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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It more of the same from the Houston Texans. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

Sunday afternoon provided a high-res snapshot of the state of Houston sports. The Astros, already assured of the best record in the American League, played a game they didn’t need to win. The Astros won, ho-hum, their 104th win of the season.

Meanwhile, eight miles away, the Texans, mired in last place with fan support dwindling, played a game they really needed to win. The Texans lost 34-24 to the Los Angeles Chargers in front of (giggle) 69,071 fans at NRG Stadium. The Texans really ought to stop saying the stands are packed. Every time a team punts, and cameras follow the ball skyward, there are thousands of empty seats on display. I know the NFL methodology for determining attendance, (total tickets sold, no-shows don’t count) but it just looks silly when the Texans announce 69,000 fans.

The Texans came close as usual before sputtering to another defeat. The Texans now stand at 0-3-1, the only winless team in the NFL. It’s the second time in three years they’ve started a season without a victory after four games. It’s telling to note that not one of the Texans opponents has a winning record for 2022.

In other words, the Texans have played four games they shoulda/coulda won. Shouda against the Colts, Broncos and Bears, and coulda against the Chargers.

Should/coulda four wins. Instead, none.

That’s the Texans. They’re in every game but can’t close the deal. Yeah, yeah, on Monday we hear, “the Texans are playing hard for coach Lovie Smith” and “they’re competitive” and “they’re a young team.” These are NFL equivalents of a participation trophy.

Sunday’s loss to the Chargers at NRG Stadium was straight out of the Texans playbook. Fall behind, make it interesting, lose. The Texans stuck to their script, timid play calling, momentum-crushing penalties (nine for 67 yards), self-inflicted drops, lackluster quarterbacking and Rex Burkhead on the field for crunch time. After one play where a Texan player was called for holding, the announcer said, “and he did a poor job of holding.”

Statuesque quarterback David Mills keeps saying “we’re in a good spot” and “we’re improving.” Statuesque as in he doesn’t move – or barely moves to avoid sacks. Sunday saw his first touchdown pass to a wide receiver. He’s now thrown four interceptions in the past two games. Let’s go to the tote board: 5 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, 4 fumbles, 11 sacks, qbr rating 28.5 – good for 28th in the league.

A bright spot, sort of. This was the first week the Texans didn’t cover the spread. They’re now 1-2-1 against Vegas oddsmakers, meaning you’ve won money if you took the Texans all four weeks. They head to Jacksonville next as early 6.5-point underdogs.

Meanwhile, Alabama’s brilliant quarterback Bryce Young, who will be available for the Texans when they draft first in 2023 (as Paul Heyman says, that’s not a prediction, that’s a spoiler), suffered a shoulder injury last Saturday. The Texans need to take out a Lloyds of London insurance policy on Young.

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