NASCAR takes its talents to South Beach: Dixie Vodka 400 preview, picks

NASCAR takes its talents to South Beach: Dixie Vodka 400 preview, picks
William Byron looks like a good bet this weekend. Photo via: Wiki Commons.

The NASCAR Cup Series heads to South Beach this week for race two of the Round of 8. As we get closer and closer to the end of the season, the urgency is beginning to ramp up as a chance to race for a championship is on the line. This track is a high-banked mile and a half with plenty of places to pass. The preferred line has to be the outside. We will see many drivers running around the wall trying to find grip. It will also be the first time these cars race at Homestead.

Last week at Vegas, Joey Logano went on to score his fourth win of 2022 and clinch his spot in the championship race at Phoenix. Throughout the weekend, Logano was consistently the fastest car. In the closing laps, he would track down Ross Chastain and make the race-winning pass with 3 laps to go. Going into these final three races, Logano has to be the favorite to win the championship. In the past 15 races, he has scored seven top-10s, and five top-5s and has led 416 laps. He’ll be the car to beat over the next three weeks.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the biggest story in motor racing this week, Bubba Wallace has been suspended for this week after crashing Kyle Larson. He will be replaced by John Hunter Nemechek. Early in the race, Kyle Larson charged the corner in turn 3 and collided with Bubba Wallace. After this, Wallace would go postal and decide to hit the right rear of Larson turning him into the 20. After the wreck, Bubba would then go and practically attack Larson on the front stretch. When asked why he did what he did, he would say “that the car was broken, so he couldn’t turn,” which was clearly a lie. As I watched this happen live, I was extremely disappointed in Wallace for this. Over the course of his career, I have defended him through thick and thin and admittedly have become a fan of the driver. What he did was absolutely despicable. With all of these drivers including his teammate getting injured this year, for him to do this puts a black eye on all the improvements he’s made. Luckily, he was only suspended for one race, as he could have been suspended for much more. A day later, he apologized via social media. Let’s hope he will be able to learn from this and continue to improve. This suspension sets a precedent for anyone else who thinks about wrecking someone in that fashion.

On the other end of the spectrum, one driver who has been really on a roll has been Ross Chastain. It has been a career year for the former watermelon farmer, but he’s had some bumps in the road. He’s had run-ins with Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, and even Kimi Raikkonen. Since then, though, he has turned it around as his driving style has become much cleaner. I look for him to be a contender at Homestead

The driver I have winning this weekend is William Byron. Over the last six races, Byron has scored an average finish of 9.5 with three top-10s and 52 laps led. While he hasn’t been in contention to win races this year like we all would have expected, he has kept his nose clean and has proven himself as a championship contender. This week, the 24 team is going back to the track where they won at last year. I look for Byron to punch his ticket to the championship race come Sunday.

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Allen had high praise for Diggs. Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images.

Impersonal as it might seem to have their dynamic on-field relationship end with an exchange of phone texts, Bills quarterback Josh Allen made it clear on Thursday how much receiver Stefon Diggs meant to him during their four seasons together in Buffalo.

Allen made no mention of Diggs’ mercurial temperament or the occasional sideline flare-ups by expressing only praise in his first opportunity to discuss his now-former teammate being traded to the Houston Texans earlier this month.

“Just thanking him for everything that he did for me, and (I’ll) always have a spot in my heart for him. I’ll always love that guy like a brother. And I wish him nothing but the best,” Allen said, in disclosing what he texted to Diggs. “My lasting memory of Stef will be the receiver that helped me become the quarterback that I am today.”

Brought together in March 2020, when Buffalo gave up a first-round draft pick to acquire Diggs in a trade with Minnesota, the duo went on to re-write many of Buffalo's single-season passing and scoring records, and lead the team to four straight AFC East titles.

Diggs, now 30, also brought an inescapable sense of drama with him in raising questions about his commitment to the Bills and whether his tight relationship with Allen had soured.

A day before being traded, Diggs posted a message, “You sure?” on the social media platform X in response to someone suggesting he wasn’t essential to Allen’s success.

Whatever hard feelings, if any, lingered as Buffalo opened its voluntary workout sessions this week were not apparent from Allen or coach Sean McDermott, who also addressed reporters for the first time since Diggs was traded.

“Stef’s a great player, really enjoyed our time together. Won a lot of games and he was a huge factor in winning those games. We’ll miss him,” McDermott said. “You never replace a player like Stef Diggs, and we wish him well.”

Allen turned his focus to the future and a Bills team that spent much of the offseason retooling an aging and expensive roster.

Aside from trading Diggs, salary cap restrictions led to Buffalo cutting respected center Mitch Morse, the breakup of a veteran secondary that had been together since 2017, and the team unable to afford re-signing No. 2 receiver Gabe Davis.

“I don’t think it’s a wrong thing or a bad thing to get younger,” said Allen, entering his seventh NFL season. “I think it’s an opportunity for myself to grow as a leader. And to bring along some of these young guys and new guys that we’ve brought in to our team. And that’s an opportunity, frankly, that I’m very excited about."

Despite the departures, the Bills offense is not exactly lacking even though general manager Brandon Beane is expected to target selecting a receiver with his first pick — currently 28th overall — in the draft next week.

Receiver Khalil Shakir enters his third year and tight end Dalton Kincaid enter his second following promising seasons. Buffalo also added veteran experience in signing free agent receiver Curtis Samuel and Mack Hollins.

While Beane acknowledged the Bills lack a true No. 1 receiver, he noted there’s less urgency to fill that spot now than in 2020 because of how much the offense has developed under Allen.

“Now that Josh has ascended to the player he is, is that a requirement? I don’t think so,” Beane said.

Diggs’ role also began diminishing in the second half of last season, which coincided with Joe Brady replacing Ken Dorsey as offensive coordinator. Brady placed an emphasis on adding balance to a pass-heavy attack and getting more receivers involved, which led to an uptick in production for Shakir and Kincaid.

While Diggs’ numbers dropped, Buffalo’s win total increased.

With the Bills at 6-6, Diggs ranked third in the NFL with 83 catches, seventh with 969 yards and tied for third with eight TDs receiving. Buffalo then closed the season with five straight wins in which Diggs combined for 24 catches for 214 yards and no scores.

”(Diggs) meant a lot. You look at the statistics, they don’t lie,” Allen said, in referring to Diggs topping 100 catches and 1,000 yards in each of his four seasons in Buffalo. “I don’t get paid to make changes on the team. I get paid to be the best quarterback that I can be and try to lead the guys on this team.”

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