NASCAR heads for the high banks of Darlington

Look for Kyle Larson to be the driver to beat. Photo by Wiki Commons.

The NASCAR Cup Series heads for its toughest track, Darlington Raceway for the Goodyear 400. As per tradition, the drivers will be racing with retro paint schemes that would intrigue even the newest NASCAR fans. This track is an "Egg Shaped" oval with the outside wall lurking in every corner. Even the best drivers have claimed their Darlington stripe over the years. The track's rough asphalt surface makes tire management extremely important especially considering this race will be run at daytime and the surface will be much more slick. It should be a fun race come Sunday.

Last week, Kyle Busch went on to capture his fifty-eighth career victory at Kansas Speedway. The race was relatively tame until the final round of pit-stops, then it really got out of hand. After leaving his pit-box, Tyler Reddick's crew lost a tire that rolled to the edge of pit-road. Usually the moment this happens, the officials are quick to throw the caution flag. Instead, they chose to wait until green-flag pit-stops cycled through. Many didn't even think there was a need for one as the tire was so far off the racing surface it posed no threat to drivers. As the field bunched back up after the restart, race leader Denny Hamlin pounded the turn four wall ending any chance he had at victory. Kyle Larson would then become the race leader until there was another caution for a multi-car accident involving Christopher Bell and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. After this, it was Larson's turn to lose the lead after he would run into the back of Ryan Blaney on the final restart. When the dust settled, Kyle Busch was able to snake his way through all the carnage and get his first win of the season. This couldn't have come at a better time as he had been going through one of the worst slumps of his career.

The big headline off the track this week was the unveiling of NASCAR's "Next Gen" car. There had been much anticipation as to what they would look like and they did not disappoint. When designing this car, it seemed like the engineers really listened to both the drivers and the fans and made a lot of changes that were really refreshing. I am really looking forward to seeing how the car will run next season. This will truly be a new era of NASCAR racing. The car will feature a single lug wheel, a sequential gear-box and a brand new body-style that looks like the cars we see on the road. Overall, this might be the most stock we've seen a stock car look in a long long time. Kudos to NASCAR on this. They make a lot of bad decisions sometimes, but they got this one right.

Another big storyline this year has been the emergence of fourth year driver William Byron. While in his first three years, he got off to a slow start, and it took him a while to grasp racing in the cup series. This season he has really come to life. He currently sits third in points and has finished in the top ten in nine of the first eleven races including a win at Homestead. While this track might not be his best, I still look for him to continue to be fast this week at Darlington.

The driver I am picking to win this week is Byron's teammate Kyle Larson. This year has been quite the rollercoaster for him. On one hand, he's been up front and in the mix every week. But on the other hand, it seems like either luck doesn't go their way or he finds a way to lose. If you look at almost every race this year, he could have won all of them. It always seems like he puts together a perfect race week after week but just can't seem to get over the hump. This week though, I think he finally puts a whole race together and gets his second win of the season. When we go to Darlington each year, even before he went to Hendrick, Kyle has always been the guy that I zero in on. This track fits his driving style so perfectly. A one groove racetrack where most of the grip is on the outside. His results prove this as his average finish is 6.67,(second only to Erik Jones among all active drivers). The talent and the drive are there. If he can just put a whole race together and make minimal mistakes, you can almost bet he can go to victory lane. It should be interesting to see how he does. Look for Larson to be the car to beat come Sunday.

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Luis Garcia played his part in a pitcher's duel with Carlos Rodon on Friday night. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

With an impressive offensive onslaught to overpower Chicago in game one of this series, the Astros entered this second of four games hoping to keep their momentum going. After an impressive pitcher's duel left the game tied late into the game, Houston would edge out the win with a big walk-off in the ninth.

Final Score: Astros 2, White Sox 1

Astros' Record: 41-28, second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Ryan Pressly (4-1)

Losing Pitcher: Garrett Crochet (2-3)

Garcia matches Rodon in a pitcher's duel

Both starting pitchers were very effective, save one inning, in their respective seven innings of work. For Luis Garcia, he had his struggles in the top of the first to start the game, allowing a one-out double and single to put runners on second and third, setting up an RBI single to give Chicago an early 1-0 lead.

He limited the damage to that one run, both in that inning and the rest of his night, as he would follow that with six straight scoreless frames. Once he found his groove in the fourth, he would retire 12 of 13 batters he faced over that span to get through seven one-run innings. His final line: 7.0 IP, 7 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 8 K, 96 P.

For Houston, it took until one out into the fifth inning to get a hit and their first baserunner against Carlos Rodon. That sparked an opportunity to grab a lead, as they would go on to load the bases still with one out but would get just one run out of it with a two-out RBI walk by Martin Maldonado to tie the game up 1-1.

Astros walk it off in the ninth

Ryne Stanek was first out of Houston's bullpen in the top of the eighth, erasing a one-out walk for a scoreless inning to keep things gridlocked. Still in a stalemate in the top of the ninth, the Astros opted to bring in closer Ryan Pressly to try and keep it tied to set up a potential walk-off. He was perfect, striking out Chicago 1-2-3 to send it to the home half.

In the bottom of the ninth, Yuli Gurriel got the winning run on base by hitting a one-out single. That brought Yordan Alvarez to the plate, who got the walk-off hit, roping a ball into the right-field corner deep enough for Gurriel to hustle from first to home to win it for Houston, 2-1.

Up Next: Now having won five in a row, the Astros will try to lock up this series in game three of four on Saturday at 6:15 PM Central. Lance Lynn (7-2, 1.51 ERA) will try to get a win for the White Sox, while Framber Valdez (3-0, 1.42 ERA) will look to continue his 2021 success for Houston.

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