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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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Zack Greinke earned his 10th win of the season in Sunday's finale agains the Rangers. Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

With the first two wins of the series under their belt, the Astros entered Sunday looking to take care of business before heading on the road. Despite the Rangers taking the first lead of the day, the Astros responded on offense and defense to erase the deficit to get the victory.

Final Score: Astros 3, Rangers 1

Astros' Record: 61-39, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Zack Greinke (10-3)

Losing Pitcher: Dennis Santana (0-1)

Greinke, with some help, notches a quality start

Zack Greinke was doing well in the early goings of Sunday's finale. Despite allowing back-to-back singles to start the game, he stranded both runners to finish the top of the first. He followed that by erasing two more runners in the second, starting a stretch of eight straight batters which he would retire to make it through one out in the top of the fifth without allowing a run.

Texas finally added a blemish to his day at that point, getting a solo homer to grab their first lead in weeks. Greinke rebounded from it, sitting down the next two batters to finish the frame, then posted a 1-2-3 sixth. He returned for the top of the seventh, but would end his day with a struggle, loading the bases with no outs on a single, hit batter, and walk. That prompted Dusty Baker to bring in Cristian Javier, who saved Greinke's stat line by getting a strikeout and double play to keep the Rangers from scoring. Greinke's line: 6.0 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 1 HR, 86 P.

Houston grabs the lead

Houston's starter would leave in line for the win, thanks to the work of Cristian Javier, but also some timely offense in the two innings prior. With not much going for them in the first four innings, the Astros tried to take advantage of Chas McCormick being on base in the bottom of the fifth, sending him for a potential hit and run with Abraham Toro swinging.

That turned into two runs, with McCormick able to slow his run as Toro would launch a two-run go-ahead homer to erase the Rangers lead quickly. They extended the lead to two runs in the next inning, with Yordan Alvarez working a walk and then later scoring on an RBI single by Kyle Tucker, making it 3-1.

Astros finish the sweep

After cleaning up the inherited mess in the top of the seventh, Javier remained on the mound in the top of the eighth and made it through a 1-2-3 inning to give him six outs against five batters. With it still a two-run game in the top of the ninth, Ryan Pressly entered for the save opportunity. He notched it, sitting down the Rangers 1-2-3 to finish the sweep, handing Texas their twelfth straight loss.

Up Next: The Astros will head out west for an eight-game road trip starting with a three-game set with the Mariners kicking off at 9:10 PM Central on Monday. In the opener, Luis Garcia (7-5, 2.86 ERA) for Houston is slated to go opposite Darren McCaughan (0-0, 1.80 ERA), who will make his second career appearance and first start for Seattle.

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