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NASCAR heads for the high banks of Talladega

NASCAR heads for the high banks of Talladega
Start your engines! Photo by Getty Images.
NASCAR heads to the legendary Talladega Super Speedway for the Geico 500

Well the time has come, Talladega is here. This is possibly the most famous racetrack on NASCAR's schedule as it's high banks and three and four wide racing is must-see TV. This track is sure to bring many surprises as each driver tries to avoid the big one. It will be an all-out frenzy come Sunday that you won't want to miss.

Last week, Alex Bowman charged to the lead to claim his third career victory and first of 2021. In the closing stages, it looked like it was going to be a battle between Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano until a late race incident by Kevin Harvick put everyone back in it. The lead lap cars all elected to pit, and it looked like the race was going to fall into Hamlin's lap as he won the race off pit road gaining the lead from Logano but, on the restart seemingly from out of nowhere, Alex Bowman went to the inside and was able to make them both and never looked back. This win was huge considering it was the first victory for the #48 since 2017 at Dover. This had to have been a huge shot of confidence for this team considering how difficult these last four years have been for them. This comes as a passing of the torch for Bowman considering the insurmountable success of his predecessor. I look for him and this team to be a real contender this year with crew chief Greg Ives on the pit-board.

Our friends over at Rick Ware Racing are once again in the headlines this week. A couple of weeks ago it was announced that Jennifer Jo Cobb would be piloting the #15 Chevy Camaro for Talladega. This was a relatively big deal considering there hasn't been a woman in NASCAR since Danica Patrick made her one off start back in 2018 in the Daytona 500. The reactions were mixed but most were happy to see her finally get a chance in the Cup Series considering how much experience she has in the truck series. Everything appeared to be going as planned until NASCAR stepped in and barred her from the field. Many were left looking for answers, why would NASCAR do this? She seemed to have plenty of experience at Daytona and Talladega. In fact, she led a few laps here last fall in the truck series. When NASCAR officials gave their explanation, they stated that her results in the trucks are the primary reason why she isn't being allowed to race. Overall, I think this is kind of a ridiculous reason to deny her, I get it, the results have been underwhelming, but it's important to note how much smaller a budget her truck team has compared to everyone else. I hope at some point she gets a chance to make her debut in the Cup Series.

One of the feel good stories of 2021 has been the success of the JTG Racing Team with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Ryan Preece. Going into this season, the team appeared to be in a lot of turmoil. Both drivers were facing a lot of uncertainty regarding their future, Ryan Preece doesn't even have a charter to run all the races this year. In the face of all of this adversity this team has done nothing but push forward as Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has kept his car inside the top twenty in every race this year. For a lot of teams this would be underwhelming but for a team that struggled as much as they did last season, this has been a huge improvement. I wouldn't be surprised to see at least one of their cars in the playoffs this year and see both contend for a win this Sunday at Talladega.

The driver that I have winning this week is Denny Hamlin. While this might not be the exciting long-shot pick we are accustomed to hearing, Denny has been one of the best super-speedway racers in modern history. In his sixty-one starts, he has five victories at Daytona and Talladega including a controversial win last year in the fall. One of the big reasons he is so good here has been his ability to keep his car together the whole race and avoid the big one. If he and his JGR and Toyota teammates can all stay together, he should be very hard to beat once the green flag drops. Look for Hamlin to take the checkered flag come Sunday.

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The Braves blew the game open against Hader on Monday night. Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images.

When the Astros signed Josh Hader to anchor the back of the bullpen with Ryan Pressly and Bryan Abreu, we thought the club might have the best 'pen in MLB.

But at this early stage in the season, nobody is confusing these guys with Octavio Dotel, Brad Lidge, and Billy Wager.

Heading into the ninth inning on Monday night, the Astros handed the ball to Hader trailing the Braves 2-1. Instead of keeping the game close and giving the Astros' offense one more chance, the Braves teed off on the closer putting the game out of reach and ultimately winning 6-1.

Hader has one save on the season with an ERA over nine. Which has us wondering, do the Astros have a Hader problem?

Don't miss the video above as ESPN Houston's John Granato and Lance Zierlein weigh in!

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