THE FINAL RACE

NASCAR report: Ford Eco Boost 400 preview

NASCAR report: Ford Eco Boost 400 preview
Homestead is the site of Sunday's NASCAR finale. NASCAR.COM

The time has finally come, the race that we have all waited for. After thirty - five races, we have reached the final race of the year at Homestead. Homestead is another 1.5-mile race track. The track was once flat and passing was rare and only really took place in the straightaways. But in 2003, the track was reconfigured and more banking was added. This called for more side - by - side racing and better finishes. Four drivers have a chance at winning the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup championship. Those four drivers are Martin Truex Jr, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski. The driver who first punched his ticket to Homestead was Kyle Busch by virtue of his victory at Martinsville. Busch struggled to begin his season; at Daytona he was involved in a multi - car incident that ended his day. He then backed it up the next week at Atlanta with a mediocre sixteenth place finish.

All throughout the spring and most of the summer Busch was up and down, but once they got to end of July, he woke up and his crew became the team we all know. He won the Overton's 400 at Pocono after bumping Kevin Harvick out of the way with seventeen laps to go. This victory set the tone for him going into the rest of the regular season. He went on to win three more races and further establish himself as a favorite to win the title. Kyle and his team has definitely put together a championship caliber season and he is heading to one of his best tracks. Since 2015 his average finish has been 3.50. He has also won here once in 2015 to seal his first championship. Busch is certainly good at this race track and should be one to watch for.

By taking the green flag last week at Phoenix, Martin Truex Jr. Was officially locked into homestead. He is the odds - on favorite to win his first championship. This season has been dominating from the start for Truex. He began his hot streak at Las Vegas when he swept all three stages of the race and went on to win his first race of the year. He then went on to win six more races this year and ended his season with more victories than anyone with seven. He has excelled at mile and a half tracks winning six of his seven victories on those types of race tracks. With Homestead being a 1.5-mile track it is no wonder why Truex would be the favorite. I'd like to think he is the sentimental favorite as well.

With all of the things that have happened to him from losing his ride at Michael Waltr ip Racing in 2014, to his wife being diagnosed with cancer, it has been a rocky road to the top for the 11-year veteran but it sure would be a great story to see him finally win that championship that has eluded him since his full time first season in 2006. While it has been a masterful year for him, Truex has struggled to run well at Homestead. His average finish here since 2015 is 24th. Homestead is not one of his best race tracks but I think this year will be different. Besides Truex has run well here and his finishes have not been indicative of how he has competed. Last year he stayed primarily around the top 10 until he was involved in a massive crash with ten laps to go. If Truex and his Furniture Row racing team can put together a whole race, I believe he can be a fierce competitor for the championship. It has been a quiet season for Kevin Harvick this year, the man they call the "closer" has flown under the radar but statistically he has been right up there with the contenders. He has had an incredible 22 top ten finishes. And what is even more incredible is his thirteen top five finishes. While he has only won two races this year at Sonoma and Texas, Harvick has been the model of consistency and has been up front all year and now he heads to his best track since 2015. He has the highest average finish of all active drivers of 6.94 and since 2015 has not finished worse than second at this track so it would definitely be hard to bet against him come Sunday.

The fourth and final driver to clinch a spot at homestead is Brad Keselowski. It has truly been an amazing journey for him to get to where he is today. He was born into a racing family with his dad Bob and his brother Brian both being race car drivers. In 2004 Brad was struggling to find an opportunity to land a top ride in NASCAR and he was driving for his dad and their team K - Automotive in the truck series and struggling to finish races. Brad did not get his big break until three years later in 2007 when truck series regular Ted Musgrave was suspended for an incident at the Milwaukee Mile. Team Owner Bob Germain needed a fill-in driver to substitute for Musgrave at Memphis and Brad was called upon. He made the most of his opportunity and ran with it as he went on to start on pole position and lead the most laps.

While Keselowski did not win the race that day after crashing out, he caught the eye of Dale Earnhardt Jr. With an open seat in his NASCAR Xfinity series team, Keselowski was then called upon again. With impressive results and a surprise victory at Talladega in the cup series in 2009, Keselowski was then hired to drive at Penske in 2010 and two years later he won his first NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. Brad has the longest odds to win the championship at 10-1 and is not going to his best race track. His average finish there since 2015 is 19th but he has overcome adversity all his career if there is anyone that can pull it off it is him.

My predictions: I believe this year will be the first time the winner of the race does not win the championship and the highest finishing of the four will get it. My race winner will be Kyle Larson. Every year Larson has been leading here and always appears to have the race locked up but in the closing laps a caution always comes out and costs him a shot at victory. This year I don't think that caution comes out and I think he cruises home to a victory. The Championship battle will come down to Busch and Harvick. As good a season as Truex has had I just don’t foresee him doing so well at this track due to his struggles as of late. When the checkered flag falls I have Harvick winning his second championship. This will come right down to the final laps with him and Busch and it may end with Busch getting moved out of the way. These two have a history that dates all the way back to 2005 and race car drivers have LONG memories. We should be in for a classic come Sunday evening when it is all said and d one.

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

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The Astros are back in action Friday night against Seattle. Composite Getty Image.

The Astros were a season low 12 games under .500 (12-24) on May 8th but were able to turn things around and entered the All-Star break with a respectable 50-46 record.

The turnaround can be attributed to better performances on the field by a multitude of players, but there are still things that could be improved to ensure a successful second half of the season.

As it currently stands, Houston is only one game behind the Seattle Mariners in the American League West division race, and the Astros should have key players returning from injury to further bolster their playoff ambitions.

The return of the King

Kyle Tucker has been on the injured list with a shin contusion for six weeks now, and looks to return in the near future.

The Astros have done surprisingly well without their three-time All-Star outfielder thanks to contributions from guys like Joey Loperfido, Jake Meyers and Marcio Dubon in the outfield. Plus, Jose Altuve, Yordan Alvarez, Alex Bregman, Yanier Diaz and Jeremy Pena carrying the offense while King Tuck is away.

Before getting hurt, the 27-year-old was hitting .266/.395/.584 through 60 games. Houston already has one of the best offenses in baseball, and adding Tucker back would give the Astros another high-quality bat to further bolster their lineup.

The latest update is Tucker has been playing catch and could start a rehab assignment soon if all goes well.

Fix the rotation

Starting pitching has been a major issue this season due to a multitude of injuries.

Cristian Javier, Jose Urquidy and J.P. France have all been lost for the year with various surgeries and guys like Justin Verlander and Luis Garcia are trying to work their way back from their injured list stints.

Garcia was recently pulled from his rehab assignment and won’t pitch again until he is ready. Meanwhile, Verlander could be closer to his return and is throwing bullpen sessions as of July 14. Getting both of these pitchers back at some point this season will be a huge boost to this roster.

The current Astros’ rotation consists of Framber Valdez, Ronel Blanco, Hunter Brown, Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss. Although not a bad rotation by any means, the starting pitching depth is getting pretty thin and Houston can ill afford another injury to their staff.

Astros general manager Dana Brown has been vocal about his desire to add starting pitching, and could have some options heading into the trade deadline. Players like Jack Flaherty, Garrett Crochet or Yusei Kikuchi, just to name a few, could be low risk high reward pitchers the Astros could acquire to add depth to their rotation.

Another option would be to call up A.J. Blubaugh from Sugar Land. The 24-year-old has a 6-2 record with a 3.46 ERA in 71.1 innings pitched this season for the Space Cowboys and could be a necessary depth piece to add to the rotation.

Play Astros baseball

The Astros have been playing better baseball as of late and have won 18 of their last 23 games. With players like Kyle Tucker and Justin Verlander potentially returning soon, there is reason to believe Houston can make the playoffs for the 8th consecutive season.

The 'Stros will try to take sole possession of first place in their division from the Mariners when the two teams meet for three games at T-Mobile Park starting on Friday night.

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