NASCAR playoffs at Kansas: Preview, picks

Keep an eye on Kyle Larson this weekend. Photo by Wiki Commons.

The playoffs continue this week as they head to Kansas Motor Speedway for round two of the round of 16. This will be the second race here this season as the last time they were here Kurt Busch out dueled Kyle Larson for his lone win of 2022. Overall, the racing here has been fantastic. This new car has proven that races on mile-and-a-half tracks like this provide for much better racing than its Gen-6 counterparts. There will be a lot of eyes on these race cars after there were several failures including engine failures from Martin Truex, Kyle Busch, and Kevin Harvick. I don’t know if this will be too much of an issue this week because the surface is much newer, but it will still be an exciting storyline.

Last week, in one of the biggest upsets of the season, Erik Jones went on to capture his third career victory and his second career win at Darlington. This was the first win for the legendary #43 car since Aric Almirola won back in 2014 at Daytona. This season has been sort of a breakthrough for Petty-GMS. Erik has scored ten top-10 finishes and was knocking on the door of the playoffs. Both him and runner-up Denny Hamlin both raced clean as Hamlin cut him a break as the two were former teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing. In the future, Erik Jones will certainly be the team's franchise driver.

As I mentioned earlier, it was a huge attrition race. Both Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports had mechanical issues that would take them out of the race. What made this more difficult was that both teams had cars that were capable of winning, especially JGR as Martin Truex Jr and Kyle Busch led for the lion's share of the race. As we would expect, the drivers were very critical of the new car and its parts. After Kevin Harvick blew an engine, his Ford Mustang caught fire. When he was asked how the sport can fix the car, he responded, "Find someone who is better at running the show.”

It’s clear that NASCAR is doing all it can to fix these cars. They recently added a steel panel above the exhaust that will have a much harder time catching fire. Hopefully, this makes these cars much safer going forward.

On Thursday, a bombshell announcement was dropped on the NASCAR world as the All-Star Race will be held at the famed North Wilksboro Speedway. When it was announced that Texas Motor Speedway would be getting a race back in 1996, North Wilksboro was the track that would have to give up it’s date and the track would sit dormant for over 25 years. It wasn’t until 2020 when Dale Earnhardt Jr was able to convince IRacing to go and scan the track’s racing surface so it could be added to the game. Many thought it would end right there and that racing would never happen, but sure enough, NASCAR has found a way back to its roots. I will be attending this race first-hand. It will truly be a special moment when the green flag drops in May of 2023.

The Kyle Busch speculation is coming closer and closer to its conclusion as he is now closer to a decision on where he will race in 2023. It’s looking like his most likely landing spot will be either Richard Childress Racing or 23XI or both? On Twitter, Adam Stern reported that Richard Childress Racing is his most likely landing spot and with Tyler Reddick more than likely on his way out, Busch would fill the seat. This would mean Ty Gibbs would be promoted to drive the #18 car, similarly to what we saw with Joey Logano when Tony Stewart left back in 2009. The other option is Busch would leave for Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan’s team 23XI as his brother Kurt ponders his future in driving. The question would shift as to where he would go after that, as Reddick is slated to move to the team in 2024. We should know a whole lot more in the next 24-48 hours.

Focusing on this weekend’s race, the driver that I have winning is Kyle Larson. Last week's race at Darlington was a disaster for him. He would spin out, have all kinds of mechanical issues, and somehow he was still able to salvage a respectable 12th place finish. This proves that Larson is one of the most talented drivers in the world. His day was all but done and he still drove back through the field and almost scored a top ten. This week, he is going to a track where he has been almost perfect. Over the last three races, Larson has finished no worse than second and has led 291 laps. We can expect him to continue to rip the top line like in the spring, as his car is much faster up there close to the wall. If he can conserve his equipment and can stay out of trouble, the defending champ should have no issue going to victory lane come Sunday.

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It's Draft SZN! Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images.

On Thursday June 22, the NBA will hold their annual draft. With the Rockets owning the number four overall pick, you'd think things would be looking up for them. However, in a draft where the top three players are all expected to be immediate impact guys, the drop begins where the Rockets are selecting. Armed with some young talent, cap space, and a new head coach, the Rockets are looked at as a team on the rise. But what will help contribute to that rise?

When you have assets, you have options. There are three main options I see here for the Rockets with number four: keep the pick and select the guy you think will work best moving forward; trade up to select the guy they feel they missed out on that isn't a punk Frenchie who dislikes Houston; or trade the pick for an established star. The other option is trading the pick for a good player and a future pick/s. Let's take a look at the options:

Option 1: Keeping the pick means you're drafting the leftovers. Those leftovers start with Amen Thompson. He's the guy I believe can come in and help sooner rather than later. At 6'7 and 215 pounds, he has an NBA body. His skill set can come in handy because he's played point guard. This team could use a true point guard, but Thompson isn't exactly a traditional point. He has the size of a wing player, which allows him to see over the top of the defense. His outside shooting is abysmal and needs a vast improvement. To me, adjusting to life as a pro without his twin brother Ausar, another good draft prospect himself, will be difficult. Overall, I believe he's the guy to take at four if they decide to stay.

Option 2: Trading up to get Scoot Henderson or Brandon Miller may prove to be difficult. Both teams picking ahead of the Rockets have their point guards. Charlotte wants to find Lamelo Ball a running mate and have their eyes rumored to be set on Miller. Portland is trying their best to keep Dame Lillard happy. The Rockets would be best served to trade with either team willing to move down for whatever they offer, provided it's worthwhile. Portland was just in the playoffs the last few years and aren't as far out as some would think. They're the ones I'd eye to trade with. Speaking of Portland and Dame…

Option 3: The Rockets need a point guard and Dame may be looking to get out. Help them start their rebuild and bring Dame to Houston. Or, how about the Jaylen Brown rumors? Fred VanVleet has a player option for next season, then becomes an unrestricted free agent. There are a few options of finding veteran help around the league, especially at the point. Problem is, are any of these team willing to take the Rockets' offers? It'd start with number four, and include other assets as well. This option makes sense if the organization believes the roster, with whatever vet addition they make via trade, is playoff ready.

Option 4: The last option I thought about is to trade the pick for a first rounder in next year's draft and a decent player. I see this as a last resort of sorts. But only if they do not feel comfortable with whatever player they may take. That, and if they want to save cap space for next free agency period. Not having a first rounder next year isn't as bad as one might think. The team will need to make the necessary moves this offseason to ensure that won't be an issue next draft. FOMO is real, especially when a team is rebuilding and can't use one of the best/cheapest forms of acquiring top talent.

I talked with my good friend “TC.” The guy loves basketball and even hips me to a bunch of stuff. He wants them to move up in the draft for Scoot or Miller. While he is a James Harden fan, he doesn't necessarily want him back. He wouldn't mind it, but it's not his first option. I've spoken with a lot of native Houstonians about this. They all want a winner sooner than later, but have different philosophies on how to get there. Personally, I say options two and three are my faves. Trade the pick for help, rookie or vet, and go from there. I guess we'll have to wait three more weeks before we find out. Or will we…

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