NASCAR heads back to Daytona for the O'Reilly Auto Parts 253

Chase Elliot
Start your engines! Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images.
Chase Elliot

This week, the NASCAR Cup Series heads back to the beaches of Daytona for the O'Riley Auto Parts 253 on the Daytona Road Course. This will be the third time that the Cup Series has raced on the road course configuration. For years, it was rumored that they would race on this configuration and last year they got their chance to put the Daytona Road Course into action. This race came with a lot of hype as there would be no practice or qualifying on a configuration that hadn't been raced on but overall the race was relatively tame as Chase Elliott cruised to victory. This race has a lot of potential to be much more action packed considering the drivers have more track time. Besides, if this race is exciting as the Clash, I think we are in for a really good one.

Turn one should be the corner to look out for. This has been where most of the issues have come as drivers have a tendency to overshoot the corner like we saw with Ryan Blaney in the Clash. Look out for this come Sunday. Another big point of interest will be the removal of the rumble strips. These caused a lot of issues in the Clash as drivers such as Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick both crashed after hitting them. This should fix a lot of the issues we have seen.

Last week, Michael McDowell shocked the world by winning the Daytona 500. Coming into this race, McDowell was a +6600 underdog to win. While it might have been a surprise to a lot of people, this was a long time coming for the Arizona driver. Every time they went to Daytona or Talladega, that yellow #34 Mustang has been consistently fast. If there was anyone who could pull off the upset, he was a prime candidate. It was good to see him finally get his first win after going winless in his previous 357 starts. This was the longest drought since Michael Waltrip won his first race almost twenty years to the date at Daytona in 2001. It will be interesting to see if McDowell can build on this as he has now clinched a birth into this year's playoffs.

The big storyline this week was the last lap crash between teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. In almost a carbon copy of last year, the two tangled in the late stages once again. When getting out of his car, Brad threw his helmet at his car in disgust. He was also heard on the radio saying, "My teammate wrecked me to win the Daytona 500." This led to speculation once again about the dynamic at Penske racing. I personally believe that this should blow over like it did last year, and we should see Brad return to Penske in 2022. Time will tell what's next over at Penske Racing.

The favorite going into Sunday is Chase Elliott. In the past four road course races, Chase has won all of them. He has become the king of the road on this hot streak. He also won here last year in convincing fashion when he led over half of the race. I could very well see him going five for five and winning again. In fact, he was one corner away from winning the Clash but mistakenly wrecked Ryan Blaney and lost the lead to Kyle Busch. Look for Elliott to be the car to beat on Sunday.

The driver that I have winning this week is Martin Truex Jr. While Elliott has been in the limelight, Truex has been the next car behind him when it comes to speed. Overall, Truex is a pretty good road course racer as he has won four of these in his career. Even before he was at Gibbs, he was fast on these types of tracks as he won a race at Sonoma back in 2013 for Michael Waltrip Racing. He and Chase have had some great battles on road courses but this time, I think Truex will come out on top. Besides, he was well on his way to winning here two weeks ago but hit the curve and crashed from the lead. If he can be as good as he was then, there is no reason he can't close the deal and capture his fifth road course victory. Look for MTJ to take the victory on Sunday.

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Justin Verlander will start for the Astros on Friday night. Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images.

Houston Astros (22-28, third in the AL West) vs. Oakland Athletics (21-31, fourth in the AL West)

Oakland, California; Friday, 9:40 p.m. EDT

PITCHING PROBABLES: Astros: Justin Verlander (2-2, 3.97 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 26 strikeouts); Athletics: Ross Stripling (1-8, 5.19 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 32 strikeouts)

BETMGM SPORTSBOOK: LINE Astros -170, Athletics +142; over/under is 8 1/2 runs

BOTTOM LINE: The Oakland Athletics begin a three-game series at home against the Houston Astros on Friday.

Oakland has a 21-31 record overall and a 12-14 record in home games. The Athletics have hit 65 total home runs to rank third in the AL.

Houston is 22-28 overall and 8-13 in road games. The Astros have a 13-4 record in games when they did not allow a home run.

The teams match up Friday for the fifth time this season. The Astros lead the season series 4-0.

TOP PERFORMERS: Brent Rooker has 11 home runs, 17 walks and 32 RBI while hitting .286 for the Athletics. Max Schuemann is 12-for-35 with a double and two RBI over the past 10 games.

Kyle Tucker leads Houston with 17 home runs while slugging .638. Alex Bregman is 9-for-38 with three home runs and six RBI over the last 10 games.

LAST 10 GAMES: Athletics: 2-8, .225 batting average, 5.25 ERA, outscored by 27 runs

Astros: 7-3, .272 batting average, 3.13 ERA, outscored opponents by 20 runs

INJURIES: Athletics: Esteury Ruiz: 10-Day IL (wrist), Darell Hernaiz: 60-Day IL (ankle), Alex Wood: 15-Day IL (rotator cuff), Paul Blackburn: 15-Day IL (foot), Joseph Boyle: 15-Day IL (back), Freddy Tarnok: 60-Day IL (hip), Luis Medina: 60-Day IL (knee), Sean Newcomb: 60-Day IL (knee), Aledmys Diaz: 60-Day IL (calf), Miguel Andujar: 10-Day IL (knee), Ken Waldichuk: 60-Day IL (elbow), Trevor Gott: 60-Day IL (elbow)

Astros: Oliver Ortega: 60-Day IL (elbow), Bennett Sousa: 60-Day IL (shoulder), Penn Murfee: 60-Day IL (elbow), Luis Garcia: 60-Day IL (elbow), Lance McCullers Jr.: 60-Day IL (elbow), Jose Urquidy: 15-Day IL (forearm), Kendall Graveman: 60-Day IL (elbow)

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