Food City 500

NASCAR preview: Cup series heads to Bristol

Kyle Busch is a monster at Bristol. Kylebusch.com

The Monster Energy Cup series heads for thunder valley at Bristol Motor Speedway for the Food City 500. When you ask a lot of people who are not familiar with the sport what tracks they have heard of, usually they name three: Daytona, Talladega and Bristol.

This is the mecca of all short tracks in this country. When you ask most drivers who race on the short tracks in the southeastern part of the country what race tracks they hope to make it to, Bristol is usually the first place they mention. This track is a 0.533 mile coliseum. There are 162,000 seats that surround the speedway, making it the fourth largest sporting venues in America and eighth in all of the world.

In 2007, Bruton Smith decided to widen the track from one lane to three. This was NOT well received by many of NASCAR’s old guard. Personally, I thought the product the new Bristol provided was fantastic. It provided more side-by-side racing, passing and closer finishes. What upset a lot of the “fans” of old Bristol was the decrease of wrecks and drama that came with it. Due to the criticism, Bruton Smith decided to make it a two lane race track instead with the outside line being the optimal place to pass. This move has been met with acclaim seeing how the track usually draws the biggest crowds on all of the circuit.

There is a very strong chance that this race will be rained out. There is a one hundred percent chance of rain on Sunday around when the race starts at 1 p.m. More than likely the race will be run Monday afternoon. (Pro tip for anyone that will attempt to watch the race at work: if you are going to do it make sure it’s on your phone and not on the TV in the office; believe me it’s not a good idea.) The favorite going into this race has to be of course Kyle Busch.

Last week Busch was able to claim his first victory of the season at Texas Motor Speedway and he is going to a track he has dominated over his career. He has won here six times including last year in the fall race and has led 2,115 laps.

Even though he has been almost unbeatable in the fall night race, it has been a different story for the spring race. For the past five seasons he has either not raced due to injury or has cut down a tire. You would have to go all the way back to 2013 to find when Busch had a top five here in April when he finished second to Kasey Kahne.

This string of bad luck will not follow him this week, as Busch will break out of his funk and have a good finish. The driver I predict will win is Erik Jones. Bristol is a special place for Jones; he made his debut in 2015, substituting for Denny Hamlin, who was suffering from spasms that flared up during a rain delay. It was here when the 18-year-old phenom was given the chance of a lifetime. He went on to a 26th place finish, and was tapped to substitute for Kyle Busch ,who was recovering from injuries and Matt Kenseth who was suspended later that year.

Last year after more time in the Xfinty Series he was moved up to full time in the 77 car for Furniture Row racing. The defining moment of his rookie season was last year’s fall race at Bristol. He led a race high 260 laps but was not able to fend off Busch.

Regardless, he went on to finish second for his best effort in the cup series. This year I think he will break through. This track caters to his driving style seeing how he cut his teeth on dirt.

This track is maybe the closest thing to a dirt track in NASCAR. My darkhorse driver this week is Trevor Bayne. The 2018 circuit has been a season to forget for the 2011 Daytona 500 champion but I think he gets back into the right direction. Bristol Motor Speedway is his home track. Bayne also has the third highest average finish here since 2016, so I see no reason why this won’t continue in 2018.

(All stats and information used in this article is brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Refrence.com the best website for all NASCAR stats)

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The clock is ticking. Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

If he is indeed to become an ex-Astro George Springer can officially sign with his new team starting at four PM Houston time this Sunday. Michael Brantley the same. All free agents can sign contracts starting Sunday afternoon. If the die isn't cast that Springer is leaving, it certainly feels like his renewing vows with the Astros would be an upset.

The Astros will make Springer a 18.9 million dollar qualifying offer for 2021. He will of course reject that because contract offers of at least five years and over 100 million dollars likely await. Should Springer move on the Astros would then get a compensatory draft pick. Brantley won't get anything in close range of Springer's haul-to-be but still should at least get multiyear offers. The Astros should make the qualifying offer to Brantley (if they don't they forfeit any compensation for his departure). If they don't out of fear that he'd accept the one-year deal, the Astros would look lame. I don't think it comes to that. Losing Springer would be a huge blow on multiple levels, but if somehow they were to keep Brantley while getting back Yordan Alvarez at even 80 percent of his rookie performance level the Astros' lineup would look to be in decent shape.

With MLB's economic outlook shaky for 2021, it's unreasonable to say Jim Crane and his partners should give Springer whatever he wants. A six or seven year megadollar contract for a 31-year-old player with some durability questions on his resume is an iffy proposition. At the same time, the Astros have been quite profitable in recent years (before 2020), and Crane said over the summer the Astros were positioned to be "aggressive, whatever the market looks like." 13 million Josh Reddick dollars are off the books for 2021, 10 mil of Roberto Osuna is gone. After next year more than 57 mil of Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke clear.

MLB's postseason awards will be doled out over the next couple weeks but for the first time in years the Astros don't have a credible candidate for any of the big ones (MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, Manager of the Year). The Astros do have three American League Gold Glove finalists. I think Carlos Correa wins the shortstop honor. Correa had a weak regular season at the plate but his defense was stellar, plus the two guys who divvied up the last four AL SS Gold Gloves (Francisco Lindor and Andrelton Simmons) had down seasons and aren't finalists. Quick: name the teams of fellow finalists J.P. Crawford and Niko Goodrum. Hard to see either winning over Correa. Yuli Gurriel and Kyle Tucker were also named top three at their positions. For the first time the finalist selections were driven entirely by stats and analytics.

Big week for the Rockets

With the Rockets settling on Stephen Silas as their new Head Coach, that hire coupled with the in house promotion of Rafael Stone to General Manager makes it appear as though owner Tilman Fertitta is doing more things on the cheap. The NBA economic environment is challenging and huge portions of the rest of Fertitta's portfolio are submerged in a COVID-driven bloodbath. Silas has paid his dues for a good while and most recently worked under the outstanding Rick Carlisle in Dallas. He has earned a lead chair opportunity. But with no prior head coaching experience and no bidding war for his services, Silas signs on at a much lower rate than, say, Jeff Van Gundy would have commanded. Former head coaches (and former Rockets' player rivals of the 90s) Jeff Hornacek and Nate McMillan would make for two strong Silas assistants. From their playing days if you combined Hornacek's offense and McMillan's defense into one player you'd have one of the top 20 or so greatest guards in NBA history.

Silas and Stone take the reins at a challenging time for the Rockets with their messy salary cap sheet, reduced draft capital, and one of the oldest core player groups in the league. Polite public statements aside, it's part of why Daryl Morey left. Maybe Mike D'Antoni too though that seemed more about feeling disrespected by the lack of a contract extension before this past season. D'Antoni may have overplayed his hand since he did not get fill any of the coaching vacancies elsewhere in the NBA. Only Oklahoma City remains open, and D'Antoni has gotten no run there.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. It seems sadly appropriate that the first meaningful positive in the Texans' 2020 season came in form of a COVID test result.

2. If we all commit to getting through it together, I think we can get by without a Texans' game this weekend. Remember, it's their open week, not a bye!

3. One hit wonder goodbye songs: Bronze-Terry Jacks "Seasons in the Sun" Silver-Norman Greenbaum "Spirit In The Sky" Gold-Steam "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye"

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