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

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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Who holds the power in Houston? Composite Getty Image.

It should come as no surprise that after a slow start to the season, fans and media are starting to voice concerns about the organization's leadership and direction. The latest evidence of this involved Astros adviser Reggie Jackson and the comments he made on Jon Heyman's podcast, The Show.

Jackson discussed the Astros reported interest in starting pitcher Blake Snell. He said that ultimately, Snell was looking for a deal the Astros weren't comfortable with in terms of money and structure of the contract.

Which is interesting considering the Astros were okay with paying 5-years, $95 million for closer Josh Hader, but not willing to pay Snell 2-years, $62 million. We believe the opt-outs in Snell's contract were a dealbreaker for Houston. And of course the money played a role.

However, the Astros passing on Snell is not the intriguing part of the story. It was Jackson talking about the club's power structure in the front office and how they go about making decisions.

“Being fiscally responsible is what kicked us out of the Snell deal… That's too much for him… Between the 4 or 5 people who make decisions with the Astros, we don't play that game,” said Jackson.

Based on Jackson's comments in the interview, the decision makers are Jim Crane, Dana Brown, Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, and Reggie. But not necessarily in that order. He also mentioned that they had conversations with manager Joe Espada and his staff, plus some input from the analytics department.

These comments add to the concerns we've had about the front office since Crane moved on from GM James Click and operated without a general manager for several months. Which led to the disastrous signing of Jose Abreu and to a lesser extent Rafael Montero.

Which begs the question, are the Astros in a better spot now with their front office? Many blame Dana Brown for the state of the starting rotation. While there were some red flags this spring, anticipating injuries to Jose Urquidy, Justin Verlander, and Framber Valdez is asking a lot.

But only bringing in Hader to replace all the innings left behind by Hector Neris, Phil Maton, Kendall Graveman, and Ryne Stanek always felt risky.

Finally, what can the Astros due in the short-term to weather the storm while Framber and JV rehab from injury?

And is Hunter Brown the biggest liability in the rotation?

Be sure to watch the video above for the full in-depth discussion.

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