THE LEFT TURN

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 need to beat up on the lowly Rangers. Composite image by Jack Brame.

Collectively so far this season the Astros would not make for very good garbage men. Meaning they haven't been so good at taking out the trash. Swept in a series at Detroit when the Tigers were terrible, swept at Minute Maid Park by the sorry Orioles, swept in an early season series at the Rangers. Presently the Rangers are an atrocity. A nine game losing streak has them 35-62, buried deeply in last place in the American League West, 23 games behind the Astros. So the Astros need to whip up on them in this weekend's three game set, before the Astros head west for a three city road trip with stops in Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

15. The number of home runs Jose Altuve has hit over his last 37 games. Multiply by four and that's a 60 homers in 148 games pace. Over those 37 games, Altuve is batting just .242. But slugging .577.

.029. Carlos Correa's batting average dating back 10 games played. One hit in his last 34 at bats. 14 strikeouts and just one walk over the stretch. That is what you call a funk. Certainly not a way to curry 300 million dollar contract offers.

The Rangers have just two 100 loss seasons in their history, their first two seasons after becoming the Rangers upon moving from Washington D.C. In 1972 the Ted Williams managed squad went 62-100, Ted quit, and the next year the Rangers finished 57-105. If the Astros sweep them this weekend, the Rangers will be on pace to lose 105 games.

It will be a decade ago this October that the Rangers came as close to winning a World Series as any team has ever come without winning the Series. In 2011 the Rangers carried a three games to two lead into game six at St. Louis. The Rangers led game six 7-5 with two on, two out, and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth. The Cardinals' David Freese drilled a ball toward the base of the right field wall. Rangers' right fielder Nelson Cruz didn't make an error but didn't play the ball well, going back awkwardly and reaching out at the last second as if afraid of the wall. It went for a two run triple to tie the game. Two innings later Freese hit a game winning homer to force game seven.

The inning before that the Rangers again came within one strike of winning it all. A Josh Hamilton two run homer had the Rangers up 9-7 going to the bottom of the 10th. The Cards got within 9-8. With the tying run on second and two out, Rangers' Manager Ron Washington opted to intentionally walk Albert Pujols. Albert was still a tremendous player in 2011 (his last with the Redbirds), but he was not better than Lance Berkman that season, definitely not against right-handed pitching. Walking Pujols brought up Berkman to face right-hander Scott Feldman (a matchup of former Astro and future Astro). Berkman lined a two-two pitch to center field tying the game 9-9, ahead of Freese's 11th inning walk-off homer. One of the most incredible games in World Series history.

NCAA

Quite the story hitting that Texas and Oklahoma may be plotting to bolt the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference. That neither UT, OU, nor the SEC denied it has smoke billowing. The Sooners have won the last six Big 12 football championships. The Longhorns last won in 2009. Oklahoma St., Kansas St., Baylor, TCU, all have more recently won at least a share of the conference title. An SEC UT could be looking at being in a division with Oklahoma, Alabama, LSU, and Texas A&M. UT marketing folks should be exploring a huge sponsorship deal with 7-Eleven. You know, Big Gulp. But as usual, follow the money.

The week ahead…

Wednesday: The Texans open training camp! Wait. Delete the exclamation point. Whither Deshaun Watson?

Thursday: The NBA Draft. Unless the Rockets pull off a thunderbolt of a trade to move up to number one and select Cade Cunningham, the winds of opinion are blowing in the direction of the Rockets taking wing Jalen Green second overall pick. That would be fine. Green is generally considered the most potential-laden explosive scorer on the board. The Rockets can use just about everything, a premium wing scorer would be excellent.

Friday: The MLB trade deadline. Does James Click bolster the Astros' shaky bullpen. The Astros have also been linked to Marlins' center fielder Starling Marte. Growing from his wretched start Myles Straw has been plenty acceptable. Free agent-to-be Marte would be a notable upgrade.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. First big beat the deadline win goes to the Rays. 41-year-old designated hitter Nelson Cruz still mashes. Simple frame of reference: he's been notably better than Yordan Alvarez this year.

2. The delayed by a year 2020 Summer Olympics are underway. Any interest at all?

3. Baseball's greatest Cruzes: Bronze-Jose Jr. Silver-Nelson Gold-Jose Sr.

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