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1. Joe Gibbs Racing easily the early favorites  Denny Hamlin
The sabre-rattling from the Joe Gibbs Racing camp early in Daytona Speedweeks has been impossible to avoid. Simply put: they’ve won everything, save for the Daytona 500 pole in single-lap qualifying.

Denny Hamlin has beamed with confidence that apparently hasn’t let up since he won the 2013 season finale last November at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He’s been perfect, dominating every segment of the exhibition Sprint Unlimited and waltzing to the win of his Thursday qualifying race. Naturally, teammate Matt Kenseth took the checkered flag in the other one.

JGR didn’t find victory lane in the four points-paying restrictor-plate races last season, but it did put on a spectacular show for the first 150 laps of last year’s 500. All told the team led 119 of 200 laps before a plague of engine failures for Kenseth and teammate Kyle Busch dropped them to the garage. Hamlin settled for 14th.

The speed display in racing conditions for the team so far has shown that it’s ready for a similar 500 output — though hopefully with a better finish.

Should the JGR team manage to put a driver across the finish line first, it would also mark the first-ever win for Toyota in the sport’s crown jewel event.


2. Patience in passing key to Daytona’s start
Qualifying for the Daytona 500 always gets goofy. But 2014 may be one of the crazier starting lineups in recent history with so many race favorites loaded in the back half of the field either due to crashes, engine changes or just poor runs in the qualifying races.

Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Michael Waltrip, Clint Bowyer, Jamie McMurray and Tony Stewart all are scheduled to start 30th or worse. And if you’re the extra-optimistic type, last year’s eighth-place finisher, Danica Patrick, joins that group, too.

How that group handles being at the back for the start will play a big role in how the race finishes. Track position, according to the early competitive events at Daytona, seems a bit easier to gain on-track this year than last. But such a charge requires calculated risks through a field of drivers with inexperience and general nerves of starting the Daytona 500.

Watching how those drivers move through the field and in to position will be a fascinating storyline early on.


3. Explaining the sport’s newest popular phrase
Side drafting.

If you’ve watched any racing at Daytona so far, you’ve heard it. You’ll undoubtedly hear it during Sunday’s 500. It’s the new phrase that every driver and team can’t stop mentioning at Daytona related to restrictor plate racing.

But what exactly is side drafting? According to Kevin Harvick, it’s the best way for a challenging car to both slow down a car under threat and to keep the challenger’s momentum from stalling out when attempting a pass. Basically, it’s an equalizer.

“It’s like putting the brakes on, exactly like putting the brakes on,” Harvick said of side drafting when another driver tries the maneuver.

“When you go to go by a car, basically the front air off the car that you are passing packs up against your rear spoiler and just slows the car down,” Harvick said.

To avoid that, drivers swing within inches of the side of the car they are passing hoping to force the wake of air up and over both cars, rather than primarily to their own spoiler. As the cars pull alongside, the moved air from both increases the drag of each car. With the help of a draft from behind or just simply stronger momentum, a pass can be made.

It’s certainly no exact science, but side drafting is definitely a factor in the current restrictor plate configuration. It may just play a role in the final sprint for the Harley J. Earl trophy.


4. Weather again a factor at Daytona
Just like it was a year ago for the Great American Race, forecasters are worried rain could impact the sport’s grand season opener. Just over 24 hours before the green flag, the National Weather Service predicted a warm, mostly cloudy day with temperatures near 80 degrees. The day-long chance of precipitation was 30 percent.

What effect could that have on drivers in Sunday’s race? Don’t expect much of an issue in the mental department — most drivers have been through rain delays enough times to not let the often halting conditions change their preparation. The rain could, however, affect how many teams plot out gaining track position throughout the day.

If blips show up on the radar and the race is nearing or past the halfway point, crew chiefs might be compelled to gamble with alternate pit stops. The aggression will also carry over the team radio and into the driver’s head — potentially producing more on-track aggression.

Of course, the forecast could prove irrelevant. Rain drops could miss the 2.5-mile superspeedway throughout the afternoon and everything could go off without a hitch. If that happens, expect handling to come in to play more than normal thanks to the air temperature that is expected to be higher than many previous 500s.


5. Will Hendrick Motorsports’ quiet Speedweeks last?  Jeff Gordon
Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon ran — officially, at least — second in each of their qualifying races Thursday night. Dale Earnhardt Jr. led 14 laps in his and Jimmie Johnson tore up his second Chevrolet SS in six days when he ran out of fuel on the last lap of the second Budweiser Duel and triggered a massive crash.

It’s not that Hendrick Motorsports has been invisible during this edition of Daytona Speedweeks. But the team certainly hasn’t been top of mind as Joe Gibbs Racing’s Toyotas have won every event. Will that last? Signs after the qualifying races indicate the team may not have shown its full hand quite yet.

On his qualifying race cool-down lap, Earnhardt shot a quick message of confidence to crew chief Steve Letarte over the team’s radio.

“That’s a lot of race car,” Earnhardt said.

Gordon, too, seemed to beam knowing his team didn’t stand as the target of the garage area.

“I’m really happy with our race car. I think we snuck in there with a quiet, under the radar, very fast car that's capable of winning this race,” Gordon said Thursday. “I like it that way.”


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Teaser:
Joe Gibbs Racing, Hendrick Motorsports and the weather highlight NASCAR's five storlines to watch in the 2014 Daytona 500.
Post date: Saturday, February 22, 2014 - 11:52
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-preview-kansas-ready-texas-rematch
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Kansas and Texas have identical records at 20-6, but the perception couldn’t be more different.

In Austin, Rick Barnes could be the Big 12 coach of the year. In Lawrence, media are asking Bill Self about the more frustrating parts of the season. Such are the expectation levels in basketball, and you can bet if Kansas and Texas had the same record in football, the roles would be reversed.

The first meeting between these two schools was a pivotal moment in the Big 12 season. With an 81-69 win, Texas proved it was in the league race to stay. And with the loss, Kansas dropped its first Big 12 contest of the season after handling a run of NCAA Tournament-caliber teams in the league.

For the second time around, Self is anticipating a change in the narrative.

“There's something about how teams kind of raise their level the second time you play somebody if they've been handled pretty easily the first time,” Self said. “I don't know why that is, but it seems like it's always that way.”

What’s on the line for Texas
The Longhorns are playing with house money. Contending for the Big 12 title is more than anyone expected. What Texas needs more than anything is a respectable showing on the road. Texas lost its last two road games, by 9 to Iowa State and by 17 to Kansas State. Three of Texas’ last five regular season games are away from Austin.

What’s on the line for Kansas
The Jayhawks have a two-game lead in the Big 12 standings as they look to win their 10th consecutive league title. Even though Kansas doesn’t have a bad loss on its ledger — all six are to teams ranked 38th and above in the RPI — the Jayhawks might have trouble grabbing a No. 1 seed with seven or more losses.

Texas at Kansas
Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Eastern, ESPNU

About Texas
Record: 20-6, 9-4 Big 12
: 19
: 24
: 29
: 29

About Kansas
Record: 20-6, 11-2 Big 12
: 8
: 1
: 11
: 8

Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: Kansas 78-67
Braden Gall: Kansas 81-67
Mitch Light: Kansas 83-71
You’ll tune in to watch: Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
The top freshman entering the season is starting to play like a superstar. The 64-63 win over Texas Tech was closer than KU would have expected, but Wiggins had several huge plays late, including the game-winning layup with 2 seconds remaining and a block in the final minute. The first meeting against Texas was one of his most ineffective of the year as the freshman was 2 of 12 from the field.

Pivotal player: Javan Felix, Texas
The Longhorns aren’t the most prolific or efficient 3-point shooting team in the Big 12, but Javan Felix will take some shots. Felix is 14 of 33 from 3-point range in the last three games. The formula for a road upset is 3-point shooting, and Felix is Texas’ best hope.

Biggest question: How will Texas defend Joel Embiid?
Kansas’ other big-name freshman returned from injury to score 18 against Texas Tech. In the Longhorns’ last game, Iowa State dominated inside, outscoring Texas in the paint 40-17.

Teaser:
College Basketball Game Preview: Texas at Kansas
Post date: Saturday, February 22, 2014 - 08:30
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-preview-stakes-are-different-syracuse-duke-rematch
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The last time Syracuse and Duke met, it might as well have been a Final Four game.

A massive arena, two 900-win coaches and a thriller down to the end of Syracuse’s 91-89 win in overtime. The rematch of the game of the year will have a different feel, and not just because the game is in cozy Cameron Indoor instead of the Carrier Dome.

The names are the same, but both Syracuse and Duke are coming off losses, both problematic for different reasons. The first loss of the season for the Orange came against a team that entered the matchup with six wins all year. Duke’s loss was far less embarrassing at North Carolina, but the Blue Devils’ went cold from the field in the final six minutes, contributing to the Tar Heels’ come-from-behind win.

Neither team desperate by any means, but both programs are seeking to avoid an unlikely two-game losing streak.

What’s on the line for Syracuse
The Orange had been flirting with their first loss for weeks before the bottom fell out against Boston College on Wednesday. Has the pressure been lifted or does Syracuse have major concerns after shooting 32.3 percent from the floor at home against a bad Boston College team?

What’s on the line for Duke
Duke needs to answer for a loss, too. The Blue Devils collapsed down the stretch against rival North Carolina on Thursday as a four-point lead in the final 6:26 ended in an eight-point defeat.

Syracuse at Duke
Saturday, 7 p.m. Eastern, ESPN

About Syracuse
Record: 25-1, 12-1 ACC
: 1
: 7
: 9
: 11

About Duke
Record: 21-6, 10-4 ACC
: 5
: 10
: 5
: 4

Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: Duke 68-60
Braden Gall: Duke 73-67
Mitch Light: Duke 80-61
You’ll tune in to watch: Jabari Parker vs. Tyler Ennis Part II
Ennis' bid at late-game perfection ended in the last week against NC State and Boston College, but the first game against Duke was one of the high points of his season. Ennis had three assists and no turnovers and was perfect from the field (1 for 1) and the free throw line (6 for 6) in the final 10 minutes of the overtime win. How he responds to Syracuse’s first loss and his own personal cold streak will be key. Parker began the season as a prolific 3-point shooter, but that part of his game has been all but abandoned in ACC play.

Pivotal players: Duke’s second and third options
The first meeting between the two was a key moment for Blue Devils not named Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood. Amile Jefferson had six offensive rebounds. Rasheed Sulaimon and Andre Dawkins had a combined 30 points. Those three players had minimal contributions in Thursday’s loss to North Carolina.

Biggest question: Can Syracuse score enough to win in Cameron?
Syracuse hasn’t cracked 60 points in the last four games and topped 70 points only once since Jan. 7. The per-possession numbers have been just as dismal: Syracuse has averaged 92.7 points per 100 possessions in the last two games. C.J. Fair has been streaky, and Trevor Cooney has been cold from 3-point range. That can’t continue if Syracuse hopes to win games deep into March.

Teaser:
College Basketball Preview: Syracuse at Duke
Post date: Saturday, February 22, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /nascar/perspective-ricky-craven-talks-todays-nascar
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Ricky Craven didn’t put a full-court press on Victory Lane during his Sprint Cup driving career. He won only twice over a span of 11 years, but in his life as a racing analyst for ESPN — a role he’s held since 2008 — he has emerged as one of sports television’s most respected commentators.

Calm, confident and reasoned in his comments, Craven has established himself as a whip-smart analyst in a sport that often defies easy analysis. He doesn’t use catchphrases or wild rants but instead attempts to tell listeners why events unfold and what to expect around the next turn.

A driver in the Sprint Cup Series in 1991 and from 1995-2004, Craven, now 47, scored wins at Martinsville and Darlington (in a famous, grinding finish with Kurt Busch) before exiting the driver’s seat for good after the 2006 Nationwide Series season.
Craven shared some of his perspective with Athlon Sports.


Athlon Sports: How do you see a race as an analyst versus how you experienced one as a driver? How is the perspective different?
Ricky Craven:
From a driver’s perspective, you’re not as aware of the big picture and what is required to pull off an event and how one or two things during the race affect so many others. Most athletes are programmed to be selfish. It’s what you need to be to compete and succeed. Some things appear one way from the driver’s seat, and the same things I see today I say, ‘OK, wow, that looks different and has a completely different effect.’

Years ago, races ended under caution. A race ended at Talladega under caution, and fans showed their displeasure by throwing things over the fence. I was appalled by it, but I also felt something I’d never acknowledged before in all the years I had driven race cars. The race finishing under caution has a horrible effect on the paying customer. It’s like, ‘We paid to see the checkered flag fly at 200 miles per hour, not 80. That’s what we came for.’ From the seat I occupy today, it was a fabulous decision to go to the green-white-checker finish. As a driver then, I wouldn’t have seen it that way.


How has racing changed for the driver since you retired?
There’s more parity, and the margins between a good car and a bad car are very narrow. There’s more strategy now on pit road. Not that we didn’t have strategy, but there’s a much greater emphasis on preserving track position now — whatever is required to do that or to get that. It’s arguably the most competitive time in the history of the sport. The double-file restarts are a bonus. I think it’s the most important aspect of the race for the drivers now, because there’s an opportunity to capitalize on three or four spots that otherwise might take 60 laps to gain. You can get three or four spots in a lap on a restart. That’s changed the game.


Some racing insiders say the car is 60 or 70 percent of the quality equation and the driver is the rest. How do you see that dynamic?
It’s 50-50 for a good car and a good driver to finish top 10. I think it’s 70-30, driver, for those drivers that are perennial top-5 drivers. The reason I say that is it’s not that a driver can carry a car. These cars are just too sensitive, but their willingness to run right on the edge and have that talent to back it up, that’s what separates the winners and the top-10 drivers.

Drivers like Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch — they run extremely hard to finish off a win or a top-5 day. I think some drivers are guilty of depending too much on a good car. They would say, ‘I need the car that Jimmie has.’ I think those drivers will continue to finish eighth to 15th because very, very, very seldom are they going to have that car. Frankly, Jimmie doesn’t have that car week in and week out. When he does, he capitalizes on it with a maximum-point day. But what about the days when he wins because he just laid it on the line? We see that out of some drivers — Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick — but Jimmie Johnson makes a living out of it. Jimmie Johnson doesn’t win a lot of races on fuel mileage or pit-road strategy. He just outruns you. Those drivers who can contribute 70 percent are in the minority — a select, very special group.


Do you think the relative importance of the driver has changed with the Gen-6 car?
I don’t think so. I think the driver has always been the determining factor. In other words, you could have 20 good drivers and we might have seasons where we have 15 or 16 winners, but the drivers who win year in and year out — they could switch teams and win. Matt Kenseth is a great example of that. Late in life, he moves from the only organization he’s been with (from Roush Fenway Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing) and has arguably the best year of his career statistically. You look at Clint Bowyer, who is a very good race car driver. I don’t think we’ve seen the best of him yet. I watch the in-car camera, and he lives on that edge. There has to be a willingness to do that, where other drivers just aren’t that comfortable on the edge. When Clint transitioned from Richard Childress Racing to Michael Waltrip, in some people’s minds, Waltrip’s program wasn’t ready for Clint. And that obviously wasn’t correct. They’ve capitalized and run extremely well. The old saying is that the cream rises to the top. If the driver is given enough time with the car, he’ll medal.


Do you think the sport has to have compelling competition pretty much every week to thrive, or can it roll along sort of on the back of the drivers’ personalities and the color and the noise?
I think the latter is more important. If we think back to some of the key figures in our sport, there are drivers who had dominant seasons — Richard Petty, David Pearson, Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon. There have been some other excellent drivers who won a few races in a year and maybe won a championship, but they didn’t carry the same flavor as the elite that put up big numbers and were the drivers to beat and had a bull’s-eye on them.

Eventually, somebody is going to step up and challenge the status quo. Ernie Irvan is a good example. When I was racing, he came along and became a formidable challenger to people. All of a sudden, he was a guy who was willing to ruffle some feathers and move people out of the way. Somebody labeled him ‘Swervin’ Irvan.’ If he hadn’t gotten hurt, I think he would have continued to put up some big numbers and would have been challenging for a championship. He still had a good career. But it takes that kind of personality, like a Kevin Harvick has or even a Kyle Busch has.

As it relates to Jimmie Johnson, the reason we haven’t seen that great rivalry, that heated rivalry, between him and someone else is that he typically doesn’t win at someone else’s expense. He’s not that guy who roughs up the other drivers, but he wins like the elite drivers did. But he goes about it differently.


Can you put what Johnson has done in the last decade into historical perspective?
Very difficult. I emptied the tank to win two races in Cup. I remember winning Rookie of the Year in 1995 and thinking that I would have double-digit wins in my career. It didn’t work out. There was a period when I didn’t think I was going to win a Cup race, but I can tell you I emptied the tank trying to.

Then I see Jimmie win, and he makes it look easy. And I know it’s not easy. At this point in his life, a lot of drivers’ skills diminish. Their focus diminishes because they’ve acquired so many things and they have so much distraction, and that all comes at a price. I haven’t seen an ounce of that from Jimmie Johnson. I see him prepare like an extremely talented athlete who’s scared to death that he’ll underachieve or never win a title. He doesn’t operate like he’s satisfied. He operates like there’s an urgency. He works harder than most. He has a greater focus than most. He has less distraction than most. Those are some of the ingredients that make him so difficult to beat.

He also has this tremendous ability to preserve relationships. It’s so well documented that some of the best in our sport eventually have the feeling that ‘I’m not getting the credit I deserve’ or something along those lines, and there was a separation. They still won races, but they didn’t continue on that pace that they had with that magical combination. We all marvel at what they’ve done. Chad (Knaus) and Jimmie have preserved that, and that’s at the very core of their success.


Dale Earnhardt Jr. continues to run with the top group, but the wins have been few and far between. And he’s still looking for that first championship. What’s missing?
What’s missing the last few years was attitude. I go back to my introduction to Dale Jr. It was toward the end of my career. There has never been a question in my mind that he has the skills to be a champion in Sprint Cup. And I’ve never deviated from that. But he’s been on a hell of a ride as far as being tested and the ups and downs. I would say most people would be mentally exhausted. Dale Jr. lost his dad in this sport. I don’t how he got through that. When you put all that in a bowl and stir it up, it’s an awful lot.

But what I see right now — in the past few months, maybe he finally turned the corner. Maybe he’s finally sleeping better. Maybe he’s finally relaxed. Maybe he’s finally got that edge. But I see it in his eyes. I hear it in his voice. I see it in his interviews. There’s no question there was a difference in him in the second half of 2013. He’s got that fire. All the hard work from Steve Letarte has helped put good cars under him and rebuilt that confidence.

If Dale preserves that attitude through the offseason, he’s going to have a very good 2014. It’s going to be his best at Hendrick Motorsports. It might be his last push, but it’s going to be a good one.


Talk about Tony Stewart. What are you looking for from him this year considering what he went through in 2013?
He’s very resilient. He’s as mentally tough as anybody I’ve met, but he has a hurdle to clear in that any time you’re out of the race car, particularly later in life, you have some catching up to do. And there are some timing issues. When you jump back on the horse, it comes back to you, but it doesn’t mean that your motor skills and all the things that you perfect are going to be there in February and March.

And this is something that gets lost, but the cars are constantly changing. The cars are constantly being adjusted and changed in an effort to gain speed. You hear teams talk all the time about what they ran at a track in the spring doesn’t work in the fall. So Tony lost that whole last part of the season where the cars continued to evolve. He has some catching up to do, and, frankly, it won’t be easy.

He’s been quiet, almost stealth-like, but I’m hearing he’s working hard. I expect him to come out of the gate like a bear, but he will have some catching up to do.


What about his team? There’s quite a volatile collection of drivers there with Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch coming on board. What do you expect from them?
I expect Harvick and Busch will make the Chase. They’re just that good, and they’ll be in good equipment. I’m hedging a little bit, and that is based on one thing and one thing only, but it weighs heavily with me: Mark Martin didn’t run well in that 14 car (as a substitute for the injured Stewart).

Mark Martin is as good as anybody I’ve raced against. I know he’s an anomaly in that he’s doing this at such a late age. But he didn’t run Mark Martin-like in that car. That concerns me a little.

At the end of 2013, there wasn’t a really good measure. Danica (Patrick) was still going through the learning curve. Ryan (Newman), even though he made the Chase, he didn’t run that well in the last 10 events. And Mark was put in a situation where he had to get acclimated to the team, and it just didn’t seem to synchronize. That has me scratching my head a little.


There’s talk in the garage that NASCAR is looking to make some significant changes to the 2015 Sprint Cup schedule with the arrival of the new television contract. What do you think? Should the schedule be worked on extensively? Are other changes needed?
I think we’re in pretty good shape. I think we could use one less mile-and-half track in the Chase. Seems like we’re a little out of balance there. I’m not for or against the idea of a road course in the Chase. That’s not that important to me. I’d love to have another short track in the Chase. To me, short-track racing is one of the pillars of our sport.

I think the one big challenge for our sport is that I think we would benefit from taking 30 to 40 percent of the seats out of the grandstands. This has gone on long enough. We had a tremendous build-out when the economy was firing on all cylinders and there was an abundance of extra cash for people to travel and be entertained. The sport is healthier than it appears when you view the grandstands.

I feel good about our sport. I feel that we’re making progress, but we’re going to be perceived as underachieving as long as the grandstands are half-full or half-empty, depending on an individual’s perspective.

I don’t see why we would want that perception. The only way I know to correct that is to do away with the empty seats.


Which driver might be the next to step up into Johnson-Kenseth territory?
It’s such a tall order to try to predict that somebody will be in that company. Usually, we only see a few in a generation. We had Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson. With all due respect to all the others, we’re talking multiple championships and winning on all types of tracks.

When I look ahead, I’d say the most obvious is — or was — Kyle Busch. Kyle has 90 percent of the tools to do what the three I just mentioned have done. The 10 percent he’s missing might not come until he’s 32, 33, 34 years old. Some drivers get it younger than that. He’ll be at his best in terms of mental toughness and being able to manage races when he’s a little later in life.

The risk is that the other components diminish so that he’s not able to have the level of success to join that elite group. And some of it comes down to endurance. It’s one of the liabilities of starting really young. Do you get tired of it? Are you physically conditioned to be at your best when it matters most?


There were some competitive races in 2013, but there also were some that can’t quite be described as barnburners, particularly at some of the 1.5-mile tracks. Is there an easy solution to that? Can rules be changed? Can something be done to boost the competition at those tracks?
The tug of war is this — speed is an important contributor to the entertainment value of our sport. A lot of people suggest that we’re going too fast and that we need to slow the cars down, but that seems contradictory to what NASCAR is synonymous with. It’s got to be about speed. Track records are exciting. As the cars go faster, the drivers truly are challenged through the middle of the turn to manage that speed. Does it contribute to the aerodynamic issues that we have with the cars from second on back? It does, but there are things that correct some of that.

There are two things that are obvious to me. One is to get the front end (of the car) off the racetrack. The front end being sealed to the racetrack (with ground splitters) creates so much front grip and really magnifies the dependence. If the car out front had a couple of inches between itself and the racetrack and had some air going underneath it, the car is not going to drive as well. It’s not going to have as much straightaway speed. It’s going to create more drag or more resistance. I’m not smart enough to understand why we continue to seal off the front ends.

The other thing, and the ultimate fix — which is monumental to accomplish but it is the ultimate fix — is to not react as quickly to repaving tracks. The new asphalt creates more grip, more speed, but makes the car sensitive and edgy, not allowing for side-by-side racing. The best racing we have is at Atlanta and Texas, which is a throwback to what Darlington used to be. The reason that works, and the reason it worked at Michigan before they repaved it, is because as the tires wear the drivers are challenged to adjust their line through the corners in an effort to preserve that tire wear. It brings another element into the equation.

You can run hard early in a run, but it will come at the expense of a long run. Or you can run moderate the first 20 laps and you’ll catch all the cars in front of you in the long run. There’s some strategy. It’s fun to watch. I love that type of racing. It’s why you hear drivers rebel about tracks being repaved. When they’re repaved, at least early on, they become single-lane racetracks, and they don’t allow options. Drivers love options.


By Mike Hembree
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Teaser:
An exclusive Q&A with former NASCAR driver and current commentator Ricky Craven.
Post date: Friday, February 21, 2014 - 18:10
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/perry-wallace-first-african-american-basketball-player-sec
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Bob Warren arrived at Professor Perry Wallace’s office at American University in 2006, and delivered a message nearly 40 years in the making.

 “Forgive me, Perry,” Warren said, “There is so much more I could have done.”

The former basketball teammates at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., hadn’t seen each other since 1968, when Warren was a senior and Wallace, a sophomore, was the first and only African-American ballplayer in the entire Southeastern Conference.

Wallace’s mind raced back to the days that nearly destroyed him, but he also thought of the healing and reconciliation that had come later, and he believed that it wasn’t the “good, decent and humble guys like Bob Warren” who needed to go on living with that sort of regret, anyway.

 “We are fine,” Wallace assured Warren. “Don’t think another thing of it. We were all just kids.”

Today, 46 years after Perry Wallace became the first African-American basketball player in the Southeastern Conference, and the first black scholarship athlete to play a full SEC season in any sport, it’s nearly impossible to fathom an SEC without black stars. But for there to be a Shaquille O’Neal at LSU, a Charles Barkley at Auburn, a Dominique Wilkins at Georgia, — for their even to be a Bo Jackson, Herschel Walker, Emmitt Smith or Cam Newton — there had to be Perry Wallace, a man who quietly broke barriers in the southern sanctuary of sport.

Buses, movie theaters, lunch counters, schools and many city and state governments were all desegregated before the most hallowed of grounds, the athletic fields of the former states of the Confederacy. Steve Martin, a walk-on baseball player at Tulane during the Green Wave’s final year as a member of the SEC, was actually the first African-American student-athlete in the league, followed by Nat Northington, a football player at Kentucky who played in four varsity games before transferring. So it was Wallace, the valedictorian of his high school class and an engineering double-major at Vanderbilt, who became the first African-American to complete a full season and career as a varsity athlete in the SEC. And nothing about the experience was easy.

On road trips through the Deep South, he was the target of the vilest of catcalls. Back home in Nashville, his parents received letters threatening to kill or castrate their son. On campus, he was ignored by many of the same white students who cheered his prowess on the basketball court. Many of his black neighbors and peers criticized him for attending a white university. The pioneering experience was relentlessly difficult; Henry Harris, the first black basketball player at Auburn, later committed suicide, and Wallace said it took years before he was able to come to terms with his own ordeal.

 
After decades of distance, there is now a deep and powerful relationship between Vanderbilt and its trailblazing alum. Athletic Director David Williams calls Wallace a “hero,” and he was instrumental in retiring Wallace’s jersey and inducting him — in the inaugural class — into the university’s athletic hall of fame. Wallace, a professor at the American University law school in Washington, D.C., frequently travels to Nashville to speak to Vanderbilt students, served as the voiceover talent for a season ticket campaign, and sits on the school’s athletic advisory committee. He speaks French, sings opera, practices law, has testified before the United Nations, and is a proud husband and father. Though he’s not sure he’d do it all over again if he had the chance, he knows he’s left a powerful if underappreciated legacy, both in sports and society. When fans gaze upon his jersey hanging above the student section at Memorial Gymnasium, he hopes that they will appreciate his contributions not only “as bearing on equality in sports, but, as with Jackie Robinson, extending out to contribute to progress in larger ways.” Looking for a role model in the world of sports? Look no further than Perry Wallace.

—By Andrew Maraniss

Maraniss has spent the last eight years researching and writing a biography of Perry Wallace. The book, "Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South" will be published by Vanderbilt University Press, with a publication date of November 2014. For more information or to be added to an e-mail list for updates on the title, exact publication date and author appearances, email

Photo courtesy of Vanderbilt University.

Teaser:
Perry Wallace: The first African-American Basketball Player in the SEC
Post date: Friday, February 21, 2014 - 15:45
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-preview-louisville-rounding-form-time-cincinnati
Body:

Louisville has a knack for heating up as the calendar turns to March. It happened last season, as the Cardinals didn’t start to look like national championship contenders until weeks before the Big East Tournament.

The Cardinals are in that form again, but you can’t blame fans if they haven’t noticed. Louisville has pounded the teams in the bottom half of the American Athletic Conference. A rematch with Cincinnati could be the turning point.

The Bearcats, though, know what they’re getting when they face Louisville again. The Cardinals are a little more balanced than the first time around, a little more consistent.

But Cincinnati leads the American right now and could take a major step to winning the league with a season sweep of its Ohio River rivals.

What’s on the line for Louisville
The Cardinals are looking to re-announce themselves as a Final Four contender. Since the last time Louisville faced Cincinnati, a 69-66 loss, Louisville has faced the dregs of the American Athletic Conference. Louisville hasn’t had much trouble with teams ranked outside of the RPI 150, defeating them by an average of 26 points per game since the start of February.

What’s on the line for Cincinnati
The Bearcats are looking to complete a season sweep of Louisville after defeating the Cardinals 69-66 at the KFC Yum! Center on Jan. 30. With a victory, Cincinnati will have a three-game edge in the win column in the American. Cincinnati lost to New Mexico and Xavier in the non-conference schedule, so a win over Louisville could be a boon to Bearcats’ NCAA Tournament seed.

Louisville at Cincinnati
Saturday, noon Eastern, CBS

About Louisville
Record: 22-4, 11-2 American
: 11
: 36
: 3
: 10

About Cincinnati
Record: 24-3, 13-1 American
: 7
: 14
: 21
: 21

Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: Louisville 71-63
Braden Gall: Cincinnati 68-62
Mitch Light: Louisville 60-58
You’ll tune in to watch: Russ Smith vs. Sean Kilpatrick
Two of the most dynamic veteran guards in the country will meet at least one more time this season Kilpatrick led the way in the first meeting with 28 points against the Cardinals while Smith had 14 points and four turnovers. This is the point last season when Smith began to carry Louisville to the national title.

Pivotal players: Louisville’s point guards
Chris Jones and Terry Rozier are key cogs in Louisville’s pressure defense, which for the second consecutive season is second only to VCU in turnover rate. Since the first meeting, the freshman Rozier has become more and more involved in the offensive end. Rozier shot 11 of 24 from the floor in Louisville’s last two games, home routs against Rutgers and USF.

Biggest question: Who wins the frontcourt matchup?
Cincinnati senior Justin Jackson is the top shot blocker in the American at 3.1 blocks per game. He’ll be tasked with limiting contributions from Louisville’s improving duo of forwards in Montrezl Harrell and Mangok Mathiang.

Teaser:
College Basketball Game Preview: Louisville at Cincinnati
Post date: Friday, February 21, 2014 - 13:53
Path: /college-football/ohio-state-qb-braxton-miller-will-have-shoulder-surgery
Body:

Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller’s status for spring practice is uncertain, as the Heisman Trophy candidate will have minor shoulder surgery. first reported the news on Thursday night.

Miller’s shoulder injury occurred in the Orange Bowl loss to Clemson, but he finished with 234 passing yards on 16 completions.

Miller’s injury is to his throwing shoulder, but the surgery is regarded as minor.

It’s uncertain if Miller will be forced to miss any practices or if he will just be limited. If Miller is out or limited for any of the practices, Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett will have an opportunity to work as the No. 1 quarterback.
 

Teaser:
Ohio State QB Braxton Miller Will Have Shoulder Surgery
Post date: Friday, February 21, 2014 - 13:35
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/2014-sochi-olympics-what-watch-feb-21
Body:

Today's Highlights

NBC

8-11:30 p.m. Eastern

You spent your work day watching live U.S.-Canada hockey; now relax with some tape-delayed action from the slopes and the short track. Spoiler alert: People who love 'Murica will want to tune in.

 

1. Alpine Skiing — Women's Slalom
American teenage sensation Mikaela Shiffrin will try to become the youngest woman to win an Olympic slalom gold, as well as the first U.S. woman to win the slalom at the Olympics since 1972. The 18-year-old from Eagle-Vail, Colo., will have to beat some seasoned competitors, but she's dominated the event on the World Cup circuit.


Read more here: http://www.adn.com/2014/02/17/3330841/american-bohonnon-qualifies-for.html#storylink=cpy

 

2. Short Track Speed Skating — Men's 500m, Men's Relay, Women's 1000m

If you have a need for speed in a confined space, this is right up your alley. In the Women's 1000m, Jessica Smith represents the final chance for a U.S. individual medal in short track. The American Relay team is a solid medal contender as well.

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, February 21, 2014 - 12:48
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-february-21-2014
Body:

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Feb. 21.

• Jennifer Love Hewitt is turning 35, which makes me feel old. , which helps soften the blow. 

• Today's the day. U.S.-Canada. . And to help you get ready, . And even better, .

• We need this one to make up for the women's final. .

.

.

.

• Fred Davis' weekend is not off to a good start. .

• LeBron James proved he was human, bleeding on the court. Of course, he completed the posterization.

 

-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, February 21, 2014 - 10:39
Path: /college-football/top-10-acc-linebackers-bcs-era
Body:

The Bowl Championship Series is dead. But even the harshest of BCS detractors must acknowledge that the 16-year run was arguably the best era of college football in the history of the sport.

The era was highlighted by the advent of the BCS Championship Game, conference realignment and mega-dollar contracts for conferences, programs and coaches. But the elite athletes had a huge, if not the biggest, hand in the unprecedented growth of college football over the last two decades.

So Athlon Sports is looking back on the players that made the BCS Era great — conference-by-conference, position-by-position.

The list of elite linebackers who almost played in the ACC is remarkable. Miami’s Dan Morgan, Jonathan Vilma and D.J. Williams played in the years just before the Hurricanes joined the league. That doesn’t mean there weren’t elite tacklers. What is interesting, however, is the best the ACC has had to offer comes from places like Maryland and Boston College rather than Florida State or Clemson.

Note: Must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.

1. E.J. Henderson, Maryland (1999-02)
Henderson left Maryland with multiple NCAA records and numerous awards and honors. He owns the career tackles per game record (12.5), career solo tackles per game (8.8) and the single-season unassisted tackle record with 135 in 2002. That year, Henderson won his second ACC Defensive Player of the Year award as well as the Butkus, Lambert and Bednarik Awards nationally. He was a two-time All-American, Chick-fil-A Bowl MVP, is second all-time in ACC history with 62.5 career tackles for loss and 11th all-time with 473 tackles. Henderson was a second-round pick by the Vikings in 2003.

2. Luke Kuechly, Boston College (2009-11)
Tackling. Machine. That is really all that needs to be said about the Boston College star defender. He was second nationally with 158 tackles as just a freshman, led the nation in tackles with 183 as a sophomore and led the world again in stops with 191 as a junior. So in just three seasons, Kuechly set the BC and ACC career tackle records en route to numerous awards. He was a two-time All-American, ACC Defensive Player of the Year, a first-round NFL Draft pick by Carolina in 2012 and won the Butkus, Lombardi, Nagurski, Lott and Lambert national trophies.

3. D’Qwell Jackson, Maryland (2002-05)
The undersized tackler played in all 14 games as a freshman, started all 11 games as a sophomore and was an All-American as a junior and senior. He was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year in 2005 after 137 tackles and four sacks. Jackson finished with 447 tackles, good for fourth in school history and 19th in ACC history — seventh among all players during the BCS Era. Jackson was a second-round pick of the Browns in the 2006 NFL Draft.

4. Aaron Curry, Wake Forest (2005-08)
Curry was a freshman All-American after starting 10 games in his first season. He posted 83 tackles as a sophomore and tied an NCAA record with three interceptions returned for touchdowns as a junior. As a senior, he won the Butkus Award, was an All-American and registered 105 tackles. Curry finished with 331 tackles, 44.5 for loss, 9.5 sacks, six interceptions and five forced fumbles in his career. He was the fourth overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft and in '06 helped lead Wake to its only BCS bowl berth and ACC title of the BCS Era.

5. Keith Adams, Clemson (1998-00)
He played in 35 games in three seasons for Clemson and became one of the most decorated tacklers in school history. Adams was named ACC Defensive Player of the Year in 1999 when he led the league in tackles (16.0 per game), set the conference's single-season record for tackles for loss (33.0) and posted 16.0 sacks (third all-time). Adams was a two-time All-ACC selection and a first-team All-American. He finished his career 11th in league history with 54.0 tackles for loss and 22.0 career sacks.

6. Mark Herzlich, Boston College (2006-10)
Few players overcame as much during their college career as the Eagles' outside backer. He posted 110 tackles, 11.0 for loss, 2.5 sacks and six interceptions (two returned for scores) as a junior in 2008 en route to ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors. However, Herzlich missed the entire ’09 season while battling a rare form of bone cancer. Yet, after winning his battle with cancer, he returned to start 13 games in 2010, winning the Ruby Award and Brian Piccolo Award. He finished his career with 314 tackles, 31.5 for loss, five sacks, 11 interceptions and seven forced fumbles.

7. Levar Fisher, NC State (1998-01)
The in-state talent started all four seasons for the Pack and it led to one of the most productive careers in NC State history. He is the Wolfpack’s all-time leading tackler with 492 stops — good for seventh all-time in ACC history. Fisher led the nation in tackles (15.1), was an All-American, a two-time, first-team All-ACC pick and won the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year award in 2000. Fisher was a second-round pick in the 2002 NFL Draft.

8. Leroy Hill, Clemson (2001-04)
In 2003 as a junior, Hill led the league with 27.0 tackles for loss (third-best all-time in ACC history) and was named first-team All-ACC. He came back as a senior and earned ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors over Jackson, Antrel Rolle, Shawne Merriman and Darryl Tapp. Hill posted 106 tackles, 19.0 for loss and 8.0 sacks during his award-winning season. The two-time, first-team All-ACC pick was drafted in the third round of the 2005 NFL Draft.

9. Tommy Polley, Florida State (1997-00)
The star linebacker was the most decorated Noles tackler during the BCS Era. During three consecutive runs to the BCS National Championship Game — including one title against Virginia Tech in ’99 — Polley earned back-to-back first-team All-ACC honors. He topped 100 tackles in both his ’99 and ’00 All-ACC seasons, finishing his career with 289 tackles. The three-year starter was a second-round pick in the 2001 NFL Draft.

10. Darryl Blackstock, Virginia (2002-04)
Right out of the gate, Blackstock established himself as one of the ACC’s best by setting a freshman record with 10 sacks. He finished his three-year career with 26.5 sacks, good for 14th all-time in league history. His 45 tackles for loss rank in the top 30 all-time as well. The ACC’s sack leader in 2004, Blackstock left school early and was a third-round pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.

Just missed the cut:

11. Alex Wujciak, Maryland (2007-10)
He started all three seasons he played (missing his first year with a torn ACL), posting at least 100 tackles in all three years. He was a second-team All-ACC pick as a sophomore when he registered 133 tackles and was a two-time, first-team selection as an upperclassman. Wujciak finished with 381 tackles, 22.0 tackles for loss and returned two of his four interceptions for touchdowns in just three seasons of ball.

12. Vince Hall and Xavier Adibi, Virginia Tech (2004-07)
They played on the same four teams, winning two ACC championships in 2004 and '07. The duo is considered the best to ever play together in Blacksburg and they will be forever connected in history. Both earned first-team All-ACC honors and they combined for over 700 tackles, 50.0 tackles for loss and 20.0 sacks.

13. Daryl Smith, Georgia Tech (2000-03)
A decade-long starter in the NFL, Smith was a four-year starter at Georgia Tech. In fact, he started 44 of his possible 46 career games in Atlanta. He finished his career with 383 tackles, 48.0 tackles for loss and 15 career sacks for a team that went to four straight bowl games with four straight winning records. He was eventually a second-round pick in the 2004 NFL Draft.

14. Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech (2010-13)
Few players were better at getting after the quarterback in the ACC ever, let alone the BCS Era, than Tech’s Attaochu. His 31.5 career sacks rank fifth all-time in league history and are the most by any ACC defender during the BCS Era. He posted 196 career tackles and 43.5 TFL for a team that went to four straight bowls and won an Atlantic Division title in 2012.

15. Clint Sintim, Virgina (2005-08)
Sintim was the ACC’s Freshman of the Year in 2005 before earning back-to-back All-ACC honors as a junior and senior. He is second in Virginia history only to Chris Slade — who is the ACC's career leader with 40.0 sacks — with 27.0 sacks. Sintim's career sack total places him 13th all-time in ACC history.

Best of the rest:

16. Lawrence Timmons, Florida State (2004-06)
17. Cody Grimm, Virginia Tech (2006-09)
18. Ernie Sims, Florida State (2003-05)
19. Erin Henderson, Maryland (2005-07)
20. Jon Beason, Miami (2003-06)
21. Ryan Fowler, Duke (2000-03)
22. Kevin Pierre-Louis, Boston College (2010-13)
23. Buster Davis, Florida State (2003-06)
24. Michael Tauiliili, Duke (2005-08)
25. Stephen Tulloch, NC State (2003-05)
26. Geno Hayes, Florida State (2005-07)
27. Jon Abbate, Wake Forest (2004-06)
28. Kai Parham, Virginia (2003-06)
29. Dantonio Burnette, NC State (1999-02)
30. Ahmad Brooks, Virginia (2004-05)

Teaser:
Top 10 ACC Linebackers of the BCS Era
Post date: Friday, February 21, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/ranking-best-coaching-tandems-big-12-2014
Body:

The Big 12 has not been short on surprises in the last year.

On the football side, a league that appeared to have few top 10-caliber programs in the preseason produced one that spent much of the season there (Baylor) and another that finished there by defeating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl (Oklahoma).

In basketball, Kansas, as usual, is atop the standings, but the league has shown impressive depth with teams like Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas State and Iowa State all surprising through the course of the year.

Still, our selection for the top coaching tandem in the league — the one that best meets our criteria of keeping fans happy from the start of football to the end of basketball season — are among the most predictable.

Bob Stoops is good for 10 wins and Big 12 title contention nearly every season. And Lon Kruger, no matter where he’s the coach, is will almost always put an NCAA Tournament team on the court.

1. Oklahoma
Football:
Bob Stoops | Basketball: Lon Kruger

Stoops earned a victory lap in 2013 after his program went 11-2, finished at No. 6 in the AP poll and defeated Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. After two seasons of falling below expectations, Oklahoma had as much of a surprise season as the Sooners possibly could in 2013. Overall under Stoops, OU has finished in the top 10 nine times in 15 seasons. Facing sanctions when he was hired, Kruger needed only one season to rebuild Oklahoma into an NCAA Tournament team. Beyond Oklahoma, Kruger is the only coach to lead five different teams to the NCAA Tournament.

2. Kansas State
Football:
Bill Snyder | Basketball: Bruce Weber

Kansas State doesn’t have the advantages of other Big 12 programs in either sport, but that hasn’t stopped Snyder or Weber from contending. In 2012, Kansas State won a share of the football title (and earned the BCS bid), and in 2013, the Wildcats won a share of the basketball title. Snyder’s second act as Kansas State football coach has been just as impressive as his first, and Weber’s second chance at a big-time program is about to yield his second consecutive NCAA Tournament trip.

3. Baylor
Football:
Art Briles | Basketball: Scott Drew

In 2006, Baylor football went 4-8 and a sanctioned-limited basketball went 4-13. Less than a decade later, Baylor is competitive on both fronts. In the last three seasons, Baylor football has won its first Heisman and its first Big 12 title. Basketball has been inconsistent under Drew, but the Bears still have two Elite Eight appearances under his watch, which is two more than any other Baylor coach since 1950.

4. Oklahoma State
Football:
Mike Gundy | Basketball: Travis Ford

In the last decade, Oklahoma State has risen from an also-ran in football to a program alongside Oklahoma and Texas. The investment from T. Boone Pickens has helped, but Gundy has capitalized with three 10-win seasons in the last four years. After a disappointing season, Ford may be in some trouble if the Cowboys can’t scrap together what they can when Marcus Smart returns from suspension. Still, Oklahoma State has three Tournament appearances in five seasons under Ford.

5. Iowa State
Football:
Paul Rhoads | Basketball: Fred Hoiberg

The job in Ames is one of the tougher jobs in either sport, but Rhoads and Hoiberg have been able to keep the Cyclones in postseason contention. More than that, both coaches have a knack the big win — football defeating Oklahoma State in 2011 and basketball defeating No. 7 seed Notre Dame in the 2013 NCAA Tournament.

6. Texas
Football:
Charlie Strong | Basketball: Rick Barnes

Texas has gone from having one of the best tandems in the country when Mack Brown and Rick Barnes on the top of their game, and then one of the most disappointing when Brown missed a bowl game and Barnes missed the NCAA Tournament in a three-year span. Now, we don't know what to expect. With Texas enjoying a bounce-back season on the court, Barnes is coach of the year material. Strong is new to the Big 12 and all the pressures of the Texas job, but his track record at Louisville included 23 wins in his last two years.

7. Kansas
Football:
Charlie Weis | Basketball: Bill Self

Kansas has one of the most lopsided coaching tandems in a major conference in terms of results. No doubt, Self is one of the top 10 basketball coaches in the country. No matter the personnel changes, Kansas has won the Big 12 in nine consecutive seasons, a run that includes the 2008 national title and the 2012 Final Four. Meanwhile, Weis is just looking to win consecutive games.

8. West Virginia
Football:
Dana Holgorsen | Basketball: Bob Huggins

Like Kansas, West Virginia is saddled with a prolific basketball coach and a spotty football coach. In 2012-13, Huggins endured his worst season since his first at Akron in 1984-85. The Mountaineers have rebounded nicely this season, contending for an NCAA Tournament spot. Holgorsen’s tenure started at 10-3, but West Virginia is 6-14 since.

9. Texas Tech
Football:
Kliff Kingsbury | Basketball: Tubby Smith

Before Kingsbury took a snap as Texas Tech’s quarterback, Smith had already won the national championship at Kentucky. Certainly, this is one of the most unique coaching tandems in the country, but both are having success in their first seasons. Kingsbury started his tenure 7-0 and capped the season with a bowl win over Arizona State. Smith has been handed one of the toughest jobs in the Big 12, but the Red Raiders have defeated Baylor, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma in his first season.

10. TCU
Football:
Gary Patterson | Basketball: Trent Johnson

It’s almost not fair to rank TCU last in the Big 12. Patterson’s program had been near-automatic in the Mountain West, but a run of player departures and injuries have contributed to a 6-12 Big 12 record. TCU may be a more competitive Big 12 program, but Patterson needs time and consistency on his roster. Johnson had a good track record at Nevada and Stanford, but the Horned Frogs were out of place in the Mountain West basketball lineup. The move to the Big 12 hasn’t helped.

Teaser:
Ranking the Best Coaching Tandems in the Big 12 in 2014
Post date: Friday, February 21, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /nascar/kenseth-hamlin-win-budweiser-duel-daytona
Body:

The Budweiser Duel at Daytona, NASCAR’s twin qualifying races that set the field for the Daytona 500, enjoyed its first setting in prime time on Thursday evening. While the week leading up to the event witnessed practice crashes that forced seven teams to back-up cars, the Duel was a comparatively composed affair — until the final turn of the night.

A grinding crash that swept up seven cars marred an otherwise clean night of racing. Those involved included defending Daytona 500 champion Jimmie Johnson, front-row qualifier Martin Truex Jr., Jamie McMurray, Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards, David Ragan and Michael Waltrip.

Meanwhile, Joe Gibbs Racing continued its impressive Speedweeks as Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin swept the Duel events, making its three-car stable the prohibitive favorite for Sunday. Hamlin also won Saturday’s Sprint Unlimited exhibition race.

The first Duel was a clean event, run entirely under green. However, the calm nature turned dramatic, as two distinct drafting lines — one led by Kenseth, the other by Kevin Harvick — turned into a scrum coming off Turn 4 of the final lap. When Kasey Kahne dipped low in the tri-oval, the trio crossed the line in three-wide formation.  Matt Kenseth

“I saw Kevin making that move. You weren’t going to be able to block it without wrecking, “ Kenseth said. “I just tried to get back to him and, thankfully, I had enough time to get that run to the finish line.”

Kenseth, who led two times for 31 laps, nosed out the win by a miniscule .022 seconds. Harvick and Kahne crossed the line second and third; Marcos Ambrose and Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounded out the top 5.

Harvick’s No. 4 car failed post-race inspection, cited as exceeding the maximum split on the track bar. Thus, his result was thrown out and he transferred into the 500 via 2013 owner points.

Austin Dillon, who is on the pole for Sunday’s 500, led the first 14 laps of the first Duel but faded to a 19th-place showing.

The second Duel was largely a single-file show. Hamlin’s Toyota led following the field’s pit stop with a row of Chevrolets manned by Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Jamie McMurray lying in wait. They made their move on the backstretch of the final lap, as Johnson and McMurray jumped to the high lane, while Busch and Gordon remained low with Hamlin.

As the field exited Turn 4, Johnson’s car, low on fuel, sputtered and was clipped by McMurray. The melee ensued from there. As Bowyer’s car flipped and Waltrip nosed into the pit wall, Hamlin fended off Busch and Gordon to collect his second career Duel win.  Denny Hamlin

“I saw with Kenseth in the first race (that) he stayed on the top line until he got off of Turn 4 coming to the checkered flag,” Hamlin said. “I thought what would be best for me is to take the bottom (lane) early and to make those guys (Busch, Gordon) make the decision to go high. Once it jumbled up the field it gave me a good defensive position.”

For Johnson, who was unhurt in the last-lap crash, the incident cost him a second car in Speedweeks, as he spun into the inside wall in the Sprint Unlimited.

“I tried to get out of the way; I had my hand out of the side,” Johnson said of warning those behind him he was slowing. “But last lap, coming to the checkers — there is so much going on right there, so much energy in the pack. I knew I was going to get run over if I ran out.”

Dillon will start on the pole for the Daytona 500. Martin Truex Jr., who qualified second, will start in the rear of the field after going to a back-up car following his involvement in the accident. Kenseth and Hamlin will line up in the second row; Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kahne and Gordon will comprise row three.


By Matt Taliaferro
Follow Matt on Twitter:

Teaser:
Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin win NASCAR's Budweiser Duel at Daytona; field for the 2014 Daytona 500 set.
Post date: Thursday, February 20, 2014 - 23:45
All taxonomy terms: MLB, Fantasy
Path: /150-funny-fantasy-baseball-team-names
Body:

Only one team will win your league, but everyone can have a funny fantasy baseball team name. These are 150 suggestions for the baseball nerds, Internet bird dogs, Sabermetric mathematician-magicians, jersey chasers and MLB Extra Innings subscribers who comprise fantasy baseball leagues around the world.

Yeah Jeets!
Costas Stink Eye
Jeter Del Boca Vista
McCann Man Code
CC’s MPH Diet
A-Rod Centaur
Short Porch Party
Benedict Ellsbury
Prince Bigger in Texas
Dead Ted’s Head

Tampa Bay Carly Raes
Cano Mode
Barehand-relton Simmons
Wild Thing
Willie Mays Hays
JUST a Bit Outside
Crash Davis
Nuke LaLoosh
108 Stitches
Sandlot Beast

Kansas City Lordes
Blurred Foul Lines

Wrecking Ball Four
Bronx Zoo
Hackensack Bulls
Light-Tower Power
Joey Bats
San Diego Rotisserie Chickens
Grand Theft Votto


Cubs Mascot Dong
Balco Black Sox
Moneyballers
Dating Diamond
Merkle’s Boner
Slump Busters
Ain’t Over Til It’s Over
Deja-vu All Over Again
The Machine
Vin Scully’s Homeboys

Zero-G Spot
Mr. Kate Upton
Void A-Roid
Yoenis Envy
Yu Da Man
Dick Pole’s Staff

Jeter’s Gift Baskets
Boston Beards
Chief Noc-A-Homa
Dread Pirates

Springfield Isotopes
Griffey Jr.’s Tonic
Mattingly’s Sideburns
Talkin’ Baseball
New York Knights
Wonderboy
Rockford Peaches
No Crying in Baseball
All the Way Mae


Cobb Co. Braves
No Mo
Exit Sandman
Citizen Cain

Bryce Hyper
Hall of Shamers
Hannibal Lester

Golden Sombreros
Big League Choo

Cuban Beisbol
Cuban ChiSox
Butt Slide
Manny Being Manny
Come Sale Away

PED-co Park
Green Monsters
Ballpark Franks
Grand Salami
Say It Ain’t So, Joe

Selig’s Pick
Bud Selig 401K

Small Ballers
Back Back Back
Chris Berman Sucks
Fire Joe Morgan
Spitball LOOGYs
Ken Burns Baseball
Hebrew Hammers

Wrigley Blue Ivy
Kung Fu Pandas
Say It Ain’t Sosa
Cleveland Steamers
Dollar Dogs
Thirsty Thursdays
Bobblehead Hunting
Bobblehead Nights
Kangaroo Court
Designated Shitter

El Paso Chihuahuas
Atlanta Black Crackers
Akron RubberDucks
Bleacher Creatures
Phillie Phanatics
Rally Monkeys
Southside Southpaws
Dr. Strangeglove
Lamb Gyroballs
Millville Meteors

WAR-time Consigliere
Bob LOB Law
Crack That WHIP
VORP Speed
Outfield Fly Rule
Rusty Trumbo

Smoak a Swisher
The Bourn Supremacy
The Price Is Wrong

Thome Don’t Play

Seventh-Inning Yoga
Bronx Cheerleaders
Uncle Charlie Hustle
Murderer’s Row
Peach Clobbers
Lovable Losers
Houston Lastros
Houston Colt .45s
Hot Pocket Corner
Evil Empire

1864 Rules
Three-Finger Mordecai
Cuban Missiles
Cole Trains
Big Donkeys
Sack Up
Men of Steal
My Big Unit
Who’s Your Daddy?
Crafty Lefties

Biracial Angels
The The Angels Angels
California Penal League
Cuckoo for Coco Crisp

Honey Nut Ichiro’s

Ethier Said Than Dunn

Inglourious Bastardos
Looking Illegal
Horse Walks Into Aybar

Man Walks Into a Bard

 

Teaser:
These 150 funny fantasy baseball team names will make your league laugh
Post date: Thursday, February 20, 2014 - 16:50
Path: /college-basketball/whats-store-syracuse-after-its-first-loss
Body:

The number of teams chasing perfection diminished by half Thursday night, and now one of those can relax a bit.

Wichita State now has all the attention as the lone undefeated team after Boston College shocked Syracuse on Wednesday night for the first loss of the season for the Orange.

Coaches and players who have been in the position of an undefeated team at this stage of the season have said .

Before Wednesday, Syracuse had been far from perfect despite the record. Close calls with Duke, Pittsburgh and NC State turned into a shocking loss to 7-19 Boston College, an upset that would rival a No. 2 losing to a No. 15 in the NCAA Tournament.

Will a loss loosen up Syracuse in time for the stretch run? History says teams losing their first game this late in the season flourish for the remainder of the year.

Every other team in Syracuse’s position reached Selection Sunday with only one loss. With road trips looming against Duke and Virginia plus an ACC Tournament, Boeheim may count himself lucky to get to Selection Sunday with only one more loss, especially given the performance Wednesday.

Since the field expanded, though, only one team that sustained its first loss after Feb. 15 went on to win the national title — 1992 Duke. All but one reached the Elite Eight.

Since the field expanded in 1985, nine teams have been undefeated as of Feb. 15, including Syracuse and Wichita State this season.

Here’s what they’ve done the rest of the way, followed by a few notes:
 

Unbeaten on Feb. 15StartedFinishedNCAA TourneyFirst LossRPI
2013-14 Wichita State28-0N/AN/AN/A 
2013-14 Syracuse25-00-1N/ABoston College169
2007-08 Memphis26-012-2National runner upTennessee1
2004-05 Illinois29-08-2National runner upat Ohio State51
2003-04 St. Joseph's27-03-2Elite EightXavier (A-10 Tourney)35
2003-04 Stanford26-04-2Round of 32at Washington7
1995-96 UMass26-09-2Final FourGeorge Washington50
1991-92 Duke22-013-1National championat Wake Forest48
1990-91 UNLV34-00-1National runner upDuke (NCAA Tourney)3

• Every team that picked up its first loss after Feb. 15 didn’t lose again until the NCAA Tournament. That includes conference tournament championship for all but 2004 St. Joe’s, which was undefeated until it lost to Xavier in the Atlantic 10 Tournament.

• Most concerning for Syracuse isn’t so much that the Orange lost. It’s that Jim Boeheim’s team lost to a dreadful Boston College team. The Eagles entered the game ranked 194th in the RPI and 152nd on KenPom.com. After the win, BC ranked 169th in the RPI and 131st on KenPom. Every other team’s first loss came to a team that ranked 51st in the final RPI or higher. This year’s Boston College squad almost certainly finishes outside of the top 100.

• If Wichita State loses before the round of 32 at least, the Shockers also will fall to a team outside of the RPI top 50.

Teaser:
What's in store for Syracuse after its first loss?
Post date: Thursday, February 20, 2014 - 15:22
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/2014-sochi-olympics-what-watch-feb-20
Body:

Today's Highlights

NBC

8-11:30 p.m. Eastern

Tonight's main event is also considered by many to be the main event of any Winter Games: the Women's Figure Skating free skate. Medals will be awarded, and stars will be born.

 

1. Figure Skating — Women's Free Skate
Reigning world and Olympic champion Kim Yu-na of South Korea entered these games as the favorite, but Russian teenagers Adelina Sotnikova and Julia Lipnitskaia and Americans Gracie Gold, Ashley Wagner and Polina Edmunds are competing for hearts, minds and high scores as well.


Read more here: http://www.adn.com/2014/02/17/3330841/american-bohonnon-qualifies-for.html#storylink=cpy

 

2. Freestyle Skiing — Women's Halfpipe, Men's Ski Cross

In Women's Halfpipe, competitors will be thinking of Canadian freestyle skier Sarah Burke, who lobbied for Olympic inclusion of the halfpipe event prior to her death from a training accident in 2012. American Maddie Bowman is a top contender for gold.

Austria's Michael Schmid won Ski Cross gold in Vancouver, and he'll look to do so again in Sochi. John Teller is the lone qualifying American in the event.

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, February 20, 2014 - 14:36
Path: /college-basketball/duke-north-carolina-preview-rivalry-worth-wait
Body:

Mid-February already was abnormally late for the first Duke-North Carolina game. The original tipoff for Feb. 12 was only the second time since 1988 the first meeting of the rivalry was played as late as February.

Then came the snow in the Tobacco Road.

The postponement made Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams wait until Feb. 20 for their first meeting of the season.

For fans, the wait will pay off in fascinating ways. Duke will play three games in five days, including Saturday’s matchup with Syracuse at Cameron Indoor. North Carolina is amidst a stretch of four games in eight days.

And more than that, a little more than two weeks will separate this game and the return trip to Durham on March 8.

Not a bad way to ease into March Madness.

What’s on the line for Duke
The Blue Devils remain in contention for a No. 1 seed, but this game will loom large for a team with five overall losses and a 10-3 record in the ACC. The rivalry has been tilted toward Duke since 2010 as Krzyzewski’s team has won seven of the last nine. Despite Duke’s edge in the rankings and ACC standings, the Tar Heels have one more RPI top 50 wins (five) than the Blue Devils this season (four).

What’s on the line for North Carolina
The Tar Heels need to legitimize this latest hot streak of seven consecutive wins. An enigma to start the season, North Carolina isn’t losing to teams outside of the RPI top 100 anymore (Miami, UAB and Wake Forest). If the Heels can show they can still beat the top teams, the selection committee should feel confident putting Carolina in the top half of the bracket.

Duke at North Carolina
Thursday, 9 p.m., ESPN/ACC Network
Line: Duke by 2

About Duke
Record: 21-5, 10-3 ACC
: 5
: 8
: 3
: 4

About North Carolina
Record: 18-7, 8-4 ACC
: NR
: 28
: 22
: 24

Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: Duke 72-68
Braden Gall: North Carolina 77-74
Mitch Light: Duke 77-64
You’ll tune in to watch: Jabari Parker, Duke
The Blue Devils freshman will play his first and probably only game in Chapel Hill before he goes to the NBA Draft. After a brief slump early in the conference schedule, Parker again looks like the best freshman in a star-studded rookie class. Since fouling out of the overtime loss to Syracuse, Parker is averaging 22.3 points and 10.5 rebounds in his last four games.

Pivotal Player: James Michael McAdoo, North Carolina
Much of North Carolina’s turnaround has been due to the improved play of James Michael McAdoo. After an uneven sophomore season, McAdoo is becoming the player Roy Williams hoped he would be. McAdoo’s turnaround has been keyed by playing closer to the basket rather than settling for mid-range jumpers. He had 24 points and 12 rebounds in Saturday’s win over Pittsburgh, but he got into foul trouble against Florida State on Monday for a scoreless night.

Biggest question: How does Duke handle Carolina in the paint?
Duke’s biggest weakness is on the interior as the Blue Devils have allowed opponents to shoot 49.3 percent form 2-point range, an average that ranks 200th in the country. If McAdoo is attacking the paint, he’ll give Duke trouble. Beyond McAdoo, North Carolina also has 6-foot-9, 200-pound freshman Kennedy Meeks, who exploded for a 23-point, seven-round performance Monday against Florida State.

Teaser:
Duke-North Carolina Preview: Rivalry worth the wait
Post date: Thursday, February 20, 2014 - 12:57
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/nascar-media-roundtable-limiting-cup-driver-participation-nascars-lower-series
Body:

Each day from mid-February through late November, a small band of motorsports journalists work nearly around the clock — this being the digital age — to keep rabid NASCAR fans as up-to-the-second informed as possible. Many of these media members are ensconced in the sport’s “traveling circus,” working in garage areas, media centers and pressboxes nearly 40 weeks a year. So who better to go to for a “state of the sport” talk than them?

While drivers may toe the company line — keeping sponsors happy and staying in the sanctioning body’s good graces are important to their livelihood — it’s the job of these journos to provide news, insight and opinion in a sport that has no shortage of any.

In this nine-part feature, Athlon Sports sits down with seven media professionals from different outlets to get a healthy cross-section of ideas, opinions and feedback on the biggest issues alive and well in the sport of NASCAR, circa 2014.


Should some sort of cap be placed on how many Nationwide and Truck series races a Cup driver can participate in? How can a lower-series team explain to a company’s marketing director that a 10th-place finish in an NNS or CWTS race — in a field littered with Cup competitors — is often times a de facto win?


Bob Pockrass (The Sporting News): Yes. Limit a Cup driver to 5-10 races. But with a caveat. Increase to 10-15 if the team the Cup driver competes for fields the car the remainder of the season for a non-Cup driver. That way, sponsors and teams are encouraged to support both a Cup driver and a development driver.


Ryan McGee (ESPN.com/ESPN The Magazine): I like the idea of a 10-15 race cap for any driver who has declared that they are running for the championship in a higher series. The problem is that these marketing directors you speak of are the problem. Nationwide and Truck series team owners tell me that sponsors want names, not young up-and-comers. So it’s a heckuva Catch-22. Attendance and TV ratings are down because the big-name moonlighters keep stomping the young guys, but the big-name moonlighters are who owners have to put in the car. I think once we went through a growing-pains year of that entry cap, those marketers would come around. But then again, I don’t own a race team and don’t have to take that risk.


Nate Ryan (USA Today): It seems like a great idea, but track owners would hate it. Much of the gate (such as it is) for a Nationwide or truck race depends on having established and marketable talent. As Brad Keselowski has noted, the problem isn’t allowing Sprint Cup drivers to race in lower-tier series, it’s allowing Sprint Cup organizations to field farm teams. The Nationwide Series lost its identity when erstwhile upstart teams such as ppc Racing and Brewco Motorsports were squeezed out of existence. Any serious discussions about reform must start there.


Mike Mulhern (MikeMulhern.net; ): No, there doesn’t need to be a cap on drivers, but there needs to be more financial equity in NNS and Trucks. I would institute a financial cap on each team to keep mega-teams from milking the Friday and Saturday shows. The problem is not that Cup drivers are so much better than NNS or truckers, but that the Cup drivers can run for teams with a lot more money to spend. Solve that part of the problem. And a big part of that problem is right under the hood. This sport desperately needs more independent engine men, not huge engine factories in Los Angeles or wherever.


Nick Bromberg (Yahoo! Sports; ): A limit should absolutely be in place. I understand companies in a lower series wanting to sponsor a Cup driver, and those drivers should not be banned from competing. But if you declare for Cup points, you shouldn’t be allowed to drive in more than 15 total Nationwide or Truck series races per season.

It will open up more well-funded rides for young drivers who may be forced to take a start-and-park ride just to stay in NASCAR. Plus it will help establish careers for more drivers who may never make it to the Cup Series simply because there are only 43 spots.

And it’s also something that lower-series teams can’t explain easily, especially to a company who may be unfamiliar to NASCAR. If you were that company, wouldn’t you want to go with the driver who is in victory lane, especially if he’s more recognizable?

That’s why a limit makes sense. A company can have an instant brand with a Cup driver and also have the opportunity to simultaneously build one with a promising and less-recognizable one.


Pete Pistone (Sirius/XM NASCAR Radio and MRN Radio; ): The business of the sport trumps the logic of keeping Cup regulars out of the Nationwide and Truck series. Sponsors dictate the decision more often than not and NASCAR finds itself in a Catch-22 situation. I’d like to see a cap of 5-10 races to shine the spotlight on the regular drivers in both divisions but without the Cup stars in the mix a lot of sponsorship dollars will dry up.


Mike Hembree (Athlon Sports; ): In a perfect world, each of the three series would be limited to drivers who choose to participate full-time on that tour, with maybe a handful of starts open to “guests”. That isn’t realistic, however, for numerous reasons, among them the fact that Sprint Cup drivers attract fans to second- and third-tier races. The competition isn’t exactly fair, but solutions beyond what NASCAR already has put in place are convoluted and messy.

 

Photo by 

For coverage of Speedweeks and the entire 2014 NASCAR season, follow Matt Taliaferro on Twitter: 

 

Teaser:
NASCAR writers discuss the whether a cap should be placed on how many starts Cup drivers can make in the Nationwide and Truck series.
Post date: Thursday, February 20, 2014 - 12:47
All taxonomy terms: NFL, NBA, MLB, NASCAR
Path: /top-10-most-exclusive-statistical-clubs-sports-history
Body:

When I was growing up there was only one record, one accomplishment, one historic statistical club that I cared about.

Home runs.

It was the most sacred of records held by a class act of a man who was ahead of his time and beloved by all. But then Barry Bonds happened. Now, there are three members of the 700-HR club, eight members of the 600-HR club and, unfortunately, many of them (Bonds, ARod, Sosa) have been linked to performance-enhancing drugs (a phrase I certainly didn’t know when I was 15 years old watching Mark McGwire chase history in 1998).

Before 1998, only two players in history had hit 60 homers in a season. Now that many have hit 70 and and eight times has someone hit 60.

It has lost its appeal for me and I believe that most fans of America’s pastime feel the same.

But not all records, streaks, historical accomplishments have been corrupted. Exclusivity is a huge part of measuring any elite athlete. Did he or she do something no one — or in this case, very few people — has ever accomplished? Some “sports clubs” are more obvious than others and can clearly define the game’s greatest players. Others are less obvious but no less intriguing.

Here are my favorite sports “clubs” and rarest accomplishments that indicate true greatness and success:

2,000-yard Club (7 members):
This one is pretty obvious and pretty exclusive. There are only seven players in the history of the NFL to have rushed for 2,000 yards in a season. Adrian Peterson became the latest when he rushed for 2,097 yards in 2012, all while returning from a torn-up knee. Eric Dickerson owns the all-time record with 2,105 while Jamal Lewis (2,066), Barry Sanders (2,053), Terrell Davis (2,008), Chris Johnson (2,006) and O.J. Simpson (2,003) are the only other members of the 2K Club. Interestingly enough, only one other player has ever topped 1,900 yards and that was Earl Campbell in 1980 (1,934). And with the proliferation of high-flying passing offenses, the 2,000-yard running back is that much more impressive.

30,000-point Club (6 members):
Scoring points is the only way to win basketball games and only six players in the history of either the NBA or ABA have ever topped 30,000 points in their career. And this club's membership might just also represent the six best players of all-time. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is basketball’s all-time leading scorer with 38,387 points and no one has ever really come close to catching him. Karl Malone (36,928), Michael Jordan (32,292), Kobe Bryant (31,700*) and Wilt Chamberlain (31,419) are the only other players to score at least 30,000 points in the NBA. Julius Erving reached the benchmark but needed 11,662 points in the ABA to reach the plateau. Next to join this exclusive club could be Dirk Nowitzki. He currently sits at 26,201* points, averaging 21.7 per game in his 16th season with the Dallas Mavericks. At that clip, Nowitzki needs 175 games, or a little more than two more seasons' worth of games to get to 30,000 points. 

* - as of Feb. 18, 2014

80-Goal Club (3 members):
Only eight players in the history of the NHL have ever scored 70 goals in a season much less 80. Wayne Gretzky, Brett Hull and Mario Lemieux are arguably the three greatest goal scorers in the history of the sport and their membership in the 80-goal club only confirms this. Gretzky is the only member of the 90-goal club and is the only player to top 80 goals twice (he topped 70 four times). Hull is No. 2 with 86 goals in 1990-91 and he has topped 70 goals three times. Super Mario is fourth all-time with 85 goals in 1988-89 and he also has also topped 70 more than once (2).

Quarterbacks with four Super Bowl starts (6 members):
Names like Troy Aikman (3-0), Bart Starr (2-0) and Eli Manning (2-0) might take offense to this club, but leading your team to four Super Bowls is an extremely rare accomplishment. Tom Brady (3-2) and John Elway (2-3) are the only two NFL quarterbacks with five Super Bowl starts. Terry Bradshaw (4-0) and Joe Montana (4-0) are the only two with perfect records in four starts. And Roger Staubach (2-2) and Jim Kelly (0-4) are both in Canton after taking their teams to the big game four times. No one in the history of the sport other than Kelly has gone to four straight Super Bowls. Aikman, Montana, Bradshaw and Brady are the only four players to ever win three Super Bowl starts.

Reached base 5,000 times (7 members):
No Major League Baseball player has ever gotten on base 6,000 times in his career, but seven players reached first at least 5,000 times. And they are seven of the greatest names to ever step onto a diamond. Pete Rose (5,929), Barry Bonds (5,599), Ty Cobb (5,532), Rickey Henderson (5,343), Carl Yastrzemski (5,304), Stan Musial (5,282) and Hank Aaron (5,205) are the only such players in MLB history. All topped the 5,200 mark as well, setting themselves apart even further from Tris Speaker (8th) and Babe Ruth (9th). What makes this club so great is its simplicity. The first and foremost goal when one steps to the plate — certainly the sabermetrics guys would agree — is to not get out and no one reached base more than these seven men.

6,000 yards passing and 4,000 yards rushing (5 members):
The modern era of college football has watched electric athletes take control of the quarterback position. In fact, the pistol, zone read and option attacks are even starting to take hold of the NFL game as well. But the term "dual threat" is reserved for the only five quarterbacks in NCAA history to pass for at least 6,000 yards through the air while gobbling up at least 4,000 yards on the ground. Missouri’s Brad Smith (8,799 passing, 4,289 rushing) was the first to join the club in the early 2000s. He would soon be joined by West Virginia’s Pat White (6,049 passing, 4,480 rushing), Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick (10,098 passing, 4,112 rushing), Michigan’s Denard Robinson (6,250 passing, 4,495 rushing) and Northern Illinois' Jordan Lynch (6,209 passing, 4,343 rushing). They are the only five college quarterbacks to rush for 4,000 yards in their career and one look at Kaepernick’s numbers and fans should understand how he led San Francisco to the Super Bowl two years ago.

Six-time NASCAR Champion (3 members):
No one really argues that Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty aren’t the best two stock car drivers of all-time. So it is appropriate that the duo is tied for the most NASCAR championships with seven each. But they could be joined by another steely-eyed wheelman in Jimmie Johnson. Johnson is the only other driver with six points titles after claiming the 2013 championship and he is the only driver to ever win five straight. Jeff Gordon is the only other driver with four championships, and should he win a couple more titles in the twilight of his career, he could join what many consider the three greatest drivers all-time with six trophies.

Golf’s Career Grand Slam (5 members):
Golf’s Mt. Rushmore has five names on it, not four. Only five players in the history of golf have won all four majors — aka the career Grand Slam — in their career. Jack Nicklaus leads the way with 18 major championships followed closely by Tiger Woods with 14, as each has won the career Grand Slam three times. Ben Hogan (9), Gary Player (8) and Gene Sarazen (7) are the only other pro golfers to accomplish the career foursome. In the pre-Masters Era which included The Amateur Open, Bobby Jones accomplished the career Grand Slam — and did it all in the same year (1930).

MLB’s Triple Crown (*5 members):
There are many lines of demarcation for one of America's oldest sports. Many begin counting at 1900 or consider the post-Black Sox (1919) era the “modern” era. Still others consider World War II or the expansion era (1962) as the best way to define baseball. However, the biggest and most influential time stamp came in 1947 when Jackie Robinson finally broke the color barrier. Since that time, only five men have won the Triple Crown of baseball — i.e., leading the league in batting average, home runs and runs batted in. Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera (.330, 44 HR, 139 RBI) broke a 45-year triple crown drought when he led the AL in all three categories in 2012. Prior to Cabrera's remarkable season, Carl Yastrzemski (.326, 44 HR, 121 RBI) in 1967 had been the last to capture the Triple Crown. Frank Robinson (.316, 49 HR, 122 RBI) did it in 1966, Mickey Mantle (.353, 52 HR, 130 RBI) in '56 and Ted Williams (.343, 32 HR, 114 RBI) pulled of the rare feat in '47.

* - since integration

2,000 points and 900 assists (3 members):
Oregon State’s Gary Payton and Syracuse’s Sherman Douglas were the only two players to score at least 2,000 points and dish out at least 900 assists in their college basketball careers until 2012-13. Douglas, nicknamed “The General,” left Syracuse with what was then the all-time NCAA lead in assists (960). When Payton, nicknamed “The Glove,” left school one year later, he was No. 2 all-time with 939 dimes. They are now sixth and 11th all-time. These two were joined, however, by Ohio Bobcats great D.J. Cooper. He finished his illustrious career with 2,075 points and 934 assists. Before Cooper got to Ohio, the Bobcats hadn't won a NCAA Tournament game since 1983 and he delivered two trips to the Big Dance and three wins in his four-year career. Cooper is the only player in NCAA history with 2,000 points, 900 assists, 600 rebounds and 300 steals and joins Payton as the only two players with 2,000 points, 900 assists and 300 steals in their collegiate careers.

Teaser:
The Top 10 Most Exclusive Statistical "Clubs" in Sports History
Post date: Thursday, February 20, 2014 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-february-20-2014
Body:

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Feb. 20.

• I'm sure you've seen this, but I'm going to link to it anyway: .

.

.

• Olympic luger Kate Hansen captured the essence of the Sochi experience: . Some people say it's a dog, but I'm sticking with wolf.

.

.

• That whole Mayan end-of-the-world thing didn't work out, but don't fret: . Get ready for the Viking apocalypse.

• Speaking of Kate Upton, . In 12 hours, despite posting very little, she had more than 420,000 followers.

• An errant shot from Rory McIlroy ended with a fan falling into some cactus, .

.

• We can all relax: .

• Enjoy Brian Williams "rapping" the Sugarhill Gang classic "Rapper's Delight."

 

-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, February 20, 2014 - 10:53
Path: /college-football/top-10-pac-12-linebackers-bcs-era
Body:

The Bowl Championship Series is dead. But even the harshest of BCS detractors must acknowledge that the 16-year run was arguably the best era of college football in the history of the sport.

The era was highlighted by the advent of the BCS Championship Game, conference realignment and mega-dollar contracts for conferences, programs and coaches. But the elite athletes had a huge, if not the biggest, hand in the unprecedented growth of college football over the last two decades.

So Athlon Sports is looking back on the players that made the BCS Era great — conference-by-conference, position-by-position.

One school has dominated this position during the BCS Era and it should come as no surprise as it's the same school that dominated the standings for the better part of a decade as well. That being said, Stanford has used some elite defenders to win back-to-back titles to end the BCS Era. Here are the league's top LBs from the last 16 years.

Note: Must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.

1. Rey Maualuga, USC (2005-08)
The hard-hitting tackler was a freshman All-American on the 2005 USC team that barely lost to Texas in the national title game. He then started the next three seasons for the Trojans, earning consensus All-American honors, the Chuck Bednarik Award and Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2008. The Men of Troy went 46-6 during his time on campus and few players were as feared nationally as Maualuga. He posted 272 career tackles, 22.5 for loss, 9.0 sacks and five interceptions before being taken in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft.

2. Chris Claiborne, USC (1995-98)
The three-year star for the Trojans was the first and only Butkus Award winner in USC history when he was named the nation’s top linebacker in 1998 — the same year both Al Wilson and Andy Katzenmoyer were seniors. He also is the only Pac-12 player to win the Butkus in the three-decade history of the award. He was a consensus All-American and the No. 9 overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft.

3. Adam Archuleta, Arizona State (1997-00)
The West Coast’s favorite walk-on became a three-year starter for the Sun Devils. He earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors twice and was named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2000. He was a finalist for the Butkus Award and finished with 330 tackles, 54.0 tackles for loss and 14.0 sacks. The star tackler was a first-round pick of the Rams in the 2001 NFL Draft.

4. Shayne Skov, Stanford (2009-13)
The heart and soul of two Pac-12 championship teams and three teams that played in BCS bowls, few players have meant more to their team than Skov. He finished his career with 355 career tackles, 40.5 tackles for loss, 16.0 sacks and played his biggest games against the best competition (See: Oregon). During his last four years, Stanford was one of the best defensive units in the nation and his teams went a combined 46-8 during that span. He earned all-conference honors in 2010, '12 and '13.

5. Nick Barnett, Oregon State (1999-02)
One of the most consistent and dependable playmakers in league history, Barnett started three full seasons for the Beavers. He was a multi-year all-conference selection and led the league as a senior with 121 tackles in 2001. He was an integral part of the rebuilding of Oregon State football that included an 11-1 Fiesta Bowl championship season in 2001. Barnett was a first-round pick of the Packers in 2003.

6. Lofa Tatupu, USC (2003-04)
After transferring from Maine, Tatupu started all 25 games during his USC career. He won two Pac-10 championships and was a part of back-to-back national championships in 2003 and ’04. He posted 202 career tackles, nine sacks, seven interceptions and was a second-round pick of the Seahawks in 2005.

7. Robert Thomas, UCLA (1998-01)
Thomas played in every game as a true freshman on the Bruins' last conference championship and Rose Bowl team. By his senior year, he was a Butkus Finalist, a consensus All-American and won Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year honors. In his final and award-winning year, he posted 111 tackles, 26.0 for loss (fourth all-time in league history) and registered 6.5 sacks. He was a first-round pick of the Rams in 2002.

8. Keith Rivers, USC (2004-05)
He was an All-Pac-10 freshman teamer in his first year on a team that won the BCS national title and never lost. He then posted 52 tackles for a team that came up one play short of winning its second BCS national title in ’05. Rivers capped his career with back-to-back, first-team All-Pac-10 honors and was an All-American as a senior. He finished with 240 tackles, 18.5 for loss and was a first-round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.

9. Lance Briggs, Arizona (1999-02)
The Beardown star played 33 games in his career in Tucson, earning first-team All-Pac-10 honors twice during his time there. He finished with 308 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 36.0 tackles for loss in three seasons as a starter. He was a third-round pick in the 2003 NFL Draft and has been invited to seven Pro Bowls.

10. Matt Grootegoed, USC (2001-04)
A rare four-year starter for the beginning of the epic USC championship run, Grootegoed helped USC to three straight Pac-12 championships and two national titles. He was a consensus All-American and Butkus Finalist as a senior, during which he also earned his second straight All-Pac-10 selection. He finished his career with 124 tackles, 41.5 for loss and seven interceptions.

Just missed the cut:

11. Anthony Barr, UCLA (2010-13)
He only played two years at linebacker but he was a dominant force while on the field. In those two seasons, he registered 149 tackles, 41.5 for loss and 23.5 sacks to go with 10 forced fumbles. He was a consensus All-American, two-time South Division champ and two-time, first-team All-Pac-12 pick. He won the Lott Award in 2013.

12. Chase Thomas, Stanford (2009-12)
Another stalwart on those vaunted Cardinal defenses at the end of the BCS Era, Thomas capped his career with a Pac-12 and Rose Bowl championship as a senior. He finished with 229 total tackles, 50.5 tackles for loss and 27.5 sacks from his hybrid outside linebacker position. He was an All-American selection as a senior and led the Cardinal to a 43-10 record during his time in Palo Alto.

13. Mychal Kendricks, Cal (2008-11)
Kendricks was an elite player on three bowl teams — the last three to represent the Golden Bears in the postseason. He finished his career with 259 tackles, 36.5 tackles for loss, 13.5 sacks and four interceptions. His final season — 106 tackles, 14.5 for loss — earned him Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors. Kendricks was a second-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.

14. Trent Murphy, Stanford (2010-13)
When it comes to wreaking havoc, few were as productive as Murphy. He led Stanford to three BCS bowls, including back-to-back Pac-12 championships and Rose Bowls. He finished his career with 160 tackles, 52.5 tackles for loss, and 32.5 sacks (ninth all-time in league history). Stanford went 46-8 during his time on The Farm.

15. Dale Robinson, Arizona State (2004-05)
He only played two seasons but he made a huge impact for the Devils. He posted 208 tackles, 28.0 for loss and 8.5 sacks in 23 of 24 possible career starts. He was an All-Pac-10 selection both years and was named Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year in 2005.

16. Brian Cushing, USC (2005-08)
Cushing played in 44 career games, making 178 stops, 27.0 for loss and 8.5 sacks. He earned 2007 Rose Bowl MVP honors and eventually was an All-American in 2008. Cushing was a consistent performer who was the 15th overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. USC was 46-6 during his time in Los Angeles.

17. Zack Follett, Cal (2005-08)
The two-time all-league selection was a terror behind the line of scrimmage for the Bears. He had 244 career tackles, 51.0 tackles for loss, 22.5 sacks and a Pac-12-record 13 forced fumbles during his time in Berkeley. He also won the Emerald Bowl MVP honors in 2008.

18. Casey Matthews, Oregon (2007-10)
As a leader of the only Ducks team to make it to the BCS National Championship Game, Matthews was a two-time All-Pac-10 selection and an All-American during his stay in Eugene. He posted 245 tackles, 30.5 for loss, nine sacks and went 41-11 during his career. The Ducks won three straight conference championships.

19. Spencer Havner, UCLA (2002-05)
The Bruins' tackling machine was a four-year starter and registered 402 tackles during his time in Los Angeles. This total is good for second among all players during the BCS Era in the Pac-12 (Marcus Bell). He was a three-time all-conference selection in some way and a Defensive Freshman of the Year according to the Sporting News in 2002.

20. Mason Foster, Washington (2007-10)
Few players were as productive as Foster was for the Huskies — and his NFL success proves that out. Foster posted 378 tackles, including a 163-tackle senior season, 38.5 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, four interceptions and eight forced fumbles. He played in 50 career games and helped Washington go from 0-12 (2008) to its first bowl game since 2002 to close out his senior season.

Best of the rest:

21. Desmond Bishop, Cal (2005-06)
22. Peter Sirmon, Oregon (1996-99)
23. Eric Kendricks, UCLA (2011-pres.)
24. Marcus Bell, Arizona (1996-99)
25. Clay Matthews, USC (2005-08)

Teaser:
Top 10 Pac-12 Linebackers of the BCS Era
Post date: Thursday, February 20, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/ranking-best-coaching-tandems-big-ten-2014
Body:

The SEC has football dominance. The ACC has the defending football national champion and three Basketball Hall of Fame coaches. The American has the defending basketball national champion.

However, one of the strongest leagues in terms of football and basketball coaching tandems is the Big Ten.

Names like Tom Izzo, Bo Ryan, John Beilein and Thad Matta would end up on anyone’s list of top 20 coaches in college basketball right now. Tim Miles and Richard Pitino are among the league’s rising stars. Meanwhile, the football side has seen marked improvement. Adding Urban Meyer and James Franklin from the SEC has added an edge to the Big Ten football coaching ranks. Kevin Wilson and Jerry Kill have at least made their programs more competitive.

Where the and had few schools with balance between their basketball and football coaches, the Big Ten is flush with them.

1. Michigan State
Football:
Mark Dantonio | Basketball: Tom Izzo

The Spartans have a good chance of sweeping Big Ten coach of the year honors with Dantonio already receiving both the coaches’ and media awards with a Rose Bowl-winning season. Izzo will have some tough competition with the coaches at Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota for basketball honors, but the Spartans could still win a conference title despite a rash of injuries to key players. A healthy basketball squad this season would be in contention for Izzo’s second national title and seventh Final Four.

2. Ohio State
Football:
Urban Meyer | Basketball: Thad Matta

Meyer is well on his way to replicating his Florida tenure at Ohio State. The Buckeyes won his first 24 games before losses to Michigan State in the Big Ten title game and Clemson in the Orange Bowl. This is not Matta’s most complete team on the basketball side, but he’s led Ohio State to at least a share of the conference regular season title five times, the conference tournament title four times and a Final Four appearance twice.

3. Wisconsin
Football:
Gary Andersen | Basketball: Bo Ryan

Ryan’s consistency at Wisconsin has been astounding with NCAA Tournament bids and top four finishes in the Big Ten for every year of his tenure since 2001-02. Moreover, Ryan is 12-3 against Izzo and 13-1 against Michigan’s John Beilein. The only thing missing from his resume is a deep NCAA Tournament run. Andersen also kept the football program a consistent program in the Big Ten. In his first season, the Badgers went 9-4, with three of those losses coming by one score.

4. Michigan
Football:
Brady Hoke | Basketball: John Beilein

One thing we’ve learned over the years: Never count out a Beilein-coached team. A season after losing the national player of the year in Trey Burke and playing most of the season without rising star Mitch McGary, the Wolverines remain in contention for the Big Ten title. On the football side, Hoke appeared to have Michigan on the path to Rose Bowl contention, but the Wolverines’ win total has decreased in each of the last three seasons.

5. Iowa
Football:
Kirk Ferentz | Basketball: Fran McCaffery

Ferentz has had only one 10-win season and top-10 finish since the Hawkeyes did so three seasons in a row from 2002-04. Still, Iowa enjoyed rebound season in 2013, finishing with its first winning record in the Big Ten since 2009. In four seasons, McCaffery has rebuilt an Iowa program that hasn’t reached the NCAA Tournament since 2006 and hasn’t won a Tournament game since 2001.

6. Indiana
Football:
Kevin Wilson | Basketball: Tom Crean

If Wilson can find a defense to match the offense in Bloomington, this tandem will rise near the top. The Hoosiers have improved from 0-8 to 2-6 to 3-5 in the Big Ten in his three seasons. Though Indiana’s disappointing 2013-14 season began with a Sweet 16 exit from the NCAA Tournament last year, Indiana emerged from NCAA sanctions to spend much of last season ranked No. 1.

7. Minnesota
Football:
Jerry Kill | Basketball: Richard Pitino

Kill’s program has enjoyed incremental improvement in each of his three seasons, remarkable given that Minnesota finished 8-5 overall and 4-4 in the Big Ten even as Kill was limited for seven games while he dealt with epilepsy. Pitino, the youngest basketball coach in the Big Ten, has the Gophers in contention for an NCAA Tournament berth in his first season.

8. Nebraska
Football:
Bo Pelini | Basketball: Tim Miles

Pelini will need to use the Gator Bowl victory over Georgia to turn the momentum for his program. Nebraska is consistent, but a little too consistent for fans’ tastes. The Huskers have lost four games each season under Pelini, including a few head-scratchers. The charismatic Miles has Nebraska in postseason contention in 2013-14 after going 5-13 in his first season.

9. Northwestern
Football:
Pat Fitzgerald | Basketball: Chris Collins

Fitzgerald generally gets the most out of his team, making last year’s 0-7 finish that much more befuddling. The losing season ended Northwestern’s streak of five consecutive bowl games, but five postseason appearances in six years outpaces any other coach in Northwestern’s history. Collins, a former Duke assistant, is early in his tenure with the basketball program, but the Wildcats already earned road wins over Indiana, Wisconsin and Minnesota during his tenure.

10. Penn State
Football:
James Franklin | Basketball: Pat Chambers

If Franklin can weather the next few years of NCAA sanctions, the Pennsylvania native who led Vanderbilt to three consecutive bowl games could return the Nittany Lions into a Big Ten title contender in short order. Penn State is one of the toughest basketball jobs in the league, but the Nittany Lions have already topped their win total from each of Chambers’ first two seasons.

11. Maryland
Football:
Randy Edsall | Basketball: Mark Turgeon

After a transfer-filled first season and injury-plagued second season, Edsall’s program showed signs of momentum in Year 3 as the Terrapins went 7-6. With a 3-5 record in conference play, Edsall will be hard-pressed to show more progress in the first season in the Big Ten. Maryland still has a way to go before it is a power in basketball again. Turgeon is seeking his first winning ACC season in three years with the Terps.

12. Purdue
Football:
Darrell Hazell | Basketball: Matt Painter

Hazell built from the ground up at Kent State, experience he’ll need to pull Purdue out of the 1-11 hole from his first season. Painter’s program was in Big Ten title contention when Robbie Hummel, JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore were on campus, though they couldn’t all stay healthy at the same time. Since then, Purdue has struggled to stay above .500 in the league.

13. Illinois
Football:
Tim Beckman | Basketball: John Groce

Groce had a veteran team in his first season, leading the Illini to 23 wins, the Maui Invitational title and the round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament. This year’s squad has been a team in transition hovering around the .500 mark. Beckman doubled his win total in his second season, but going from two wins to four probably isn’t what Illinois expected when they hired the successful Toledo coach.

14. Rutgers
Football:
Kyle Flood | Basketball: Eddie Jordan

Not great news for a Rutgers program taking a step up in both sports in the Big Ten. Jordan has NBA credentials, but his first season has been a rough ride in the American. After a starting 7-0, Flood is 8-11 in his last 19 games.
 

Teaser:
Ranking the Best Coaching Tandems in the Big Ten in 2014
Post date: Thursday, February 20, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: Denny Hamlin, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/denny-hamlins-back-back
Body:

Is Denny Hamlin’s back back? That is Question One in the Joe Gibbs Racing camp as the 2014 Sprint Cup season begins. The potent Toyota team, with one of the sport’s strongest lineups (Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Hamlin), remains in search of its first Cup championship carrying Toyota colors, and a healthy Hamlin can be a big player in that quest.

After a convincing win in Saturday’s Sprint Unlimited exhibition race it looks like all systems go.  Denny Hamlin

The 2013 season was more or less a lost year for Hamlin. After he suffered a compression fracture in his back in a brutal crash with Joey Logano as they raced for the win in the season’s fifth race, at Fontana, Calif., Hamlin sat out four weeks, essentially losing hope of running for his elusive first championship and falling into a sort of test-driver status for his teammates as they pursued the title.

Hamlin wrestled with back issues much of the year, climbing out of the car in pain after practice at Richmond and enduring painkiller injections in his spine in search of relief. He chose rehabilitation over surgery in hopes of making his return easier and faster.

As 2014 rolls out, the good news is that Hamlin capped 2013 by winning the season’s final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway and is one-for-one in Daytona. Although the former victory was overshadowed by Jimmie Johnson’s rush to yet another championship, the win reinforced Hamlin’s status as a top driver and, importantly, kept alive his streak of winning at least one Cup race per season since his full-time debut in 2006.

It was an exclamation point on a tough year.

“You just look at the small victories,” Hamlin says. “That’s all I could do — take pride in the small victories that we had here and there.

“Now everyone is starting over clean again in 2014. For me, when you come back after missing four or five races (and have) one or two bad finishes — my Chase hopes are over. You’re kind of racing for nothing, really. It’s hard to find the motivation to perform at 100 percent when you’re trying to find yourself, trying to figure out what feel you need, really when you feel like you’re not racing for anything.”

Hamlin says his back began responding more positively in early September, just as the schedule was moving into its Chase segment.

“Right around when the Chase started, I went in for some treatment (and) got an injection that numbed the pain,” he says. “That really allowed me to get back in the gym, get back to doing rehab again. That was the point for me where I started to get better inside the car.

“Richmond was probably the worst that I felt of any weekend. When you can’t go through a corner, you can’t feel the race car because you’re getting lightning bolts of pain through your back.”

Hamlin’s car was a lightning bolt in the Unlimited, a race in which he led the most laps and won all three segments.

“I realized after the win in Homestead, how I was feeling, that we run as good as I feel,” Hamlin said. “When I feel comfortable in the car, especially in long runs and everything, I can do just about anything I need to do to be a race winner.”

If Speedweeks will tell the tale of his recovery, the story so far is shaping up to be a healthy one.


By Mike Hembree
Follow Mike on Twitter:
Photos by

Teaser:
Denny Hamlin returns from an injury-plagued season to make a statement in NASCAR's Speedweeks in Daytona.
Post date: Wednesday, February 19, 2014 - 19:33
All taxonomy terms: Jimmie Johnson, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/jimmie-johnson-six-questions-six-time-champ
Body:

Jimmie Johnson won his sixth Sprint Cup championship last season, putting him closer to NASCAR icons Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, who totaled seven apiece — a number Johnson will pursue as the 2014 season unfolds.

Barring catastrophe, there seems to be little doubt that Johnson will get to seven — and beyond. He appears to be in the prime of his career and in a good spot emotionally to push forward.  Jimmie Johnson

“I think you see some guys win in football or basketball and they get a big head,” says team owner Rick Hendrick. “They become bigger than life. But with Jimmie, it’s like it’s the record book for him. That’s what he wants. But he’s not letting it get to him. He’s the most unique guy I’ve ever met. He doesn’t have any ego. I don’t ever see it. He’s driven to be the best. That’s enough for him. He wants to write the record book. He’s nowhere near satisfied. He doesn’t care about talking about himself. He doesn’t care about the fanfare. He’s after the stats. At the end of the day, he wants things on the mantel.

“I’ve always said I’ve seen so many guys work their ass off to get to a level, and then they get all twisted up in the head and they kill it and blow it by getting off track from what got them there. He’s not like that. He just gets better and better.”

As Johnson prepares his quest to continue re-writing the record book, we pose six questions to the six-time champion.


How does the 2013 championship differ from the other five?
Jimmie Johnson:
Granted, the question now is can you get seven and all that. But we had that “Can you keep the streak alive?” thing on our shoulders forever and ever. It maybe didn’t let us enjoy the moment. We maybe were looking ahead and to what the next year might be like. This one feels better. I think I’m more comfortable in my own skin in my sport within my team. Maybe that’s the best way to describe it. I’m comfortable and enjoying this much more than I ever have.

You failed to win championships in 2011 and 2012 after winning five in a row. Did you feel like you had to sort of re-establish yourself?
No, because I felt like it’s been a short period of time. In 2011, we didn’t have a good second half of the Chase. But then we came back in 2012 and really had a shot to win it. So, I don’t feel like this was me trying to re-certify myself. I do feel like, though, that we started over with a clean sheet of paper in a lot of respects. We’re enjoying it a lot like our first championship. It has a little bit more significance and weight. For me, it has more meaning due to the time we have together, the impact it’s made for Rick with his 11 championships and the opportunity to share this with my family. To watch (daughter) Genevieve kind of grasp what’s going on — the parenthood side of life has changed me a lot. To go through all of this now as a parent, that has a pretty good effect for me.

What are the challenges in keeping this level of success?
I think keeping the 48 team in its sweet spot. The bond that we have … it’s a big part of our success. Where our sport’s heading is the other piece. There’s change coming. Don’t know exactly what it looks like yet, but from the competition side, we know the rules package is going to change. You hear rumbling about the format changing. Our sport is ever-changing, trying to adjust to an ever-changing world. The target is moving on us. I feel like we can chase the target pretty darn well, especially if we stay connected and united as we have. I don’t see why that would change any.

You’ve had the same core group of key people with you through the championships, but a lot of other people have revolved in and out of the team. How involved have you been in keeping the team rolling along through the changes?
It’s really in Chad’s (crew chief Chad Knaus) department. But there have been years where he thought my influence might help a potential crew member leave a team and come to Hendrick. I’ve made phone calls and talked to guys I only knew in passing and tried my best driver technique to get them to come on board. There were years that I didn’t really know the new guys. Chad said, “You need to get to know them.” I’d come in on Tuesday and train with them. I just follow his lead on all that.

Some people think you just drive the car, but your input goes far beyond that, right?
Yes, I’ve got to be careful now when I say things because people are really listening. If I just make a casual comment, it could lead us down a road — a bad road if I don’t know what I’m talking about. So I’m much more strategic when I say things among the Hendrick management. Chad and I can banter back and forth. A casual comment (and) I can get the management group looking in the wrong direction.

You’ve accomplished so much in recent years. What continues to drive you?
I’m usually never comfortable from a work standpoint or trying to learn and advance and compete. I guess I was born with a lot of that. It’s a joking thing to say, but I’m serious about it — I’ve not been good at anything my entire life. And I’m finally good at something. I’ve worked my whole life. I’ve raced for 33 years now, and I’m finally confident in what I do in a car and how I can help lead my team. I know the tracks. I know my equipment. I’m finally “there.”


By Mike Hembree
Follow Mike on Twitter:

Photos by
 

Teaser:
Six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson sits down for a one-on-one interview with Athlon Sports.
Post date: Wednesday, February 19, 2014 - 18:15
All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /mlb/weirdest-things-happen-baseball-last-season-2013
Body:

Baseball is filled with bizarre coincidences, amazing statistics, and lots of oddball occurrences. Last season was no exception. As 2014 spring training gets underway, we decided to look back at the kookiest from 2013 in our annual Calendar of MLB Weirdness. 

APRIL

April 5 Emilio Bonifacio is the second player of the live-ball era to strike out four times and commit three errors in the same game.

April 5 The Diamondbacks score two runs on a single passed ball.

April 5 Xavier Cedeno is the fifth pitcher in history to allow six runs without recording an out, yet surrender fewer than two hits.

April 6 The Rangers issue three intentional walks to Albert Pujols, but he homers the two times they don’t.

April 7 Reigning Cy Young Award winners R.A. Dickey and David Price each lose their starts by a score of 13–0.

April 7 Braves batters strike out 16 times for the second time in five days, but Atlanta wins both games by scoring a combined 14 runs.

April 9 In 10.1 innings, Brett Myers has allowed more home runs (seven) than 12 entire teams have hit.

April 10 With his fifth home run in his ninth game, John Buck equals the tater total of all Mets catchers in the 2012 season.

April 10 Including his previous start against them in 2012, the Mets’ Jeremy Hefner puts 13 consecutive Phillies batters on base.

April 16 KC’s Kelvin Herrera’s MLB-high 82.1 innings without a home run allowed evaporates when he serves up three in the span of four Braves hitters.

April 20 Two of the day’s starters, Rick Porcello and Philip Humber, combine to allow 17 earned runs while retiring a total of three batters.

April 24 Baltimore’s Josh Stinson allows five hits in his season debut — four homers and a double.

April 24 Eric Hinske of the D-Backs is awarded second base when the Giants’ Santiago Casilla, warming up in the bullpen, gloves his base hit.

April 29 Milwaukee is the first team in 55 years to hit at least four home runs and three triples in a game.

April 29 Between the 11th and 15th innings of Oakland’s 19-inning win over the Angels, three different center fielders sustain leg injuries while running to first base and must be removed from the game.

April 30 The month ends with the highest home run total by catchers (117) and highest strikeout total by pitchers (5,992) of any April in baseball history.

 

MAY

May 3 Braves third baseman Chris Johnson appeals an official scorer’s decision by insisting he should be charged with an error.

May 7 Thirteen-year veteran Nick Punto’s home run is the first he’s ever hit prior to June 2.

May 8 The Cardinals and Cubs, playing each other, rap into four double plays apiece.

May 10-11 Cardinals pitchers hold the Rockies hitless for 49 consecutive at-bats.

May 11Nelson Cruz cranks his third game-tying homer of the week, all setting up close Rangers victories and each in the sixth inning.

May 11 All three Marlins outfielders record an assist.

May 14 The Phillies poke their 16th straight solo home run.

May 17 Gerardo Parra’s homer on the game’s first pitch provides the sole run in Arizona’s defeat of Miami — the first time that’s happened since 1993, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

May 18 On the same day the Orioles’ streak of 109 victories when leading after seven innings is terminated, the Astros win for just the fifth time in their last 139 after trailing in the seventh or later.

May 19 Buck Showalter’s dash from the dugout to argue that a Rays double should have been called a foul ball backfires when the umps decide to check the replay and change their ruling to a home run.

May 21 Mike Trout’s cycle is the first in 81 years also to include at least five RBIs and a stolen base.

May 24 The umpire, thinking the first baseman caught the ball on the bag, calls out Jesus Sucre even though the pitcher takes the throw six feet in front of it.

May 25 All nine A’s starters drive in a run by the fifth inning. 

 

JUNE

June 4 The Red Sox score in every inning against the Rangers except the one pitched by outfielder David Murphy.

June 4Miguel Cabrera ends a streak of 2,457 plate appearances in which he did not strike out after reaching a 3–0 count.

June 6 Bud Selig, announcing first-round picks, repeatedly calls it the “2000” draft.

June 8 Jose Fernandez and Matt Harvey are the first starting hurlers since 1884 to match up against each other in two games that lasted 15 or more innings during the same season.

June 12 Brandon Moss gets just his fifth hit over 40 at-bats in 19 games, but all are home runs.

June 13 For the second time in franchise history, the Phillies win a game in which they score three or fewer runs despite accumulating at least 16 hits. (They first did it in 1954.)

June 14 Freddy Galvis (following Carlos Gomez and Carlos Gonzalez) is the third player in eight days to hit a triple in successive innings.

June 15 Exactly one month after Raul Ibanez was the first 40-year-old in Mariners history to hit a grand slam, Henry Blanco becomes the second.

June 18 For the second time in a week, Alfredo Aceves is demoted to Triple-A immediately after beating Tampa Bay with a one-run start.

June 25 Alexi Casilla homers for the second time in 498 at-bats — both off Justin Masterson. (He failed to hit another in 2013.)

June 28 A position player for two different teams (the White Sox’ Casper Wells and L.A.’s Skip Schumaker) throws a scoreless inning after his pitching teammates allow a combined 35 runs.

 

JULY

July 2 The Mets, who had set an NL record by failing to score more than five runs in 30 consecutive home games, tally seven times in the seventh inning at Citi Field.

July 5 The fireworks of victory are ignited at Busch Stadium with no outs in the ninth inning.

July 9 Al Alburquerque, who hadn’t allowed a home run in his first 71 major-league games, serves up one in a second straight appearance.

July 11 The Giants win for only the third time in 17 tries, with Madison Bumgarner notching the “W” in all three.

July 14 Brandon Workman (joining Jarred Cosart and Danny Salazar) is the third pitcher in four days to take a no-hitter into the sixth inning of his first big-league start, equaling the total number who had done that in the previous 15 seasons.

July 22 Joe Blanton becomes the second pitcher (with Bert Blyleven) to allow a home run in 10 consecutive outings two years in a row.

July 28 One day after a record-tying four games end in a 1–0 score among seven shutouts in all, there are four more whitewashes, including another pair of 1–0 battles.

July 28 For the first time in 50 years, the only players with multiple hits in a game are the starting pitchers (Travis Wood and Tim Lincecum).

July 31 Texas sweeps a three-game series from the Angels with each win via a walk-off home run — just the second time a team has ever done that.

 

AUGUST

Aug. 2 The Braves become the fourth team of the modern era to hang up a five (or more)-run inning in five consecutive games.

Aug. 4 Mike Scioscia is the first manager in 30 years to give the ball to seven pitchers during the eighth and ninth innings of a game.

Aug. 4 The Cardinals get an RBI from the first eight starters in their batting order for the second time in four days.

Aug. 7 The Rangers run their total to 13 stolen bases over two nights against the Angels.

Aug. 9 Although their first four batters of the game get a hit, the Pirates fail to score in the first inning.

Aug. 9-10 After hitting five home runs in his previous 85 games, Josh Reddick doubles that total in two days.

Aug. 10 Breaking his own Mets season-opening record of 2012 by needing 233 at-bats to raise his batting average to .200, Ike Davis finally reaches the Mendoza Line in his 264th of 2013.

Aug. 13 The Twins score their 23rd consecutive run on homers.

Aug. 13 Both teams’ leadoff hitters (the Mariners’ Brad Miller, the Rays’ Ben Zobrist) homer twice — just the third time that’s ever happened.

Aug. 13-14 After driving in 13 runs in his first 153 appearances of the season, Alfonso Soriano matches that total in a span of seven trips to the plate.

Aug. 16 The Braves limit the Nats to three or fewer runs for the 13th consecutive time.

Aug. 17 The Cubs are shut out for the fifth game in their last seven at Wrigley Field, tying a major league record for home games.

Aug. 19 Jake Elmore of the Astros catches and pitches in the same game — both the first appearances of his career at those positions.

Aug. 21 Max Stassi’s first career RBI sends him to the hospital, as he is hit by a pitch with the bases loaded that ricochets off his shoulder into his face.

Aug. 24 Cliff Pennington becomes the first Diamondback ever to draw five walks in a game, doing so in the 16th inning. Two innings later, teammate Tony Campana ties his record. 

Aug. 27 Alfonso Soriano socks his 400th home run and Aramis Ramirez his 350th on the same day.

Aug. 27 For the first time in 28 games, the Brewers score a first-inning run.

Aug. 30 A 38th consecutive Marlin who drew a walk fails to score.

Aug. 30 21-year-old Taijuan Walker debuts by throwing to a batterymate (Henry Blanco) who was catching for Class A Bakersfield when he was born.

 

SEPTEMBER

Sept. 6 Yusmeiro Petit, preceded by Yu Darvish, makes this the first season in which two pitchers lose a perfect game with two outs in the ninth.

Sept. 13 Princeton product David Hale strikes out Princeton product Will Venable as the first batter he faces in his major-league career.

Sept. 19Matt Moore allows Texas to steal four bases in the first four innings — one more than he’d permitted in 136 innings entering the game.

Sept. 26-28 After the Brewers beat the Mets by the same score (4–2) for the third straight day, the Elias Sports Bureau reports that this is the fourth time in the past 20 years this has happened — all involving one of those two teams.

Sept. 29 The Astros, needing 14 strikeouts in their season finale to set a major-league team record for a season, stage a clutch performance and whiff 19 times.

Sept. 29 Mike Trout sets a record for most games played in the outfield (148) without recording an assist.

Sept. 30 For just the third time in the 162-game era, no player records 200 hits, although Adrian Beltre and Matt Carpenter finish with 199.

 

OCTOBER

Oct. 3 Carlos Beltran goes deep, concluding the NLCS game with 15 home runs in 129 postseason at-bats — precisely the same stats that Babe Ruth had in his postseason career.

Oct. 15 Matt Holliday finally leaves the yard after the first 242 hitters of the NLCS come up empty.

Oct. 27 One night after Game 3 of the World Series ends on an obstruction call, Game 4 ends on a pickoff — neither of which had ever happened before.

Teaser:
The Weirdest Things to Happen in Baseball Last Season 2013
Post date: Wednesday, February 19, 2014 - 15:00
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/2014-sochi-olympics-what-watch-feb-19
Body:

Today's Highlights

NBC

8-11:30 p.m. Eastern

There's a good chance you watched the hockey live, as productivity across the nation plummeted around lunchtime. But here are some other events you'll enjoy tonight on tape delay.

 

1. Alpine Skiing — Men's Giant Slalom
American Ted Ligety first won a gold medal eight years ago as a 21-year-old unknown. Now, he's the overwhelming favorite to erase his Vancouver disappointment of 2010 and win gold again.


Read more here: http://www.adn.com/2014/02/17/3330841/american-bohonnon-qualifies-for.html#storylink=cpy

 

2. Women's Bobsled

The American duo of Elana Meyers and Lauryn Williams are the overnight leaders after a strong pair of runs, while Lolo Jones' driving partner Jazmine Fenlator piloted a couple of sloppy runs for an 11th-place showing after Day 1.

 

3. Women's Figure Skating — Short Program

The marquee event of any Winter Games is the women's figure skating individual competition, and Sochi is no different. Americans Gracie Gold, Polina Edmunds and Ashley Wagner will try to position themselves for medal contention, but the favorites are South Korea's Kim Yu-na and Russian sweetheart Julia Lipnitskaia, who will be feeling the pressure of her home country's hopes after Russia's shocking hockey loss.

 

4. Snowboarding — Men's Parallel Giant Slalom

Russian Vic Wild, who was born in the U.S., earned Russian citizenship by marrying Alena Zavarzina, and he also earned a spot on the Russian Olympic team. Now he tries to overcome a sloppy course to earn gold for his adopted homeland.

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, February 19, 2014 - 13:12

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