NASCAR takes its talents to South Beach for the Dixie Vodka 400

Start your engines! Photo via: Wiki Commons.

The NASCAR Cup Series continues their tour of the great state of Florida as they head for the high banks of Homestead-Miami Speedway for the Dixie Vodka 400. This track will provide a lot of side-by-side racing as the track's 18-20 degree progressive banking gives plenty of grooves for everyone to go. Expect a lot of drivers to run around the wall all throughout the day to try to find more grip. Sunday has all the makings for a lot of speed and green flag runs as well.

Earlier in the year, Fox released an ad campaign stating that this year could potentially be "the best season ever" and so far it's living up to the billing as we saw the second consecutive first time winner at the Daytona Road Course. In the final two laps, Christopher Bell made the race winning pass on Joey Logano to take the victory. The sophomore driver out of Oklahoma, made the move to JGR last year after driving for Leavine Family Racing. This young driver is a clear force to be reckoned with in the future as he has now teamed up with champion crew-chief Adam Stevens.

With both of those drivers getting their first career win, there is a good chance we see more first time winners this year and one driver who is really impressive so far has been Ryan Preece. Coming into this season, Preece faced a lot of uncertainty considering his team doesn't have a charter for the season. This hasn't stopped the New Englander though as he has rattled off back-to-back top tens. While yes, there was a level of attrition in both races, let it be known that Preece has been really fast in both qualifying for the 500 and the duels. I wouldn't be surprised to see him find victory lane in 2021. He's hungry and running extremely efficient, and this team has been staying out of trouble. I look forward to seeing him continue to improve as I have been a fan of his since his time in the Xfinity Series.

While it has been a rough two weeks for him, another driver to look out for this week is Tyler Reddick. While he has been in a mini-slump, this is a track where Reddick has excelled. Now yes, he has only ran one race here in the Cup Series, but his success goes back to his time in the Xfinity Series as he made a momentous run en route to a championship. Mile and a half tracks have also been a strength for him as he has scored six top tens on these types of tracks. Look for the #8 Cheddar's Camaro to be up front on Sunday.

The driver that I have winning this weekend is Kyle Larson. As everyone knows these past 12 months have not been the best for the California driver. He has faced tons of scrutiny (to his own doing of course) during his suspension and his reinstatement. He has done well though in his time since then though and in my opinion has really worked to rectify his mistakes. With the slate now clean, Larson has been doing a great job on the track. But overall the one thing that has plagued him has been his inability to finish races. Ever since his start, Larson has continued to choke away races week in and week out. We saw it first hand last week when he drove straight into the tires trying to pass Joey Logano. If he had shown a bit more patience, he might have won as he was in the top three at the time. Homestead is easily his best track, if there is any place he can win it's here. He currently has a 96.8 driver rating here and has led 277 laps. If he can keep it together, look for Larson to take the checkered flag and bring the #5 back to victory lane.

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The losing streak continues

Mariners get walk-off win over short-staffed Astros

Alex De Goti had an impressive debut. Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

After a brutal homestand capped off by losing five players to the IL for health and safety protocols, the once 5-1 Astros brought their now 6-6 record to T-Mobile park in Seattle to try and right the ship. They'd have to do it with new and young players in the lineup using the "next man up" mentality to get some wins against the first-place Mariners.

Though the young bats would work themselves into a lead most of the night, Houston's bullpen wouldn't be able to hold the Mariners down, with Seattle ultimately walking things off in the ninth.

Final Score: Mariners 6, Astros 5

Astros' Record: 6-7, fourth in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Anthony Misiewicz (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Ryne Stanek (0-1)

After a quiet start, Houston gets three in the fifth

After cruising through the Astros through the first four innings, allowing only a walk over that span, Houston was able to put up a big inning against Yusei Kikuchi in the top of the fifth. Carlos Correa notched the first hit of the night, followed by a walk by Taylor Jones to put two on base.

That brought Alex De Goti, making his major-league debut, to the plate and, in his second career at-bat, would get his first hit and RBI, bringing in Correa from second on a single. A second run would come on the same play on a throwing error, then Chaz McCormick made it a three-run inning with an RBI-double, putting Houston out front 3-0.

Urquidy comes an out shy of a quality start

Meanwhile, Jose Urquidy was doing well through five innings. On track for a much-needed quality start, the Mariners would tag him in the bottom of the sixth, getting three-straight hits to bring in two runs to lead off the frame and leaving a runner on second base with no outs.

Urquidy would rebound to get the next two batters on strikeouts, but at 90 pitches and with a left-handed hitter up next, Dusty Baker would bring in lefty Brooks Raley to try and get out of the inning with the one-run lead intact. Raley would do his job, putting Uruidy's line final: 5.2 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 90 P.

Teams trade two-run seventh innings

The young bats for Houston struck again in the top of the seventh, with Jones and De Goti leading it off with back-to-back singles before Jason Castro would load the bases with a walk. With two outs, Aledmys Diaz would push the lead back to three with a two-RBI single, making it 5-2.

With Raley out after facing his one batter, next out of Houston's bullpen was Bryan Abreu to help maintain Houston's lead. Instead, he would give up two runs on two hits and a walk while getting just two outs before Baker moved on to Blake Taylor, who would get the last out of the seventh with Houston hanging on to a one-run lead at 5-4.

Mariners get the walk-off win

Taylor remained in the game in the bottom of the eighth, and after getting an out, would allow a game-tying solo home run to Evan White before injuring himself trying to field an infield single. Ryne Stanek entered and finished off the eighth, sending the tie game to the ninth.

After Houston came up empty in the top half, Stanek remained in the game in the bottom of the ninth, attempting to force extras. Back-to-back walks ended Stanek's night, with the Astros hoping Ryan Pressly could bail them out. He couldn't, though, giving up the walk-off hit as the Mariners would take the opener, 6-5.

Up Next: Game two of this three-game set will start an hour earlier on Saturday, with first pitch at 8:10 PM Central. Zack Greinke (1-1, 4.08 ERA) will try to rebound from a poor start his last time out for the Astros, while the Mariners will hand the ball to Chris Flexen (1-0, 4.50 ERA).

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