THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR: Talladega playoff race preview and predictions

Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images.

Well folks, it's finally here. The race that everyone has been looking forward to, Talladega. As we all know this is the baddest racetrack on the face of the planet. The steaks will be high as this is the second race of the round of 12 or the wild-card round as I like to call it. Not only do we see the unpredictability of Talladega this weekend but next weekend they go to the Charlotte Roval, another track that is known for its insanity. Getting through Talladega with a win could be huge or each of these twelve drivers. This will be a race you definitely don't want to miss.

Last week at Vegas, Kurt Busch went on to capture his first victory of 2020 at his home track. The race was dominated by Denny Hamlin as he led a race high 121 laps but green flag pit-stops for debris put him towards the back of the lead lap cars. While he was able to rebound for a third place finish, this was a race he should have won. But for once in 2020, luck just wasn't on his side. While Hamlin was in front, the one issue most of these drivers had was the ability to pass. For over 80 percent of the race, it was completely unwatchable. This high downforce aero package continues to provide lackluster results as the only way anyone could do anything was after a restart. This continues to prove that high downforce won't always produce good racing.

Luckily NASCAR has heard the fans and they will be changing things when it comes to the cars in 2021 as they unveiled the newest rules package on Thursday. It was announced that 23 of the 36 races will be run by the popular 750 horsepower aero package. Another thing fans have been asking for is a much smaller rear spoiler and it appears that is coming as well as it was also announced that the spoiler will be reduced from 8 inches to 2.75 inches. I think this will be a huge step in the right direction for the sport and it also shows that Steve O'Donnell and everyone at NASCAR are listening to their fans. Of course, they won't make everyone happy, but it's been awesome to see them listen to feedback. We will see this package run at tracks like Dover and Bristol, all the road courses and the rest of the short tracks while the intermediates and super speedways will continue with their 550 horsepower aero package. I am so happy to see NASCAR continue to grow and improve as we look to the future that is certainly a lot brighter.

The driver that I have winning this week is Ryan Blaney. Over the last three races here, Blaney has dominated this track as he has won two of the last three races here. Although he didn't advance to the round of 12, it will be hard to beat him. His teammate Brad Keselowski said in an interview that "Blaney has this type of racing down to a science." I look for him to continue his success with another victory here. It would be a great way for him to close out an extremely disappointing season. Look for Blaney to take the #12 Ford Mustang to victory lane.

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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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