THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR Bank Of America 500 preview

Martin Truex does well on road courses. Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

This Sunday, the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads home to Charlotte for the Bank Of America 500. This race is a first for NASCAR as they have now configured Charlotte Motor Speedway into a “roval.” As most know, this is the first time in the sports history that they will a combined oval/road course.

This new layout features 17 turns including two chicanes in both the back stretch and at the exit of turn four. The decision to turn the track into a temporary road course was announced last year after many fans requested that the playoffs feature a road course of some sorts. With every change comes new challenges and concerns and  the major concern going into this race are the two chicanes as both are placed in an area where cars would be entering at a high rate of speed, and if not careful this may be a big factor come race time.

Aside from the layout change, the other major story of this race is that it is also the final race of the round of 16. For Clint Bowyer, Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones and Denny Hamlin, this is the last chance for them to move into the top 12. Of the four mentioned, Clint Bowyer would have the easiest road to get in seeing how he is only four points behind and has more playoff points than the three drivers behind him, so he should be the favorite to survive to the next round. Either way these four drivers should be the ones to watch come sunday.

With the season nearing its twilight, most of the offseason moves and rule changes  are beginning to round into form. Last week, Ryan Newman announced that he would move to Roush next season. One of the main factors into the switch was his engineering expertise he obtained from the University of Notre Dame and with Ford switching to the Mustang next year, car owner Jack Roush thinks that Ryan can really help improve their team's performance.

Another big topic of discussion was the proposed rules package regarding the cars. Earlier this year, NASCAR announced that it would tweak the spoiler on the back of the car and add a “restrictor plate” to curtail the cars from getting too far ahead, the test race was highly acclaimed and many fans stated that they wanted to see this package used in other circumstances. It would appear now there is a change of heart amongst NASCAR’s fan base as many have now threatened to “never watch the sport again” if they go through with the changes.

Me personally, I can see why NASCAR is making this move. If you have read any of my articles, I have been highly critical of the ignorance and arrogance of the leaders that run NASCAR but I think with these rules they truly believe this will make racing better. To some extent, it will. We will see cars closer together and there will be more opportunities for smaller or midpack teams like JTG-Daughtery or Richard Petty Motorsports to be in contention. Only time will tell what will become of these moves, but if we see the kind of racing we saw this year in the all-star race next season at tracks like Indianapolis, I assure you the sport will do OK.

Going into this week, making a prediction as to who will win is extremely difficult because this is the first time they have ever raced on this type of track. If I had to pick a favorite though, it would have to be Martin Truex Jr. Earlier in the season, Truex went on to win at Sonoma. one of the other three road courses on the schedule. Not only was he fast there but he also finished second at Watkins Glen as well. He has been excellent on road courses and this Sunday should be no different

The sleeper going into this week would be NASCAR’s road course specialist AJ Allmendinger. It has been no secret that 2018 has been a season to forget for Allmendinger, as he currently sits 24th in points and has only one top five, but this week he should be one of the drivers to watch. Besides Allmendinger took the first laps around this new track layout when it was announced last year. Last week, JTG Daugherty racing announced that Allmendinger would not be retained for the 2019 season leaving him without a ride, And I can’t think of a better way for Allmendinger to prove himself by going out and running well this Sunday. Look for him to be a major threat to run around the top 10 come Sunday.

(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 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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