THE LEFT TURN

Here's what you need to know about the NASCAR All-Star Race

Photo via: Wiki Commons.

The NASCAR Cup Series heads to Bristol this week for their first annual All-Star race at the popular short-track. It was announced last month that the race would be held here instead of Charlotte where it usually takes place. If you ask everyone from fans, to the drivers, to the media, everyone is extremely excited about how this will turn out. Not to mention it will be the first race with fans as it was also announced that Bristol will allow up to 30,000 of them in the track, so it will be good to see people in the bleachers again. With the All-Star race being a non-points event, there will be a lot of differences than what we see in a normal race. The first major change this year (aside from the track) is when it will be run as for the first time we will see the race on a Wednesday as opposed to the usual Saturday night. It will be an adjustment to see this race during the week but overall, it is definitely something I can see happening in the future. It will be a fun event to watch.

The race's format remains fairly similar. As most fans know the main event will feature a field of each winner from 2019 and this year, a winner of the All-star race from 2010 onwards and a past champion. There will be four cars that advance from the constellation race called the open. Those are the cars that don't fit the criteria that would earn them a birth in the main event. In the open, there will be three segments and the winner of each will earn a spot in the All-Star race and a chance to win $1,000,000. There will also be a driver that will win the fan vote to get in as well.

There will be many cosmetic changes when it comes to the car including the decision to move the number back on the door and put the sponsor there. As you can expect, this was met with a lot of criticism. When I talked to the spotter for Bubba Wallace, Freddie Kraft, he told me that this decision will make it difficult to see which driver is which as the paint schemes change frequently. Hopefully, this will be a one-time thing for the sport as they move on with the new car in the next two years. Another major cosmetic change is NASCAR's decision to put lights underneath the cars to create an "underglow effect." Of all the things they are changing, this by far is my favorite. I look forward to seeing what this looks like.

Another new experiment NASCAR will be enacting is the choose cone rule. This will allow each driver to decide which lane they restart in. While the rule is titled the "choose cone" rule, there won't be an actual cone but instead a spot on the racetrack that will be marked where the drivers will make their selection on where they want to start from. Personally, I think this is a great way to decipher who starts where and I think it will add a lot of interesting strategy to the race. In fact, we see this on all of the short tracks around the country.

Last week, rookie Cole Custer shook the racing world by capturing his first win at Kentucky speedway. In the closing laps, the California native made one of the best passes of the year. On the front-straightaway coming to get the white flag, Custer made a four-wide pass on his teammate Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr and Ryan Blaney. After this he never looked back en route to his first career cup series win making him the first rookie to win a race since 2016 when Chris Buescher did it at Pocono. This young driver had incredible success during his time in the Xfinity series, but this year it seemed like it was taking him a bit more time to adjust to the cup series, so it comes as a surprise that he is the first of the three rookies to win. This sets him up for both the playoffs and Wednesday's All-Star race. It will be fun to watch how he develops during the rest of 2020 and what he can do in the playoffs.

As we all know this race comes with a very different set of circumstances so there will be more predictions for who I think will win come Wednesday. To start off, in the opening race, there will be three drivers that will advance on stages and the drivers I have winning are Clint Bowyer, Bubba Wallace and Christopher Bell. All three are usually pretty fast here, so they will be the ones that I watch the closest. The fourth driver that will advance via the fan vote will be Matt DiBenedetto. As everyone knows, Matty D has built up a great following and has really been running well this year. I wouldn't put it past him to go out and win one of the segments either. I look for all four of those cars to be in the All-star race.

The driver that I have winning the main event is Jimmie Johnson. With everything that has been going on this year, the 7-time champion has especially been affected. It is truly a shame that the greatest NASCAR driver of all-time isn't getting the send-off he deserves but come Wednesday, I think he will finally get his moment. Overall, while in the past Jimmie hasn't had his best results here, this track has been really good to him. Since 2017, JJ has an average finish of eighth including a third place finish here in May. I look for him to finally swing his momentum forward and claim the $1,000,000 prize and claim his fifth All-Star race victory.

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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