THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR: Hollywood Casino 400 preview and predictions

Look for Denny Hamlin to win this weekend. Photo via: Wiki Commons.

The NASCAR Cup Series heads for Kansas Speedway this week for the Hollywood Casino 400. This is the first race of the Round of 8 as the season gets one step closer to crowning a champion as there are four more races left in this crazy 2020 season. This track is a one and a half mile oval and it fits this package almost perfectly as there has been much closer racing since NASCAR started running it back in 2018. I look forward to seeing how this race plays out as strategy could very well play a part as it usually does here. The last time the Cup Series was here there were a lot of wrecks so that could be something to look out for as well.

Last week, Chase Elliott went on to capture his fourth consecutive road course win. The race was highlighted by the on and off rain that would soak the track and make finding grip next to impossible. We saw lots of cars spinning into the grass including Ryan Blaney who was leading at the time he spun. As crazy as the racing was we saw some surprises up near the front as Ty Dillon went on to win stage one of the race. Many people didn't care for what we saw as there were a multitude of fans on Twitter proclaiming that what they saw "was not racing." While yes, it was crazy, I think this was awesome to watch. I hope if there is ever more rain on road courses we can see more of this in the future.

The big surprise of the weekend was Kyle Busch. As we all know this has been the worst year of his racing career, he has yet to win a race this year and was eliminated from championship contention. The day started off pretty bad for him after getting a flat tire but as he always does, the defending champion went on a tear driving all the way back to the lead. It looked like the stars were going to align for him but a late race caution and the decision to stay out on cold tires cost him as his M&M's Camry gave up the ghost. While this season hasn't been the best, I would expect him to still be a major contender in the coming weeks for a victory.

The silly season continues this week as the rumors continue to swirl around who will go where next season. There are reports that next season Hendrick Motorsports will be renumbering the #88 back to the legendary #5. While the driver remains unknown, this is a big deal for Hendrick Racing as many people had been speculating that this would happen and now it seems as if it's coming to fruition. This was brought up by Dale Earnhardt Jr on his podcast. The other big story is the possibility that Erik Jones will be driving for Richard Petty Motorsports in 2021. This comes as a bit of a surprise considering the struggles that this team has endured but overall maybe there are improvements being made over there that we don't know about. If I personally was Rick Hendrick, I would hire Erik Jones to drive the #5 car next year but it is becoming more and more clear who he is going to go with next season and that doesn't appear to be an option. If Jones can come in and run well in the #43 car next season, I would think his stock will go up for 2022.

The driver that I have winning this week is Denny Hamlin. This 2020 season has been a career year for Hamlin as he has won seven races and has scored almost more points than anyone. Now he heads for a track that he has made his own where he won back in July. He has been phenomenal on these types of racetracks and this weekend should be no different. Look for Denny Hamlin to take the #11 FedEx Toyota to victory lane and lock himself into the championship race at Phoenix.

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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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