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NASCAR: Verizon 200 at the Brickyard preview, predictions

NASCAR: Verizon 200 at the Brickyard preview, predictions
Chase Elliott will be the driver to beat on Sunday. Image via: Wiki Commons.

The stars of the NASCAR Cup Series heads to the most prestigious racetrack in America, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. While we are used to seeing the race on the traditional oval configuration, this week NASCAR is adding a new twist as they will run on the road course instead. Because of this, most of the drivers will be making their first start on this configuration, so we will see a practice and qualifying session. The first corner will be interesting considering the speed they will be carrying from the long front straightaway. Another corner to watch is corner number seven, a lot of passes were made here in last season's Xfinity race and I expect it to be the same in the Cup Series. This will be a fun race considering the new challenges we'll see. I look forward to watching come Sunday.

Last week Kyle Larson went on to capture his fifth victory of 2021 after holding off Chase Elliott. The focus towards the end of the race was if Elliott could make up enough ground to take the victory. And while he made up a lot of ground in the end, the gap was too much for the defending champion as Larson hung on. After winning the race he is now in a dead-heat with Denny Hamlin in points for the regular-season championship and with the pace he has been on, he is going to be tough to beat. This battle will be interesting to follow considering fifteen extra bonus points are up for grabs.

The battle also rages on for the final playoff spot as Tyler Reddick was able to extend his lead over his teammate Austin Dillon but considering how unpredictable this season has been, with as many winners there have been, both drivers continue to hang on by a thread. The other drivers on the outside looking in are Chris Buescher and Matt DiBenedetto. But considering they are so far behind in points, their only path to the playoffs is a win in the next three races. Because of the desperation of these teams, we could see a lot of different types of pit strategies come race day. This has been apparent with Matt DiBenedetto and his crew-chief Jonathan Hassler as they continue to try whatever it takes to get to victory lane and into the playoffs. This will be quite the storyline to follow over the next three weeks.

A driver who has been on a roll lately has been Christopher Bell. In the past races, he has scored two second-place finishes and two top tens. Last week at Watkins Glen, he had one of the fastest cars on the racetrack and was battling for the lead with Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr until a spin took him out of contention. Despite this, he was still able to rebound for an impressive seventh-place finish when the dust settled. It would be fair to say that a lot of people don't see the second-year driver as a championship favorite quite yet, but if he can continue to be this consistent it will be much easier for him to advance in the playoffs. He will be one to keep an eye on down the line.

I am staying on the Chase Elliott train this week as he's my pick to win come Sunday. It has become obvious as to why he's my pick because he is still virtually untouchable on road courses. After a disappointing second-place finish last week, this could be a big redemption race for him, and it will only help that he will get extra time to prepare with practice. When it comes to my predictions, I usually like to go for the guys who fly under the radar, but the numbers for Elliott are just too substantial. He will be the car to beat come Sunday.

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Rockets defeat Magic, 118-106. Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images.

Fred VanVleet scored a season-high 37 points and the Houston Rockets snapped a five-game skid with a 118-106 victory over the Orlando Magic on Tuesday night.

The Magic fell into a tie for fourth place with Cleveland in the Eastern Conference. They came into the night with a chance to clinch the Southeast Division title with a win and a loss by the Miami Heat, but they couldn’t get it done against Houston and the Heat beat the Hawks 117-111 in double overtime.

“We can't hang our heads,” Magic coach Jamahl Mosley said. “We've got to come out and go after Milwaukee tomorrow. That's what it's got to be. Take the lessons from this one. Bounce back tomorrow.”

A basket by Markelle Fultz got the Magic within eight with about four minutes to go but VanVleet made a jump shot followed by a three-point play to make it 114-101 about a minute later to secure the victory.

Paolo Banchero and Jalen Suggs scored 21 points apiece for the Magic and Fultz added 18.

VanVleet made six 3-pointers and had eight rebounds and six assists. Jabari Smith Jr. added 23 points and Dillon Brooks had 15 as the Rockets played their last home game of the season.

“We wanted to continue to build and we know we're out of the race but we have four to go,” coach Ime Udoka said. “We don't want to just lay down and chalk it up... we fought hard and played well.”

The Magic scored the first nine points of the fourth quarter, with the last five from Joe Ingles, to cut the lead to 97-91 with about nine minutes to go.

Houston got its first points of the quarter on a 3-pointer by VanVleet, but Fultz made a layup seconds later.

The Rockets hadn't forgotten about the 116-86 loss they suffered to Orlando in their season opener.

“They kicked our butts the first game of the season,” VanVleet said. “We definitely remember that. So it was good to get some get back there.”

The Rockets led by 12 at halftime and opened the second half with an 11-4 run to make it 74-55 with nine minutes left in the third. Jalen Green had the first five points in that stretch and VanVleet added a 3-pointer.

Houston was up by 18 after another 3 from VanVleet later in the third quarter before the Magic went on a 10-4 run, with five points from Suggs, to get withing 90-78 with 3 ½ minutes left in the quarter.

Soon after that Ingles and Houston’s Cam Whitmore were both given technical fouls after bumping into one another and jawing at each other. Whitmore was ejected 14 seconds after that for arguing with an official after being called for a loose ball foul.

Ingles made two free throws but the Rockets outscored Orlando 5-2 to close out the quarter and take a 97-82 lead into the fourth quarter.

UP NEXT

Magic: Visit Milwaukee Wednesday night.

Rockets: Visit Utah Thursday night.

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