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 drops the game to Arizona

D-backs outslug Greinke and Astros to take series opener

Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

With the series win over the Rangers by taking two of three games in the middle of the week, the Astros welcomed the Diamondbacks to Minute Maid Park for a three-game weekend series, Houston's final three regular-season home games. Here is how the opener unfolded:

Final Score: Diamondbacks 6, Astros 3.

Record: 25-26, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Zac Gallen (2-2, 3.00 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Luis Garcia (0-1, 2.53 ERA).

Houston scores first, but Arizona grabs a lead against Greinke

Houston would get on the board first on Friday night, with George Springer reaching base in the bottom of the first on an error, moving to second on a walk, then to third on a single, as the Astros loaded the bases with no out to threaten a big inning. Instead, they would come away with just one run, with Springer taking home on a wild pitch, grabbing the 1-0 lead, but leaving runs on the table.

They doubled their lead in the bottom of the third, getting a two-out RBI-double by Kyle Tucker to make it a 2-0 Houston lead. The D-backs responded in the top of the fourth, getting back-to-back singles to lead off the inning before a three-run homer by Kole Calhoun off of Zack Greinke would put Arizona in front, 3-2. Greinke would finish one more inning before Houston would move to their bullpen, striking out the side to bring his total to nine on the night, making the bad fourth inning the one blemish on his night. His final line: 5.0 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 9 K, 1 HR, 89 P.

Astros tie it, but D-backs take the opener

George Springer would get Greinke off the hook in the bottom of the fifth, leading off the half-inning with a solo bomb to tie the game at 3-3. Luis Garcia was first out of Houston's bullpen and retired Arizona in order for a 1-2-3 inning in the top of the sixth. He returned for the top of the seventh but would allow a leadoff single, RBI-triple, and wild pitch to bring in two runs. He would face two more batters, allowing a double and getting a strikeout, before Dusty Baker would come out to get him, now down 5-3.

Blake Taylor would make his return from the IL after Garcia, getting back-to-back outs to finish the inning. He continued on in the 5-3 game in the top of the eighth, but allowed a one-out solo homer to Calhoun, his second of the night and fourth RBI. That made it a 6-3 D-backs lead, which would go final as Houston would go scoreless after Springer's home run back in the fifth.

Up Next: The middle game of this three-game set will start Saturday at 6:10 PM Central. The pitching matchup will be Luke Weaver (1-7, 6.70 ERA) for Arizona and Cristian Javier (4-2, 3.22 ERA) for Houston.

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