NASCAR preview: The 2021 season begins at Daytona

NASCAR preview: The 2021 season begins at Daytona
Start your engines! Photo via: Wiki Commons

The time has come once again, NASCAR is back! After an unusual pandemic 2020 season, the stars of NASCAR look to get back to the grind. As we all know, the Daytona 500 is the biggest race in NASCAR and this year will be no different. There are going to be a lot of changes this season, from new teams to new tracks, 2021 will be a season unlike any other. I am looking forward to seeing how this all plays out.

The biggest change this year has to be the new schedule. Many NASCAR fans asked for wholesale changes and boy did they deliver. This year, there will be six road course races and a dirt track race as well. This is truly the most diverse schedule NASCAR has ever put out. One race that I have circled on my calendar is at Circuit of the Americas in Austin. This is a track that has hosted races of various series such as F1 and IndyCar, so it will be interesting to see how the Cup cars race here. There are a lot of tight corners that could be challenging to pass on. I look for this race to be a wild-card considering this track has never hosted a stock-car event of this stature. There will also be a dirt track race this year as well at Bristol. This move was met by skepticism by many, even the king Richard Petty had a strong opinion on the move. When interviewed on NASCAR's Sirius XM channel, Petty was quoted as saying that the sport is "Going backwards" by returning to dirt considering the Cup Series hasn't had a dirt race since 1970 (which Petty won). Another criticism has been that they should have gone to an actual dirt track like Eldoria or Knoxville instead of just dumping a bunch of dirt on a track they already go to. Regardless of the criticism, the race should be extremely entertaining.

There will be a lot of drivers who are driving for a new team this year. Maybe the most prominent example is Bubba Wallace moving to a brand-new team owned by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan. The fourth-year driver will be getting resources from Toyota powerhouse, Joe Gibbs Racing, as Hamlin will both drive and operate the team. We will also see another new team join the series in Trackhouse Racing. This team was started in the fall of 2020 by former driver Justin Marks. The team will field the #99 Chevy Monte Carlo with Daniel Suarez at the helm. The move also made headlines when it was announced that rapper and musician PitBull would also own a stake in the team as well. With some of the new partners coming into NASCAR this had led to rumors of more celebs including champion boxer, Floyd Mayweather. It will be interesting to see what happens over the next few months and if we will see more new teams come to fruition for next season. Some other big moves this year include Kyle Larson joining Hendrick Motorsports, Christopher Bell moving from the closing Leavine Family Racing team to go to Joe Gibbs' team. Also, Erik Jones moving from Joe Gibbs Racing to Richard Petty Motorsports and of course, Alex Bowman taking over the #48 Camaro replacing Jimmie Johnson.

One of the drivers to watch for this Sunday is Joey Logano. While he didn't show a lot of speed in qualifying, he was one of the best cars in the duels. He ran up front for most of the race and was leading coming to the checkered flag until Aric Almirola passed him for the win. While his results at the big tracks like Daytona and Talladega haven't been all that great, Joey is still one of the masters of the superspeedway. Over the last four races on superspeedways, Logano has led 120 laps, so he has been up front. He's going to have to get better at bump drafting though if he wants to claim his second Daytona 500. Last year in the closing stages he caused one of the biggest wrecks of the night by getting into his teammate Brad Keselowski after trying to push him to the front. Look for Logano to be fast on Sunday

The driver that I have winning is Brad Keselowski. Over the past decade, Brad has been one of the best drivers on the superspeedways. He has six victories at Daytona and Talladega, but there has always been one race that has eluded him since his start, and that's the Daytona 500. He has been in the hunt, but the finishes just haven't been there for him. But each year it looks like he improves more and more. I look for him to finally get it done this Sunday.

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The Astros rotation looks like a strength moving forward. Composite Getty Image.

The Houston Astros are coming off a much-needed series win over the White Sox, but have a quick turnaround as they host the Orioles on Friday night at Minute Maid Park.

The 'Stros dropped the first game of the series with Framber Valdez on the mound, but were able to rebound with Hunter Brown and Spencer Arrighetti starting the final two games.

Brown was brilliant once again, and Arrighetti bounced back after a disastrous start against the Tigers over the weekend. Despite all the injures to the Astros staff this season, their young pitchers are stepping up when they need them the most.

Brown has six consecutive quality starts and is beginning to show signs that he can be the top of the rotation pitcher the club always hoped he could develop into.

Arrighetti has stepped in and shown that he belongs in the big leagues, and has provided innings Houston desperately requires with so many pitchers on the injured list.

Speaking of which, with Justin Verlander on the IL, Double A prospect Jake Bloss will make the start for Houston on Friday night. Bloss has quickly progressed through the farm system, having been drafted just a year ago.

We'll see how he performs in his MLB debut, but the club seems to have a lot of quality pitching options moving forward, especially with Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers scheduled to return in late July and early August respectively.

And as we look at the Astros rotation moving forward, perhaps they will go back to a six-man rotation during certain stretches in the second half of the season.

Which could prove to be vital to the team's success. As good as Ronel Blanco has been, he's never pitched as many innings as he'll be asked to pitch this year. Same goes for Arrighetti. And let's face it, sending Verlander out to pitch on four days rest consistently at 41 years old doesn't sound like a wise decision. He's already been on the IL twice this year.

While some see Garcia and McCullers as wild cards to help the team this season, Astros GM Dana Brown doesn't see it that way. He told the Astros flagship station this week that he's counting on those guys to make big contributions when they return. And he's counting on their postseason experience should they get there.

Keep in mind, Garcia has a 3.61 career ERA and has been durable outside the Tommy John surgery. And McCullers has always been good, it's just the health that causes concern.

Garcia is also an example of how a player can skip Double A and Triple A and have success right away in the big leagues. Hopefully, Bloss can follow in his footsteps, since he's bypassing Triple A to make his first start.

So what's the short and long-term outlook for the Astros rotation? And should we expect Verlander to return in 2025?

Be sure to watch the video above as we address those questions and much more!

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