NASCAR Toyota/Savemart 350 preview

Sonoma is known for its wine, but this week it will be home to NASCAR. Fred Faour/SportsMap

The Monster Energy Cup series returns from a one week hiatus as the drivers head for wine country in Sonoma, Calif., for the Toyota Savemart 350. Sonoma is one of the three road courses on the NASCAR schedule. The track is 2.52 miles in length and has 12 turns including a hill in the first three turns of the race track.

Sonoma has produced some of the best racing around, it’s not only a host for NASCAR but also for Indycar, IMSA sports cars and even NHRA. While the track is a two and a half mile road course, it has short track characteristics. Due to the tight spaces around the corners, There are plenty of places on the track where drivers have to knock each other out of the way to make a pass for position. Look for there to be a good chance for some angry drivers at some point during the race.

Last week Clint Bowyer went on to claim his second victory of the season for his first multi-win season since 2012. The race ended after one hundred and thirty three laps due to rain. On the final restart Bowyer was able to hold off his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick. My prediction to win for this race was Kyle Larson. The day started out promising for him, he led 18 laps and consistently was one of the quickest cars on the track but on lap 87, Larson spun out in turn four costing him a chance at victory. As a result he finished 28th, a very disappointing result for the winner of the last three Michigan races.

One of the biggest surprises was Paul Menard and his fifth place finish. It has been a solid season for the Wisconsin driver as he scored his best finish of the season. Menard has steadily been creeping into the picture as a driver that can make the “playoffs.” He currently sits tied with Alex Bowman for the 16th and final spot. Menard is sort of NASCAR’s version of Josh McCown; he has driven for five teams over the course of his career including Dale Earnhardt Incorporated and Richard Childress Racing. While he was able to earn a win at RCR in 2011 at the Brickyard, he hasn’t quite achieved the level of success that he would have hoped for but now, it seems like he has found a good home with the Wood Brothers. Menard currently has four top tens and a stage win at Talladega. Don’t be surprised if Menard is able to go to victory lane in 2018.

The favorite going into this race would be Martin Truex Jr. Last season Truex led a race high 25 laps before his Toyota engine let go on lap 86. Truex has always been quite the road racer as he was able to break a 232-race winless streak here in 2013 and has always been upfront when we go to Sonoma or Watkins Glen. While he has a 21st place average finish here, the results are not indicative of how well he has run and he could have at least two or three wins here if it weren’t for bad luck. It wouldn’t shock me if Truex and his crew go to victory lane on sunday.

My prediction to win this weekend is Denny Hamlin. Over the course of his storied career in NASCAR, Hamlin has not been known as a great road course racer, but over the course of the last few years, the results have got much better for him. He comes into this race with two top fives, 44 laps led and an average finish of third. This track has not always been kind to Hamlin. In 2016, he was one corner away from taking the victory until he was pushed aside by Tony Stewart. This would be the final victory for Stewart and his illustrious Hall of Fame worthy career. This year though I think it will be different and Hamlin will break through and get his first win of 2018.

The sleeper pick this week is A.J. Allmendinger. This season has been the season of misery for Allmendinger and team owner Brad Daugherty. They currently sit 23rd in points and have only two top 10 finishes but this week I expect for them to turn it around. Allmendinger grew up racing open-wheel Indy cars around tracks like Sonoma and has shown great promise on the road courses. He is highly regarded as NASCAR’s last true “Road Course Ringer” since Marcos Ambrose left. He captured his first and only victory at the other road course on the Schedule, Watkins Glen. I foresee Allmendinger and the 47 Krogers Chevrolet to be out front and possibly a threat to win on Sunday.

(All stats and information used in this article is brought to you by the good folks at and the best website for all NASCAR stats)


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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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