THE PALLILOG

No sports in the world leads to an empty feeling

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Let me start by noting that this column is confined to a sports context. Sports are a huge thread in our societal fiber and massive economically, but not literally life or death the way the coronavirus pandemic is for way too many. So, with that perspective established...

Man this is the worst ever start to spring. The vernal equinox hit at 10:49 PM CDT Thursday night. Never have we had less in sports with which to herald its arrival. No NCAA Tournament to revel in for the rest of the month. No Opening Day in Major League Baseball just around the corner. No Masters at Augusta approaching. No Kentucky Derby in May. No Stanley Cup or NBA Finals in June. Basically, no anything.

Our essentially sports-less existence won't last forever. But it may feel like it. From time to time l talk about a player or team with fortunate circumstances or challenging circumstances, as needing to play the course. Whatever sets up favorably, or whatever looms as seemingly insurmountable, play the course. This course stinks! The fairways are burned out, the greens are a bumpy mess, and the rough, man is it rough. Alas, like the coronavirus pandemic itself, this course will get worse before it gets better.

We've all heard if not used the saying "Absence makes the heart grow fonder." Best I could find, it dates to 1832 and The Pocket Magazine of Classic and Polite Literature. It's not always true that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Sometimes out of sight out of mind supersedes. With sports? As Elizabeth Barrett Browning might put it: sports, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I miss you baby.

O'Brien makes news

Thank goodness for Blundering Bill O'Brien. Emperor O's absurd trade of DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona for 50 cents on the dollar gave us something to work with this week, along with NFL free agency. I do not recall a trade made with opinion more universally held that one side got fleeced. The Texans make history! The evidence mounts that O'Brien is simply overmatched and has too much authority for us to believe he will ever helm the Texans to greatness.

O'Brien is the rightful villain on this to Texans fans, but Hopkins is no hero. If Hopkins was agitating for another contract re-do, O'Brien should have told him "That's not happening two seasons into a five year 81 million dollar deal. See you at mandatory reporting date or face the consequences." Instead Emperor O nets a lame return in a deal that makes the Jadeveon Clowney trade to the Seahawks look decent.

Reminder: Over the six seasons of O'Brien's Texans tenure, three AFC South franchises have reached an AFC Championship Game. Then there are the Texans.

An Astros positive

The Astros catch one silver lining amidst the coronavirus mess. With there being no way the baseball season will start before mid-May at the absurdly optimistically earliest, Justin Verlander gets ample time to recover from his injuries. First he was shut down by a lat problem connecting to his pitching arm, then this week Verlander had surgery to repair an injured groin. The stated six weeks recovery time would have Verlander available come mid-May.

On the other hand, the Astros chance at mounting a run at becoming the first team ever to win 100 games in four consecutive seasons, basically eliminated. Though maybe it's worth noting that in 1995 when the first inning of the season (one-ninth, 18 of 162 games) was lost to the players' strike, the Indians still wound up winning 100, finishing 100-44. Hard to see the Astros having that in them. Career milestones with lowered likelihoods of being reached if 2020 turns out to be, say, a 100 game regular season: 300 wins for Verlander and 3000 hits for Jose Altuve.

Relatively speaking, Red Sox fans might not lament the delay to season start. First they trade away superstar Mookie Betts, and now pitching ace Chris Sale is gone until some time in 2021 thanks to Tommy John surgery. Sale is just beginning a five year 145 million dollar contract extension that at point of signing looked shaky, and now looks like possibly one of the worst deals in MLB history. For the team that is. It's downright phenomenal for Sale. Of course, New England may barely notice while lost in "Tom Brady is gone?!?" hysteria.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Brady fell over the hill last season but should still be a vast upgrade over Jameis Winston for the Buccaneers. 2. If you have the wherewithal, you'd be doing a good thing in ordering takeout or delivery at least once this weekend in support of restaurants being flat out crushed by all this. 3. Best Houston desserts to go: Bronze-Truluck's carrot cake Silver-Bellagreen's white chocolate bread pudding Gold-Goode Company's pecan pie


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This week the NASCAR cup series heads to the world center of racing, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, for the inaugural fourth of July version of the Brickyard 400. This is unprecedented for NASCAR considering over the course of 50 years they are usually in Daytona around this time. While this move was met with a lot of criticism from fans, there is a positive to come from this move though, as the sport will hold their first doubleheader with Indycar. This has been talked about for many years and now it has finally come to fruition. Another new facet of this weekend will be the Xfinity Series running on the road course configuration. This could very well lead to the cup series transitioning from the oval to the road course next season should everything go well when the Xfinity series does it. It will definitely be an interesting weekend.

Last week, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin dominated the first-ever doubleheader at Pocono. The two drivers finished first and second in both races with Harvick taking race one and Hamlin winning race two. Both of these races came down to pit-road strategy as Harvick was able to eke out a victory by taking two tires and fuel while his teammate Aric Almirola took four. The next day Denny Hamlin pretty much had the whole field covered as he went on to claim his fourth victory of the season. Overall, the idea of two races in a weekend went over well but for the racing itself, it was hard to watch. One of the main issues I had was how the drivers didn't have to shift this week. In my opinion, that was what made this track so unique. It was an oval that had road course characteristics and it usually produced some pretty good finishes. Hopefully this will be addressed when the new car makes its debut in 2022.

One of the big stories going into this week is the announcement a couple of weeks ago that NASCAR will be moving their all-star event to Bristol Motor Speedway. Over the past couple of weeks, there has been a whirlwind of news from the Bubba Wallace story at Talladega, to the doubleheader races last week. A lot of this has put this announcement on the back burner but this is a huge story. The race will be held on Wednesday, July 15th as NASCAR continues with midweek races. This is the first time since 1986 that the race will not be run at NASCAR's home track in Charlotte back when it took place at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The format will be pretty much the same as all the winners from 2019 and 2020 will all have an automatic birth into the race while the rest of the field will run in the open event the day before. The main event will feature four stages including a 15 lap closer around one of NASCAR's most popular race tracks. I think this move was long overdue and I hope that they continue with it in the future. Don't get me wrong, there isn't anything wrong with the race at Charlotte but I think a change of pace would be welcomed. I look forward to seeing how this turns out.

As we move on to Indy this weekend, the driver I have winning is Kurt Busch. This weekend will be the 2004 Cup Series champion's 700th career start, and he's won just about every race that there is to be won except this one here at the Brickyard. This week, that is going to change. It hasn't been the most consistent season for the Vegas native, but he still sits tenth in points and right in the thick of the playoff battle. This track isn't his best as he currently has a 19.42 average finish, including a dismal 30th place finish last year. But this week, I think he gets back on track with a victory as he starts second. The veteran has flown under the radar this year, but he has definitely shown spurts where we think he is going to break-out. He also has runs where it seems like him and his team are mid-pack, but there aren't many drivers out there that have the experience he has. And a talented driver like him always finds a way to bounce back. Look for Kurt Busch to take the #1 Monster Energy Camaro to victory lane.

All stats and information used in this article are brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com, the best websites for all NASCAR stats.

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