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NASCAR preview: KC Masterpiece 400

NASCAR preview: KC Masterpiece 400
Kevin Harvick is spending a lot of time in the winner's circle. Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

This week, the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for the Heartland for the KC Masterpiece 400 at Kansas Motor Speedway. Last week, Kevin Harvick went on to his fourth win of the season. It was another dominating performance for the 2014 Champion as he went on to lead a race high 201 laps and was able to easily win the first two stages of the race. It was not only another signature performance by Harvick but also by his teammates as well. Both Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch both finished second and sixth also Aric Almirola continued his string of good runs as he finished 11th.

While Bowyer and his team can hold their head up high after a runner-up finish, it was announced on Wednesday that they would be docked 20 driver and owner points for rear-window violations, they will also be fined $50,000 and lose their car-chief Jerry Cook  for two weeks as well.

The biggest surprise of sorts to come out of last weekend was Daniel Suarez. In my last article previewing this race, I stated that Daniel Suarez and his team would be a top 10 or maybe even a top five contender and the Sophomore driver exceeded expectations by finishing third. Suarez was the model of consistency for the most part of the day. He began his weekend with an impressive seventh place qualifying effort and stayed around the top 10 all day. Look for Suarez to continue to ride this new wave of success into Kansas this week as he continues to chip away at his first career win.

Although it was a great day for him and his team, Suarez was also penalized. He too had a rear window violation. Like Bowyer, he will lose 20 driver and owner points, $50,000 and his car chief Todd Brewer will also be suspended as well.

This weekend, we head for Kansas Motor Speedway. This track is another one of NASCAR’s MANY mile and a half intermediate tracks. It was recently just re-configured in 2011, as they repaved the surface and added five more degrees of banking. Like most of its mile and a half predecessors, Kansas is known for long green flag runs and a big emphasis on  pit strategy.

The biggest story of this week is the return of 2003 NASCAR Champion, Matt Kenseth. As most fans know, last year Kenseth was released from Joe Gibbs Racing as they were not able to find enough sponsorship to keep him around. For the beginning of 2018, Kenseth was without a ride until his former boss Jack Roush made the decision to bring him on and replace Trevor Bayne in the number six Advocare/Wyndham Hotels Ford. The 18-year stock car veteran heads to a track where he has had a great deal of success driving for both Jack Roush and Joe Gibbs. He has two victories, seven top fives and 13 top 10s at Kansas. Even though he has a stacked resume here, the situation he is getting into will not be easy. Kenseth will be stepping into a car that is currently 24th in points but Kenseth is one of the best drivers of his time and should have no problem adjusting. Look For Kenseth to be a factor on Saturday.

The favorite this weekend is easily Harvick. This has been probably the best start of his illustrious 17-year career. Not only does he lead the series in race wins but he also has more stage wins than anyone as well. It just seems that Harvick and his team are one step ahead of everyone and now to top it all off they go to another track where they have run well at. Of all drivers, only Jimmie Johnson has a better average finish than him. He has won at this track twice in 2013 and 2016 so he definitely has a knack for this place. Look for him to continue his success this weekend.

The driver that I have winning this weekend is Bowyer. This is a race track that is very special to Bowyer seeing how it is his home track and while he has never won here his results here have been pretty solid. Over his 19 starts here Bowyer has six top 10s and two top fives. While he hasn’t been the best driver here in the past, I think that this year is different. After finally ending that 190 race winless streak, Bowyer now has a newfound confidence in his team and his Crew Chief Mike Bugarewicz. Look for the Number 14 Haas-Automations Ford to head for victory lane.

(All stats and information used in this article is brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Refrence.com the best website for all NASCAR stats).

 

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Cougars win in OT. Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images.

The only cheers Houston guard L.J. Cryer heard in his return to Baylor came when he missed a 3-pointer on the first shot of the game for the second-ranked Cougars.

Cryer, who as a freshman three years ago was part of Baylor’s only national championship, made six free throws in overtime and finished with 15 points as No. 2 and Big 12-leading Houston beat the 11th-ranked Bears 82-76 on Saturday after blowing a 16-point halftime lead.

“I was expecting the boos and stuff like that, like not welcoming,” said Cryer, who had no turnovers while playing nearly 43 minutes.

“Really proud of L.J.,” Cougars coach Kelvin Sampson said. “L.J. was in a tough environment today. ... He showed his maturity because he just played solid.”

The Cougars (24-3, 11-3 Big 12) never trailed in regulation and appeared to win the game on a long 3-pointer by Jamal Shead at the buzzer. But replay showed the ball was still in his hands when the clock ran out.

All six of Cryer’s free throws came in overtime, the first two with 3:06 left to put the Cougars back ahead to stay after falling behind for the first time. After playing 70 games the past three seasons for Baylor before transferring to Houston, he got booed loudly every time he touched the ball early.

Emanuel Sharp had 18 points to lead the Cougars. J’Wan Roberts had 17 points and eight rebounds, while Shead had 12 points and 10 assists.

“Everybody contributed to this win, we’re all responsible for this win,” Shead said. “This was a really good team win.”

Ja’Kobe Walter scored a game-high 23 points for Baylor (19-8, 8-6), and RayJ Dennis had 21. Jalen Bridges had 17 points and 13 rebounds, and Jayden Nunn scored 11 points.

The Bears didn’t tie the game for the first time until Yves Missi, their 7-foot freshman, made a layup while being fouled with 4.4 seconds left in regulation to make it 69-all. Roberts rebounded Missi’s missed free throw, and Shead was just a tick late in ending the game without overtime.

Baylor opened the second half with a 12-0 run while Houston missed its first eight shots. Bridges scored 14 of his 17 points in the second half, including nine in a row for the Bears in the final 5 1/2 minutes of regulation.

The Cougars led 41-25 at halftime after scoring 13 points off 11 Baylor turnovers. They made 10 of 11 shots in one stretch, which Roberts started by assisting on consecutive baskets before ending it with a jumper that made it 27-10.

“We just felt like they brought it to us in the first half. They’re easily the most physical team that we’ve played so far and I feel like we were a little bit taken back,” Bridges said. “And we just came out in the second half trying to punch them back.”

MISSING GUARDS

Bears sophomore guard Langston Love, their sixth player averaging double-figure scoring going into Saturday, was out of the fourth time in five games because of a leg injury. He played 15 minutes at BYU on Tuesday. ... Sampson revealed after the game that Cougars junior guard Ramon Walker, who got hurt in practice this week, will miss the rest of the season because of a torn meniscus.

BIG PICTURE

It was their first meeting as Big 12 foes, and first since the Final Four three years ago when Baylor beat Houston in a semifinal game on way to winning its first national championship.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Some consider Houston the best team in the country, even though reigning national champion UConn is No. 1. The Cougars won both games this week against top-11 teams, also beating sixth-ranked Iowa State. Baylor is certain to drop several spots, even though its consecutive losses are to Top 25 teams.

UP NEXT

Houston is home Tuesday night against Cincinnati.

Baylor plays Monday night at TCU, which won 105-102 in triple overtime on Jan. 27 to become the first and only other opposing team to win at Foster Pavilion.

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