THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR: Super Start Batteries 400 preview and picks

Photo via: Wiki Commons.

The NASCAR Cup Series heads to the heartland for the Super Start Batteries 400 at Kansas Speedway. This race will be run on Thursday as NASCAR continues their mid to late-week races. This week, they will be running the first race that I can remember on a Thursday. It will definitely be interesting as NASCAR will lead off the weekend of racing with the Truck and Xfinity Series following them on Friday and Saturday.

Also, for the first time in series history there will be a two-day doubleheader for the truck series on Friday and Saturday. Personally, I really like this idea by NASCAR. It gives the teams a full week to get to go back to the shop and prepare for the Daytona Road Course coming up. It will be fun to get to watch a race on a Thursday. While Kansas Motor Speedway may look like any average mile and a half-track, this track has really benefited from this high downforce low horsepower package and there has been some very good racing here since 2018 as the last two races have been decided in the final laps. I look forward to this week's race.

Last week, at Texas Motor Speedway we saw a bit of an upset as Austin Dillon and crew chief Justin Alexander implored a two-tire strategy to take the lead with 22 laps to go. And after numerous cautions, he never looked back en route to his third career victory. In back-to-back weeks now, we have seen two winners we didn't expect to see, last week it was Cole Custer and this week it was Austin Dillon. While we have seen a dominant effort from both Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick, it has been great to see some of these guys get victories and good results and I look for it to continue the rest of the season.

While Austin Dillon went to victory lane, he shared some of the spotlight with his rookie teammate Tyler Reddick who came home second. This is a career best for the rookie as he continues to be one of the more pleasant storylines of 2020. The California native now has 6 top tens and two top fives including another impressive fourth place finish at Homestead earlier in the year. He has continued to improve week in and week out and is getting closer and closer to a victory here in the near future. Look for Reddick to win a race before the year is out.

While it was a great race for one rookie, it was a much different story for one of the other rookies, Quin Houff. In the late stages of the race, Houff decided he was going to pit but the only problem was he missed pit-road entrance by about a football field. Thinking he can make it, he still peeled to the bottom of the track and collided with Chrisotpher Bell and Matt DiBenedetto and then hit the wall hard in turn four. This not only ruined DiBenedtto's race but it put Ryan Blaney back in traffic after making a pit-stop that ultimately cost him the win. After the race, Brad Keselowski came up with a solid idea by suggesting that drivers should be demoted and promoted from the Truck and Xfinity Series to the Cup Series should they perform well enough. Overall, I really like this idea and think it can prevent rushing some of these drivers up too soon.

Another major story in the headlines this week is the omission of practice and qualifying for the remainder of the season. I have a major issue with this and while I understand why they want to keep as few people at the track as possible, it is really affecting the racing. It will also put these drivers in a bind as well as they don't have the extra time to work out some of the minor issues with their car. For example, last week at Texas Aric Almirola had some break issues before the race began that could very well have been resolved should they have had a practice session to bleed the air out of the breaks. It will also be a detriment when the drivers go to a new track like the Daytona Road Course. This configuration has never been raced before in the Cup Series and could leave them unprepared for the race. I hope NASCAR can come up with a compromise here soon.

The driver I have winning this week is Ryan Blaney. This has been a career year for Blaney as he currently sits second in points and has nine top fives this year with a win at Talladega. All season he has shown more speed than anyone but for some reason, it hasn't translated to another victory. I think that will change this week. While his average finish here hasn't been great, he has come out and led a lot of laps and put himself in a great spot to win, but something comes up and ruins his day. This week he will finally be able to put a race together and take his #12 Mustang to victory lane.

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ROCKETS BEAT THUNDER

Rockets blast Thunder in home opener, 124-91

Rockets take care of business in home opener. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets had an impressive outing versus the Oklahoma City Thunder after an embarrassing loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night. They took care of business at home on Friday night, which was a surprising blowout. The Rockets didn't have to worry about Karl-Anthony Towns screaming at Alperen Sengun or Anthony Edwards telling Coach Silas to call a timeout. Instead, they took their frustrations out on the Thunder (another younger core).

"We responded and bounced back from that game 1," Silas said. "I wouldn't say it was taking anything out. It was just learning and applying to what you learn and that's going to be us this year. Applying to what you learn and getting better and having some games like we had the other day. Veteran teams have some games when they don't play as well they want."

Christian Wood led the way, as he controlled the paint on all aspects with rebounding and putbacks. He played an incredible game after having a poor performance versus the Timberwolves. Silas showed complete trust in allowing Wood to open sets, as he walked the ball down the court several times, and in transition too. Wood became aggressive on the perimeter with open shooting and tough shots, and long strides towards the rim. He finished the night with 31 points and 13 rebounds off 66 percent shooting from the field.

The young core for the Thunder had a tough night defending Wood from every aspect. Hopefully, he keeps this play up. Silas loved the space that was created throughout the game for Wood, which included the help from Eric Gordon, as he continued to play better. Wood continues to develop underneath the Silas umbrella. He had a great feel for off-the-dribble shooting a few times. Wood becomes more dangerous when space is created on the court.

"It allows me to show what I can do. It allows the floor to be open and I can create for other guys and create for myself," Wood said.

As Gordon continues to impress, his teammate Kevin Porter Jr was amazed with his performance.

Gordon looked marvelous inside and outside of the paint, as it looked like a time ripple. The younger guards of the Thunder had a tough time staying in front of Gordon. His size and strength gave the Thunder a huge problem. Gordon is shooting the ball better too, as he is shooting the three-ball at 70 percent this season. Although it's a small sample size, Gordon is trying to overcome his shooting struggles from last year. Gordon finished with 22 points on 66 percent shooting versus the Thunder.

"EG is the biggest part of this squad," Porter said. He comes in and just scores. We need somebody off the bench to do that. He is our guy when me and J come out, it's EG time and he knows that, and comes in aggressive. So much energy on the bench, and we need that every night from him if we want a chance to win."

As I recently mentioned Porter, his facilitation did look better versus the Thunder than the Timberwolves. Porter had nine turnovers in his first game but managed to have two Friday night. He made great slip passes and found open teammates in the open corner. Porter forced a good number of passes versus the Timberwolves but looked more relaxed Friday night. The hardest position in the NBA is the point guard position, but Silas will not allow Porter to fail. Instead of nine turnovers, Porter dished out nine assists. Silas said:

"Bounce back right, going from nine turnovers to nine assists… I think he had two turnovers tonight, which is great. He is making plays for his teammates, and he was really focused."

Porter's shiftiness and creative ability allowed his teammates to get open looks near the rim. He had 18 points because of his step-back threes and first step going towards the basket. Thankfully, Porter is a great ball handler, which confuses defenders on different spots on the court. It's almost like watching a ballerina skate on ice in the Olympics. Hopefully, his confidence continues to get better throughout the year. Porter shot the three-ball at 50 percent tonight. Efficiency is key for Porter this year.

"I'm just trying to let the game slow down," Porter said. "I had a lot of turnovers last game and I just wanted to piggyback and learn from them and learn from some of my forced passes and reads. And sometimes I still force it a little bit. My guys hate that, and sometimes I'm still passive and I'm working on that. When to pass and score and bounce it out, and tonight I felt like I did a good job of that."

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