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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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Jeremy Pena could have some big shoes to fill. Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images.

MLB and the MLBPA are embroiled in yet another labor dispute. The owners and players have both dug in their heels and refuse to budge. No end is in site for the lockout as Spring Training is drawing more and more near each passing day. So what does that mean for our 2022 Astros' season?

One sigh of relief came when Justin Verlander signed his new deal. Two years for $50 million dollars isn't bad at all. Factor in he's closer to my age than my son (coming off Tommy John surgery), and some may worry. Not me. He's the closest thing to Tom Brady MLB has seen since Nolan Ryan. Jim Crane and James Click did a great job bringing him back. His spot as the ace with the rest of the staff they have should help shore up the bullpen if one or two starters can make that transition. I know I said I didn't want him back a few months ago, but time has passed, and wounds have been healed.

When it comes to Carlos Correa, I'm growing more and more comfortable with the thought that he may not be back. I talked about his potential replacement months ago. Maybe the reason being is that the club loves Jeremy Peña at that same position, and Pedro Leon could also factor in. Plus, Peña is tearing the cover off the ball in the winter leagues.

At 24 years old, turning 25 in September, he'll be under team control for the foreseeable future. That truly depends on the new labor agreement. So does Correa's new contract. His contract will be largely based on the parameters set in the new labor agreement, since he didn't sign before the lockout took place. And now we know that contact will be negotiated by Correa's new agent, Scott Boras.

I'm all for the doom and gloom when it comes to an MLB labor issue because they've historically screwed over fans. The most notable and egregious was the '94 World Series being canceled. However, there's way too much money at stake right now. More money than ever to be exact. That said, it's precisely why there's a dispute. That, and the fact that the owners have always gotten over on fans and players, and the players are poised to get their just due.

When the season starts, the Astros should be contenders yet again. Don't look for them to come out the gate firing on all cylinders as this team may look a bit different. Guys may not be fully ready after a lockout and there will be some roster turnover. The bulk of the core will be here, ready, and healthy. Whether Correa is a part of that group remains to be seen. Am I concerned? Hell no! This team has enough to fill that void at least partially and will have either guy under team control for a while. Think about this upcoming season as the time you fixed up your older car. New tires, headlights restored, rims polished, inside made over, and a fresh coat of paint after the transmission rebuild. It still has over 150,000 miles on it, but you wouldn't trade it in for anything because it still runs well and has sentimental value. You know one day it'll give out and need to be put out to pasture, but you're holding on and riding until the wheels fall off. Enjoy Astro fans, because the ride will be over one day. Hopefully much later than sooner.

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