NASCAR playoffs at Kansas: Preview, picks

NASCAR playoffs at Kansas: Preview, picks
Keep an eye on Kyle Larson this weekend. Photo by Wiki Commons.

The playoffs continue this week as they head to Kansas Motor Speedway for round two of the round of 16. This will be the second race here this season as the last time they were here Kurt Busch out dueled Kyle Larson for his lone win of 2022. Overall, the racing here has been fantastic. This new car has proven that races on mile-and-a-half tracks like this provide for much better racing than its Gen-6 counterparts. There will be a lot of eyes on these race cars after there were several failures including engine failures from Martin Truex, Kyle Busch, and Kevin Harvick. I don’t know if this will be too much of an issue this week because the surface is much newer, but it will still be an exciting storyline.

Last week, in one of the biggest upsets of the season, Erik Jones went on to capture his third career victory and his second career win at Darlington. This was the first win for the legendary #43 car since Aric Almirola won back in 2014 at Daytona. This season has been sort of a breakthrough for Petty-GMS. Erik has scored ten top-10 finishes and was knocking on the door of the playoffs. Both him and runner-up Denny Hamlin both raced clean as Hamlin cut him a break as the two were former teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing. In the future, Erik Jones will certainly be the team's franchise driver.

As I mentioned earlier, it was a huge attrition race. Both Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports had mechanical issues that would take them out of the race. What made this more difficult was that both teams had cars that were capable of winning, especially JGR as Martin Truex Jr and Kyle Busch led for the lion's share of the race. As we would expect, the drivers were very critical of the new car and its parts. After Kevin Harvick blew an engine, his Ford Mustang caught fire. When he was asked how the sport can fix the car, he responded, "Find someone who is better at running the show.”

It’s clear that NASCAR is doing all it can to fix these cars. They recently added a steel panel above the exhaust that will have a much harder time catching fire. Hopefully, this makes these cars much safer going forward.

On Thursday, a bombshell announcement was dropped on the NASCAR world as the All-Star Race will be held at the famed North Wilksboro Speedway. When it was announced that Texas Motor Speedway would be getting a race back in 1996, North Wilksboro was the track that would have to give up it’s date and the track would sit dormant for over 25 years. It wasn’t until 2020 when Dale Earnhardt Jr was able to convince IRacing to go and scan the track’s racing surface so it could be added to the game. Many thought it would end right there and that racing would never happen, but sure enough, NASCAR has found a way back to its roots. I will be attending this race first-hand. It will truly be a special moment when the green flag drops in May of 2023.

The Kyle Busch speculation is coming closer and closer to its conclusion as he is now closer to a decision on where he will race in 2023. It’s looking like his most likely landing spot will be either Richard Childress Racing or 23XI or both? On Twitter, Adam Stern reported that Richard Childress Racing is his most likely landing spot and with Tyler Reddick more than likely on his way out, Busch would fill the seat. This would mean Ty Gibbs would be promoted to drive the #18 car, similarly to what we saw with Joey Logano when Tony Stewart left back in 2009. The other option is Busch would leave for Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan’s team 23XI as his brother Kurt ponders his future in driving. The question would shift as to where he would go after that, as Reddick is slated to move to the team in 2024. We should know a whole lot more in the next 24-48 hours.

Focusing on this weekend’s race, the driver that I have winning is Kyle Larson. Last week's race at Darlington was a disaster for him. He would spin out, have all kinds of mechanical issues, and somehow he was still able to salvage a respectable 12th place finish. This proves that Larson is one of the most talented drivers in the world. His day was all but done and he still drove back through the field and almost scored a top ten. This week, he is going to a track where he has been almost perfect. Over the last three races, Larson has finished no worse than second and has led 291 laps. We can expect him to continue to rip the top line like in the spring, as his car is much faster up there close to the wall. If he can conserve his equipment and can stay out of trouble, the defending champ should have no issue going to victory lane come Sunday.

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Raners defeat the Astros, 4-2. Composite Getty Image.

Josh Smith homered twice with four RBIs to lead the Texas Rangers to a 4-2 win over the Houston Astros on Sunday.

Smith had a two-run shot in the first and added another one with two outs in the eighth to push the lead to 4-1. It’s the first multi-homer game of the 26-year-old’s career.

The Rangers won the last two games of the series after dropping Friday’s opener 6-3. They also got a 2-1 victory Saturday thanks to Nathaniel Lowe’s RBI single in the 10th inning.

Jake Meyers cut the lead to 1 with a solo home run in the third but the Astros went 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position to fall to 50-46 entering the All-Star break.

Texas starter Max Scherzer allowed four hits and a run with six strikeouts in four-plus innings in his fifth start of the season.

Jon Singleton walked before a single by Jeremy Peña with no outs in the ninth. There was one out in the inning when Singleton scored on a groundout by Joey Loperfido to cut the lead to 4-2. Trey Cabbage grounded out to end it and give Kirby Yates his 16th save.

Ronel Blanco (9-4) permitted two hits and two runs with five strikeouts in six innings. He settled down after his tough first inning and retired the last 12 batters he faced.

Marcus Semien singled to start the game but was out at second when Corey Seager grounded into a foreceout. Smith gave the Rangers an early lead with his towering shot to the second deck to make it 2-0.

Meyers opened Houston’s third with a shot to the seats in left field to cut the lead to 2-1. Jose Altuve singled with two outs and stole second base but Scherzer struck out Alex Bregman for the third out.

The Astros had a shot to tie it or take the lead in the fifth. Peña and Meyers both singled before Loperfido walked to load the bases with no outs in the inning and chase Scherzer. Josh Sborz (2-0) took over and escaped the jam by striking out Mauricio Dubón before retiring Altuve on a pop up and Bregman on a groundout to end the inning.

Seager walked with two outs in the eighth before Smith connected again to give him 10 home runs this season.

Altuve reached on a fielding error by Smith with one out in the eighth before Bregman singled off José Leclerc. Jacob Latz took over and struck out Yordan Alvarez before Yainer Diaz grounded out to leave Houston emptyhanded again.


Rangers: 3B Josh Jung (fractured right wrist) swung 15 times off a tee using a regular bat Sunday. Manager Bruce Bochy said he would continue increasing his activity during the break as he nears a rehabilitation assignment.

Astros: RHP Justin Verlander (neck discomfort) threw a bullpen session of 25 pitches Sunday. Manager Joe Espada said he looked “really good” and would throw another bullpen session during the break.

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