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The NASCAR report: Penzoil 400 preview in Las Vegas

The Monster Energy Cup returns to Las Vegas. Getty Images

This Sunday, the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup series makes its return to Sin City for the Penzoil 400. This begins their "West Coast swing" as they go to Phoenix next week and to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. the next. This is the part of the season where we truly begin to see who is for real and who is just a flash in the pan. The Las Vegas Motor Speedway is another half-mile oval, but this track has character. At this track there are plenty of places to pass, but that doesn't mean we still don't see some beatin' and bangin' on and off the track. Last year Kyle Busch and Joey Logano had to be separated after Busch approached Logano and hit him in the face.

The track has also produced some of the most exciting finishes to date. Last year Brad Keselowski was two laps away from victory until an electrical issue dropped him to fourth, handing the victory to eventual champion Martin Truex, Jr. Three years earlier in 2014 Keselowski  was in the complete opposite position when Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was leading the race but on the final lap, Jr. ran out of gas on the backstretch handing the victory to Keselowski, so it is fair to say the track is just as unpredictable as the city it's located in so on that note here are my predictions for the Penzoil 400:

The favorite going into this week would obviously be Keselowski. As I have mentioned above, the man has been up front here when it has counted and was also victorious in 2016 when he beat out Busch in the final six laps. While he is easily the chic pick for this race, I am going to go in a different direction, I think that this week Kyle Larson will come out on top. While yes, over his four starts at the track he has had a 15.75 average finish, I don't believe that they is indicative of how well he has been running beforehand. This track has not been kind to Larson in the past even in his time in the Xfinity series, when in 2013 he was leading early in the race before he was turned by Trevor Bayne.

The bad luck also extended to the Cup side as well, only gaining one top five last year when he finished second but this year I think it will all turn around for the 42 crew. This track caters to Kyle's driving style; he usually drives all the way up near the wall and with some of the passes we have seen here that should be perfect for him. My dark horse for this weekend's race is Ryan Blaney. While yes, he has been far from an underdog this season seeing how he is second in points currently, but he is still at 18/1 odds to win the race and has not been listed as one of the favorites to win. Blaney has run exceptionally well here. While he has only run here twice, in those two races he has finished sixth and seventh, so it is fair to say that this is one of his best race tracks. Look for Blaney to be up front for this week as he tries to navigate his Ford to victory lane.

Overall, in my opinion Las Vegas is always one my favorite races to watch and with nothing but sunshine in the weather forecast (unlike last week) I can't wait to see who comes out on top. This is going to be a race you won't want to miss.

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

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Houston's bats have a hot night

Astros clobber Rangers to win series opener

Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

After dropping two of three in Seattle, the Astros entered the regular season's final series still waiting to clinch their playoff berth. Luckily their matchup favored them, with four games against the 19-37 Rangers, which they have done well against in recent years. Here are highlights from the opener:

Final Score: Astros 12, Rangers 4.

Record: 29-28, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Cristian Javier (5-2, 3.48 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Lance Lynn (6-3, 3.32 ERA).

Astros put up 10 on Lynn 

Houston had no trouble getting acquainted with the Rangers' new stadium, jumping out to an early lead in the top of the first inning. After a lengthy at-bat against Lance Lynn, Jose Altuve reached on a one-out single, then scored from first on a two-out RBI-triple by Alex Bregman. They'd double their lead in the next at-bat on an error, making it 2-0.

They extended that lead even more in the next inning, getting back-to-back singles to start the inning to set up a big three-run dinger by George Springer to straightaway center-field to make it 5-0. Bregman added two more RBI to his night in the top of the fifth, capitalizing on a leadoff single by Michael Brantley by hitting a two-run homer to make it a 7-0 lead. Altuve would push the total to double-digits in the top of the sixth, lifting a three-run home run of his own to make it a 10- lead.

Javier with a decent start, bullpen closes out the win

Meanwhile, Cristian Javier was doing well on the mound against the Rangers. He allowed just three baserunners through the first five innings, a double in the first, a hit batter in the second, and a single in the fifth. He would falter a bit in the bottom of the sixth, allowing a leadoff single then a two-run homer, then later in the inning a sac fly, making it 10-3 before Houston would turn to their bullpen. Javier's final line: 5.2 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 1 HR, 95 TP.

Luis Garcia would get the final out of the sixth then returned for the bottom of the seventh, allowing a leadoff double that would score on a two-out RBI-double, making it a six-run game before Garcia finished the frame. Brooks Raley was the next reliever and notched two strikeouts in a 1-2-3 inning in the eighth.

Josh Reddick gave Houston two more insurance runs, joining the home run barrage with a two-run homer in the top of the inning to make it 12-4 going to the bottom half. Brandon Bielak was given a low-leverage opportunity to throw in the bottom of the ninth. He erased a two-out double for a scoreless inning to wrap up the lopsided win, lowering Houston's magic number to 1.

Up Next: The second game of this four-game set between Houston and Texas will start Friday at 7:05 PM Central at Globe Life Field. The pitching battle will be Kyle Cody (1-1, 1.53 ERA) for the Rangers and Jose Urquidy (1-1, 2.78 ERA) for the Astros.

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