NASCAR heads to Wine Country at Sonoma

Chase Elliot
The driver that I have winning this week is Chase Elliott. Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images.
NASCAR heads for the Monster Mile at Dover

For the first time in two years, the NASCAR Cup Series heads to Wine Country at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California. This is truly a step in the right direction as NASCAR and the world continues to try to get back to normal after this pandemic. For many in California, this will be their first experience at a sporting event in quite some time as it was announced earlier this year that they will allow fans to attend. They will also be running on a much different track layout and will bring back the carousel section around turn five. This section of the track will be interesting considering the massive elevation change we see from turns four and five. This will be a brand-new obstacle to the drivers considering no one has competed on this layout of racetrack.

Last week, Kyle Larson annihilated the field en route to his second victory of 2021. He led over three hundred laps and was never really challenged at any point of the race. This was a promising sign for Larson considering the hard time he has had at finishing races. If he can continue this, he is going to easily be the favorite to win the championship going to Phoenix. Whether it's been at road courses, intermediates or short tracks he has run exceptionally fast everywhere he has raced at. Look out for the #5 to continue to set the tone for the season.

The rumor mill is getting wilder and wilder as we get into the summer. The latest rumor involves Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin's new team 23XI and their expansion to two teams next season. While there have been many candidates that have been linked to this ride, it was reported that NASCAR veteran Kurt Busch has been listed as the favorite. This really surprised a lot of people considering Kurt is the eldest driver in the field, but overall I think this would be a genius move. Kurt is an accomplished veteran who can offer a lot of great insight for Bubba Wallace and can give a lot of great feedback to the team. It will be interesting to see how this all works and what kind of team they put behind Busch and who his crew chief may be. The other question will be who Chip Ganassi puts in the #1 car next season. Will he go with a veteran like Ryan Newman who can help Ross Chastain, or will he go younger and get a prospect driver like Josh Berry or Noah Gragson? Only time will tell. I look forward to seeing how this story develops.

A driver who has really flown under the radar over the last couple of weeks has been Tyler Reddick. He has finished in the top ten in back to back weeks, including a surprising eight place finish at Circuit of the Americas where he won the pole. There were a lot of eyes on the second year driver after an impressive rookie season, but now he is really building off of that and can be a contender to not only make the playoffs but win a race as well. Look for him to be a threat to go to victory lane this season.

The driver that I have winning this week is Chase Elliott. When your nickname is the King of the Road, it's hard to bet against someone who has six road course victories. Now Sonoma hasn't been a track that Elliott has accumulated a lot of success at but with a front row starting spot come Sunday, he will have plenty of track position to help him out. Plus, he drives for the hottest race team in NASCAR as well, so that definitely helps out. I look for Elliott to capture his second win of the season and his seventh road course victory.

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The Astros are back in action Friday night against Seattle. Composite Getty Image.

The Astros were a season low 12 games under .500 (12-24) on May 8th but were able to turn things around and entered the All-Star break with a respectable 50-46 record.

The turnaround can be attributed to better performances on the field by a multitude of players, but there are still things that could be improved to ensure a successful second half of the season.

As it currently stands, Houston is only one game behind the Seattle Mariners in the American League West division race, and the Astros should have key players returning from injury to further bolster their playoff ambitions.

The return of the King

Kyle Tucker has been on the injured list with a shin contusion for six weeks now, and looks to return in the near future.

The Astros have done surprisingly well without their three-time All-Star outfielder thanks to contributions from guys like Joey Loperfido, Jake Meyers and Marcio Dubon in the outfield. Plus, Jose Altuve, Yordan Alvarez, Alex Bregman, Yanier Diaz and Jeremy Pena carrying the offense while King Tuck is away.

Before getting hurt, the 27-year-old was hitting .266/.395/.584 through 60 games. Houston already has one of the best offenses in baseball, and adding Tucker back would give the Astros another high-quality bat to further bolster their lineup.

The latest update is Tucker has been playing catch and could start a rehab assignment soon if all goes well.

Fix the rotation

Starting pitching has been a major issue this season due to a multitude of injuries.

Cristian Javier, Jose Urquidy and J.P. France have all been lost for the year with various surgeries and guys like Justin Verlander and Luis Garcia are trying to work their way back from their injured list stints.

Garcia was recently pulled from his rehab assignment and won’t pitch again until he is ready. Meanwhile, Verlander could be closer to his return and is throwing bullpen sessions as of July 14. Getting both of these pitchers back at some point this season will be a huge boost to this roster.

The current Astros’ rotation consists of Framber Valdez, Ronel Blanco, Hunter Brown, Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss. Although not a bad rotation by any means, the starting pitching depth is getting pretty thin and Houston can ill afford another injury to their staff.

Astros general manager Dana Brown has been vocal about his desire to add starting pitching, and could have some options heading into the trade deadline. Players like Jack Flaherty, Garrett Crochet or Yusei Kikuchi, just to name a few, could be low risk high reward pitchers the Astros could acquire to add depth to their rotation.

Another option would be to call up A.J. Blubaugh from Sugar Land. The 24-year-old has a 6-2 record with a 3.46 ERA in 71.1 innings pitched this season for the Space Cowboys and could be a necessary depth piece to add to the rotation.

Play Astros baseball

The Astros have been playing better baseball as of late and have won 18 of their last 23 games. With players like Kyle Tucker and Justin Verlander potentially returning soon, there is reason to believe Houston can make the playoffs for the 8th consecutive season.

The 'Stros will try to take sole possession of first place in their division from the Mariners when the two teams meet for three games at T-Mobile Park starting on Friday night.

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