THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR FireKeepers Casino 400 preview

NASCAR FireKeepers Casino 400 preview
Chase Elliot is still looking for win No. 1. Jerry Markland/Getty Images

This week, the Nascar Monster Energy Cup Series  heads to the Michigan International Raceway for the FireKeepers Casino 400. This track is two miles and length and has turns with 18 degrees of banking. Due to the track being as big as it is, the speeds here are usually higher here than most other places on the schedule.

Usually, we see three and four wide racing here especially on the restarts. Last year, Kyle Larson capitalized on a late restart and was able to make one of the most memorable passes all season as he passed both Martin Truex Jr and Erik Jones to take his third victory of the 2017 season. Look for a late race restart to play a major role in deciding who wins this race considering the last three times they have raced here, there has been a caution in the final two to 10 laps.

Last week at Pocono, Martin Truex Jr. Claimed his second victory of 2018. With this victory, Truex cemented himself as the third championship contender behind Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch and while Truex was a contender all day, as usual,  Kevin Harvick was the car to beat. He led a race high 89 laps and won the second stage but during the closing stages, it seemed like he just couldn’t keep pace with Truex or Kyle Busch.

My pick to win was Kurt Busch, and this did not turn out the way that I had hoped. Busch appeared to be on his way to a top 10 finish but due to problems with his radio communications device, he was relegated to 19th. While this weekend was a major disappointment for him look for this weekend's race to possibly be one where he gets back on track considering he has won at Michigan three times.

Jimmie Johnson appears to be rounding into form after last week's race as he was able to score his sixth top 10 of the season. It is clear that this has been the season to forget for the 48 team but now after a fifth place finish at Kansas two weeks ago and an eighth place finish last week Johnson appears to at least almost be back to his old self.

This week may be a little bit more challenging though considering Michigan is one of Johnson’s most difficult tracks. While he has achieved some level of success here in the past, he has struggled here as of late. in the last four races, Johnson has an average finish of 12.75 and has zero top fives.  They will definitely have their work cut out for them this week as Johnson and his team try to claw back into contention for the championship.

The favorite this week is easily Kyle Larson. He has virtually owned this place ever since he got his first career win here in 2016. In fact over the last three times that we have came here Larson has won each time. Anytime they come to a track like Michigan, Larson either wins or finishes in the top five. Look for this weekend to be no different, as not only is Larson the resounding favorite but he is also my pick to win on Sunday.

The reason why Larson has been so successful on tracks like Michigan is because the track is so wide and  the drivers are able to run with more throttle than the other tracks. Larson comes from a racing background where throttle response is important as he was and still is one of the top sprint car and open wheel drivers in the world. Michigan gives him a chance to kind of go back to his roots and even though by no means is Michigan International Speedway anywhere close to the same type of dirt tracks we see Larson run on, the approach and the way drivers use the throttle are very similar. Look for Larson to claim his fourth victory in a row this weekend at Michigan.

The other driver to watch out for this weekend is Chase Elliott. The frustration appears to be mounting for Elliott fans and fans of NASCAR alike, The third year driver has competed in 91 races and he still has yet to win. Unfortunately this is beginning to be his reputation amongst some of the people that watch the sport. Is it fair? Not at all, at this point he could have at least five or six wins but as I have said earlier this year, Elliott just doesn’t seem to have any luck when it comes to the closing stages of a race but luckily for him and fans alike, this weekend Elliot goes to a track where he has had great runs before. He has a 3.50 average finish including two second places finishes in 2016 and 2017. Look for Larson and Elliott to battle it out as they both try to get Chevrolet back into victory lane in 2018.

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

 

 

 

 

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The Astros are back in action Friday night against Seattle. Composite Getty Image.

The Astros were a season low 12 games under .500 (12-24) on May 8th but were able to turn things around and entered the All-Star break with a respectable 50-46 record.

The turnaround can be attributed to better performances on the field by a multitude of players, but there are still things that could be improved to ensure a successful second half of the season.

As it currently stands, Houston is only one game behind the Seattle Mariners in the American League West division race, and the Astros should have key players returning from injury to further bolster their playoff ambitions.

The return of the King

Kyle Tucker has been on the injured list with a shin contusion for six weeks now, and looks to return in the near future.

The Astros have done surprisingly well without their three-time All-Star outfielder thanks to contributions from guys like Joey Loperfido, Jake Meyers and Marcio Dubon in the outfield. Plus, Jose Altuve, Yordan Alvarez, Alex Bregman, Yanier Diaz and Jeremy Pena carrying the offense while King Tuck is away.

Before getting hurt, the 27-year-old was hitting .266/.395/.584 through 60 games. Houston already has one of the best offenses in baseball, and adding Tucker back would give the Astros another high-quality bat to further bolster their lineup.

The latest update is Tucker has been playing catch and could start a rehab assignment soon if all goes well.

Fix the rotation

Starting pitching has been a major issue this season due to a multitude of injuries.

Cristian Javier, Jose Urquidy and J.P. France have all been lost for the year with various surgeries and guys like Justin Verlander and Luis Garcia are trying to work their way back from their injured list stints.

Garcia was recently pulled from his rehab assignment and won’t pitch again until he is ready. Meanwhile, Verlander could be closer to his return and is throwing bullpen sessions as of July 14. Getting both of these pitchers back at some point this season will be a huge boost to this roster.

The current Astros’ rotation consists of Framber Valdez, Ronel Blanco, Hunter Brown, Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss. Although not a bad rotation by any means, the starting pitching depth is getting pretty thin and Houston can ill afford another injury to their staff.

Astros general manager Dana Brown has been vocal about his desire to add starting pitching, and could have some options heading into the trade deadline. Players like Jack Flaherty, Garrett Crochet or Yusei Kikuchi, just to name a few, could be low risk high reward pitchers the Astros could acquire to add depth to their rotation.

Another option would be to call up A.J. Blubaugh from Sugar Land. The 24-year-old has a 6-2 record with a 3.46 ERA in 71.1 innings pitched this season for the Space Cowboys and could be a necessary depth piece to add to the rotation.

Play Astros baseball

The Astros have been playing better baseball as of late and have won 18 of their last 23 games. With players like Kyle Tucker and Justin Verlander potentially returning soon, there is reason to believe Houston can make the playoffs for the 8th consecutive season.

The 'Stros will try to take sole possession of first place in their division from the Mariners when the two teams meet for three games at T-Mobile Park starting on Friday night.

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