NASCAR heads to Michigan for the FireKeepers 400

FireKeepers Casino 400 preview

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This week, NASCAR heads to Michigan for the FireKeepers 400. This is one of the biggest tracks on the circuit as it is exactly two miles in length and has wide 18 degree banking in the corners making it one of the fastest tracks on the circuit. With the track being as wide as it is, we should be able to see a lot of green flag runs that could very well bring for more pit road strategy.

Like last week at Pocono, it will be crucial for these drivers to make no mistakes in pit road if they want any chance at victory.

Of course the main point of intrigue this week is how these cars will respond to NASCAR's new rules package. It seems like every week, there is always a question about how these cars are going to run. Overall, it would appear that no one has any idea what's going to happen this week. We very well could see a big pack of cars that run together in a draft or we could see the field get spread out like we have been seeing at tracks like this. As important as this rules package is, many drivers and fans are growing tired of talking about it. When last week's winner Kyle Busch was asked how he would rate it, he responded by saying "STOP ASKING ME PACKAGE QUESTIONS! I'M DONE ANSWERING THEM!"

While many people didn't appreciate his attitude towards the question, I think that he is right for the most part about how difficult it is to race under these new guidelines on tracks like Pocono. Last week's race was not good as there was no passing. Kyle Busch lead a good majority of the laps and when it was all said and done the whole field was two or three seconds apart. Now in a 36 race season, I understand that there are going to be races like this, it has been like that since the sport began but NASCAR has continued to talk about how much closer the racing would be under these new rules and a lot of the time most people have been disappointed. It will be interesting to see how it works this week at a similar track in Michigan.

The driver that I have winning this week is Kevin Harvick. While it may sound like I am picking a favorite here, This season has been somewhat of a disappointment for these guys. While they are fifth in the standings and are doing a good job of collecting points, he has yet to win a race this season. While they have had the speed and have been able to run around the top five, they just have not been able to seal the deal. In his five years with Stewart-Haas Racing, this is the longest Harvick has gone without a win. By anyone else's standards, they would kill to have a season like this but for Harvick, I know that he is not happy with where they are right now so I look for them to come to Michigan and finally get their first win of 2019.

Another driver I see doing well this week is Austin Dillion. Despite his issues in the past couple of weeks at Charlotte and Pocono, he has shown good speed this season as he has been able to run around the top 15. Now if you look at the stat sheet, it would tell you that Dillion has struggled here but over the last couple of races at the track, he has steadily improved. In last year's Fall race here, he was able to finish fourth in one of his better races of 2018. It should be a bounce back week for Dillion as he looks to get back in the hunt to make the playoffs.

(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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Altuve's homer starting the scoring for Houston on Friday night. Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
After a solid showing to take the three of the four-game series in Arlington against the Rangers to start the week, the Astros returned home for three against the Diamondbacks in a weekend series. They would have a slow start to the opener but would ultimately come away victorious.

Final Score (10 innings): Astros 4, Diamondbacks 3

Astros' Record: 87-60, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Ryne Stanek (3-4)

Losing Pitcher: Tyler Clippard (1-1)

Bielak makes the impromptu start

With Luis Garcia having to move his start ahead by a day on Thursday instead of Friday with Framber Valdez's finger cut, Brandon Bielak made a start for Houston in the opener against Arizona. He didn't go as deep as he probably would have wanted and certainly ventured out of his comfort zone with traffic on the bases.

He loaded the bases in the top of the first, allowing a single and two walks, but was able to strand all three to keep it a scoreless game. He rebounded with a 1-2-3 second, but he dealt with a threat again in the third as back-to-back singles pressured him to start the inning. He would get back-to-back strikeouts, but that's as far as he would go as Houston moved on to Blake Taylor. Taylor got the final out of the third on one pitch, then erased a two-out double in the top of the fourth.

Altuve breaks up the no-no with a go-ahead homer

Brooks Raley took over in the top of the fifth, but in his three batters, he faced allowed a single while getting two outs before Cristian Javier took over to end the frame. Javier allowed the first run of the game in the top of the sixth, a leadoff solo homer to Kole Calhoun to put the Diamondbacks in front 1-0 before he finished the inning.

Madison Bumgarner didn't allow a single hit to the Astros through the first five and two-thirds innings. He allowed a one-out walk in the bottom of the sixth, which proved costly as Jose Altuve would get the first knock of the game for Houston, a two-run go-ahead homer. Phil Maton was the next reliever for the Astros in the top of the seventh, maintaining the new one-run lead by erasing a leadoff single.

Astros get the win in extras

The Diamondbacks tied it up in the top of the eighth against Kendall Graveman, getting a leadoff single followed by a walk, then later an RBI single to knot things up 2-2. Houston stranded a runner in the bottom of the eighth, then brought in Ryan Pressly, who tossed a 1-2-3 top of the ninth to keep the game tied.

Despite getting the winning run in scoring position with a leadoff ground-rule double by Jason Castro to start the bottom of the ninth, they would strand it as the game went to extras. Arizona scored their free runner in the top of the tenth, getting a sac fly to move it to third then going in front on an RBI single.

The Astros matched that and more in the bottom of the inning, moving their runner to third on a lineout to start the frame, followed by an intentional walk to Yordan Alvarez. Jake Meyers tied the game with an RBI single, then after another walk to load the bases, Chas McCormick was hit by a pitch to bring in the winning run, moving the Astros closer to clinching their playoff berth.

Up Next: The middle game of this three-game set will have a start time of 6:10 PM Central on Saturday. Tyler Gilbert (2-2, 3.15 ERA) is expected to make a start for Arizona, while Lance McCullers Jr. (12-4, 3.12 ERA) will be on the mound for Houston.

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