NASCAR REPORT

NASCAR heads to Texas for the AAA Texas 500

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This week the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for the Lone-Star State for the AAA Texas 500. This is NASCAR's second trip to the 1.5 mile oval this year. The last time they were here, Denny Hamlin went on to claim his third win of the season after passing Austin Dillon in the later stages of the race. Overall, the racing that we saw there seemed to be closer but it still turned out to be a dominating performance from Joe Gibbs Racing. This time around, the circumstances are much different considering what is at stake as each driver in the round of eight will look for a chance to punch their ticket to the championship race in Homestead-Miami.

Last week, Martin Truex Jr. went on to win his season-high seventh win of the season and will now get to race for a championship for the third consecutive year. As I stated in the Martinsville preview, I predicted that Martin Truex Jr would have no issue getting to victory lane and he went out there and made me look like a genius (which is hard to do). When the dust settled, he led a career-high 464 laps and was never really challenged for most of the day. The closest anyone could ever get to him was William Byron and he couldn't even get to the back bumper of Truex. While we saw the same amount of beating and banging that we have always seen, like the last time they were here at Martinsville, no one could seem to pass the leader.

While many people would say, "Isn't the leader supposed to be hard to pass?" it shouldn't be next to impossible like what we saw last Sunday. What it all boiled down to was the size of the spoiler on the back of the car. With this new rules package, the rear spoiler is nine inches tall and 61 inches around. This was implemented to add more drag and resistance to keep the cars closer together and while for the most part it worked for the rest of the field, Truex was able to get into clean air and just take off. After the race, Brad Keselowski said "when you get behind someone and you are way faster, this big spoiler would just kill you." Many fans agreed with him and suggested a much smaller spoiler for these 750 horsepower races. I think this could be the best idea to help improve races here. With the cost being minimal, I would not be surprised if this is the direction that NASCAR goes in the future.

The big headline after the race was the altercation between Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano during post-race. On the track, Denny Hamlin squeezed Joey Logano into the wall down the backstretch flat spotting Logano's tire. Logano confronted Hamlin on pit-road by shoving him and then walking away. This led to Hamlin and his team attacking Joey but the fight was quickly broken up after Denny Hamlin was thrown to the ground by a crew-member. This was fairly routine for Martinsville. The last three consecutive years there has been a conflict at the end of the race and Hamlin has been involved in two of them. It will be interesting to see if Logano returns the favor going forward into this round.

The driver that I have winning this weekend is Kyle Larson. While he may not be the favorite for a lot of people and the results haven't quite been what this Chip Ganassi Racing team would have liked, Larson has proved that he can run up front here. Ever since the track has been reconfigured, it has seemed to fit Larson's driving style fairly well and they just haven't had the luck to go along with their efforts. Every time he seems to get going, there has always been an obstacle in his way. The last time he came there in March, he was charging through the field and looked to be in a position to contend until an accident took him out of contention on lap 147.

This time around, I believe that Larson will be able to run a complete race with no issues and take the win and finally lock himself into the championship race at Homestead. This could very well be a race to remember for the fifth year driver and if he is able to move on to the championship round, he will be a serious threat for the championship. Another side-note, if Larson is able to win, he will break a twenty-five year win-less streak for a McDonald's sponsored car as the last driver to win for the iconic restaurant was Jimmy Spencer all the way back in 1994. Look for Larson and the Golden Arches to go to victory lane at Texas.

(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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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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