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NASCAR at Watkins Glen: Preview, picks

NASCAR at Watkins Glen: Preview, picks
Tyler Reddick is a driver to watch this week. Photo via: Wiki Commons.

The NASCAR Cup Series heads for Upstate New York this week for its annual trip to Watkins Glen. Watkins Glen is one of NASCAR’s most thrilling tracks on the schedule, we have seen some of the most intense battles here and with the playoffs on the line, we will see a lot of moves of desperation in the closing laps. Sunday will be the first race for this new car at The Glenn and with all of the new features of this race car, handling will be much better compared to what we saw in years past. There is a 38 percent chance of scattered thunderstorms in the area for Sunday, if the rains come, NASCAR will carry their rain tires just in case. Considering the Cup Series has raced in the rain only a handful of times over the course of its 74-year history, a lot of these drivers will have a difficult time adjusting to the elements. This will definitely be an interesting storyline to follow.

NASCAR will make history on Sunday as seven international drivers will be taking to the grid. We will see drivers like the German Mike Rockenfeller and Brit, Kyle Tilley, winners in some of the biggest races in IMSA Sports Cars. Regulars like the Mexican-born Daniel Suarez, who has made a great name for himself in the Cup Series with a win this year at Sonoma, and F1 participants such as Danii Kyvat. While there are many new faces, the name that stands out the most has to be the 2007 F1 World Champion, Kimmi Raikkonen. He will be making his NASCAR Cup Series debut for Trackhouse Racing and their newest Project91 entry. In all of my years of watching this sport, I have never seen a field as deep as this one. It will be awesome to see how these guys fare against the stars of NASCAR.

In the last two weeks, 2014 Cup Champion Kevin Harvick and his team have been on a roll. After a clutch victory two weeks ago at Michigan that assured their spot in the playoffs, Harvick and Crew Chief Rodney Childres dialed up another race-winning set-up last weekend at Richmond. All throughout the day, Harvick was consistently up front. He spent most of the middle stages of the race right behind Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, and Martin Truex Jr. He didn’t seem to have the speed to match Logano or Hamlin as they both had double the amount of fastest laps. His fortune would turn around as cloud cover would come over the track and suddenly his car would handle much better. He would reel in Logano with 68 laps to go and never look back to claim his second victory in a row.

The wave of momentum that this team is on right now was not what anyone expected. Even some of NASCAR’s most expert analysts like Steve Letarte would go on record stating that he didn’t believe this team would have the speed to make the playoffs. This sudden burst has similar vibes to Harvick’s boss Tony Stewart when he won the title back in 2011. Going into the playoffs, the other 15 drivers will have a lot of work to do in trying to keep this team from their second championship.

We have reached the Kurt Busch update portion of this article. Over the last four weeks, the veteran driver has been recovering from a concussion he sustained at Pocono in a practice crash. It appears that there is hope that he will return this week for the race at Watkins Glen. We are likely to get an update on his status on Friday. Hopefully, he will be fit to drive this week and can make up for some of the points they have missed out on.

The Kyle Busch sweepstakes continues this week as rumors keep flooding in. According to reports, an additional Chevy team has now made an offer to Busch. Many have speculated on whom that team was, could it be the newly formed Kaulig Racing? Maybe RCR would be considered? With no end in sight, I have a feeling that we won’t know where Kyle is going till the end of the season. While he's still at Joe Gibbs Racing, Busch was finally able to break through and get back into the top ten last week at Richmond.

Prediction

The driver that I have winning this weekend is Tyler Reddick. Ever since breaking the seal at Road America, Reddick has been on a roll when it comes to road courses. He backed up his win with another victory at the Indy Road Course. One key to this race will be the restarts, Tyler is easily one of the best drivers on restarts. I look for him to score his third career win come Sunday.

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Astros defeat the A's, 6-3. Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images.

Jake Meyers hit a three-run homer to highlight Houston's six-run fourth inning that backed Justin Verlander's winning start, and the Astros beat the Oakland Athletics 6-3 on Friday night.

Verlander (3-2) struck out nine over six innings to increase hit total to 3,377, passing Hall of Famer Greg Maddux (3,371) for 10th on the career strikeouts list. He gave up two runs — one earned — on eight hits and didn't walk a batter for a second straight start and seventh time this year.

After another milestone to add to a long list of them, Verlander wasn't sure exactly how to feel.

“I feel like I should be more excited but I feel like I’m a little more introspective and reflective,” Verlander said. “A lot of sacrifices you make in this game, a lot of time away from the family, but I love it, so it’s pretty amazing. I don’t know if as a 21- or 22-year-old kid in professional baseball if I’d thought I’d be in the top-10 in anything. This sport’s been around for so long. Hard to put into words, but a lot of thoughts, a lot of thoughts went through my mind.”

When his teammates celebrated him once the special outing had ended, Verlander allowed himself to ponder the meaning.

Verlander remembers his first strikeout and he recalls one against Hall of Fame slugger Frank Thomas here at the Coliseum — and the pitcher wears No. 35 because of Thomas.

“I have a lot of great memories here,” he said.

A's manager Mark Kotsay, a former Oakland outfielder, has been witness to some of those.

“He’s just tough. He’s a Hall of Fame pitcher. He knows his game plan and he executes it really well," Kotsay said. "He doesn’t make a ton of mistakes.”

Yordan Alvarez added an RBI double and Josh Hader finished the 2-hour, 31-minute game with his seventh save for the Astros, who began a seven-game road trip.

After right-hander Ross Stripling (1-9) retired the first nine Houston hitters in order, Jose Altuve singled to start the fourth for the first of four straight hits that included Alex Bregman's two-run single.

The A's drew an announced crowd of 9,676 for the series opener after winning two of three against Colorado following an eight-game losing streak.

Miguel Andujar came off the injured list and immediately hit an RBI single in the first off Verlander and finished with three hits in his A's and season debut — including another run-scoring single in the seventh.

Andjuar's RBI marked the first time the A's have scored first in 18 games — ending the longest streak in franchise history. Batting cleanup, he also singled in the third.

Astros left fielder Chas McCormick robbed Max Schuemann of an extra-base hit when he crashed into the wall to make a great catch ending the eighth.

“That was a big play at the moment,” manager Joe Espada said.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Astros: RHP José Urquidy was pulled from his rehab start with Triple-A Sugar Land because of right forearm discomfort. He has been on the injured list with inflammation in his pitching shoulder. ... 1B José Abreu is scheduled to rejoin the club Monday in Seattle after playing at least two games with Triple-A Sugar Land as he works to regain his hitting rhythm.

Athletics: Andujar had been sidelined all season after having meniscus surgery on his right knee. He was claimed off waivers from the Pirates on Nov. 6. Oakland created roster room by optioning INF Brett Harris to Triple-A Las Vegas.

UP NEXT

RHP Spencer Arrighetti (2-4, 7.16 ERA) pitches for the Astros in the middle game opposite A's LHP JP Sears (3-3, 4.31).

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