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NASCAR: Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 preview, predictions

NASCAR is back in action! Photo via Wiki Commons.

The NASCAR Cup Series heads for the track they call the Paperclip this week at Martinsville Speedway for the Blu-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500. This track is a staple among the NASCAR lore as this track has been around since the beginning. There will be plenty of beating and banging as the stars of the Cup Series will race under the lights here on a Saturday for the first time.

Last week, Joey Logano became the ninth different winner this season after a wild Bristol dirt race. In the beginning of the weekend, things didn't get off to a great start as the rain came and postponed the event to Monday. Then the event was marred by numerous surface issues and many drivers had a hard time seeing through a major dust cloud that popped up when the track got too dry. This lead to NASCAR having to stop the race and water the track down. Multiple drivers such as Kyle Busch were involved in incidents that would ruin their day. As the race went on the wrecks got so bad that NASCAR called an audible and decided to go back to single file restarts, something we hadn't seen since 2009. Once the dust settled (literally) things were able to calm down and there was some awesome racing. Bitter Rivals, Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin battled it out all the way to the final restart until Denny lost ground and second place to Ricky Stenhouse Jr as Logano went on to claim his first win of 2021. The race was very popular among the fans, so much so that Bristol Motor Speedway announced during the race that they would do it again in 2022. While there might have been a few issues, NASCAR did a great job with the surface and should definitely get some credit for how this race went.

A driver and team that really had a good showing last week was Daniel Suarez. The fifth year driver has really been rattling off a lot of good runs this year and for a team that just started within the last year, it has been really impressive to see how fast they have been. The team was really boosted when it was announced that rapper Pitbull would be joining as the team's co-owner. Many people didn't have very high expectations for the team considering how new it was, but he has turned the team into a legitimate playoff contender. Last week at Bristol was his breakout race as he led fifty-eight laps and captured his first top five of the season. Daniel is a talented race-car driver and has a great team around him including crew-chief Travis Mack. I look for Suarez to continue to impress this season.

Last week, NASCAR announced they would be unveiling the new body's for each Manufacturer on May 5th. This was a move that was met with great intrigue by fans as NASCAR teased the "return to stock" slogan on the announcement. It has been a while since the sport has run a true "Stock Car." So it will be interesting to see what they come up with. Personally, I would love to see all three manufacturers design a car that is almost exactly what you would see on the road. This could really bring a lot of fans that left back to the sport. There will be a lot more information here in the coming weeks.

This year has been the year of parody as we have seen seven different winners so far. And this week, we could see the eighth and that driver very well could be Brad Keselowski. It has been a big surprise that the 2012 Cup Champion hasn't won a race yet considering how fast he has been all season. He showed tremendous speed this year and now is going to the track where he has had the highest average finish of anyone since 2018. In the last four races, Brad hasn't finished as low as fourth including a win here in the spring of 2019, so it's clear that he is good here. Not only has Brad ran well this year but both of his teammates have as well. This could be the best place Penske has been in a while as Logano and Blaney have both gone to victory lane in the last two weeks. I look for Brad to have the car to beat here and make it three in a row for Penske Racing.

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Houston goes up 1-0 in the series

Altuve, Correa help lift Astros to ALCS Game 1 win over Red Sox

Carlos Correa's go-ahead homer in the seventh inning of ALCS Game 1 helped lift the Astros to a 1-0 series lead. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Despite one rough loss to the White Sox in the ALDS, the Astros looked like the dominant team they are capable of being, taking that series 3-1 to advance and taking ownership of home-field advantage in the ALCS against the Red Sox, who upset the Rays. In Game 1, despite trailing for the middle portions of the game, Houston would get more highlight moments from the faces of the franchise to start the series with a win.

Final Score: Astros 5, Red Sox 4

ALCS Series (Best of Seven): Houston leads 1-0

Winning Pitcher: Ryne Stanek

Losing Pitcher: Hansel Robles

Houston strikes first, but Boston sends Valdez to an early exit

Both starting pitchers worked in and out of trouble in the early goings of ALCS Game 1, starting with Framber Valdez in the top of the first. After erasing a leadoff single by inducing a double play, he went on to load the bases on a single and two walks but would strand all three runners to keep Boston off the board. The Astros jumped in front in the bottom half, with Jose Altuve working a leadoff walk, moving to second on a one-out single by Alex Bregman, advancing to third on a wild pitch, then ultimately scoring on a sac fly by Yordan Alvarez to put Houston ahead 1-0 after one frame.

They had a chance to extend their lead in the bottom of the second, taking advantage of a shaky inning by Chris Sale, who loaded the bases with one out as Houston would get two singles and a hit-by-pitch. That flipped the order over to the top, but a great diving catch by former Astro Kiké Hernández would end the inning. Hernández led off the top of the third against Valdez, and he would tie things up with a solo homer.

Things went downhill from there for Valdez and the Astros, as a one-out walk followed by a single gave the Red Sox the go-ahead run in scoring position. On a groundball that likely should have been a double play to end the inning, it would get through Altuve's legs, scoring a run and keeping the inning alive for Boston. They took advantage, getting an RBI double to extend their new lead to 3-1. Valdez would get one more out before Dusty Baker would give him the early hook, bringing in Yimi Garcia, who finished the frame.

A battle of the bullpens, Altuve ties it up

Like Valdez, Sale would also not make it through three innings, getting two outs while putting two on base before Boston would start their bullpen's night as well. Both sets of relievers settled the game down, with the Red Sox stranding two of Houston's runners in the third as well as the fifth, maintaining their two-run lead. After Garcia finished the third, Cristian Javier entered to eat up a couple of innings, and he would do just that by getting through two frames with just one hit, four strikeouts, and no runs.

Next, Phil Maton took over in the top of the sixth and erased a leadoff walk to keep things in striking distance for the home team. In the bottom of the sixth, Houston put another runner on base, getting a one-out single by Chas McCormick. Two batters later, with two outs, Jose Altuve provided yet another career postseason highlight, tying the game 3-3 with a two-run home to re-energize the Minute Maid Park crowd.

Astros take ALCS Game 1

Now a brand new ballgame in the top of the seventh, Brooks Raley came in to face three batters, getting two strikeouts while allowing a single before Dusty Baker would move on to Ryne Stanek, who would get the third out. With two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Carlos Correa continued his march to a monster off-season contract, putting Houston back on top with a solo homer, making it 4-3.

Houston kept the script after Stanek with the new lead in hand, going to Kendall Graveman as the setup man in the top of the eighth. Despite a two-out single, he would get out of the inning with the lead intact, putting Houston three outs away from the victory. After a walk, single, and hit by pitch to start the bottom of the eighth with the bases loaded, Altuve would drive in his third run of the game, getting a sac fly to extend the lead to two runs at 5-3.

That insurance run proved pivotal, as closer Ryan Pressly was met with a leadoff solo home run by Hernandez, his second of the night for Boston, to make it 5-4. Pressly refocused and was able to get the next three batters in order, though, wrapping up the win to start Houston off with a 1-0 series lead and putting them three wins away from advancing to the World Series.

Up Next: The two teams will have a moderately quick turnaround, with ALCS Game 2 scheduled to start at 3:20 PM Central on Saturday ahead of NLCS Game 1 between the Dodgers and Braves getting the night slot. The pitching matchup is expected to be Nathan Eovaldi for Boston, who is 1-0 with a 2.61 ERA in his two starts this postseason, going opposite Luis Garcia, who had a rough outing in the ALDS for Houston, giving up five runs without completing three innings in Chicago.

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