THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR: The regular season concludes at Daytona

Photo via: Wiki Commons.

It's crunch time, it's the final race of the regular season and what better place to have it than at Daytona International Speedway. This is the first time we will see a NASCAR race at Daytona outside it's February and July dates. At first this move was met with much criticism from fans and media members including myself, but now with the implications we are seeing, the move has shifted more favorably among the NASCAR world. Everything is now on the line now and there is sure to be plenty of drama. I look forward to watching Saturday night.

Unlike this week, last week's doubleheader at Dover was fairly tame as the usual suspects Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick went on to win their 6th and 7th races of 2020. Both of these drivers continue to establish themselves as the two championship favorites as they led a combined 338 laps. During Harvick's win on Sunday he was able to clinch the regular season championship giving him fifteen extra points come the playoffs. These two drivers are almost assured that they will race for the title at Phoenix barring a major collapse. It will be fun to see how this battle rages on over the next eleven weeks.

The silly-season is in full effect as two major rumors came down this week. One of them involves Denny Hamlin. This one seems crazy but after talking to a few of the media members and a MBM Motorsports employee, I can confirm that there are some legs to it. The story is that Michael Jordan is interested in purchasing a stake in Richard Petty Motorsports and bringing Denny Hamlin along with him. They will form an alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing and potentially could bring Denny Hamlin along to drive the #23 Toyota Camry. The other major factor is Bubba Wallace and where he goes and with this arrangement, from what I heard, he would be staying in the #43 car.

Now while yes it is true that one Michael Jordan's reps denied the reports and stated that there was no truth to the rumor, it was also confirmed on the popular Door Bumper Clear podcast that Jordan was the celebrity that RPM owner Andrew Murstein had spoken to about an investment in the team. It makes sense that this podcast in particular would have this sort of information considering one of the hosts, Freddie Kraft, is Bubba Wallace's spotter. Personally I think this will be HUGE for the sport of NASCAR. Over the course of his life, MJ has always been a big racing fan seeing that he is from North Carolina. He is also no stranger to autoracing as he purchased an AMA Motorcycle racing team back in 2006. I look forward to seeing where this goes over the next few weeks.

The other big rumor involved the #48 car and who will be driving it next year. It would appear as a new leading candidate has emerged and it's Xfinity Series regular, Noah Gragson. On Wednesday, Gragson talked about signing some "very important paperwork" and then tweeted a pen alluding to a new deal that he was signing. This set the racing world a flame with speculation and 2021 paint schemes but on Thursday it was announced that Noah will return to the #9 Camaro for Jr Motorsports in the Cup Series. Overall, I think Gragson can be a good driver in NASCAR but another year in the Xfinity Series would do him good.

Speaking of the #48 car, the battle for the final spot in the playoffs continues between Jimmie Johnson and William Byron. After a third place finish on Sunday, Johnson is now a mere four points back from his teammate William Byron. This battle is interesting considering they are both on the same team, not to mention Byron's crew chief Chad Kanaus worked with Jimmie during all seven of his championships. It will be quite the battle as Johnson's Crew Chief Cliff Daniels told the media that working with Byron will be essential to the #48 team making the playoffs. There is a chance that both drivers can get in by one of them winning and the other driver getting the 16th spot, which is very likely considering Matt DiBenedtto is only 9 points above the cut-off line. It will be fun to see this going into Saturday's race. Anything can happen including the possibility of a surprise winner.

And speaking of a surprise winner. The driver I predict to take the checkered flag this week will come as a surprise to most, but I am taking Ricky Stenhouse Jr to win the Coke Zero Sugar 400. As we saw last time here, Stenhouse was well in position to make a run for the victory. He started on pole and was in the lead pack for most of the race but later into the race, Stenhouse crashed coming into pit lane costing him a chance at victory. He followed it up at the next restrictor plate track by finishing second in a photo finish with Ryan Blaney. The results are there and he can make it happen, he just needs to finish the battle. He won here at Daytona back in 2017. Even though he has shown a lot of success and promise on these types of racetracks, he has been under much controversy in his tactics on these types of tracks as he has caused a few incidents over the years. He has seemed to clean up his driving through and I look for him to continue to improve and take the victory come Saturday and punch his ticket to the playoffs.

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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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