THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR: The Geico 500 goes down this Sunday at Talladega

Photo via: WikiCommons.

The time is here. NASCAR heads to the world-famous Talladega Superspeedway for the Geico 500. This track is easily the biggest and baddest racetrack on the face of the planet. Coming into this weekend, the drivers will not have any practice or qualifying sessions so it will be interesting how this changes things. NASCAR will also be implementing more safety regulations including extra roll bars, and they will also be cutting back on horsepower from 550 to 510. The reason for these changes was to try to prevent an accident like we saw at Daytona with Ryan Newman. This could very well mean a much different race on Sunday. It will be interesting to see how this impacts the race.

We will also be seeing fans this weekend as it was announced a few weeks ago that Talladega will allow up to 5,000 spectators including limited camping. While it isn't exactly the full crowds we typically see here, it will be a relief to see at least some normalcy. Last week, Denny Hamlin went on to claim his 40th career victory after fending off Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney. It appeared as if Elliott was on his way to victory until he approached the lapped car of Joey Logano. With Logano still mad about his run-in with Chase at Bristol, he didn't make it easy on Elliott as he held him up and all through the backstretch clearing a path for Denny to take the lead. When the dust settled and Logano was asked about it in a NASCAR Sirius interview, Logano responded by saying "you think I am going to make his life easy after two weeks ago?"

Overall, I have to commend him on how he got back at Elliott. There weren't any wrecked race cars and when it was over, Elliott still had a chance to win. I would like to think that after this, the beef is over, but we will have to see in the coming weeks what's next between these two. While Hamlin was the winner, the story of the race had to be Tyler Redick. The rookie driver went on to claim his first top five finish of the season and his third top ten of the season. This young man has proven that he can run with the best of them week in and week out and what makes it all the more impressive is that his average starting position is 21.4. To see him charge all the way through the pack has been one of the most exciting things about this season. He has rejuvenated this race team and I would not be surprised if he was to win a race this season. Look for Reddick in the #8 Camaro to be a threat.

Another driver who has really been doing a great job these past couple of weeks has been Michael McDowell. The journeyman driver has finished both fourteenth and fifteenth in the last two weeks at Homestead and Martinsville. McDowell has done a great job over the past few weeks and appears to be in position to have another good run this weekend at Talladega considering how good he is at plate tracks. I look for McDowell to be a dark horse contender for a win this week, but the driver that I have winning is Ryan Newman. As we all know, tracks like Talladega and Daytona have been awful to him. He has been involved in some of the worst wrecks on tracks like these, including his vicious crash at Daytona in February. But this week, I think things will be different.

After all, he does have the highest average finish among all drivers on these types of tracks and has been a football field away from winning here twice. Seeing Newman win here would be one of the biggest feel-good stories not just of this year, but in NASCAR's history and I think the veteran will get it done come Sunday. Look for Newman to come back and find redemption and win his first race since 2017.

All stats and information used in this article are brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com, the best websites for all NASCAR stats.

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In recent reports, there have been multiple rumors that the 76ers could make a push for James Harden if they can sign Mike D' Antoni as their head coach. As the 76ers fired Brett Brown in August, they are now looking for a culture change. So, it won't come as a surprise if the 76ers try to trade Joel Embiid for Harden. Hopefully, Daryl Morey recognizes the talent of Harden and rejects the idea of trading him.

Harden is easily the second greatest Rocket of in franchise history, including being second in scoring. In Harden's eight-year tenure with the Rockets, he has become an NBA MVP, made the All-NBA team seven times, three-time scoring champ, and an eight-time All-Star. Harden's resume with the Rockets is impressive, including going to Western Conference Finals twice. Ever since Harden came to Houston in 2012, he revamped the Rockets' franchise with eight consecutive playoff runs. Before Harden came to the Rockets, this franchise had missed the playoffs three times in a row.

Harden also attracted huge free agents like Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, and Russell Westbrook, which helped him succeed in his Rockets tenure. He has made the Rockets an attractive team to play on since being in Houston for eight years.

Even though Harden has been great with the Rockets, he has not reached the Finals yet. That has been the huge question mark on Harden's resume while playing for the Rockets. Honestly, there are certain moments when Harden has disappeared in big games. In 2015 versus the Clippers in Game 6 of the Western Semifinals, Harden shot 5 of 20 from the field, and was benched in the 4th quarter by Kevin McHale, as the Rockets were led by Josh Smith to force a Game 7 in Houston. Also, during the Spurs-Rockets Western Semifinals of 2017, Harden had another disappearance in Game 6. Harden shot 2 of 11 from the field with only 10 points as the Rockets lost to the Spurs 114-75 without Kawhi Leonard.

Despite those two horrible examples, Harden was extremely close in 2018 versus the Warriors but an injury to Paul's hamstring stopped the Rockets' momentum, as they lost in game 7 by missing 22 straight three-pointers. The following year, the Rockets lost to the Warriors again without Kevin Durant because Paul and Harden were not on the same page in the Western Semifinals. Things were not different this year, as the Rockets were overpowered by the Lakers 4-1.

Trading the 32-year-old Harden could be tempting because of the recent playoff failures, but he is a generational player. In the last 5 years, Harden has dominated the NBA with his elite scoring. Harden has averaged over 30 plus points per game in the last three seasons. He is also classified as one of the greatest scorers of all-time behind Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, and Wilt Chamberlin.

Stephen A. Smith lays out why he thinks Harden is the greatest scorer currently in the NBA in the video below.

James Harden is 'the greatest scorer in the NBA' - Stephen A. | First Take youtu.be

After all the things Harden has accomplished in Houston, is he still untouchable? Honestly, if Harden is traded, the culture for the Rockets will drastically change, especially with new players coming to Houston. In my opinion, Harden and Morey are very close but Morey is blinded by his own decisions because of Harden. Morey built this team around James and does anything to please him. He wanted to keep D'Antoni around because of Harden, which is not helpful for the Rockets. If the Rockets are going to win big, Morey has to be stronger with his own judgement of the team, and not Harden's.

If the Rockets decided to trade James Harden to the 76ers, they could receive Embiid and Josh Richardson, which is still good. The Rockets would get a big man, who is a superstar, and a great wing defender, which gave Harden problems two years when he played for the Heat. This would not be bad decision if the Rockets decided to move on from Harden.

Before Morey decides to pull the trigger, he needs to digest Harden's accolades, including his shortcomings. Hopefully, the right decision is made for the Rockets' organization.

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