NASCAR UPDATE

The Rumor Report: Best candidates to drive the No. 48 in 2021

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As everyone knows, next season seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson will call it a career once the checkered flag falls in Phoenix. With Johnson on the way out, many have speculated on who will be the driver that will be the heir apparent to take over one of the most coveted seats in all of auto racing. While it may be early, this year's free agent class is more than likely the most star-studded lineup of drivers that we have ever seen. You have drivers like Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman among many others. Come 2021, there will be a long line of viable candidates to take over. Here are the ones I think are some of the strongest favorites to take over in order of most likely to least likely.

Brad Keselowski: Of all the drivers in this class, I believe that the 2012 champion is easily the favorite considering he made his debut for Hendrick Motorsports back in 2008 at Texas Motor Speedway. When Dale Earnhardt Jr gave him a chance to run his Xfinity series ride back in late 2007, many assumed that at some point Brad would be the next star pupil in the Hendrick Pipeline and after two incredible seasons in the Xfinity series where he would win six races, he was told by Mr. H that Mark Martin would return to the No. 5 car in 2010, the car that many thought Brad would be running. With that opportunity falling by the wayside, Brad took the next best option and signed with Roger Penske to drive the No. 12 Dodge.

This would take a year for Brad to sort of come into his own but when it was announced that he and then teammate Kurt Busch would switch teams, that is where he turned into the championship caliber driver we see today. In the off-season, Roger Penske announced that all three of his teams would all swap crews and crew-chiefs, thus breaking apart the bond that Brad had with long-time crew-chief Paul Wolfe as he went over to Joey Logano's team. While it hasn't been confirmed, it wouldn't be a stretch to say Brad isn't happy about this, Paul was the crew-chief that really got the best out of him and they seemed to work the best together. His results this year haven't exactly been incredible either and while it is early, this is not the start that I am sure Brad envisioned he would have in the off-season. He was also involved in numerous accidents with his teammate Logano as well at Daytona. Could this be an indication as to what is to come? Popular NASCAR twitter Account and insider Drunken Brian France believes so as he was the first to report on this subject. Now at first glance, when you look at the twitter username "Drunken Brian France" it may not look like the most traditional of sources but if you look at his track record and all the things he has been right on before, the man knows what he is talking about. Look for Brad to be the prime candidate.

Ryan Blaney: While many people are putting their ducks in the Brad K basket, don't count out his teammate to be considered either. While he doesn't have the history or the connections to Hendrick Motorsports like Brad does, it is important to note that Blaney was rumored to be the driver who took over for Dale Jr when he retired three years ago in 2017. In January, Blaney said in an interview with NBC Sports that he "doesn't want to be the bottom of the totem pole" at Penske racing. While he didn't claim that he was and assured that he was getting the same resources that his teammates were, you have to admit that it was quite the freudian slip by the young driver. Afterall though, Roger Penske must have caught wind of this and made wholesale changes by giving him Joey Logano's old team and crew-chief. The results of these changes have shown as he has been in position to win during all three races this season. In the end, I think that Ryan will stay where he is though and continue to improve in the No. 12 car.

Noah Gragson: Of the three that I have mentioned so far, moving Gragson to this spot would seem to make the most sense logistically. He's a young driver who still has many years to where he can be competitive and he also has a good amount of sponsors that are supporting him. Currently, Gragson drives the No. 9 Camaro for Hendrick's de facto farm team, Jr. Motorsports. Overall, I think the chances of him getting this ride all rely on how well he runs in the Xfinity series. He has already got a win this year at Daytona, so should have a championship season, it would be hard to deny him a chance. He has gone down almost the exact same path as current Cup driver William Byron as he also left Toyota to come to Chevy where he has found success so it wouldn't be a stretch to see him move up. 2020 should be a massively important season for the young Vegas native. This could very well be another situation to where he may have to go somewhere else to go to the cup almost exactly like it was for Brad back in 2009.

Other options: While I have gone over the three favorites, there are many other drivers that while they might not be as likely, are some drivers that I think should be considered. One of those guys is Corey Lajoie. In the off-season, Corey made headlines by writing Rick Hendrick a letter asking him to consider him in the search. During his time in the cup-series, Corey has been driving for teams with a fraction of the budget of some of the big teams, while he struggled in the beginning the second generation driver has really turned into a respectable driver as of late, this season he currently has a 17.7 average finish and has really impressed. Other drivers to look out for are Xfinity Regular Daniel Hemric, Joe Gibbs driver Erik Jones,Kyle Larson and of course I would be remiss if I didn't mention Darrell Wallace Jr. It should be interesting to see who gets the call when the team is ready to announce it.

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

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The losing streak continues

Mariners get walk-off win over short-staffed Astros

Alex De Goti had an impressive debut. Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

After a brutal homestand capped off by losing five players to the IL for health and safety protocols, the once 5-1 Astros brought their now 6-6 record to T-Mobile park in Seattle to try and right the ship. They'd have to do it with new and young players in the lineup using the "next man up" mentality to get some wins against the first-place Mariners.

Though the young bats would work themselves into a lead most of the night, Houston's bullpen wouldn't be able to hold the Mariners down, with Seattle ultimately walking things off in the ninth.

Final Score: Mariners 6, Astros 5

Astros' Record: 6-7, fourth in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Anthony Misiewicz (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Ryne Stanek (0-1)

After a quiet start, Houston gets three in the fifth

After cruising through the Astros through the first four innings, allowing only a walk over that span, Houston was able to put up a big inning against Yusei Kikuchi in the top of the fifth. Carlos Correa notched the first hit of the night, followed by a walk by Taylor Jones to put two on base.



That brought Alex De Goti, making his major-league debut, to the plate and, in his second career at-bat, would get his first hit and RBI, bringing in Correa from second on a single. A second run would come on the same play on a throwing error, then Chaz McCormick made it a three-run inning with an RBI-double, putting Houston out front 3-0.

Urquidy comes an out shy of a quality start

Meanwhile, Jose Urquidy was doing well through five innings. On track for a much-needed quality start, the Mariners would tag him in the bottom of the sixth, getting three-straight hits to bring in two runs to lead off the frame and leaving a runner on second base with no outs.

Urquidy would rebound to get the next two batters on strikeouts, but at 90 pitches and with a left-handed hitter up next, Dusty Baker would bring in lefty Brooks Raley to try and get out of the inning with the one-run lead intact. Raley would do his job, putting Uruidy's line final: 5.2 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 90 P.

Teams trade two-run seventh innings

The young bats for Houston struck again in the top of the seventh, with Jones and De Goti leading it off with back-to-back singles before Jason Castro would load the bases with a walk. With two outs, Aledmys Diaz would push the lead back to three with a two-RBI single, making it 5-2.

With Raley out after facing his one batter, next out of Houston's bullpen was Bryan Abreu to help maintain Houston's lead. Instead, he would give up two runs on two hits and a walk while getting just two outs before Baker moved on to Blake Taylor, who would get the last out of the seventh with Houston hanging on to a one-run lead at 5-4.

Mariners get the walk-off win

Taylor remained in the game in the bottom of the eighth, and after getting an out, would allow a game-tying solo home run to Evan White before injuring himself trying to field an infield single. Ryne Stanek entered and finished off the eighth, sending the tie game to the ninth.

After Houston came up empty in the top half, Stanek remained in the game in the bottom of the ninth, attempting to force extras. Back-to-back walks ended Stanek's night, with the Astros hoping Ryan Pressly could bail them out. He couldn't, though, giving up the walk-off hit as the Mariners would take the opener, 6-5.

Up Next: Game two of this three-game set will start an hour earlier on Saturday, with first pitch at 8:10 PM Central. Zack Greinke (1-1, 4.08 ERA) will try to rebound from a poor start his last time out for the Astros, while the Mariners will hand the ball to Chris Flexen (1-0, 4.50 ERA).

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