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NASCAR: Talladega playoff race preview and predictions

NASCAR: Talladega playoff race preview and predictions
Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images.

Well folks, it's finally here. The race that everyone has been looking forward to, Talladega. As we all know this is the baddest racetrack on the face of the planet. The steaks will be high as this is the second race of the round of 12 or the wild-card round as I like to call it. Not only do we see the unpredictability of Talladega this weekend but next weekend they go to the Charlotte Roval, another track that is known for its insanity. Getting through Talladega with a win could be huge or each of these twelve drivers. This will be a race you definitely don't want to miss.

Last week at Vegas, Kurt Busch went on to capture his first victory of 2020 at his home track. The race was dominated by Denny Hamlin as he led a race high 121 laps but green flag pit-stops for debris put him towards the back of the lead lap cars. While he was able to rebound for a third place finish, this was a race he should have won. But for once in 2020, luck just wasn't on his side. While Hamlin was in front, the one issue most of these drivers had was the ability to pass. For over 80 percent of the race, it was completely unwatchable. This high downforce aero package continues to provide lackluster results as the only way anyone could do anything was after a restart. This continues to prove that high downforce won't always produce good racing.

Luckily NASCAR has heard the fans and they will be changing things when it comes to the cars in 2021 as they unveiled the newest rules package on Thursday. It was announced that 23 of the 36 races will be run by the popular 750 horsepower aero package. Another thing fans have been asking for is a much smaller rear spoiler and it appears that is coming as well as it was also announced that the spoiler will be reduced from 8 inches to 2.75 inches. I think this will be a huge step in the right direction for the sport and it also shows that Steve O'Donnell and everyone at NASCAR are listening to their fans. Of course, they won't make everyone happy, but it's been awesome to see them listen to feedback. We will see this package run at tracks like Dover and Bristol, all the road courses and the rest of the short tracks while the intermediates and super speedways will continue with their 550 horsepower aero package. I am so happy to see NASCAR continue to grow and improve as we look to the future that is certainly a lot brighter.

The driver that I have winning this week is Ryan Blaney. Over the last three races here, Blaney has dominated this track as he has won two of the last three races here. Although he didn't advance to the round of 12, it will be hard to beat him. His teammate Brad Keselowski said in an interview that "Blaney has this type of racing down to a science." I look for him to continue his success with another victory here. It would be a great way for him to close out an extremely disappointing season. Look for Blaney to take the #12 Ford Mustang to victory lane.

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Following Houston's 6-4 road trip, the Astros returned home to finish the first "half" of the season before the All Star break hosting Florida and Texas. Houston's road trip was filled with clutch performances in New York, dominance in taking 3 of 4 in Toronto, and a dose of close calls and tough realities with a short-handed team against Minnesota.

Now the Astros hope to take care of business against the lowly Marlins and division rival Rangers. The Texas series, in particular gives Houston the opportunity to reassert their hold on the #2 spot ahead of the Rangers who have won their last 5 games in a row (as of the time this was published). Both teams have won 7 of their last 10 games and hope to catch a free-falling Seattle team to overtake the division lead.

Dana Brown told the media last week he expects both Justin Verlander and Kyle Tucker to be reactivated following the All-Star break but Tucker's updates continue to be more promising than Verlander's and MUCH more promising than Lance McCullers. Astros manager informed the media this week that McCullers has been shut down from throwing after his arm did not respond well to his recent bullpen sessions and the team is formulating the plan for what's next for the embattled pitcher. McCullers hasn't pitched since the 2022 postseason and underwent season-ending flexor tendon surgery last June. McCullers is under contract with Houston until 2026.

An eventual return for Kyle Tucker would spur a juggling act from Joe Espada to find a proper balance of time for all his outfielders, none of which have separated themselves offensively. Chas McCormick had a great month of June recording an .804 OPS but that run looks more like an anomaly as his scuffles have continued over the past 2.5 weeks, recording just 4 hits over his last 32 plate appearances.

While Jake Meyers has wowed fans and teammates with his glove this season, his offense has hit a skid, hitting just .184 with a .565 OPS over the past month. After rookie Joey Loperfido's torrid debut, he too has struggled with the bat, hitting just .216 with .599 OPS over the same time period.

An unexpected bright spot has been the recent play of first baseman Jon Singleton. Over the last 4 weeks, "Big Jon" is batting .302 with an .802 OPS. It's worth mentioning that Singleton's season numbers are better than Florida's Josh Bell, who drew interest from Astros fans over the past several seasons as a potential answer at first base. Bell has 135 more ABs this season so its not quite an apples-to-apples comparison but there's no doubt Singleton's contributions were sorely needed following the release of Jose Abreu.

To watch part 1 of this week's episode of Stone Cold StrosStone Cold Stros, just click the video above or to listen to the entire episode on podcast, search "Stone Cold Stros" in your favorite podcast app or click one of the following links.

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