THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR heads for the Monster Mile at Dover

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This week, the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for the self proclaimed Monster Mile at the Dover motor speedway in Dover, Delaware. This track is a one mile oval with extreme 24 degree banking which makes the race track tough to negotiate seeing how close the drivers are to the wall. Because of its relatively narrow configuration, there isn't a lot of room to go around which has made for close quarters racing. Another major variable about this race track is entering pit road. It seems like every time the sport goes here, a contending driver gets a speeding penalty that hurts their chances of victory. This should play a major role in deciding who wins come Sunday.

The big storyline coming into this week was NASCAR's decision to revert back to single-car qualifying. Starting this week, on tracks that are one mile and longer, the field will run one timed lap and on short tracks like Bristol they will run two timed laps. It is important to note that even though it's going away on the ovals, group qualifying will remain on the road courses. Back in 2014, NASCAR had the idea to have the cars run their time trials in one big group in a span of three rounds. At first it turned out to work OK but when NASCAR introduced this high downforce package that emphasizes the draft, it never really allowed the best car to qualify on pole which was kind of unfair. While yes, it was entertaining and allowed for drives you don't usually see up front, it kind of took away from what it is supposed to be about. The way that I see it, NASCAR has been doing single car runs for many years and it has worked perfectly in deciding who starts where. While I am not to keen on when they made the change, I think that this was was the right decision to make, especially for the owners and the money they put into setting up the car for this session. Now they don't have to worry about the added variable of possibly getting into a crash with another car or losing time getting stuck by a slower car.

The last time NASCAR came to Dover, Chase Elliott went on to capture his second career victory after fending off Denny Hamlin in the closing laps. This week, I expect to see much of the same. After winning last week in at Talladega, NASCAR's prodigal son appears to be in a great position to back it up with another victory. From the beginning, Elliott has always had the knack for this track and while other young drivers struggled here, he has absolutely flourished. Only once has he finished outside of the top 10 here and even then, he still recorded a respectable 12th-place finish and even in that race he was running as high as fifth. Look for the Napa Auto Parts Chevy Camaro to be around the front this week.

One driver to look out for this week is Ryan Newman. It has been refreshing site to see the rocket man running well this year as he currently sits in a playoff spot in thirteenth. He is riding high off three consecutive top ten finishes and this week he is going to a track where he has won at three times in his career. Among his peers, Ryan Newman is one of the elder statesmen on the grid but it is no secret that he can still drive a race car. I am not sure if he will win this week but I think that he will easily be able to continue his string of top tens this weekend.

(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 get another much-needed win. Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets went on a redemption tour by beating the Detroit Pistons and Dallas Mavericks. But the most pivotal win was against the Mavericks as the Rockets finally showed their true potential. John Wall finally made his return from his injury hiatus and played with a lot of energy. DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Gordon combined for 61 points. It was great to see Stephan Silas crack a smile as he was able to beat his former team.

The Rockets clearly missed Wall during his eight-game absense. This season, the Rockets are a .500 team with Wall on the court. Wall is the Rockets' floor general that leads, constructs, and also pushes his teammates to become better.

Wall only played 21 minutes in the 133-108 win over the Mavericks but still had eight assists. Even though Wall only had 7 points, his presence was still felt by finding his teammates for open looks beyond the perimeter. Wall made sure Cousins and Gordon got a plethora of touches. He called multiple actions, so they got open looks from three, which was mainly Gordon. Gordon and Cousins' struggles have been similar but with Wall on the court, they were successful against the Mavericks. According to NBA Stats, Wall posted a 111 offensive rating with the starters versus the Mavericks, which included Gordon and Cousins.

"He's the engine to this team. He gets everybody going. He makes the game easy," Cousins told a reporter after the game. "The pressure that he constantly puts on the defense is a tough thing to deal with."

Gordon has struggled all season long with three-point shooting and relied on his slashing abilities. Saturday night, Gordon made six three pointers against the Mavericks, which was 66 percent from beyond the perimeter. Gordon increased his three-point percentage from 31 percent to 34.5 percent after Saturday night's game. Gordon's 33 points came from being able to attack the entire Mavericks' defense. Willy Cauley-Stein didn't stand a chance against Gordon as he was burned multiple times. Gordon's been a lifesaver for the Rockets in the last two games, and hopefully he maintains his play.

Cousins played fantastic against the Mavericks scoring 28 points and grabbing 17 rebounds. This is Cousins' first double-double with the Rockets this season. Cousins became the vintage player from the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings. It was extremely fun watching Cousins push the ball up the court and aggressively snatch rebounds. Boogie shot 50 percent from behind the arc by making four three-pointers. He was dominant inside the paint as Cousins went 7/8 from the restricted area versus the Mavericks. This was the game Cousins needed after having a poor performance against the Pistons Friday night.

"It was really, really good. He did it all. He's a physical presence on both ends of the floor," as Silas said on Cousins' performance.

David Nwaba and Mason Jones were big factors off the Rockets' bench by having a combined total of 34 points together. Nwaba has been great in transition for the Rockets the entire season. Keep in mind that Nwaba is returning from an Achilles injury he suffered with his former team, the Brooklyn Nets. Nwaba has became a great defender, slasher, and is averaging a career-high nine points per game with the Rockets. He finished with 18 points on Saturday night versus the Mavericks.

Mason Jones has become a fan favorite of the Rockets because of his confidence. Silas is loving the usage of Jones off the bench but wants to find more minutes for him. Jones had a breakout performance versus the San Antonio Spurs with 24 points off 66 percent shooting from the field. He continues to get better with his reads from the point guard position. Jones' knowledge of running the offense has helped his efficiency on the court. He is never afraid to take clutch shots in pivotal moments of the game.

"To have a young kid who can come in and not be afraid of the moment, that's big. That's a tough position to be in as an undrafted rookie. I trust him. It's a good problem to have," Silas mentioned after the game. "He's showing me he's ready. He's a confident kid, and he should be. That's why he's good. He's not afraid of the moment, at all. He can get us organized, run plays, and score the basketball."

Hopefully, the Rockets can sustain their level of play when Victor Oladipo returns against the Washington Wizards, Tuesday. It will be interesting to watch Oladipo and Wall play in the same backcourt.

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