NASCAR heads to the Lone Star State for the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500

Everything is bigger in Texas. Photo via: Wiki Commons.

The NASCAR Cup Series heads for the Lone Star State this weekend for the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500. This is the second race of the Round of 8 as the remaining members of the playoffs look to lock up their spot in the championship race in Phoenix in two weeks. This track has undergone many changes over the last few years as it was repaved back in 2017. The first two corners are much wider than corners three and four thus giving the drivers more places to go to make a pass. We will also see a lot of strategy come into play here as well. The last time they were here, Austin Dillon was able to use a two tire pit strategy to pull off the upset victory. It will be interesting to see if a driver who is further down in the standings like Kurt Busch or Alex Bowman will try to use this strategy to sneak their way into the championship race.

Joey Logano punched his ticket last week at Kansas as he was able to fend off Kevin Harvick for the win. This will be the fourth time Logano has made it to the championship round ever since they began this format back in 2014. In the closing laps, both Joey and Kevin Harvick had an intense battle for the win as Harvick would close in, but he just didn't seem to have enough clean air to get around the 2018 champion. Many fans were pleased with the finish but took issue with how difficult it was to pass. It seemed like when the leader was in clean air he could drive away from second place. Most of this is due in part to how big the spoilers are on the back of the cars. Lucky for a lot of fans, next season the spoilers will be much smaller and hopefully this will fix a lot of those issues with passing.

The Silly Season is winding down as most drivers are now finalizing their plans for next season, nonetheless there were plenty of big announcements this week as drivers revealed where they will be running next year. To start off the week, it was announced that former Joe Gibbs driver Erik Jones is signing a multi-year deal to drive the #43 Camaro for Richard Petty Motorsports. This comes as a bit of a surprise seeing how Jones is going to a team that has struggled over the past few years, but he will be coming into a situation where their cars are a bit more competitive especially after this year with Bubba Wallace. The other big headline this week was the promotion of Chase Briscoe from Xfinity Series to the cup as he will take the #14 Ford Mustang replacing the retiring Clint Bowyer. This wasn't really a surprise as it seemed the writing had been on the wall for quite a while. I think Briscoe will be a star for this team as he has really gone on a tear in the Xfinity Series. Look for Briscoe to be the rookie of the year in 2021.

The newest Michael Jordan/Denny Hamlin team now has a new name and logo. It was announced on Friday that the team will be called 23XI or Twenty-Three-Eleven Motorsports. As we all know this is both the numbers of Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin. I look forward to seeing what Denny and the team comes up with in the future and how the car will look as well. One thing that will be interesting to see is how this team will fare considering their technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing. Regardless, this is a winning combination for both NASCAR and Michael Jordan.

The driver I have winning this weekend is Kevin Harvick. As most fans know this season has been his most successful yet, he has won nine races, has twenty top five finishes and has led over 1,000 laps. Many would say he is having a much better statistical season than he was when he won the title back in 2014. This will continue on this weekend as he goes to a track where he has a 3.50 average finish, the highest of any driver. Not to mention he has won here twice since 2017. I look for him to get his tenth victory of the season this week and clinch his spot at Phoenix.

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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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