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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Yordan Alvarez's homer in Wednesday's game gave him 100 RBI on the season. Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Winners of three straight, six of their last seven, and eight of their last ten, the Astros had the chance to move yet another game closer to clinching their playoff spot if they could secure the series with a win against the Angels on Wednesday. Even though it looked as though they were headed towards a loss in extra innings, they would ultimately come out ahead.

Final Score (12 innings): Astros 9, Angels 5

Astros' Record: 91-61, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Yimi Garcia (4-9)

Losing Pitcher: Sam Selman (0-1)

Garcia goes six shutout innings

Although he didn't have swing-and-miss dominance in this start, Luis Garcia could still capitalize on a struggling Angels offense and post a shutout quality start against them. He allowed three walks and three hits throughout his outing but stranded all of them while getting outs on balls in play. His final line: 6.0 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, 79 P.

Alvarez reaches 100 RBI as Houston's offense keeps rolling

That performance had Garcia in line for the win, as two homers handed him a 3-0 advantage which he held. Houston once again used early offense to take a first-inning lead, as a leadoff walk by Jose Altuve turned into a monster 456-foot by Yordan Alvarez, pushing him to 100 RBI on the season. The score held at 2-0 until the top of the fifth, when Jason Castro led that frame off with a solo homer to extend the lead to three runs.

Extras in Anaheim

Phil Maton was first out of Houston's bullpen in the bottom of the seventh, but a single, double, and walk loaded the bases with no outs to put him in a jam. A lineout kept the runners put for the first out, but a single and a walk would make it a one-run game and left the bases loaded as Maton would get pulled.

Kendall Graveman entered to try and stop the bleeding, but after a force out at home to put that within reach, Jack Mayfield came through for Los Angeles with a go-ahead three-run double, giving the Angels their first lead of the series at 5-3. In the top of the eighth, a walk by Alex Bregman brought Alvarez back to the plate, and he would nearly miss a game-tying homer and instead got an RBI-single to make it 5-4.

Alvarez would still come in to tie the game, hustling home from second on an RBI single by Yuli Gurriel to knot things up 5-5. Brooks Raley was Houston's next reliever, and he sat down LA in order with two strikeouts. Still tied in the bottom of the ninth, Ryan Pressly came in to force extras, and despite being shadowed by the winning run on the bases after a leadoff single, retired the next three batters to send the game to the tenth.

Astros keep battling and take it in the twelfth

Jake Meyers took second base as Houston's free runner in the top of the tenth, but he would go nowhere as the Astros went down in order, giving the Angels another chance at a walk-off. Instead of giving Shohei Ohtani a free pass immediately, Houston would let Blake Taylor throw two balls to him before giving him the intentional walk.

Taylor then gave up a single to load the bases with no outs, and after getting a force out at home for the first out, Yimi Garcia would replace him. Thanks to a great play by Chas McCormick, giving him multiple in the game, the Astros would live to see another inning as he would make a great catch in right field and then throw out Ohtani at home.

In the top of the eleventh, a sac fly by Yuli Gurriel moved Aledmys Diaz to third, but that's as close as Houston would come, leaving them stuck at five runs. After Garcia retired three more batters in the bottom of the eleventh, the game moved to the twelfth, where Houston would get back in front on an RBI single by Jake Meyers, then padded the new lead on a two-RBI double by Jose Altuve, who would also score on a sac fly by Alex Bregman, making it 9-5. Josh James came in and wrapped things up in the bottom half as Houston secured the series victory and reduced their magic number to two against Oakland and three against Seattle.

Up Next: The finale of this four-game series, and the last time these two teams will meet this year, will be an 8:38 PM Central start on Thursday. The expected pitching matchup is Alex Cobb (8-3, 3.59 ERA) for Los Angeles and Lance McCullers Jr. (12-4, 3.11 ERA) for Houston.

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