great runs from some of the smaller teams as well. The biggest example of this has to be Bubba Wallace. All throughout the day, he showed a lot of promise as he ran in the top five for the better part of the day. While he faded a bit towards the middle of the race, his car got better in the final laps, and he clawed his way back to an eleventh place finish. This team continues to improve week in and week out as last week at Bristol he was able to finish tenth and get himself back into playoff contention.

So as we all know, this past week NASCAR announced that it would be banning the display of the Confederate flag at their race track. I applaud NASCAR for finally showing some backbone and making the right decision even if it wasn't the most popular among some of its toothless fan base. It wasn't just fans that decided they wanted to take their ball and go home as truck series regular Ray Ciccarelli also decided he was going to retire at the end of the season because of this.

While the headline may state that Ciccarelli was a driver, his stats prove otherwise as he much like the Confederacy never won, and hardly even cracked the top ten. Overall, no one notices him when he is on the track and I doubt it will be any different when he doesn't come to Daytona next February. Overall, this flag is an outdated representation of a country that no longer exists and I have no idea why some people want to cling to it so badly. I hope that this decision by NASCAR weeds out a lot of morons, and we can finally move forward.

Moving on, the driver that I have winning this weekend at Homestead is Kyle Busch. Last Wednesday's finish at Martinsville was a disaster for the defending champion as they never could find any speed. He struggled and finished 19th. This week I think Kyle will bounce back. Here at Homestead, Kyle has been the model of consistency as he has won here twice and has finished no worse than 6th. While the circumstances at this track are different, it is still the same track, and he definitely knows how to get around this place. Look for Kyle to get his first win of 2020 come Sunday.

All stats and information used in this article are brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com, the best websites for all NASCAR stats)

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

ESPN Houston 97.5 FM
The Astros rotation looks like a strength moving forward. Composite Getty Image.

The Houston Astros are coming off a much-needed series win over the White Sox, but have a quick turnaround as they host the Orioles on Friday night at Minute Maid Park.

The 'Stros dropped the first game of the series with Framber Valdez on the mound, but were able to rebound with Hunter Brown and Spencer Arrighetti starting the final two games.

Brown was brilliant once again, and Arrighetti bounced back after a disastrous start against the Tigers over the weekend. Despite all the injures to the Astros staff this season, their young pitchers are stepping up when they need them the most.

Brown has six consecutive quality starts and is beginning to show signs that he can be the top of the rotation pitcher the club always hoped he could develop into.

Arrighetti has stepped in and shown that he belongs in the big leagues, and has provided innings Houston desperately requires with so many pitchers on the injured list.

Speaking of which, with Justin Verlander on the IL, Double A prospect Jake Bloss will make the start for Houston on Friday night. Bloss has quickly progressed through the farm system, having been drafted just a year ago.

We'll see how he performs in his MLB debut, but the club seems to have a lot of quality pitching options moving forward, especially with Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers scheduled to return in late July and early August respectively.

And as we look at the Astros rotation moving forward, perhaps they will go back to a six-man rotation during certain stretches in the second half of the season.

Which could prove to be vital to the team's success. As good as Ronel Blanco has been, he's never pitched as many innings as he'll be asked to pitch this year. Same goes for Arrighetti. And let's face it, sending Verlander out to pitch on four days rest consistently at 41 years old doesn't sound like a wise decision. He's already been on the IL twice this year.

While some see Garcia and McCullers as wild cards to help the team this season, Astros GM Dana Brown doesn't see it that way. He told the Astros flagship station this week that he's counting on those guys to make big contributions when they return. And he's counting on their postseason experience should they get there.

Keep in mind, Garcia has a 3.61 career ERA and has been durable outside the Tommy John surgery. And McCullers has always been good, it's just the health that causes concern.

Garcia is also an example of how a player can skip Double A and Triple A and have success right away in the big leagues. Hopefully, Bloss can follow in his footsteps, since he's bypassing Triple A to make his first start.

So what's the short and long-term outlook for the Astros rotation? And should we expect Verlander to return in 2025?

Be sure to watch the video above as we address those questions and much more!

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome