NASCAR at New Hampshire preview and picks​

Photo via: Wiki Commons

NASCAR heads to the Magic Mile at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Opened in 1993 by Bob Bahare and his family, this track is a 1.058 mile oval, with little to no banking. While there isn't a lot of banking, there is still a good amount of side-by-side racing and beating and banging as well. Last season, we saw Denny Hamlin put the bumper to Kevin Harvick but still was unable to make the pass for the lead as Harvick went on to win. This should be a fun race as they will again be adding more traction compound around the track to make it more grippy. This race will be held with fans as well.

Last Thursday, Denny Hamlin went on to capture his 5th win of 2020 during a crash fest at Kansas. Overall, while William Byron tried to strategize his way to a victory after a few late race cautions, the race came down to the usual suspects in Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski. In the closing laps Keselowski seemed to make up some ground on Hamlin but couldn't quite make the pass. This race showed just how good Denny Hamlin and his team have been this year and continue to be the perennial favorites to win the championship.

One of the big headlines this week was the possibility of Bob Leavine selling his team at the end of 2020. The story was reported by Adam Stern last Thursday. He stated that Bob and his wife Sharon are looking for "somewhere along seven figures" for the team. This move could cause a HUGE ripple effect in the field as Chirstopher Bell would have to look for a new home in 2021. While more than likely he would land on his feet and move over to the #20 car for Joe Gibbs Racing, this would leave Erik Jones in a position that he may be out of a ride next season. I am hoping that they are able to stay in the sport because Bob is one of the most upfront and honest owners in the garage. He was nice enough to talk to me last season about their plans for 2020. I wish him the best in whichever decision he makes because it would be heartbreaking to see them leave the sport as they were improving.

In other silly-season news, the other big rumor around the garage area that came to light this week was that next season Alex Bowman would move over to the #48 car replacing the retiring Jimmie Johnson and the #88 car would cease operations at the end of the season. This rumor was first reported by PRN reporter Lee Spencer, she dropped this story on the Pit Reporters podcast. This would almost be unprecedented for Rick Hendrick as he has had at least four cars since 2002 when they brought on Jimmie Johnson. In the end, I have a feeling that Mr. H will make this work as he has since he started back in 1984. I look for him to make the sponsorships work to keep Bowman in the #88 and bring in a new driver to take over the #48 car. Besides as reputable as Lee Spencer is, she has been wrong before. Back in 2017, she reported that Kurt Busch was out at Stewart-Haas racing which turned out to be incorrect.

This week one of the drivers to watch out for is Erik Jones. Over the past two weeks he has been really showing a lot of speed. This season has been a massive disappointment for the fourth year driver as he currently has an average finish of 16.6 and has led only 34 laps as he currently sits ten points outside of the playoff cutoff. He has also had a hard time getting stage points as well as he has only scored 45 stage points. On the bright side though he is coming to a track where he has had success in that department. Last season here, he won the second stage and finished third in the first as he was able to gain eighteen points. This can be huge coming down the stretch as we get closer and closer to the playoffs. Look for Erik to continue to improve and make a playoff push going into the final weeks of the regular season.

The driver I predict will win this week is Kyle Busch. This has been a frustrating season for the defending champion. While the finishes and the results have been there, and he has shown flashes of speed, he still has yet to win a race this year and currently sits 12th in the playoff standings. Even though he hasn't won a race this year, some of the results he has been getting have been extremely impressive considering the circumstances. At Texas, he plowed through the grass but then recovered to finish fourth and the week before that, he was able to overcome a broken shock mount and still finish tenth. He has shown that he is easily the most talented driver on the racetrack and maybe one of the most talented drivers in the sports' history, and he knows. So not winning a race this year has to really be getting to him but this week, I think he will change that. He currently has a 5.75 average finish with three victoires here at New Hampshire so he knows how to get around this track. Look for Rowdy to win this week as he rolls off fifth on the starting grid.

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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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