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NASCAR: Super Start Batteries 400 preview and picks

NASCAR: Super Start Batteries 400 preview and picks
Photo via: Wiki Commons.

The NASCAR Cup Series heads to the heartland for the Super Start Batteries 400 at Kansas Speedway. This race will be run on Thursday as NASCAR continues their mid to late-week races. This week, they will be running the first race that I can remember on a Thursday. It will definitely be interesting as NASCAR will lead off the weekend of racing with the Truck and Xfinity Series following them on Friday and Saturday.

Also, for the first time in series history there will be a two-day doubleheader for the truck series on Friday and Saturday. Personally, I really like this idea by NASCAR. It gives the teams a full week to get to go back to the shop and prepare for the Daytona Road Course coming up. It will be fun to get to watch a race on a Thursday. While Kansas Motor Speedway may look like any average mile and a half-track, this track has really benefited from this high downforce low horsepower package and there has been some very good racing here since 2018 as the last two races have been decided in the final laps. I look forward to this week's race.

Last week, at Texas Motor Speedway we saw a bit of an upset as Austin Dillon and crew chief Justin Alexander implored a two-tire strategy to take the lead with 22 laps to go. And after numerous cautions, he never looked back en route to his third career victory. In back-to-back weeks now, we have seen two winners we didn't expect to see, last week it was Cole Custer and this week it was Austin Dillon. While we have seen a dominant effort from both Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick, it has been great to see some of these guys get victories and good results and I look for it to continue the rest of the season.

While Austin Dillon went to victory lane, he shared some of the spotlight with his rookie teammate Tyler Reddick who came home second. This is a career best for the rookie as he continues to be one of the more pleasant storylines of 2020. The California native now has 6 top tens and two top fives including another impressive fourth place finish at Homestead earlier in the year. He has continued to improve week in and week out and is getting closer and closer to a victory here in the near future. Look for Reddick to win a race before the year is out.

While it was a great race for one rookie, it was a much different story for one of the other rookies, Quin Houff. In the late stages of the race, Houff decided he was going to pit but the only problem was he missed pit-road entrance by about a football field. Thinking he can make it, he still peeled to the bottom of the track and collided with Chrisotpher Bell and Matt DiBenedetto and then hit the wall hard in turn four. This not only ruined DiBenedtto's race but it put Ryan Blaney back in traffic after making a pit-stop that ultimately cost him the win. After the race, Brad Keselowski came up with a solid idea by suggesting that drivers should be demoted and promoted from the Truck and Xfinity Series to the Cup Series should they perform well enough. Overall, I really like this idea and think it can prevent rushing some of these drivers up too soon.

Another major story in the headlines this week is the omission of practice and qualifying for the remainder of the season. I have a major issue with this and while I understand why they want to keep as few people at the track as possible, it is really affecting the racing. It will also put these drivers in a bind as well as they don't have the extra time to work out some of the minor issues with their car. For example, last week at Texas Aric Almirola had some break issues before the race began that could very well have been resolved should they have had a practice session to bleed the air out of the breaks. It will also be a detriment when the drivers go to a new track like the Daytona Road Course. This configuration has never been raced before in the Cup Series and could leave them unprepared for the race. I hope NASCAR can come up with a compromise here soon.

The driver I have winning this week is Ryan Blaney. This has been a career year for Blaney as he currently sits second in points and has nine top fives this year with a win at Talladega. All season he has shown more speed than anyone but for some reason, it hasn't translated to another victory. I think that will change this week. While his average finish here hasn't been great, he has come out and led a lot of laps and put himself in a great spot to win, but something comes up and ruins his day. This week he will finally be able to put a race together and take his #12 Mustang to victory lane.

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The Astros rotation looks like a strength moving forward. Composite Getty Image.

The Houston Astros are coming off a much-needed series win over the White Sox, but have a quick turnaround as they host the Orioles on Friday night at Minute Maid Park.

The 'Stros dropped the first game of the series with Framber Valdez on the mound, but were able to rebound with Hunter Brown and Spencer Arrighetti starting the final two games.

Brown was brilliant once again, and Arrighetti bounced back after a disastrous start against the Tigers over the weekend. Despite all the injures to the Astros staff this season, their young pitchers are stepping up when they need them the most.

Brown has six consecutive quality starts and is beginning to show signs that he can be the top of the rotation pitcher the club always hoped he could develop into.

Arrighetti has stepped in and shown that he belongs in the big leagues, and has provided innings Houston desperately requires with so many pitchers on the injured list.

Speaking of which, with Justin Verlander on the IL, Double A prospect Jake Bloss will make the start for Houston on Friday night. Bloss has quickly progressed through the farm system, having been drafted just a year ago.

We'll see how he performs in his MLB debut, but the club seems to have a lot of quality pitching options moving forward, especially with Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers scheduled to return in late July and early August respectively.

And as we look at the Astros rotation moving forward, perhaps they will go back to a six-man rotation during certain stretches in the second half of the season.

Which could prove to be vital to the team's success. As good as Ronel Blanco has been, he's never pitched as many innings as he'll be asked to pitch this year. Same goes for Arrighetti. And let's face it, sending Verlander out to pitch on four days rest consistently at 41 years old doesn't sound like a wise decision. He's already been on the IL twice this year.

While some see Garcia and McCullers as wild cards to help the team this season, Astros GM Dana Brown doesn't see it that way. He told the Astros flagship station this week that he's counting on those guys to make big contributions when they return. And he's counting on their postseason experience should they get there.

Keep in mind, Garcia has a 3.61 career ERA and has been durable outside the Tommy John surgery. And McCullers has always been good, it's just the health that causes concern.

Garcia is also an example of how a player can skip Double A and Triple A and have success right away in the big leagues. Hopefully, Bloss can follow in his footsteps, since he's bypassing Triple A to make his first start.

So what's the short and long-term outlook for the Astros rotation? And should we expect Verlander to return in 2025?

Be sure to watch the video above as we address those questions and much more!

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