THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR at Atlanta: Quaker State 400 picks, preview

NASCAR at Atlanta: Quaker State 400 picks, preview
Daniel Suarez is a driver to watch this week. Photo via: Wiki Commons.

The NASCAR Cup Series makes its second visit to the famed Atlanta Motor Speedway this week for the Quaker State 400. As we saw the last time they came here, this is not your father’s Atlanta Motor Speedway. We will continue to see the pack-style racing that we saw in the spring, and let's hope that the tires can hold up better than they did then. This has been a season of parity, we have seen 13 different winners, five of them being first-timers. Because of the many changes we have seen to the track, there is a legitimate chance we see a fourteenth different winner on Sunday. The key to the race this weekend will be figuring out how to manipulate the draft and finding the right person to work with, just like we see at Daytona and Talladega. Obviously, when you have big groups of cars, there is always a risk of a major pileup. The biggest cause of these crashes has been flat tires. Every driver will be sweating bullets trying to manage their tires and while we haven’t had too many major issues over the last few weeks, the high rate of speed that the cars are traveling will cause a fair amount of concern all throughout the day.

Last week, Tyler Reddick scored his first career win at Road America. The race was akin to what we are accustomed to seeing in F1, with lots of strategy, very little drama, and only two drivers in Chase Elliott and Tyler Reddick being in the hunt for the win. The opening two stages were won by Chase Briscoe and Ryan Blaney as they stayed out longer to try and get the stage victory. This came back to bite them as they would fall to the back and be out of the hunt. In the late stages, the race ultimately came down to the final pit stop as Reddick followed Elliott into Pit-Lane and was able to keep pace with him exiting, thus setting up the race-winning pass.

After this week, the future remains unclear for Road America. With a race on the Chicago Street Course looming, one track will need to be removed and unfortunately, Road America is looking like it will be that track. While it’s certainly never ideal to see a racetrack lose its date, the silver lining is how many forms of racing there are at this track. Many F1 drivers have said they would love to race there, so the future remains bright.

As I mentioned earlier, NASCAR is almost more than certain to host its first race ever on a temporary street course. Ever since the 1980s, NASCAR has tried to keep up with its open-wheel opposition, but hasn’t ever been able to make a street course race happen. Whether the cars were too heavy to race on that type of surface or certain cities wouldn’t oblige. As hard as they tried, NASCAR just couldn’t seem to make it happen. Fast-Forward nearly 40 years and now it seems as if we are on the cusp of seeing the first-ever NASCAR Street Course in Chicago in 2023. What was once an idea is now becoming reality, and I for one, am extremely excited to see how this plays out.

While Chicago is on the horizon, the focus this week remains on Atlanta and the driver I predict will win this weekend is Daniel Suarez. For many, this seems like an out of left field type of pick, but if you have been following this season, he is in the midst of a career year. This year, Suarez has scored six top tens with four top-fives and has led 203 laps, the most in his career. There have been many occasions this season where he’s had the fastest car on the track, but something would come along to mess everything up. In the spring, he had a great car and finished fourth. If he can show the same type of speed on Sunday, he should be a serious threat to win.

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Thunder defeat Rockets, 123-110. Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 36 points and Chet Holmgren added 29 to lead the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 123-110 victory over the Houston Rockets on Sunday night.

The Thunder won their fifth straight to move into a tie with Minnesota for first place in the Western Conference.

Oklahoma City coach Mark Daigneault was impressed with how his team responded after falling behind by 16 points in the second quarter.

“We had some poise, but it was more urgency,” he said. “I thought tonight was a recognition of, if we kept playing like that, they could have run us off the floor.”

Oklahoma City was up by eight points with less than seven minutes left before scoring the next nine points, capped by 3-pointers from Jalen Williams and Gilgeous-Alexander to push the advantage to 115-98 with 3 ½ minutes to go.

Fred VanVleet and Jabari Smith Jr. had 20 points apiece for the Rockets in the first of consecutive games between these teams. Alperen Sengun added 19 points and 12 rebounds, while Smith led the team with 17 boards.

“They tightened up a little bit and we didn't execute as well as we needed to,” VanVleet said. “That's the way it goes sometimes.”

The teams meet again Tuesday night in Oklahoma City.

The Thunder held a four-point lead to start the fourth and used a 12-2 run to push their advantage to 99-85 with 9 ½ minutes to go. Holmgren had the first nine points in that span and had two dunks and a 3-pointer.

Houston got within 104-95 a couple of minutes later. Dillon Brooks and VanVleet both made 3s for Houston to trim the deficit, but the Rockets were unable to get any closer.

“Once we got the ball churning and moving… that got us flowing,” Holmgren said. “But it started with defense, getting stops and allowing us to get out in transition.”

The Rockets were up by nine with about eight minutes to go in the third before Oklahoma City used a 16-2 run to take an 80-75 lead with less than three minutes left in the quarter.

“The physicality we really amped up midway through the second quarter,” Daigneault said. “That was the game right there and we really kept it going in the second half.”

Williams started the run with a 3-pointer and Isaiah Joe added a 3 in that stretch to allow the Thunder to go on top.

The Rockets scored the next six points to regain the lead, but Oklahoma City ended the quarter with a 7-2 run to take an 87-83 lead in the fourth.

“Obviously you have to execute better offensively to give yourself a chance,” VanVleet said. “Scoring 21 in the third hurt us a little bit momentum-wise.”

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