The Left Turn

NASCAR Toyota Owners 400 preview

Kyle Busch won last week and will be favored again this week. Kylebusch.com

The NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads for the Commonwealth of Virginia this week for the Toyota Owners 400. Last Monday, we saw Kyle Busch capture his second consecutive victory at Bristol Motor Speedway. During the final five laps, he moved Kyle Larson out of the way and never looked back to claim his seventh Bristol Victory.


While the race was able to begin on Sunday, It was delayed due to rain on lap two-hundred and three. When the action resumed, there were wrecks aplenty. In total there were 13 caution flags and three multi-car incidents involving at least three or more cars. Most notably the first caution was a nine-car pile-up featuring Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr.  It is safe to say that the old Bristol that NASCAR fans loved is now back in full force. This race had it all, Crashes, lead changes and lots of beating and banging.


The driver I predicted to win last week was Erik Jones. The sophomore driver struggled immensely. After a good start on Sunday, a tire failure would end his chances of victory. He would finish 26th. One thing he and his crew can take away is how well he was running before everything went wrong. Look for him to be a contender and eventually a race winner in the near-future.


One of the biggest surprises of last week was  Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Earlier in the race, Stenhouse was a pinball out there. He spun out on lap 62 and appeared to be in deep trouble, but on Monday, he looked like a completely different driver. He was able to bounce back and earn a fourth-place finish.


This Saturday, we head for Richmond Raceway. This track is a 0.75 mile oval with fourteen degree banked corners. It is a track that is wide enough for cars to run side-by-side and not get congested as we see on a lot of the other short tracks including Bristol or Martinsville.  Look for there to be a lot of lead changes and battles for position. Another factor that could play a significant role is the time of the race. Last year this race was run on Sunday afternoon as opposed to this year's Saturday night. While it may seem trivial, the time that a race takes place plays a significant role in the conditions of the track.  For example, during a day race, the track's surface is much hotter and slicker and more difficult to drive around. Look for this to be a difference on race day.


The favorite going into this week again is last week's winner Kyle Busch. After his win at Bristol, Busch goes to another one of his best tracks. Here he leads all active drivers in Average Finish with a 7.40 and in victories with four. Kyle is a solid pick to win at any race track, but Richmond is another one of his tracks where he especially thrives, in fact, he was able to win his first NASCAR Xfinity (then Busch Series) race here when he drove for Rick Hendrick. Look for the M&M's Camry to be a threat this weekend.


My pick to win this weekend is Denny Hamlin. Richmond is a track that Hamlin dominates. In 2008 he led over 380 laps before a tire failure cost him a shot at victory. While times have indeed changed since then, his results have not. Since 2016, Denny has the highest finishing average of 3.75! Look for the Fedex Camry to go to victory lane.

My sleeper pick is Ryan Newman. This has been a track that he has run well at in the past and  has seven top five finishes and 18 top 10 finishes. While it has not been the best start to the season for the “Rocketman,” last week’s top 10 finish at Bristol should be a catalyst for him to run well this weekend. While he is a longshot for victory, if the chips fall in the right places it would not surprise me to see the No. 31 Camaro take the checkered flag. It should be an interesting 400 laps come Saturday.

Overall Richmond has the potential for many things including short fenders and short tempers at the end of the race. We have seen it many times in the past and even as recently as three years ago when the recently retired Carl Edwards bumped his teammate Kyle Busch out of the way for the victory or last year when Denny Hamlin wrecked Martin Truex Jr out of a chance at victory in the fall race here. It should be a weekend filled with fantastic racing.  

(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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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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