NASCAR goes dirt racing in Bristol this weekend

NASCAR goes dirt racing in Bristol this weekend
The obvious favorite to win this race has to be Kyle Larson. Photo via: Wiki Commons.

NASCAR is out of their element this week as they head to Bristol Motor Speedway for the inaugural Food City Bristol Dirt Race. This race is easily the most anticipated of the thirty-six others on the schedule as it will be the first NASCAR dirt race since 1970. This race format will be much different from what we see on a typical Sunday, there will be four heat races on Saturday that will determine the starting lineup. The starting order of the heat races will be determined by random draw. Another new feature we will see this week is passing points. These will be awarded to drivers who improve on their starting position in the heat races and will determine where each driver will start. This should be one of the best races of the season, you won't want to miss this one.

Last week, Ryan Blaney was able to pry victory from the clutches of Kyle Larson as he made the race winning pass with six laps to go. All throughout the day, Larson dominated the race. He won both stages and by far had the fastest race car on the track but when he approached the lap car of Joey Logano, he just couldn't get past him. This allowed Logano's teammate Blaney to catch up and take the lead. This victory could be a huge momentum boost for Ryan as he had started off the season a little bit slow, but now he appears to be heading in the right direction.

The big story this week has been the dirt track specialists that will be racing this week. There will be a few new faces that we aren't accustomed to seeing out there but will bring tons of experience and know-how to the Cup. One driver that comes to mind for me is Mike Marlar. Overall, Mike is one of the most talented dirt late model drivers in the country. If you are looking for someone who can drive on dirt, Mike will certainly be one to watch. He's also been good in the trucks at Eldora as he finished fourth in his lone truck start. Another driver to watch out for is Stewart Freesien. As everyone knows, Stewart is a staple in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, but he has been the most successful driving dirt late modifieds in Canada. He will certainly be one of the favorites in this race as he has really cut his teeth on dirt. The other two drivers we will see this year are Sprint and Quarter Midget car drivers Shane Golobic and Chris Windom. These guys will certainly make things interesting come Sunday

The obvious favorite to win this race has to be Kyle Larson. While most people know him for other reasons and being maybe the best driver in NASCAR right now, it is also well known that the California driver is a bit of a dirt track specialist as well. Last season while Larson was serving his suspension, this gave him the opportunity to drive his sprint car, and he did not disappoint. He nearly won every race he competed in! If there is anyone more qualified to win here, it has to be Larson just on his background alone. Not only will this surface change help him, but he was fast here when it was pavement too. Look for Larson to be the car to beat come Sunday.

The driver that I have winning this week is Christopher Bell. While most people talk about how great Larson is, Bell isn't too far behind. These two at one point were maybe two of the best drivers when it came down to Quarter Midget racing. The man has over one hundred victories in USAC and the POWRI series and has won some marquee events as well such the Chili Bowl. For my money, I don't know if you can find a better dirt racer than Bell. I look forward to seeing him near the front come Sunday.

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Welcome back, Justin! Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images.

Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander will make his season debut Friday night at the Washington Nationals.

Houston manager Joe Espada made the announcement Wednesday.

“Getting him back is huge because it brings a level of confidence to our team, a boost of confidence that we’re going to get someone who’s been an MVP, a Cy Young (winner) on the mound,” Espada said. “It's (good) for the morale and to get stuff started and moving in the right direction.”

The three-time Cy Young Award winner opened the season on the injured list with inflammation in his right shoulder. He made two rehabilitation starts, the first for Triple-A Sugar Land on April 7 before Saturday’s start for Double-A Corpus Christi.

Espada wouldn't say how many pitches the 41-year-old would be limited to but said they'll keep an eye on his workload.

“We've got to be careful how hard we push him early,” Espada said. “I know he’s going to want to go and stay out there and give us an opportunity to win, but we've got to be cautious of how hard we push him early in the season.”

Verlander wasn’t thrilled with the results in his rehabilitation starts, but he said Monday that those games were valuable in getting him prepared to come off the IL.

He allowed seven hits and six runs — five earned — in four innings against Frisco on Saturday. He struck out three, walked one and threw 51 of 77 pitches for strikes.

Verlander allowed six earned runs and struck out six while pitching into the fourth inning for Sugar Land on April 7.

The Astros have gotten off to a tough start with Verlander and fellow starters Framber Valdez and José Urquidy on the injured list. They enter Wednesday's games last in the AL West with a 6-13 record.

Espada hopes Verlander can be the boost the team needs to get on track.

“It’s good to get him back in the rotation,” Espada said. “With what he means to this club just to get him back on track, getting some innings from him (to) build our rotation with the pieces that we need to move forward is exciting.”

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