THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR Can-Am 500 preview

Kevin Harvick is the story this week. Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

The NASCAR Monster Energy Cup series heads for ISM Raceway in Avondale, Arizona for this week’s Can-Am 500. This race is probably the third most important race of the season behind the Daytona 500 and next week’s season finale at Homestead. This is the race that decides who gets to run for a title, and who goes home empty handed.

Earlier this year, the track announced extensive renovations which include a more fan accessible garage area, a new scoring pylon and a reconfiguration of the track including the start/finish line which has been relocated to the back straight away. The placement is similar to Talladega start finish line which is in virtually the same location. The new layout will provide a whole new element to the race and will change the way drivers attempt to pass on Sunday.

Last week, Kevin Harvick cruised to his eightieth win of the season after sweeping both stages and leading 177 laps. At the time, this victory punched Harvick's ticket to Miami and race for his second championship but on Wednesday, it was announced that he would be docked forty points and his Texas victory was “encumbered” meaning his victory at Texas is null and void when it comes to going to Homestead. He also loses his championship winning crew-chief Rodney Childress for the remainder of the season. Now while all of the benefits that come with the victory have been revoked, it is important to note that Harvick is still credited in the record books with the victory at Texas Motor Speedway. He keeps the trophy and the winnings from the victory.

It was discovered that the team made illegal modifications to their spoiler; the violation was found at NASCAR’s Research and Development center. Even though he was essentially stripped of his victory, he still enters this week’s race three points above fifth place. This can be attributed to the massive amounts of playoff and stage points he has amassed all throughout the 2018 regular season.

With the penalty, this has sparked a debate amongst NASCAR’s water cooler. Should penalties be harsher when it comes to rules violations like these? If so what sanctions should NASCAR take to insure that drivers learn their lesson? Many fans believe that if it is discovered that a car fails inspection, the driver should have to concede their trophy, race winnings and points to the guy who finished second.  This is the debate that has been discussed for many years, after multiple drivers have failed inspection over the course of NASCAR's history. When asked about it for next season, NASCAR Spokesman Scott Miller stated they are considering harsher penalties including vacating wins. More than likely, I don’t foresee them doing this because of all of the sponsors that they have to keep happy and they would probably not be pleased if their driver is stripped of the victory. We should get an announcement about this in the off-season at some time and it should be interesting to see what is next.

While the penalties don’t change the order, the walls around Harvick are now more narrow than ever. He enters this weekend three points ahead of his teammate Kurt Busch, seventeen points ahead of Chase Elliott and 35 points and 51 points ahead of his other teammates Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola.   Harvick will definitely have drive on the defensive to make sure he’s not only ahead of Busch but that he keeps the other four drivers behind him out of victory lane considering a win clinches their ticket to Homestead.

Despite all of the turmoil this week, Harvick is still the odds on favorite to win this race come Sunday. Over the course of each of the track on the schedule, no one has dominated at ISM raceway like Harvick has. Of his 31 starts here, he has won here an astounding nine times! No one in the history of the track's 30-year history has more wins than he does. This week he will be even more difficult to beat considering he now has extra motivation to go out and prove that winning at Texas  was not a fluke due to the rules violations. I look for Harvick to be a near lock to at least be in the top five this weekend. Barring an accident, he is simply too good at this track to not go out and be a contender. Look for Harvick to claim win number 10 come Sunday.

All stats and information used in this article is brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com the best website for all NASCAR stats).

 

 

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Composite photo by Jack Brame

As things continue to relax as far as the COVID-19 pandemic is concerned, a return to a semblance of normalcy seems imminent. The NBA has some parameters in place for a potential return. Training camps are set to open late this month and the season is supposed to open July 31. Whether that's the rumored Disney-centered one-stop shop or another form, they have a plan in place to return. There's also no argument between the league and players going back and forth about money either (MLB could learn a lesson here).

So when it comes to the potential return, how does that fare for the local team? The Rockets were 40-24 and tied for the fifth seed in the West when the season was shut down. Since they're getting ready to return potentially, we need to be looking at what chances they may have in making a run in the playoffs towards an NBA title.



Harden's new physique

According to his new trainer, James Harden has done more cardio workouts and lost some weight. Specifically, he's done more football player workouts as opposed to basketball player workouts. There was a pic of Harden floating around showing an obvious loss of weight. His new-found cardio and weight loss could mean more late-game and late-season success for Harden and the Rockets.

Westbrook's edge

Russell Westbrook has a competitive fire that can't be put out. It's like one of those never-ending burning torches you see at monuments. He wants nothing more than to prove he's a winner on a high level. Given that he's reunited with a long time friend in Harden, his competitive nature could help fill the gap where Harden may lack. These two have proven they can coexist very well this season. Now could be their time to take surge.

Small-ball

When the Rockets traded Clint Capela, they fully committed to small-ball. There were times they didn't have a guy in the lineup over 6'5. The tallest guy that gets regular time is roughly 6'8. The smaller, quicker lineup is an advantage on the offensive end, but can be a huge liability on the defensive end. Given the stoppage and restart of the season, it could help them. Suppose other teams are sluggish and can't get their chemistry straight. Houston's advantage is that they go through one or two guys and eat off their shooting. Shooting can be worked on during times like these, whereas other aspects of your game can't.


I'm not saying the Rockets have a built-in advantage, but they have as good a shot as they've ever had in the past. The field is wide open to any team that's in the playoff hunt. No team will have a built-in advantage over others. With the Rockets' unique brand of ball, they may be able to make a run at a title this season. Couple that with Harden's weight loss and Westbrook's competitive nature, it could be very interesting. Whenever the NBA comes back this season, which I believe they will, I think this team has a legit shot at winning it all.

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