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NASCAR: FireKeepers Casino 400 preview, predictions

Keep your eye on Kyle Busch this weekend. Photo by Wiki Commons.

This week, NASCAR heads to Michigan International Speedway for the Firekeepers Casino 400. This track is a two-mile oval with eighteen degrees of banking in the corners. With this race being a high downforce/low horsepower race, we can expect to see more cars running in a pack, and it should have a lot closer racing. Last season, we saw a fantastic battle between Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick, so there is a good chance we see racing similar to that this year.

Last week, AJ Allmendinger shocked the racing world when he went on to capture his second career victory on the inaugural Indy Road Course. This victory may have seemed like an upset but AJ has been a road course ace for as long as he's been racing, so it was going to just be a matter of time before he nabbed a victory. What made the win so triumphant was the circumstances of how he got here. For starters, the team Kaulig racing is running a partial schedule. The last time we saw a part-time team/driver win a race was back in 2013 when Brian Vickers did it at New Hampshire. This had to have been a big shot in the arm for a team that will be running all of the races in 2022. They went out and proved that they will be a force to be reckoned with.

While AJ and his crew were celebrating, many were on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. The beginning of the race was relatively clean, there were no cautions in the first two stages of the race, and it seemed like we were heading for another Kyle Larson victory. But on lap 74 all it took was one piece of debris for it all to go haywire. For the better part of the day, turn seven was a bit of a hassle as drivers would hit the curb and launch into the air, but there weren't any accidents until Martin Truex Jr spun out with about five laps to go. Strangely enough, there was no caution and as a result, nine cars crashed including Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, and Christopher Bell. As a sanctioning body, NASCAR has been making way too many mistakes over the last few races and they need to do a much better job at rectifying them. There was absolutely no reason for there not to be a caution after the initial crash from Martin Truex Jr. To make matters worse, they then assessed two ridiculous penalties to Chase Briscoe and Bubba Wallace after they were both forced off the racing surface and had to merge back on to the racetrack. Overall, there will be a lot of improvements NASCAR will have to make when they come back to this track next season.

The playoff battle took a bit of a hit in one direction last week as teammates Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick both were involved in incidents. While Reddick was able to solider on to a twenty-first place finish, Dillon wasn't so lucky as he crashed out of the race and finished an abysmal thirty-first place. What made the battle at the bottom of the playoff grid so much more interesting was the prospect of a Chase Briscoe victory knocking one of them out, and it nearly happened as he was leading the race in the closing stages until being forced off the racetrack by Denny Hamlin and penalized for cutting the course. In a display of desperation, Briscoe hooked Hamlin and spun him out to regain the lead. NASCAR sent him to the tail end of the lead lap and parked him for ignoring the black flag. Even if Briscoe didn't win and Reddick continued to maintain his spot in the playoffs, it just goes to show how quickly things can change when it comes to the playoff battle. Look for more drama come Sunday.

The driver that I have winning this weekend is Kyle Busch. When you look at his record in these types of races, it is incredible how fast he has been. In his last ten starts on the 550 horsepower tracks, his worst finish has been tenth place. As we all know, Kyle was really struggling to find speed last season after the pandemic kind of threw a wrench in things. Well now it seems as if he has found his groove again. In the last five races, he has either scored a top-five, a victory, or has crashed out while running in the top five. When this team is clicking the way it has been, they are hard to beat, and now they are playing with house money at a track that he has been consistent at over the last five years. Look for Rowdy to go to victory lane come Sunday.

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Here's why the Texans will make the playoffs under Lovie Smith

1. The Houston Texans had a mentally tough practice Saturday. The team has worked a lot in pads and Lovie Smith noted the days starting to build up on them during this practice. The head coach said this is a good practice because it is like the fourth quarter of the games the team will end up playing.

2. Davis Mills threw one of the best passes he has thrown all camp on Saturday. In a red zone drill, he dropped back and whipped a pass between two defenders into the tightest window he has had all camp. Nico Collins hauled in the threaded pass for a score.

3. A few reps later Davis Mills struck again. With traffic from linebackers and defensive backs, he found Chris Conley for a score. It wasn’t as tight of a window as the first one, but Mills snapped it off nonetheless.

4. Pharaoh Brown made something hard look very easy on Saturday. With Mills rolling out and tossing the ball to Brown in the back corner Brown hauled in a one-handed catch and had both feet down. Touchdown. Brown then acted like it was no big deal.

5. Pharaoh Brown has had a wonderful camp. Lovie Smith named him the starting tight end. The thing that really jumped out to me today is he makes his work look easy. He isn’t straining to excel in his opportunities. The good ones always make it look easy and it has looked easy for Brown so far.

6. Rookie linebacker Christian Harris is on the shelf for a few days. He joins fellow rookie Kenyon Green as players who are injured. Max Scharping played left guard with Green down. Wide receiver Phillip Dorset practiced while veteran wideout Chester Rodgers did not.

7. Roy Lopez flashed again today. While Friday was about the rushing attack and Lopez made his presence felt at defensive tackle, he got into the pass rush Saturday. Lopez would have had a bone-crushing sack in a live rep.

8. Ross Blacklock hasn’t been consistent. A statement like that is good and evil. There are some plays where Blacklock looks like he isn’t a factor. I watched one today. A play later he had what would have been a sack on the play. He’s a player to watch in the preseason games closely.

9. Don’t expect to see Derek Stingley in the preseason opener next Saturday. Lovie Smith wouldn’t commit to the rookie cornerback playing in the preseason. Smith did say Stingley is on track to play week one in the regular season.

10. Brevin Jordan has had a nice camp and should be an important piece for the team. Jordan had a bad drop in 7-on-7 drills that he was beating himself up over for a few minutes. That was out of the norm. He’s been used a lot and will be on the field a bit it seems for the Texans.

11. Brevin Jordan also rattled off a few contenders for the quote of the day. He exclaimed he had taken care of himself this offseason and he finally had abs. He also revealed he’s quite the fisherman and once caught a 125-pound tuna. When asked what he did with the tuna Jordan laughed and said “RIP tuna!”

Listen to Cody Stoots weekdays afternoons 3-7pm on his show "The Wheelhouse" live on ESPN 97.5 + 92.5 FM or anytime on demand at the podcast here.

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