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

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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Allen had high praise for Diggs. Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images.

Impersonal as it might seem to have their dynamic on-field relationship end with an exchange of phone texts, Bills quarterback Josh Allen made it clear on Thursday how much receiver Stefon Diggs meant to him during their four seasons together in Buffalo.

Allen made no mention of Diggs’ mercurial temperament or the occasional sideline flare-ups by expressing only praise in his first opportunity to discuss his now-former teammate being traded to the Houston Texans earlier this month.

“Just thanking him for everything that he did for me, and (I’ll) always have a spot in my heart for him. I’ll always love that guy like a brother. And I wish him nothing but the best,” Allen said, in disclosing what he texted to Diggs. “My lasting memory of Stef will be the receiver that helped me become the quarterback that I am today.”

Brought together in March 2020, when Buffalo gave up a first-round draft pick to acquire Diggs in a trade with Minnesota, the duo went on to re-write many of Buffalo's single-season passing and scoring records, and lead the team to four straight AFC East titles.

Diggs, now 30, also brought an inescapable sense of drama with him in raising questions about his commitment to the Bills and whether his tight relationship with Allen had soured.

A day before being traded, Diggs posted a message, “You sure?” on the social media platform X in response to someone suggesting he wasn’t essential to Allen’s success.

Whatever hard feelings, if any, lingered as Buffalo opened its voluntary workout sessions this week were not apparent from Allen or coach Sean McDermott, who also addressed reporters for the first time since Diggs was traded.

“Stef’s a great player, really enjoyed our time together. Won a lot of games and he was a huge factor in winning those games. We’ll miss him,” McDermott said. “You never replace a player like Stef Diggs, and we wish him well.”

Allen turned his focus to the future and a Bills team that spent much of the offseason retooling an aging and expensive roster.

Aside from trading Diggs, salary cap restrictions led to Buffalo cutting respected center Mitch Morse, the breakup of a veteran secondary that had been together since 2017, and the team unable to afford re-signing No. 2 receiver Gabe Davis.

“I don’t think it’s a wrong thing or a bad thing to get younger,” said Allen, entering his seventh NFL season. “I think it’s an opportunity for myself to grow as a leader. And to bring along some of these young guys and new guys that we’ve brought in to our team. And that’s an opportunity, frankly, that I’m very excited about."

Despite the departures, the Bills offense is not exactly lacking even though general manager Brandon Beane is expected to target selecting a receiver with his first pick — currently 28th overall — in the draft next week.

Receiver Khalil Shakir enters his third year and tight end Dalton Kincaid enter his second following promising seasons. Buffalo also added veteran experience in signing free agent receiver Curtis Samuel and Mack Hollins.

While Beane acknowledged the Bills lack a true No. 1 receiver, he noted there’s less urgency to fill that spot now than in 2020 because of how much the offense has developed under Allen.

“Now that Josh has ascended to the player he is, is that a requirement? I don’t think so,” Beane said.

Diggs’ role also began diminishing in the second half of last season, which coincided with Joe Brady replacing Ken Dorsey as offensive coordinator. Brady placed an emphasis on adding balance to a pass-heavy attack and getting more receivers involved, which led to an uptick in production for Shakir and Kincaid.

While Diggs’ numbers dropped, Buffalo’s win total increased.

With the Bills at 6-6, Diggs ranked third in the NFL with 83 catches, seventh with 969 yards and tied for third with eight TDs receiving. Buffalo then closed the season with five straight wins in which Diggs combined for 24 catches for 214 yards and no scores.

”(Diggs) meant a lot. You look at the statistics, they don’t lie,” Allen said, in referring to Diggs topping 100 catches and 1,000 yards in each of his four seasons in Buffalo. “I don’t get paid to make changes on the team. I get paid to be the best quarterback that I can be and try to lead the guys on this team.”

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