The Left Turn

NASCAR Watkins Glen preview

Kyle Busch won again. Kylebusch.com

NASCAR turns right and left this week as they head for Watkins Glen International raceway  for their second of three road course races in 2018. Located in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York, this track is easily one of the most difficult on the schedule. It is 2.45 miles in length and has eleven corners making it the longest road course in NASCAR. The toughest corner on the track is the chicane in turn five. In 1992, this was added to the track due to the major crashes including the late J.D. McDuffie who died a year earlier in this corner. This Corner is also difficult due to the high rate of speed the drivers are carrying from the straightaways exiting corners two,three and four. Due to how fast they are going, it is easy to miss the corner and possibly crash.

This track arguably has provided one of the greatest finishes in NASCAR history back in 2012, when former driver Marcos Ambrose fought off future champion Brad Keselowski in possibly the greatest last lap battle of all time. Ever since then this track has been one of the most anticipated races of the whole season so look for a great race come Sunday.

Last week it was much of the same as we have seen all season as Kyle Busch was able to take his sixth checkered flag of the year. His Joe Gibbs racing teammates Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones gave him a big challenge in the closing laps but the M&M’s Camry was too quick for them to really do anything.

In spite of the fact that they were not able to win, this was an excellent result for NASCAR’s next generation, as sophomore driver Suarez got his career best finish of second, Alex Bowman finished third, Jones fifth and William Byron was able to claim his second top 10 of his career as he finished sixth. Sure at the end of the day, the experienced veteran in Kyle Busch won the race but this race could very well be a shifting of the tide for the sport. Look for any one of the drivers mentioned above to be a force to be reckoned with in the not to distant future.

As I covered last week, Ryan Newman seems to be getting back on the right track. Last week he was able to back up his sixth place finish at New Hampshire with an impressive eighth place finish at Pocono. All throughout the day, Newman laid in the weeds and wasn’t really in contention but in the closing stages, he and his crew used pit road strategy by only taking two tires and gaining more track position. His tires were able to hold up and he scored his sixth top 10 of the season. Currently, the rocketman is 34 points out of the playoffs but if there is anyone who can get in by points it’s Ryan Newman. This was a guy who nearly won the championship in 2014 without winning a race due to the sheer number of top 10 finishes he had all season. Look for Newman to be exciting going into the final weeks of the regular season

The favorite to win this week is who else? But defending champion himself Martin Truex Jr. He comes to this track as the defender after he held off Matt Kenseth for his then fourth win of the 2017 season. This week, he looks to settle the score amongst his rivals in “the big three” after Kevin Harvick won two weeks ago at New Hampshire and Kyle Busch won last week at Pocono. He goes to a track where he has run extremely well at over his last three starts in fact, he has the third highest average finish amongst all active drivers here since 2016. It truly would surprise no one if Truex is able to repeat come sunday, he surely will be the car to beat come sunday.

My prediction to win this weekend is sort of a wild card but, I am going with Suarez. This season has been an uphill battle for the 2015 Xfinity series champion but I think he is in the best position to get his first career win here. Last year, Suarez won the second stage of the race and then brought home his Stanley Tools Camry in third, his career best finish at that point. Suarez at that time was on the same strategy as his former teammate Matt Kenseth and was catching race leader Martin Truex Jr., who didn’t look to have enough fuel. Unfortunately for him, he was much too far back to really do anything with the front two cars. This year, Suarez has a whole year of experience under his belt and is improving each and every week and I think Sunday he breaks through. Look for Suarez to drive the No. 19 Stanley Tools Toyota all the way to winners circle and clinch a spot in the playoffs.

 

(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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