NASCAR heads for the high banks of Darlington

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.

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

ESPN Houston 97.5 FM
Who gets sent down when Jose Abreu returns to the team? Composite Getty Image.

Hey, it’s not my money, why should I care?

All indications point to Jose Abreu and his albatross contract rejoining the Houston Astros early next week. Abreu will be inserted into the lineup, at least on a platoon basis, with lefty Jon Singleton, and given “every opportunity” to regain the form that won him an American League MVP in 2020.

But how long does “every opportunity” last? Of course fans (more so Astros owner Jim Crane) hope that Abreu’s return is successful and he is once again a productive Major League power hitter, like when he led the American League in RBI in 2019.

What if he goes 0-4, 1-4, 0-2 (his batting average when he left the Astros three weeks ago) his first week back and the Astros struggle? What if Abreu, as many suspect, is washed?

What then? It’s believed that owner Crane is loathe to cut bait on Abreu and eat the remainder of the $58.5 million contract he signed before last season – which would be about $34 million with nothing to show for it.

On April 30, the day Abreu was dispatched to West Palm Beach instructional camp to find his long-lost swing, the Astros were 10-19, dead last in the American League West.

Since Abreu’s departure, the Astros have gone 12-8 and moved into third place trailing the first place Mariners by only five games and the second place Rangers by a mere two games. Simply, the Astros have a shot at making the playoffs.

Singleton has taken advantage of inheriting the starting first base job. He’s hitting .229 with five homers and 14 RBI – including a mammoth shot into the Minute Maid Park batting eye Tuesday night in the Astros 6-5 win over the Angels.

This week outfielder Chas McCormick returned from injury and the Astros sent infielder Trey Cabbage down to Sugar Land.

What’s going to happen when Abreu is back? Who is on the chopping block? Astros general manager Dana Brown suggested, or at least raised the possibility, that Joey Loperfido could be demoted to Sugar Land so he can play every day and cut down on his strikeouts.

Joey is a fan favorite. How you doin’? Almost a month after leaving the Sugar Land Space Cowboys for the Astros, he’s still tied for the home run lead in the Pacific Coast League. If Loperfido is sacrificed to make room for Abreu, it won’t sit well with fans.

Dana Brown and manager Joe Espada are fond of saying “look at the back of his baseball card” when defending Abreu.

OK, let’s do that.

Abreu, 37, is batting .099 with no home runs and three RBI in 77 plate appearances.

Loperfido, 25, is batting .333 with one home run and five RBI in 43 plate appearances.

Seen enough?

Abreu spent the last three weeks in Florida trying to regain his stroke. In four games in the Gulf Coast League, he went 6-for-18 for a .333 batting average. The Gulf Coast League is rookie-level. It’s the lowest-rung of minor league baseball in North America.

Sending a big leaguer to the Gulf Coast League to rediscover his batting form is like sending a PGA golfer to play goony golf at Chuck E. Cheese to improve his putting.

Again, everybody hopes that the Astros are getting the Abreu of old. There’s a chance he could just be old.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome