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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Houston's offense had another strong day at the plate in Seattle against the Mariners on Wednesday. Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

After striking a deal with the Mariners before Tuesday's game, along with a reported deal with the Marlins on Wednesday before the finale, the Astros continued to try and bolster their bullpen with fresh arms while also focusing on this series against Seattle. Having won the night prior to even it up, it came down to the rubber game on Wednesday afternoon to decide the series.

Final Score: Astros 11, Mariners 4

Astros' Record: 63-40, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jake Odorizzi (4-5)

Losing Pitcher: Yusei Kikuchi (6-6)

Astros continue to score runs in Seattle

Just like in the earlier games in this series, the Astros had no problems offensively. They strung together four consecutive one-run innings, starting in the top of the second when they loaded the bases, then got an RBI groundout by Myles Straw to go up 1-0. In the top of the third, Yuli Gurriel drove one in on a two-out RBI double, bringing in Jose Altuve, who led the inning off with a double of his own. Chas McCormick led off with a single in the fourth, then later scored on an RBI single by Aledmys Diaz.

The fourth run in as many innings came in the top of the fifth, as Gurriel would notch his second RBI with a solo homer to start that inning, pushing the lead to 4-0. They didn't stop there, and neither did Gurriel, as he would get RBI number three on the day as part of a four-run top of the sixth, with RBI hits him, Altuve, Diaz, and Carlos Correa, doubling the lead to 8-0.

Odorizzi gets to the sixth before allowing two homers

The run support gave Jake Odorizzi plenty of leeway, which he didn't need until the bottom of the sixth. He held Seattle scoreless over the first five frames, allowing just four baserunners on a hit by pitch, a walk, and two singles, all peppered over that span and erased in each inning. Kyle Seager would get the Mariners on the board in the bottom of the sixth, blasting a one-out solo homer to cut the lead to seven runs at 8-1. After a single in the next at-bat, recently traded Abraham Toro made it four games in a row with a homer, this one a two-run shot to cut the lead to 8-3 and end Odorizzi's day. His final line: 5.1 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 2 HR, 95 P.

Houston wins the series

Houston brought in Brooks Raley to finish the sixth, issuing two walks but stranding them to keep it a five-run lead. Myles Straw helped push that back to six in the top of the seventh, reaching on a single to start the innings, then stealing both second and third to get in position for Diaz's third RBI of the day, a groundout to make it 9-3. Cristian Javier was the next reliever out for the Astros, but he would not make it through the bottom of the seventh, allowing a single and three walks, the third with the bases loaded to bring in a run.

Bryan Abreu was brought in to get out of the jam, getting a strikeout to end the seventh. Then, in the top of the eighth, Kyle Tucker would put two more runs on the board with a two-run homer making the lead seven runs at 11-4. Abreu remained in for the bottom of the eighth, erasing two one-out singles to get through the frame. Brandon Bielak took over in the bottom of the ninth to close things out, posting a 1-2-3 inning to wrap up the win and give Houston the series victory.

Up Next: Houston will travel down the coast to San Fransisco before getting a day off on Thursday. They'll pick up an exciting three-game series with the Giants on Friday, with the opener slated to start at 8:45 PM Central. Framber Valdez (6-2, 2.97 ERA) will take the mound for the Astros, while San Fransisco's starter is TBD.

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