THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR heads for Phoenix for the Ticket Guardian 500

Joey Logano. Getty Images.


This week the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads to the ISM speedway in Avondale, Arizona for their second stop on NASCAR's West Coast swing. This track breaks the sequence of high-banked cookie cutter mile and a half tracks we have seen at Atlanta and Vegas over the past couple of weeks. While by definition this track is listed as a mile and a half, it has many characteristics that are aligned with a short track. The biggest area to watch around is the front straightaway. This part of the speedway will be where a lot of the passes will be made as there is a major elevation change that goes all the way to the inside retaining wall, so look for three and four wide racing around here all throughout the day.

Last week, defending champion Joey Logano held off his teammate Brad Keselowski for his first win in 2019. The race was met with mixed reviews by the NASCAR community. Overall, it was a relatively calm race. For the first time since 2002, there were zero on-track accidents and the only cautions we saw were for the stage breaks. In the weeks building before the race, many fans were told that the racing was going to be close and tightly bunched and there was going to be three wide racing and it would be just like we see on the plate tracks at Daytona and Talladega, so when it wasn't many fans were disenfranchised with how everything went down. But when it was all said and done it wasn't a bad race, there was another near photo finish with Keselowski and Logano, and there was plenty of passing all around the race track. Above all the field was much closer than they were last year around this time. Yes. It's true that it didn't live up to the hype but overall it was a good quality race. I look forward to see them run this package at tracks like Auto Club and Indianapolis.

The driver that I have winning this week is Erik Jones. Now in his third year and a win under his belt, Erik has shown major signs that he will be a championship contender. He finished third at Daytona and then backed it up with a seventh place finish at Atlanta. Even though last week was a bit of a let down for him as he finished 13th, this week he goes to a place where he shines; in fact he has the fifth highest average finish here among all active drivers. Another facet of his success here is his ability to qualify well, he has an 8.8 average starting position and with how important qualifying has been this year, I believe that this will only help him more. Look for Jones to surprise some folks this week and claim his second career victory come Sunday.

One of the dark-horse drivers this week has to be Ryan Newman. He comes to the track where he claimed his last victory in 2017 and while a lot has changed since then including where he drives, the Rocket-man is easily one of the most experienced drivers in the field. It's no secret that it has been a dark time for Roush-Fenway racing but after Newman finished in the top 15 at Atlanta and Stenhouse Jr finished seventh last week at Vegas, it would appear that Jack Roush and his team are trending upward. When the checkered flag falls, Ryan may not win but I really believe that he will get a good finish and I look forward to seeing him wheel the Oscar Meyer Ford Mustang to a top ten.

(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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ROCKETS BEAT THUNDER

Rockets blast Thunder in home opener, 124-91

Rockets take care of business in home opener. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets had an impressive outing versus the Oklahoma City Thunder after an embarrassing loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night. They took care of business at home on Friday night, which was a surprising blowout. The Rockets didn't have to worry about Karl-Anthony Towns screaming at Alperen Sengun or Anthony Edwards telling Coach Silas to call a timeout. Instead, they took their frustrations out on the Thunder (another younger core).

"We responded and bounced back from that game 1," Silas said. "I wouldn't say it was taking anything out. It was just learning and applying to what you learn and that's going to be us this year. Applying to what you learn and getting better and having some games like we had the other day. Veteran teams have some games when they don't play as well they want."

Christian Wood led the way, as he controlled the paint on all aspects with rebounding and putbacks. He played an incredible game after having a poor performance versus the Timberwolves. Silas showed complete trust in allowing Wood to open sets, as he walked the ball down the court several times, and in transition too. Wood became aggressive on the perimeter with open shooting and tough shots, and long strides towards the rim. He finished the night with 31 points and 13 rebounds off 66 percent shooting from the field.

The young core for the Thunder had a tough night defending Wood from every aspect. Hopefully, he keeps this play up. Silas loved the space that was created throughout the game for Wood, which included the help from Eric Gordon, as he continued to play better. Wood continues to develop underneath the Silas umbrella. He had a great feel for off-the-dribble shooting a few times. Wood becomes more dangerous when space is created on the court.

"It allows me to show what I can do. It allows the floor to be open and I can create for other guys and create for myself," Wood said.

As Gordon continues to impress, his teammate Kevin Porter Jr was amazed with his performance.

Gordon looked marvelous inside and outside of the paint, as it looked like a time ripple. The younger guards of the Thunder had a tough time staying in front of Gordon. His size and strength gave the Thunder a huge problem. Gordon is shooting the ball better too, as he is shooting the three-ball at 70 percent this season. Although it's a small sample size, Gordon is trying to overcome his shooting struggles from last year. Gordon finished with 22 points on 66 percent shooting versus the Thunder.

"EG is the biggest part of this squad," Porter said. He comes in and just scores. We need somebody off the bench to do that. He is our guy when me and J come out, it's EG time and he knows that, and comes in aggressive. So much energy on the bench, and we need that every night from him if we want a chance to win."

As I recently mentioned Porter, his facilitation did look better versus the Thunder than the Timberwolves. Porter had nine turnovers in his first game but managed to have two Friday night. He made great slip passes and found open teammates in the open corner. Porter forced a good number of passes versus the Timberwolves but looked more relaxed Friday night. The hardest position in the NBA is the point guard position, but Silas will not allow Porter to fail. Instead of nine turnovers, Porter dished out nine assists. Silas said:

"Bounce back right, going from nine turnovers to nine assists… I think he had two turnovers tonight, which is great. He is making plays for his teammates, and he was really focused."

Porter's shiftiness and creative ability allowed his teammates to get open looks near the rim. He had 18 points because of his step-back threes and first step going towards the basket. Thankfully, Porter is a great ball handler, which confuses defenders on different spots on the court. It's almost like watching a ballerina skate on ice in the Olympics. Hopefully, his confidence continues to get better throughout the year. Porter shot the three-ball at 50 percent tonight. Efficiency is key for Porter this year.

"I'm just trying to let the game slow down," Porter said. "I had a lot of turnovers last game and I just wanted to piggyback and learn from them and learn from some of my forced passes and reads. And sometimes I still force it a little bit. My guys hate that, and sometimes I'm still passive and I'm working on that. When to pass and score and bounce it out, and tonight I felt like I did a good job of that."

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