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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Carlos Correa had a big home run Saturday night. Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

With four wins in a row, including the first two of this series, Houston had a chance to keep their momentum going to lock up a series win on Saturday in this four-game set. Although Texas would make it interesting late, the Astros would hold them off to get the victory.

Final Score: Astros 6, Rangers 5

Astros' Record: 23-17, second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Luis Garcia (1-3)

Losing Pitcher: Dane Dunning (2-3)

Action in the first

After getting trounced the night prior, the Rangers managed to grab early momentum with a run to start the scoring Saturday night against Luis Garcia. It came after a one-out triple set up a sac fly, giving Texas a 1-0 lead. Houston quickly took control back in their favor, though, putting up four in the bottom of the inning on a two-RBI single by Alex Bregman and a two-run homer by Carlos Correa, making it 4-1 Astros.

The scoreboard went quiet after that inning, with both teams slowing down at the plate. Garcia put together a decent night, allowing just the one run over five innings of work, erasing some runners throughout the night. His final line: 5.0 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 0 HR, 94 P.

Rangers tighten it up late

Bryan Abreu was the first reliever to enter for Houston, taking over for Garcia in the top of the sixth. He worked around a leadoff single, keeping it a three-run game, then returned for a 1-2-3 top of the seventh. Correa led off with a double in the bottom of the inning, setting up a two-run Kyle Tucker homer, extending his recent hot streak and the lead to 6-1.

Ryne Stanek took over on the mound for Houston in the top of the eighth but worked himself into trouble with a single and walk to set up a three-run homer by Joey Gallo to make it a two-run game at 6-4. He would manage just one out before a walk would prompt Dusty Baker to move on to Brandon Bielak. Bielak would allow a run while getting the final two outs, making it 6-5.

Astros secure the series

After a scoreless bottom of the eighth, Ryan Pressly would try to notch another save and close the door on the Rangers. He would get the job done, sitting the Rangers down in order, keeping Houston's winning streak intact.

Up Next: The finale of this four-game set will start at 1:10 PM Central on Sunday. Lance McCullers JR. (3-1, 3.10 ERA), fresh off of a recent gem, will look to continue his success for the Astros, while Kyle Gibson (3-0, 2.28) will try to stay perfect on the season for the Rangers.

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