THE RACE IS ON

STP 500 preview: NASCAR returns to Martinsville

Chase Elliot (top car) will finally break through this week. Jerry Markland/Getty Images

The NASCAR Monster Energy cup series heads to the Martinsville Speedway -- AKA "the paper clip" -- in Ridgeway, Virgina for the STP 500. As most fans know this track is the smallest on the schedule. Martinsville is an 0.526-mile short track that is indeed shaped like a paperclip. The corners are narrow, and the straightaways like drag strips.

Due to the corners being the way that they are this track is HELL on brakes. While the cars don't go all that fast, knowing when to brake is essential and it takes a lot of skill to master this track. Martinsville is one of the most popular race tracks in the country because of all the beating and the banging we see every year not to mention it is in the heart of NASCAR country.

 Even in the sport's "decline," loyal NASCAR fans continue to flock to this little old short track in Virgina. If there is one track that is the most like your local race track it is this one. It doesn't even have a victory lane. The winner instead parks right under the start/ finish line where he is met by his pit-crew, a moving stage with all the sponsor banners on it and arguably the most unique trophy in all of NASCAR, a longcase clock made nearby.

While there is a lot of hype surrounding the race, it is important to note that there is a chance that there will be snow in forecast. You read that right folks, according to AccuWeather there is a 37 percent chance of the track getting less than two inches and a 20 percent chance of getting 4-6 inches of snow for Saturday's Camping World Truck race and the main event on Sunday. On the bright side all the precipitation appears to be earlier in the morning and should clear up around the afternoon when the race begins.

Last year, this race was won by Brad Keselowski, although he was not the most dominant car; that was his nemesis Kyle Busch, who led a race high 274 laps until Keselowski finally got around him with 43 laps to go and never looked back in route to his second win of the 2017 season. This year I think that it will be a little bit different, and while  Keselowski will be a contender, I think it's his teammate Joey Logano that fans should watch.

Martinsville has not been kind to Logano in the past, the most notable example being the infamous 2015 Goody's Headache Relief 500 when he was on path to victory and to getting into the championship four until Matt Kenseth turned him into the turn one wall. Luckily for Logano, Kenseth is retired so he won't have to worry about that anymore, not to mention he has run well here. Yes, he struggled last year in the second Martinsville race, but he is usually a contender in the first race last year he finished fourth. Look for Logano to be a serious threat to take the checkered flag this Sunday. 

Another driver to look out for is obviously the favorite Kyle Busch. He has easily been a step ahead of everyone else here with an average finish of 2.25 here in the last four races and has led over 40 percent of all laps run here. While he has dominated here as of late, I think this weekend is different.

Earlier this year on my season preview write-up, I stated that Chase Elliott has unfinished business at this track. Last year Elliott was two laps away from winning when he was pushed aside by NASCAR's newest villain, Denny Hamlin. It cost him not only his first win but a chance to race for a championship. I know that many times, NASCAR writers such as myself have predicted that "this is the week Chase Elliott finally breaks through and wins" and it is becoming a bit frustrating for some fans but this is the week that Chase Elliott finally breaks through and wins. With all that he has been through at this track, I predict that he finally gets his first win at the track where he made his NASCAR debut in 2015.

(All stats and information used in this article is brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Refrence.com the best website for all NASCAR stats)

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Houston stays hot at the plate

Astros overpower White Sox in series opener

Abraham Toro made a loud return to the Astros' lineup on Thursday night. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

With a two-game sweep of the struggling Rangers behind them, the Astros welcomed in a much fiercer opponent in the Chicago White Sox, owners of the best record in the AL, for an exciting four-game set. It was all Astros in this one, as their offense would once again propel them to a lopsided win.

Final Score: Astros 10, White Sox 2

Astros' Record: 40-28, second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jose Urquidy (5-3)

Losing Pitcher: Dylan Cease (5-3)

Houston builds a big lead

Houston wasted no time in the bottom of the first, getting two on base on a single and an error to set up a three-run home run for Michael Brantley, putting them ahead 3-0 before Chicago and Dylan Cease could record an out. They extended the lead in the bottom of the fourth, putting two on base on a walk and hit batter before an RBI ground-rule double by Carlos Correa brought in one. That left runners on second and third, and Abraham Toro took advantage by scoring both on a two-RBI single, then with one out, Jose Altuve hit a sac fly to make it a 7-0 lead.

Urquidy brings the good stuff

Meanwhile, Jose Urquidy was cruising through Chicago's lineup. He allowed just one hit through the first five scoreless innings but would let the White sox get on the board in the top of the sixth after a leadoff double and two-out RBI single. They added one more on another single, making it 7-2 before Urquidy could get out of the inning.

Jose Altuve got one of those runs back in the bottom of the inning, hitting his fourth home run in three games to make it a six-run game at 8-2. Urquidy returned to the mound in the top of the seventh, getting a quick 1-2-3 frame to end his successful night. His final line: 7.0 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 93 P.

Astros take the opener

In the bottom of the seventh, Houston pushed the lead to eight runs with a leadoff single, setting up a two-out two-run homer by Toro, bringing him to four RBI on the night. With Urquidy's night over, Brandon Bielak came in as the first reliever out of the bullpen, sitting down Chicago in order. Ralph Garza Jr. came in to get an inning of work to finish off the game with Houston's large lead. He made it a quick one, with Chicago going down in order one more time as the Astros took the opener and notched their fourth-straight win.

Up Next: Game two of this entertaining series will be another 7:10 PM Central Start on Friday. Carlos Rodon (6-2, 1.89 ERA) will try to help Chicago even the series, while Luis Garcia (5-4, 2.98 ERA) will try to put Houston up 2-0.

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