Daytona 500 preview

The racing season kicks off Sunday with the Daytona 500. Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Well folks, it’s finally here. After three long months of anticipation and changes a plenty, the stars of the Monster Energy Cup Series take to the high banks of Daytona for the great American race, the Daytona 500. Aside from the final race of the season at Homestead, this is arguably the most important race of the season. If you ask any NASCAR driver out there he or she will tell you that this is the hardest track to win at on the schedule. The track is an unforgiving 2.5 mile oval with the possibility of trouble lurking in all four corners and the possibility of “the big one” is always prevalent. Last year, there were four incidents that involved at least five cars. In some cases avoiding the big wrecks is the key to getting a good finish or possibly winning the race itself. For example, last year part time driver Brendan Gaugahn started in thirty-ninth of forty cars but he was able to lurk in the shadows for most of the race and in return he went on to a solid 11th place finish. While missing the wrecks is a big part of success in races like this, it is also important to note that if a driver is involved in a wreck, by no means are they out of contention. Last year’s winner Kurt Busch was involved in one of the many multi-car accidents last year but the team was somehow able to repair the car and get him to victory lane. Another factor that could come into play is team strategy during the three stages. More than likely we will see teammates pit at the same time to avoid one car losing the draft. Look for the Joe Gibbs and Furniture Row teams to be the first to pit. My predictions for the race go as follows: my winner of the race is Brad Keselowski. With a win in the clash last Sunday, automatically he becomes the favorite to win this Sunday. Not only has he been fast this weekend but when it comes to restrictor plate tracks he has been the “Pied Piper” so to speak. Over his career, Keselowski has accumulated a combined seven victories at Talladega and Daytona (Including last weekend’s non points race). If there is anyone that knows how to work the draft effectively, it has been him. While he had his fair share of bad luck in the past, the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford has always been close to the front. I think that this will be the race that he finally breaks through and gets his first Daytona 500 victory with his teammates Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano in tow. Another driver to look out for is Daniel Suarez. The second-year driver was sixth in first practice plus he has shown enormous amounts of promise during his rookie season last year. Even though he has struggled at Daytona in both of his starts in the Cup Series, I think with a year under his belt and a better understanding of the Cup Car, he should fare much better this year. My dark horse pick to win is Aric Almirola. He is driving for a new team in 2018 with Stewart-Haas and while he has struggled in the past he is at the race track where he got his very first win in 2014. Not only is he good at Daytona, he was also second fastest in first practice so he definitely has speed. This Daytona 500 will have one of the best finishes of all time and I think this year we are primed to see an “upset” of sorts. I believe that Almirola can be the “underdog” and pull it off. It’s looking to be a great season and 2018 and I can’t wait to see how the Daytona 500 plays out.

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

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Houston's losing streak extended to five games

With key Astros missing, Detroit completes the series sweep

An overall bad day for the Astros on Wednesday. Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

On Wednesday afternoon, the Astros received a big blow to their chances in the series finale against Detroit and potentially longer. Five players: Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, Martin Maldonado, and Robel Garcia would all be moved to the IL due to health and safety protocols, leaving them scrambling to get a whole team together for the game against the Tigers.

The Astros would not be able to overcome both the loss of players and the onslaught of another strong start by Detroit in Wednesday's game which put them too far out front for Houston to come back from to avoid a series sweep.

Final Score: Tigers 6, Astros 4

Astros' Record: 6-6, third in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Michael Fulmer (1-0)

Losing Pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (1-1)

Tigers knock out another starter early

Detroit continued their success of making Houston's starter work hard in early innings, getting after Lance McCullers Jr., and giving him an early exit. After a lengthy fist, they broke through in the second getting two hits, a walk, a hit batter, and an RBI groundout to put up three runs on 34 pitches.

He would have a quicker 1-2-3 third, but after giving up a single, a walk, and hitting another batter to load the bases and reach 87 pitches, he would be removed in favor of Joe Smith. Smith would allow all three of the inherited runners to score, adding those runs to McCullers Jr.'s final line: 3.2 IP, 4 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 3 BB, 3 K, 87 P.

Astros try to claw back into it

After Smith would go on to load the bases again in the inning, still with two outs, Houston made another pitching change to bring in Brandon Bielak to get the third out and stop the bleeding at 6-0. The Astros would get on the board in the fifth, getting a runner on base to set up a two-run homer by Jason Castro to cut the lead to 6-2.

Bielak remained in the game to try and eat up as many innings as possible. While he continued to hold the Tigers to their six runs through the six innings, the Astros clawed back into the game. In the bottom of the sixth, Houston put their first two batters on base with a walk and single before an RBI-single by Yuli Gurriel to make it 6-3. They would threaten for more but be held there for the time being.

Astros can't cash in, Tigers complete sweep

Ryne Stanek was Houston's next reliever in the top of the seventh, getting a 1-2-3 frame to keep it a three-run game, as did Brooks Raley in the eighth. In the home part of the inning, the Astros put their first two runners on base on an error and a walk, then loaded them with a one-out single by Carlos Correa. They'd waste their chance to make something happen, though, with an inning-ending double-play.

Ryan Pressly, who had no save opportunities in recent games, entered to get some work in the top of the ninth. He worked around a leadoff double for a scoreless inning, sending the 6-3 game to the bottom of the ninth. The Astros had yet another chance to make something happen, loading the bases with no outs to bring the go-ahead run to the plate. After two outs, Yuli Gurriel would bring one run in with a walk, but that's as close as they'd come, extending their losing streak to five games and getting swept by the Tigers.

Up Next: Houston will get a much-needed day off tomorrow to try and leave this poor homestand behind them. They'll pick things up in Seattle on Friday, with first pitch of the opener of three games at 9:10 PM Central. The expected pitching matchup is Jose Urquidy (0-1, 5.23 ERA) for the Astros and Yusei Kikuchi (0-0, 3.75 ERA) for the Mariners.

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