The Left Turn

NASCAR heads for Kentucky for the Quaker State 400

Martin Truex
Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

This week, NASCAR heads for the Bluegrass state for the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Motor Speedway. This track is a 1.5 mile tri-oval with tightly banked corners of seventeen and fourteen degrees. Back in 2010, NASCAR announced that it would add this track to the schedule and while it was met with much intrigue then, this track has provided much more tame racing than many would expect. Back in 2015, it was announced that this track would be repaved and reconfigured to fix some of the track's issues with moisture. After this repave, the part of the track that was most affected was turn three. This part of the track is easily the most challenging as there have been multiple incidents on this corner. This should be were all the action is come saturday.

Last week at Daytona,part-time driver Justin Haley pulled off arguably the biggest upset in NASCAR history as he was able to claim his first career win after the rain ended the race prematurely. Driving for newly formed Spire Motorsports, he was able to avoid the big wreck that claimed 18 cars and take the lead right before the rain came. Many would label this victory as a fluke considering he only led one lap but it is important to note that he was running around the lead pack before the last caution.

Another facet fans took issue with was how this team came about in the first place. Back in the off-season, owners TJ Puchyr and Jeff Dickerson purchased the charter from Furniture Row racing and announced that they would be the newest team on the grid. This charter ensured that the team would be assured a spot in each of the thirty-six races in 2019 as opposed to open teams that do not have a charter and are not assured a spot. Many also thought that the team's victory had no bearing on the regular season considering that neither Haley or the team would be eligible for the playoffs. When not racing in the Cup Series, Haley is an Xfinity series regular so that is where he collects his driver points making him only eligible to compete for a championship in that series. Overall, while this wouldn't happen in almost any other circumstance, I think that it is pretty neat to see a new driver go to victory lane for his first win. While I will agree that NASCAR's new charter method is severely flawed in every way, you can't really blame Sprie Motorsports for taking advantage of this and finding success. I wish them the best for the remainder of 2019.

Going into this weekend, the driver that I have winning this weekend is Martin Truex Jr. Over the last two races here, Truex has won both of them. In both of those starts, Truex has lead sixty percent of the laps run here so it's clear this track is basically Truex's playground. While I think that the new aero package may change things up a little bit, I still see Truex winning because of how well he has qualified here as well. Since 2017, he hasn't started worse than second and with Qualifying meaning as much as it does I think he should have no issue with that as well. He will be tough to beat come Saturday night.

(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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Fred VanVleet dropped 42 points in the loss. Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images.

Luka Samanic scored a season-high 22 points to help the Utah Jazz snap a 13-game losing streak with a 124-121 victory over the Houston Rockets on Thursday night.

Keyonte George chipped in 20 points for the Jazz, who finished 21-20 at home this season. Brice Sensabaugh added 17 points and Talen Horton-Tucker had 16. Kenneth Lofton Jr. scored a season-high 14 points and added nine rebounds.

Houston made 21 3-pointers and outscored Utah in second-chance points and fast-break points. The Jazz persevered and found a way to get in the win column for the first time since mid-March and end the third-longest losing streak in franchise history.

“That desperation that we played with throughout most of the game, but in particular in the second half, is who we’re aiming to be always,” Jazz coach Will Hardy said.

Fred VanVleet knocked down nine 3-pointers and scored a season-high 42 points for the Rockets, who lost for the sixth time in seven games. VanVleet was 9 for 13 from 3-point range while also tallying seven assists and seven rebounds. But he also went just 3 of 17 from inside the arc.

Cam Whitmore added 18 points while also making four 3s. Amen Thompson chipped in 15 points, 10 rebounds and two steals.

“We should be concerned, should be disappointed, should be (angry) at ourselves because it was a wasted opportunity,” VanVleet said.

Down three at halftime, the Jazz opened the third quarter with four unanswered baskets. VanVleet and Aaron Holiday combined for five 3-pointers to erase the deficit. Holiday’s back-to-back 3s made it 89-84 for Houston.

Utah countered with a 14-3 run late in the third and took a 98-92 lead on Sensabaugh’s second-chance corner 3.

VanVleet tied it on a pair of free throws with 2:30 left but the Jazz pulled away for good. Back-to-back layups from Darius Beazley and George keyed a 6-0 run that put Utah up 124-118 with 54 seconds remaining.

“We played extremely hard,” George said. “Our communication was at an all-time high. We did everything the right way and we got the result we wanted.”

VanVleet and Jeff Green each made back-to-back 3-pointers to key a 14-4 run that gave the Rockets a 38-28 lead going into the second quarter.

Houston shot 62% from the perimeter during the first quarter. VanVleet led the way, knocking down six of those 3s and scoring 20 points. His final outside basket beat the first-quarter buzzer to give the Rockets their first double-digit lead.

Utah erased the deficit in the second quarter behind a 13-0 run. Houston went scoreless for three minutes during that stretch. Horton-Tucker capped Utah’s run with a pair of free throws that put the Jazz up 51-49.

“Habits are hard to break and mentalities are hard to change and that’s why we are where we are record-wise and not achieving our goals,” Rockets coach Ime Udoka said. “You’d be better off saying you don’t want to play and get people out there that really want to play.”

UP NEXT

Rockets: Visit the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday.

Jazz: Visit the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday.

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