NASCAR heads for the Dirt at Bristol

NASCAR heads for the Dirt at Bristol
Watch for Chase Elliott this weekend! Photo via: Wiki Commons.

The NASCAR Cup Series heads to Thunder Valley for the Food City Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Because of the special circumstances of this race, the format will be much different from what we are accustomed to seeing on a typical race weekend. Instead of qualifying, there will be four heat races that determine the starting grid for the main event on Saturday night. There will also be points awarded to the top ten. The drivers that improved their positions will also be awarded passing points as well. The driver with the most passing points will start from the pole. The race on Saturday will be broken up into three stages and there will be no live pit stops during the race. This will certainly be an interesting race as the cars will have plenty of new modifications, including mud flaps. It should be interesting to see how this race differs from last year’s.

Last week, William Byron thoroughly dominated en route to his second victory of 2022. The race was heavily criticized by fans as there wasn’t a whole lot of passing up-front. When the race was over, there were a mere six lead changes. Many even suggested shortening races from 400 miles to 300. This is yet another example of NASCAR fans overreacting to a bad race, as they do each week. It seems like to some of these people that if there isn’t a memorable finish in every race, they want drastic changes to the product, and it’s becoming more and more ridiculous. This is a sport that has undergone many changes over the year trying to cater to this type of fan, and it needs to stop.

Regardless of the criticism, William Byron is becoming more and more of a threat each week as he became the first repeat winner of 2022. He has also finished in the top five in four of the last five races. When Byron first started competing in the Cup Series, he struggled a bit. He would string together good finishes but was not able to capitalize and get his first victory until his third season in 2020. After that, he has consistently been in the top five on a weekly basis and has been able to contend for wins. The biggest factor in his success has to be his crew chief, Rudy Fugle. He has certainly helped when it comes to setting up the racecar and getting the feedback from his driver that is needed. Both have also done a great job at race strategy, as Byron has scored the most stage points of anyone so far. This team will certainly make a deep run when we get closer to the playoffs.

One driver that has been really impressive as of late has been Austin Dillon. After back-to-back crashes at Phoenix and Atlanta, Dillon has really been able to rebound strongly, with two tenth place finishes and a third last week at Martinsville. His team Richard Childress Racing seemed to struggle a bit after Kevin Harvick departed in 2013 for Stewart-Haas Racing. But now it seems like they are finding their way back to being a competitive team again. Both of their drivers are knocking on the door. Look out for both Tyler Reddick and Austin Dillon down the line, they are bound to surprise a few folks.

With all of that being said, the driver that I have winning this weekend is Chase Elliott. Overall, 2022 has been a consistently good season for Chase. He’s the points leader with the third most amount of stage points accumulated and has five top-ten finishes. While his stats at this race last year weren’t overly impressive, he was solid and was able to score a tenth place finish. Another major factor to look out for is the experience he will get in Friday’s truck race, as he will drive the #7 truck for Spire Motorsports. While it may not seem like a lot, of the three drivers that have driven the truck to start the weekend, (Austin Hill, Alex Bowman, and William Byron) two of them have gone on to win in the series they score points in. Having these drivers run this truck has clearly helped them in some way, this is a great sign for Chase. Look for Elliott to pick up his first win of 2022 come Saturday.

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The Astros rotation looks like a strength moving forward. Composite Getty Image.

The Houston Astros are coming off a much-needed series win over the White Sox, but have a quick turnaround as they host the Orioles on Friday night at Minute Maid Park.

The 'Stros dropped the first game of the series with Framber Valdez on the mound, but were able to rebound with Hunter Brown and Spencer Arrighetti starting the final two games.

Brown was brilliant once again, and Arrighetti bounced back after a disastrous start against the Tigers over the weekend. Despite all the injures to the Astros staff this season, their young pitchers are stepping up when they need them the most.

Brown has six consecutive quality starts and is beginning to show signs that he can be the top of the rotation pitcher the club always hoped he could develop into.

Arrighetti has stepped in and shown that he belongs in the big leagues, and has provided innings Houston desperately requires with so many pitchers on the injured list.

Speaking of which, with Justin Verlander on the IL, Double A prospect Jake Bloss will make the start for Houston on Friday night. Bloss has quickly progressed through the farm system, having been drafted just a year ago.

We'll see how he performs in his MLB debut, but the club seems to have a lot of quality pitching options moving forward, especially with Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers scheduled to return in late July and early August respectively.

And as we look at the Astros rotation moving forward, perhaps they will go back to a six-man rotation during certain stretches in the second half of the season.

Which could prove to be vital to the team's success. As good as Ronel Blanco has been, he's never pitched as many innings as he'll be asked to pitch this year. Same goes for Arrighetti. And let's face it, sending Verlander out to pitch on four days rest consistently at 41 years old doesn't sound like a wise decision. He's already been on the IL twice this year.

While some see Garcia and McCullers as wild cards to help the team this season, Astros GM Dana Brown doesn't see it that way. He told the Astros flagship station this week that he's counting on those guys to make big contributions when they return. And he's counting on their postseason experience should they get there.

Keep in mind, Garcia has a 3.61 career ERA and has been durable outside the Tommy John surgery. And McCullers has always been good, it's just the health that causes concern.

Garcia is also an example of how a player can skip Double A and Triple A and have success right away in the big leagues. Hopefully, Bloss can follow in his footsteps, since he's bypassing Triple A to make his first start.

So what's the short and long-term outlook for the Astros rotation? And should we expect Verlander to return in 2025?

Be sure to watch the video above as we address those questions and much more!

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