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When you search for Ted Williams, you should get a lot more images of an American icon who was one of the greatest hitters in baseball history, and fewer images of the alcoholic guy with the funny voice who ditched his family. But that doesn't seem to be the case.
by Matt Taliaferro and Nathan Rush
Location: Concord, N.C.
Specs: 1.5-mile quad-oval; Banking/Turns: 24°; Banking/Straightaways: 5°
2010 Winners: Kurt Busch (May); Jamie McMurray (Oct.)
2011 Race Length: 600 miles/400 laps
Track Qualifying Record: 193.216 mph (Elliott Sadler, 2005)
600-mile Race Record: 151.952 (Bobby Labonte, 1995)
From the Spotter's Stand
After opening the year with a Daytona 500 win and then taking the checkers at the Brickyard 400 in Indy, big-game Jamie McMurray earned his third victory of the season with an exciting Saturday night showdown with Kyle Busch at the 1.5-mile Concord quad-oval in October.
McMurray led 65 laps in his second win at Charlotte, passing Rowdy on Lap 314 of the 334-circuit race and holding on for his third trophy of a breakout season.
Kurt Busch felt like “a million cool ones” after taking the check at the All-Star Race. Then, the 2 car turned the double-play — leading 252 laps to beat runner-up McMurray and little bro Kyle — for a second straight win in Charlotte the following week in the 600.
Crew Chief’s Take
“The 600 in May and the 500 in October present their own set of unique challenges. Varying track conditions and temperature shifts at each race add to the fact that each end of the track is significantly different from the cockpit. The challenge becomes adapting, and particularly in the case of the Coca-Cola 600, the races are really long there. The key is to survive the early stages, when the sun is out, and be in position to battle for the win at night.
“Horsepower is a necessity, as is engine durability, particularly in the 600, when the distance puts an added strain on the equipment.”
Looking at Checkers: Jimmie Johnson has six points-paying and two All-Star Race wins.
Pretty Solid Pick: Jamie McMurray had finishes of first and second at CMS in 2010.
Good Sleeper Pick: Kasey Kahne is going to break through with Team Red Bull at some point, and Charlotte would be a good place.
Runs on Seven Cylinders: They don’t call him “Wall-mendinger” for nothing.
Insider Tip: The 600 has a reputation for giving drivers their first career Cup wins — think David Pearson, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Bobby Labonte and David Reutimann.
Classic Moments in the 600
The first of David Pearson’s 105 wins comes in the second annual World 600 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in May 1961. Pearson, in his second year on the Grand National circuit, leads 225 laps in a John Masoni-owned Pontiac en route to the victory. Pearson owns a two-lap lead on the field when he blows a tire with one lap remaining and limps around to the start/finish line. Fireball Roberts finishes second.
Ralph Earnhardt leads 75 laps in the middle stages of the race in a car owned by Cotton Owens, marking the most laps he leads in any single Grand National event.
Tim Flock makes his 187th and final start in this race, after a Hall of Fame career during which he amasses 39 wins and 129 top 10s.
by Matt Taliaferro
1. Carl Edwards Not that an exhibition All-Star Race factors too heavily into the Horsepower Rankings, but Edwards was on top of the list before the race, then he won the race, and therefore, holds serve.
2. Kyle Busch Kyle was cited for careless and reckless driving in Iredell County while doing 128 mph in a 45 mph zone. Funny, he got paid $258,300 for doing the same thing on Saturday night … and he still couldn't catch Carl!
3. Jimmie Johnson And this is where the trend ends, as Johnson faded to 11th on Saturday, yet maintains his ranking at No. 3. He may be higher by this time next week.
4. Kevin Harvick Things haven’t been quite so rosy since back-to-back wins at Auto Club and Martinsville speedways. Those two races are fading in the rearview mirror, but we’ll give him another week in the top 5.
5. Clint Bowyer Bowyer has improved his points position 15 spots in the last seven weeks. The higher you get, the tougher the sledding, but this team is capable of sliding into the top 3.
6. Matt Kenseth The upcoming Coca-Cola 600 is Kenseth’s and crew chief Jimmy Fennig’s kind of race: Lay low, save the equipment, be smart with the strategy.
7. Greg Biffle Biffle is gangbusters one week, totally pedestrian the next. And his 21 laps led in 2011 has got to improve. There’s just no excuse for that.
8. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Junior’s performance — whether he and crew chief Steve Letarte were testing or not — was so bad in the All-Star Race that he slips a spot here.
9. Denny Hamlin Only one top-10 finish for Hamlin at Charlotte in the last seven races. If you’re looking for a good fantasy play this week, look elsewhere.
10. Kasey Kahne Five runs of ninth or better for Kahne and his Red Bull team are offset by three finishes of 36th or worse. If they clean that up, they’ll be tough.
11. Jeff Gordon Once again, Gordon is uncompetitive at a 1.5-mile track. That has to change.
12. Tony Stewart On the other hand, Smoke’s team looked like it may have turned a corner in the All-Star Race.
13. Ryan Newman Newman’s four fifth-place showings are carrying his season thus far.
14. Mark Martin Like Kenseth, Martin could be a guy to watch in this weekend’s 600.
15. Brian Vickers A couple nice runs overshadowed by a dud in the All-Star Showdown. That’s what Vickers does.
Just off the lead pack: Marcos Ambrose, Jeff Burton, Kurt Busch, David Ragan, Martin Truex Jr.
Follow Matt Taliaferro on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro
by Matt Taliaferro
The 2011 Sprint All-Star Race certainly wasn’t as dramatic as past editions. The conclusion was no where near as exciting — or destructive — as 1992’s “One Hot Night;” there was no race-defining moment, like Dale Earnhardt’s “pass in the grass” in ’87, and tempers didn’t flare as they did in ’89 when Rusty Wallace used the “spin to win” method of getting by Darrell Waltrip with a handful of laps remaining.
But as Earnhardt once said, “It pays more to win.” And that’s all Carl Edwards cared about. Edwards and his No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing team put on a clinic Saturday evening, leading 29 laps — including every one of the final 10-lap shootout — to collect a race-record $1.2 million and a Sprint All-Star Race trophy at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“You have to remember, you’re not always going to have side-by-side, three-wide finishes,” Edwards, who earned his first All-Star Race win, said. “I think that tonight our car was superior. It ended up being a race that we were able to pull away from (the field). But one little thing being different, one different bump-stop combination, track bar height, tire pressure thing (and) it could have been a much different race.
“I believe, as much as we ended up winning the race by, I think that’s a rarity in this event. I think with a 10-lap shootout at the end, four fresh tires, nine out of 10 times it’s going to be a much closer finish. I know I was really nervous about that last run. I did not feel like we had it in the bag by any means. So it just so happened to turn out that way.”
What was the most questionable hire of the offseason?
Patrick Snow: I thought this offseason’s most curious hire was Frank Haith at Missouri. Athletic director Mike Alden was very ambitious in his pursuit of Purdue’s Matt Painter after Mike Anderson left for Arkansas. But after Painter turned down Mizzou, Alden seemed to settle immediately on Haith instead of interviewing other qualified candidates. Haith never had a winning ACC record and went 43–69 in league games during seven seasons at Miami. While he did inherit a below-average program from Perry Clark, Haith only took the Hurricanes to the NCAA Tournament once in his tenure at the U. It’s easy to understand the early struggles in Coral Gables, and things looked to be turning around in Haith’s fourth season when the Canes won 23 games and made the NCAA Tournament. However, over the next three seasons, Miami went just 17–31 in league play and made two NITs. While he may wind up recruiting well at Missouri, you have to believe the Tigers could have hired a coach with a better track record.
Mitch Light: I will go with Brian Gregory at Georgia Tech. A former Tom Izzo assistant at Michigan State, Gregory has an outstanding reputation among college coaches, but his record at Dayton — a school that should win at a high level in the A-10 — isn’t overly impressive. He went to the NCAA Tournament only two times in eight seasons and had a league record of 48–48 over his final six seasons. If you are Georgia Tech, a school that colossally underachieved under Paul Hewitt, do you really want a coach who underachieved at his previous stop? For a more under-the-radar choice, I will go with Rod Barnes, who was hired by Cal State Bakersfield after being let go at Georgia State. Barnes went 44–79 in four years at GSU with a mark of 24–48 in the Colonial. Prior to that, Barnes had an eight-year run at Ole Miss, his alma mater. His overall record was a solid 141–109, but he had a losing record in each of his final four seasons and was 28 games under .500 in the SEC.
Braden Gall: I find the Frank Haith-Jim Larranaga-Paul Hewitt merry-go-round very curious. I think Missouri will be good in the short term, but Haith doesn’t strike me as the man to lead the recently reenergized Tigers program into the future long term — no matter how good they might be in 2011-12. Miami is a tough gig and bringing in an elder statesman like Larranaga — who is no doubt a fine coach — won’t exactly fire up a fanbase that is notorious for its lack of support. The U seemed like a job for a young, brash, fiery recruiter rather than a grizzled vet.
Baltimore Ravens linebacker and all-around wacky guy Ray Lewis claimed that crime would go up if there was no NFL season this year. To better understand Ray, we translated some of his quotes.
Famed wrestler Randy "Macho Man" Savage died at the wheel of his car this morning. The Macho Man was one of the greatrest characters in wrestling history with his lovely wife Elizabeth, his over the top outfits, his insane voice and catchphrases like "Ooohh Yeaaaaahh" and "Snap into a Slim Jim."
In honor of his passing, enjoy an especially crazy clip of the Macho Man. He will be greatly missed by the eight year olds in all of us. Click here for the full report.
by Tom Bowles
If fans are fascinated with an athlete’s rise to greatness, they’re guilty of being further fixated on the fall. It’s the strange way dynasties work in competitive sports — people cheer them until too much success turns excitement into indifference at best, boos at worst, except for the hardest of hardcore supporters. Legends turn a certain age, and they’re a ticking time bomb. Every missed opportunity and uncharacteristic failure becomes the basis for fans to slide him or her straight from royalty into retirement.
But in most cases, the regression of an athlete’s career is far more complex, packaged without that type of “made-for-TV” moment historians crave. Perfect example: Jeff Gordon, NASCAR’s former “Wonderboy” who turns 40 this summer, and is in the midst of one of the worst starts to his great career. Attached forever to the sport’s record growth, Gordon’s — and NASCAR’s — futures were once thought to be bright for decades, but are now increasingly unclear.
As the circuit heads to Charlotte for the All-Star Race, it’s the perfect time to sit down and take stock of it all. For a time, this race was the crown jewel in Gordon’s NASCAR empire. Who could forget 1995, that “changing of the guard” moment where Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip wrecked while battling for the lead, sparks flying while a certain No. 24 dove underneath to dodge the melee. That was Gordon who scooted by, winning the race en route to his first Cup Series championship and a rarely seen six-year reign atop stock car racing — with four championships, a Daytona 500 victory and the Winston Million, among other accomplishments. All-Star victories were added in 1997 and 2001, tying him with Earnhardt for most all-time, and if it wasn’t for running out of fuel in ’98, the T-Rex car would have been the dinosaur that chomped up the field and spit it out while leaving the record squarely in Gordon’s camp.
But now, as we head to the sport’s 2011 exhibition event, Gordon’s bid for a fourth All-Star win is overshadowed, as he ranks fourth on his own team. The house this Rainbow Warrior built at Hendrick has picked up and left without him this season. At 14th in points, he sits lower than Jimmie Johnson (second), Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (fourth) and even 52-year-old Mark Martin (11th). With just three top-10 finishes through 11 races, a pace like that projects Gordon with 10 top 10s at the end of the year – easily the worst total of a full-time career that’s into its 19th season.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this for Gordon, supposedly rejuvenated in the offseason with a new shop, away from former-protégé-turned-professor Johnson and a new crew chief (Alan Gustafson) armed with the engineering knowledge to match the original Four-Time’s old-school skill set. That pairing sprinted off the starting line, qualifying on the Daytona 500 front row before dominating Phoenix the following week. With 138 laps led and most of his competition demolished in an early, savage wreck, the No. 24 found itself waltzing to Victory Lane. It was career win No. 83, leaving him tied for fifth all-time and left “championship contender” rolling off the tip of the tongue.
But that’s where the good vibes stopped. A wreck at Las Vegas sapped momentum that hasn’t been easily recovered, with just two top-5 finishes offset by two ugly, crash-induced DNFs that included one of the hardest hits Gordon has ever taken at Richmond. While remaining in contention for a “wild card” Chase spot, playoff bids are window dressing if you can’t kill them with consistency, and Gordon hasn’t put back-to-back top-10 finishes together since October 2010.
It’s a slump, for sure, but a look at the numbers over the last four years begs a bigger question: Will Gordon ever grab that fifth title he so craves? Since Johnson beat him down in ’07, tipping the Chase format his way despite Gordon’s record 30 top-10 finishes, the elder statesman has entered that state of “gradual decline” that eventually comes for everyone. He has two wins now since February 2008, one less than Earnhardt in that time frame and 19 behind the pace of Johnson. Hendrick dominance led to third-place finish in the ’09 title Chase, but it’s his only top-5 points finish the last three years.
And while the No. 48 continues to run circles around him, it’s the success of the No. 88 team that is raising eyebrows. There on Earnhardt’s pit box sits Steve Letarte, chastised by Gordon fans throughout a five-year tenure of making the wrong decisions at the wrong times while manning the 24 team’s box. Criticism intensified during a “poor pit strategy” campaign of 2010, where seemingly every call made during a late caution flag went against them. Yet, here we are, six months after a Gordon-Letarte divorce and it’s the head wrench earning high acclaim, on the verge of leading Earnhardt back to Victory Lane while – gasp! – the much-maligned fan favorite is even considered a longshot title contender by some.
That title talk has long faded for Gordon, as he simply fights for relevance with an increasingly crowded field at the top. Some have said the new car’s to blame, but it’s hard to believe that theory – Gordon’s record-setting year of 2007 came during its introduction. Perhaps the biggest change during this stretch is a transition to family life; a wife and two kids he loves dearly may or may not have affected that inner desire to be the best at all costs. More realistic is the shop Gordon’s walked into, a second-tier Hendrick warehouse (despite claims to the contrary) that only once last decade produced a title contender (Mark Martin, 2009).
Along the same lines — and in a cruel touch of irony — NASCAR’s early popularity boost this season has faded, too, and the stories of Gordon and Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne (illness) have been pushed back by the success of others who also happen to be the “same old, same old” at the top of the point standings. Yes, turns out there was a changing of the guard several years ago, as Johnson was joined by Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin as perpetual title contenders. All, with the exception of Busch, have a better finish in the championship race the last four years.
Can Gordon make it back on that list? He’s got three, maybe four years left in him as long as that fickle back doesn’t fire up in pain again. You never quite know when legends can find a way to use up what’s left in the tank. But if he doesn’t, if five years from now he’s sitting comfortably with Ingrid and the kids in a New York apartment, you can look back to this stretch and say that’s when it all started to slip away.
Follow Tom Bowles on Twitter: @NASCARBowles
Depending on who you talk to, steroids either tarnished America’s Pastime or made it freakin’ awesome. (HOME RUNS!) Either way, that era is over now. According to Bud Selig, Congress and Rafael Palmeiro, baseball players don’t do steroids. But we’re still not so sure baseball has gotten rid of that giant syringe in its butt for good. Here are ten starts that don’t seem totally “natural” to us. Get out your cups, fellas, it’s peein’ time!
Bartolo Colon, pitcher, New York Yankees
Colon took a year off and came back throwing in the high 90s as a 38-year old, mowing down numerous AL East heavy-hitters in the process. Reports have surfaced that he had a controversial procedure in which his own fat cells were injected into his shoulder – though it looks like those cells missed his shoulder and hit his face. Either way, his resurgence has lead to a number of “Colon Probe” headlines, so we hope that this comeback lasts as long as possible.
Lance Berkman, right fielder, St. Louis Cardinals
The guy they used to call Fat Elvis hasn’t been this skinny since Elvis was still in the building. Berkman’s home run total dropped from 45 in 2006 to 14 last year. So far this season, he’s already cranked 11 dongs and currently has career-highs in slugging percentage and OPS, all while playing fulltime in the outfield at the age of 35. Even when he injured his wrist this week, he was making the kind of diving catch he probably hasn’t made since little league.
Jose Bautista, right fielder, Toronto Blue Jays
Here are his career stats. From 2004 to 2009: 59 HRs. Since 2010: 70 HRs. Who’s this guy’s hitting coach, Raul Ibanez? There’s also this completely undoctored pic, which seems like pretty damning evidence to us.
Russell Martin, catcher, New York Yankees
He’s on pace to hit more home runs this season than he has in his last three seasons combined. His slugging percentage is also at a career high. In his defense, Martin is bouncing back from injuries and is only 28-years old, the age that has classically been a baseball player’s prime (steroid using) years.
The Entire Roster of the Cleveland Indians
There’s nothing more suspicious in baseball than a first-place Indians team.
Carlos Beltran, right fielder, New York Mets
The guy has had more knee procedures than All-Star appearances since he joined the Mets, but all of the sudden he’s raking again. After playing in fewer than 82 games and knocking in fewer than 50 RBI in each of his last two seasons, the 34-year old Beltran is currently slugging at the second best rate of his career in the world’s most spacious ballpark. If you want to chalk it up to Beltran finally being healthy again, fine, then maybe he’s not on steroids.
Kyle Lohse, pitcher, St. Louis Cardinals
His career earned run average is just under five, and yet this season Lohse has a lower ERA than Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum and Felix Hernandez. Chalk another success story up to the tutelage of St. Louis pitching coach Dave Duncan. Duncan has seen over career years with the likes of Joel Piniero, Jason Marquis, Jaime Garica…come to think of it, maybe we should raid Duncan’s locker instead.
Curtis Granderson, centerfielder, New York Yankees
Last year, the Majors’ home run leader hit 54 homers. This year, the Yankees #2 hitter is on pace to hit 55. All of this from a guy who has never hit more than 30 homers in a season. Don’t give us this Yankee Stadium garbage, either - Granderson has more homers away from the Bronx bandbox than at home so far this season. Is Jason Giambi still hanging out in that Yankees clubhouse?
Jeff Francoeur, right fielder, Kansas City Royals
He had 13 homers in 139 games last year, but has already ripped off 8 homers in just 41 games this year. In his first season with the Royals, Francoeur is well on his way to a career high in homers, RBIs and, if we had our way, drug tests.
Alfonso Soriano, left fielder, Chicago Cubs
He hasn’t hit a home run in over two weeks and he’s still on pace for 45, which seems totally natural for a 35-year old. Give him another cycle and he might top his career high of 46, which came in his contract year with the Nats in 2006.
by Matt Taliaferro
1. Carl Edwards The bad news: Edwards’ finish at Dover was his worst since early April. The good news: He finished seventh. Yeah, that’s the type of year it’s been for Carl.
2. Kyle Busch Rowdy’s run at Dover was as impressive a performance as we’ve see from him all season in the Cup Series. The kid drove from 43rd to third in an uncharacteristically understated manner.
3. Jimmie Johnson Johnson has led 1,192 of the last 2,000 miles at Dover and bagged three wins. He would have had a fourth if he’d only taken two tires on Sunday.
4. Kevin Harvick Harvick’s consistency has been a little off of late, but you just know he has the capability to jump up and snag a win most any week, on most any type of track.
5. Clint Bowyer Honestly, Bowyer may be the most dangerous driver on the circuit at the moment. His last two finishes (one being a sixth at Dover) were disappointments.
6. Matt Kenseth Win No. 2 of the season for Kenseth basically punches his ticket to the Chase. Even if he were to slip out of the top 10 in points, the victories will most likely give him a wild card berth.
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Junior’s average finishing position is four spots higher this year than through 11 races in 2010. Of course, his issue over the last few seasons is sustained consistency, so we’ll see ...
8. Denny Hamlin The higher in the standings you get the tougher it is to make headway, but Hamlin has jumped to 13th in the standings, just 24 points out of the 10th-place Chase transfer spot.
9. Greg Biffle After averaging a fourth-place finish at Dover from spring 2006 to spring 2009, Biffle has slumped to a 14.25-place average showing. It’s tough to explain that.
10. Kasey Kahne When the equipment matches this driver’s talent, he’s a top-5 contender. When it doesn’t ... well, look no further than Dover, where a sour engine precipitated a 36th-place result.
11. Jeff Gordon Gordon and crew chief Alan Gustafson should be a dynamic duo. So what gives?
12. Tony Stewart Smoke taught us all a few new words while describing his Chevy over the in-car radio on Sunday.
13. Ryan Newman Finished 21st at Dover without the aid of Juan Pablo Montoya.
14. Mark Martin Martin’s second-place finish highlights why more crew chiefs should roll the dice near race’s end.
15. Brian Vickers Look who has 10th- and fifth-place runs in two of the last three races ... Welcome back, BLV.
Just off the lead pack: Marcos Ambrose, Jeff Burton, Kurt Busch, David Ragan, Martin Truex Jr.
Follow Matt Taliaferro on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro
California picks Maynard as its Starting Quarterback
Jeff Tedford has picked his starting quarterback for 2011 and it’s not much of a surprise. Zach Maynard won a five-man battle for the starting job, which included Brock Mansion (who started the final three games of 2010) and sophomore Allan Bridgford. Although the Bears closed spring practices, Maynard was widely expected to finish No. 1 on the depth chart.
Maynard sat out 2010 after transferring from Buffalo, where he started 11 games and threw for 2,694 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2009. Maynard’s success at Buffalo wasn’t limited to the passing game, adding 300 yards and one score on the ground.
The junior’s dual-threat ability will add a different element to the California offense. Head coach Jeff Tedford will be calling the plays in 2011, and no California quarterback since Aaron Rodgers in 2004 has managed more than 100 rushing yards in a season.
Another 5-7 or 6-6 season likely wouldn’t end Tedford’s tenure at California, but it’s clear the pressure is building. The Golden Bears ranked 90th nationally in total offense and 73rd in scoring offense last season. Considering Tedford’s area of specialty is on offense, this is one place California shouldn’t struggle in and finding consistent quarterback play has been an issue in recent seasons.
How effective Maynard can be remains uncertain. Maynard didn’t earn all-conference honors for his 2009 season at Buffalo and struggled with turnovers, tossing 15 interceptions. However, sitting out a season due to the transfer probably helped Maynard learn the offense and the junior should have a good rapport with sophomore receiver (and half brother) Keenan Allen.
There’s no denying California has enough talent to return to a bowl game in 2011, but the offense must show improvement. The departure of Shane Vereen leaves a hole at running back, but Isi Sofele averaged nearly five yards a carry in limited work last year. The offensive line remains a question mark, but Jim Michalczik is a highly-regarded coach and his return should help this unit.
Will Tedford calling the plays and some tweaks to the offensive scheme to fit Maynard’s talent be enough to get California into contention into the Pac-12 North? Probably not. Getting off to a good start will be important, especially with swing games against Fresno State and Colorado to open the season. If the Golden Bears can start 2-0, they should be 3-0 with a win over Presbyterian before facing a brutal three-game stretch against Washington, Oregon and USC.
Fantasy Take: Maynard is worth a look as a late-round selection in 120 formats, but California’s best fantasy options should be running back Isi Sofele and receivers Marvin Jones and Keenan Allen. Sofele needs to prove he can hold up to a full season of carries, while Maynard’s development will be critical to the fantasy value of the receivers.
Less than one year after LeBron James’ decision to quit heavy lifting on the docks of Lake Erie and go hang out with his friends on the strip in South Beach, the Cleveland Cavaliers have seemingly come full circle.
Not only did Dan Gilbert’s club hit the jackpot with the No. 1 overall pick in Tuesday night’s NBA Draft Lottery, but the Cavs did so via the rights to the Clippers’ pick — which had a 2.8 percent chance of ping pong powerball. Cleveland’s own 19.9 percent chance — second only to the Timberwolves’ 25 percent odds — was a swing and miss, but still netted the “best of the rest” No. 4 overall pick once all the envelopes had been opened by Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver.
With the Nos. 1 and 4 overall picks, Gilbert’s personal “guarantee that the Cleveland Cavaliers will win an NBA Championship before the self-titled former ‘King’ wins one” — which he infamously penned in an open letter on the night of James’ ESPN “Decision” special — takes one step closer to innocent-enough fantasy and one step farther away from rage-fueled insanity.
But this year’s Lottery was not about a petty feud between a spoiled golden goose who went south for basketball season and a spoiled owner who lost his golden egg layer-upper.
What’s Not To Like?
The star of the show Tuesday was Dan’s 14-year-old son Nick, who represented the Cavaliers onstage at the half-hour envelope-opening ceremony. Suffering from Neurofibromatosis — an inherited disease in which nerve tissue grows tumors without warning — Nick sat patiently, wearing glasses and a bow tie, as ESPN’s Heather Cox introduced the other Lottery reps.
Then, this exchange took place:
“Nick, you’re the ambassador for the National Children’s Tumor Foundation and you’ve been dealing with a nerve disorder since you were born. Your dad called you his own personal hero. How’d that make you feel?” asked Cox.
“Well, I mean, what’s not to like?” said Nick, who smiled and paused for laughter after uttering a line that is sure to live on in Cleveland for many years to come.
“I’m the oldest of five. I mean, I have a good life. I’ve been going through this disease but I’m going through it well. I’m getting better. Research is, all the money people are donating. Yeah, everything’s going good, I guess.”
And everything is going even better since Nick’s big night, which drew attention to the cause and raised over $22,000 for the Children’s Tumor Foundation — an amount that Dan Gilbert has promised to match dollar-for-dollar.
While viewers and fans were donating to charity, the gift that keeps on giving — T-Wolves GM and Lottery rep David Kahn — did his usual foot-in-mouth routine.
“I also felt, very strongly, that once the 14-year-old hit the dais with us we were dead. We were just dead. There was no way,” joked Kahn.
“This league has a habit. I’m just going to say ‘a habit’ of producing some pretty incredible storylines. Last year it was Abe Pollin’s widow and this year it’s a 14-year-old boy — who I only had one thing in common with; we’ve both been bar mitzvahed. We were done.
“I told Kevin, ‘We’re toast. This is not happening for us.’ And I was right about that. We were done. As soon as the 14-year-old came up there it was lights out.”
Who’s No. 1?
The last time the Cavaliers had the No. 1 overall pick was in 2003, when Akron, Ohio’s own LeBron James wore an all-white suit to his draft day coronation.
This time around, Duke freshman point guard Kyrie Irving — who averaged 17.5 points (on 52.9 FG%, 90.1 FT% and 46.2 3PT%), 4.3 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game over only 11 collegiate contests due to a right toe injury — is the favorite to go with the top spot.
If not Irving, then Arizona sophomore combo forward Derrick Williams — who averaged 19.5 points (on 59.5 FG%, 74.6 FT% and 56.8 3PT%), 8.3 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 38 games — looks to be 1b. to Irving’s 1a. in what many consider to be a two-man tier at the top of one of the weaker draft classes in recent memory.
Either way, the Nos. 1 and 4 overall picks — along with the good will brought about by Nick Gilbert — gives the Cavs a strong foundation to rebuild on after the LeBron LeBacle of last summer. And everyone, including the man whose jersey has been burned and reputation has been permanently altered, is glad to see that.
“I’m happy for the franchise and happy for the fans,” said James, following the Heat’s Wednesday shootaround.
“I think it is a good step for them.”
Which offseason coaching hire do you like the most?
Patrick Snow: I think the slam dunk hire of this offseason was Mike Anderson at Arkansas. He obviously knows the school and culture in Fayetteville after 17 seasons as an assistant under Nolan Richardson, but Anderson has also proved himself as a head coach. The new Arkansas boss was 200–98 in nine seasons at UAB and Missouri, with six NCAA Tournament appearances. And just as important as his coaching record, Anderson brings an identity back to Hog basketball for the first time since Richardson’s departure. He was the key assistant during Arkansas’ amazing run in the early-to-mid ‘90s, when the Razorbacks went to three Finals Fours and won it all in 1994. The fans will love his excellent recruiting prowess and “Fastest 40 Minutes of Basketball” style of play. After a year of installing his system and bringing in players to fit it, expect Mike Anderson to put Arkansas back on the national map.
Nathan Rush: Billy Gillispie is a perfect fit at Texas Tech. Sure, Gillispie’s act didn’t go over well during his two years at Kentucky — where he went 40–27 overall, 20–12 in the SEC, lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and went to the NIT before getting the axe. But prior to being burned by the spotlight in Lexington, Billy Clyde turned a 6–24 UTEP team into a 24–8 WAC champion during two years in El Paso and was a two-time Big 12 Coach of the Year in three seasons at Texas A&M — where he went 70–26 overall, 31–17 in the Big 12 and made the NCAA Tournament twice, including a Sweet 16 run in 2007. Gillispie is a native Texan with a proven track record in the Lone Star State. The Red Raiders were savvy to buy BCG stock at its lowest point; the hire will pay off sooner rather than later in Lubbock.
Mitch Light: I’m going off the radar a bit with Ron Hunter, the new head coach at Georgia State. Hunter only made the NCAA Tournament once during his time at IUPUI — losing as a No. 16 seed to Kentucky in 2003 — but his teams were consistently among the best in the Summit League. The Jaguars were 106–56 in their 10 seasons in the Summit, with only one losing record — 6–8 in ’01-02, their first year in the league. Hunter is very charismatic, and he will do his best to promote the Georgia State program in the city of Atlanta. The Panthers have struggled to compete in the ever-improving CAA, but that should change with Hunter in charge.
Do you like Texas A&M's decision to go with Billy Kennedy to replace Mark Turgeon?
Mitch Light: I do like the Billy Kennedy hire. He might not be a household name, but the guy is a very good basketball coach who has been a consistent winner. His record at Murray State was outstanding (70–24 in the OVC in five seasons), but I’m more impressed with what he did in his six seasons at Southeastern Louisiana. Kennedy inherited a program that won a combined five games in the Southland in the previous two seasons. He slowly built the Lions into a winner, culminating with back-to-back conference titles in ’03-04 and ’04-05. In ’05, he led SE Louisiana to its first and only NCAA Tournament appearance. Kennedy has only spent one season of his career in the state of Texas (he was an assistant at A&M in the early ‘90s), but he has coached in Louisiana, which borders Texas, for 13 seasons, with stops at New Orleans, Northwestern State and Tulane, in addition to SE Louisiana. Recruiting the state of Texas should not be a problem.
Braden Gall: I do like the fact that Kennedy has ties to the school and the region of the country, and he claims he would like to retire in College Station. After Texas A&M lost its last two coaches to more high-profile schools, finding a coach who appears to be a long-term fit with the Aggies was likely a high priority. I am not in love with the fact that the 47-year-old Kennedy has a 211–179 record as a head coach (a good but not great .541 winning percentage) and has 12 previous stops (10 as an assistant). But if he can continue the trend of aggressive defense — something Mark Turgeon mastered — the transition should be relatively painless in the short term.
Patrick Snow: Yes, I think Billy Kennedy is a solid choice for Texas A&M. He has won regular-season and tournament titles in two different conferences (OVC and Southland), and he has taken home Coach of the Year three times in those leagues. In his last six seasons as the head man at Murray State and Southeastern Louisiana, Kennedy’s teams won at least 13 games in conference play. He worked briefly as an A&M assistant 20 years ago, and his strong recruiting ties to Texas and his native Louisiana will be key in having success in College Station. I’m not sure he ‘won the press conference,’ but Billy Kennedy is a quality hire in Aggieland.
Jorge Posada is batting .165. He’s a DH. Of the 13 DHs in the American League with enough plate appearances to qualify, he’s 13th in average and on-base, 10th in slugging and 12th in OPS. Has he earned the respect of fans and teammates? Absolutely. Has he earned the right to be given the benefit of a doubt by his manager? I think so. Does Posada deserve for his manager to come and talk to him about his role? Yes. But should Posada expect to determine his own place in the batting order? No way.
Judging by his reception when announced as a pinch hitter the other night, Yankee fans are obviously proud of what Posada has done for the past 15 years. And they should be. He’s earned that.
But Joe Girardi is paid to give his team the best opportunity to win the American League East division. It’s a tough division, and the Yankees can’t afford to give away games. This team needs more from its DH than a .165 batting average.
I understand that Girardi has few options right now. With Eric Chavez injured and Andruw Jones hitting a whopping .220, it’s not like he has a clear decision. But the point is that the Yankees lineup is Girardi’s decision.
About this time last season, there was an aging DH in the American League whose average had dropped to .200. He was benched, and over the last 20 days of May, he had just 21 plate appearances. That was future Hall of Famer Ken Griffey, who recognized his role, didn’t complain and soon retired.
Now I’m not suggesting that it’s time for Posada to retire. He seems to have a fire that Griffey had lost by the time he returned to Seattle, not to mention better skills at this point. Clearly, what Posada has accomplished for the Yankees since 1997 has earned him a special place in the game. But it has not earned him the right to decide when and where he plays.
Pitchers are notorious for being bad hitters. But Bob Buhl, the National League pitcher from the '50s and '60s who had a .089 career batting average, set the bar so low, you'd have to dig a pretty deep hole if you wanted to lower it. Here are some of his notable season's at the plate.
1954: 1 for 31, .032 avg
Season Highlight: 2 bases on balls!
1955: 6 for 55, .105 avg
Season Highlight: 3 bases on balls!
1956: 7 for 73, .096 avg
Season Highlight: 4 RBIs!
1959: 4 for 70, .057 avg (The worst batting average ever?)
Season Highlight: 2 runs!
1961: 4 for 60, .067 avg
Season Highlight: 5 bases on balls!
1962: 0 for 70, .000 avg (Check that, THIS is the worst batting avg ever.)
Season Highlight: 1 SB!?!
1963: 8 for 81, .108 avg (Monster bounceback season. Did anyone test him for steroids?)
Season Highlight: 5 RBIs!
The rest of Bob's seasons he continued with various forms of ineptitude as he batted between .060 and .098. His less-than-stellar lifetime totals are:
Career Totals: 76 for 857, .089 avg, 2 2B, 0 3B, 0 HR, 26 RBIs, 2 SB, 2 CS, 38 BB, 389 Ks.
You read that correctly, he struck out 389 times in 857 at-bats. If you break that down into one 600 at-bat season, he would've struck out 272 times. Yes, that would've been a record.
Random thoughts after a compelling Players Championship weekend:
• The Tank lived up to his nickname. Players champion K.J. Choi was steady and solid, constantly moving forward, obstacles be damned. Next up for Choi: winning a major. He’s come close, with top 10s at the last two Masters, and if the short putts start dropping with greater frequency, he could win one soon. Watch him at the PGA Championship in August.
• On the other hand, those looking for the Players to serve as a springboard need to study a little history. Several recent winners have pulled disappearing acts. The last three — Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson and Tim Clark — have combined for zero wins since their Players “breakthroughs.”
• Welcome back, DT. David Toms’ 72nd hole birdie to force a playoff was truly epic. On the hardest hole on the Stadium Course, Toms’ drive found a sand-filled divot, but one of the better iron players of our time coaxed his approach within 20 feet and coolly drained the tying putt. Toms’ anticlimactic bogey in Sudden Death ended the tournament, but the real killer was his bogey at 16, where his hybrid found the water. Still, in getting to the playoff, Toms played some of his best golf since winning the 2001 PGA.
• The 17th hole at the Stadium Course is probably the most divisive hole in golf. It’s great TV, but is it a great golf hole? It’s a little circus-y for my taste, but you can’t deny the drama. All in all, the hole’s a net positive for the PGA Tour’s flagship event, especially when playoffs start and usually end on the island green.
• With all due respect to K.J., the biggest story of the weekend was Tiger’s W/D. Where does Woods go from here? Has his body broken down on him? Is his Achilles injury more serious than he’s letting on? That’s the rumor, anyway. There are also major concerns about his knee. If he wasn’t there already, Woods has reached a point where the only four tournaments that matter are the ones that can get him closer to Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors. Makes you wonder why he even showed up for the Players. Tiger may ultimately catch Jack, but his mystique is gone
• By the way — Sean Foley? Not to be too impolite, but just shut up. Foley injected himself into the Woods-Bubba Watson dustup, in which Watson claimed — rightly, by the way — that Woods was headed in the wrong direction. Since Woods hired Foley as his swing coach, Tiger has regressed. Foley is like a judge on American Idol, essentially irrelevant but interrupting the proceedings to provide an opinion anyway. When Woods wins a major on his watch, then he can speak up. There are few things more grating in sports than an egomaniacal swing coach.
• Reigning U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell isn’t exactly on a roll heading into his title defense. After missing three of his previous four cuts, McDowell climbed into contention, seemingly on the verge of breaking out of his prolonged slump, before spraying balls all over the Stadium Course on his way to a final-round 79. Me? I don’t trust McDowell’s herky-jerky swing.
by Matt Taliaferro
The top two drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup point standings were the two drivers to beat in the FedEx 400 at Dover International Speedway on Sunday. Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson combined to lead 324 of the first 364 laps and were poised for a late-race showdown with late-comer Clint Bowyer.
However, a late-race caution punctuated what was an otherwise staid event and, like last weekend’s Southern 500, pit strategy turned the field — and the results — upside down.
Bowyer, Edwards and Johnson took the time to take four fresh tires during the caution, while Mark Martin stayed out to inherit the lead. Meanwhile, a slew of teams elected to put on only two tires, including the No. 17 of Matt Kenseth, who led the pack off pit road.
And just as the Southern 500 proved that track position trumped fresh Goodyears, the FedEx 400 solidified it, as Martin and Kenseth sprinted away, while those who dominated the race remained mired in heavy traffic. By the time Kenseth slipped under Martin, only 31 laps remained on the fast, one-mile oval, and he ran away uncontested for a 2.122-second victory, his second career win at Dover.
“I know we were both thinking about the same thing,” Kenseth said of he and crew chief Jimmy Fennig’s two-tire strategy. “In the back of my head, I was thinking, ‘Man, I should almost just drive by pit road and start in the front, see what happens.’ But I saw the guys in front of me. I looked at everybody in the mirror, I saw everybody on the apron, I thought it wasn't going to be good for me if I did that and restarted and finished about 15th.
“We came down pit road. As I slid into the stall, I said, ‘Jimmy, are you sure you don't want to try two?’ He didn't even hesitate. He's like, ‘Two tires, two tires,’ in plenty of time before the guys took off. It was not problem. It went smooth, almost like we planned it.”
Martin held off Marcos Ambrose for second, while Kyle Busch and Brian Vickers rounded out the top 5.
“Matt had two tires there and had a little advantage on us for a little bit,” Martin said of the final 40 laps. “Then after a little bit, we seemed to start breaking even. I know he had a little bit left, but I had enough speed to be right there without tires. All the guys behind me were dropping off.
“You know, we've had racecars this good this year. Every time we turn around, something goes against us. It was nice to have things go our way.”
As for the race’s three strongest cars, Bowyer, who ran on point for the 29 laps prior to the final caution, finished sixth, while Edwards was seventh. Johnson, who led a race-high 207 laps, settled for a ninth-place showing.
“I guess in our minds we didn't think that would take place — so many guys taking two," Johnson said. “I knew, basically from the numbers we were in trouble when we left pit road and there were so many guys in front of us.
“We led a lot of laps (more than half the race). But unfortunately not the one at the end that counted.”
Edwards holds a 24-point lead over Johnson in the standings. Kenseth’s second win of the season vaults him to sixth in the standings and acts as insurance in case he should slip outside of the top 10, as the final two Chase spots will be filled by the drivers with the most victories.
On Twitter, he likened the experience to the first few seconds of the AeroSmith ride at Disney...
There's something about sweaty girls in slow motion and jazz music that reminds me of porn. If all workout videos looked like this, I'd be in much better shape. (Note: I'm pretty sure this is from the awesome Insanity workouts.)
If all five players are trying to block you, I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest passing the ball.
Tiger Woods, Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy won’t be teeing off this weekend at golf’s so-called “fifth major” championship, The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass.
The tomcat 14-time major champion, the Brit who’s ranked No. 1 in the world and the 22-year-old Northern Irishman who held the 54-hole lead at this year’s Masters will be M.I.A. at Ponte Vedra Beach, near Jacksonville, Fla., shanking the tournament’s potential star-power into the water before anyone has even tuned in to watch the tee box disaster area on the “Island Green” of No. 17 at the Stadium Course.
To his credit, Tiger did at least attempt to limp his way to victory, as he heroically did in the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. But after shooting a 6-over 42 on the front nine on Thursday — including a triple-bogey on No. 4 and ugly bogeys on Nos. 1, 5 and 9 — Woods said adios to playing partners Martin Kaymer and Matt Kuchar at the turn.
“The knee acted up and then the Achilles followed after that and then the calf started cramping up. Everything started getting tight, so it’s just a whole chain reaction,” explained Woods, whose left knee has been surgically repaired four times and whose Achilles has also been an ongoing issue.
“I’m having a hard time walking.”
Meanwhile, both Westwood and McIlroy have no injury and obvious excuse to miss The Players Championship — although Lee may be celebrating the Royal Wedding and Rory still could be in mourning after his final-round 80 at Augusta. Instead, the two European headliners have decided to skip the “Island Green” and stay on the other side of the pond.
“It’s an affront to the championship,” said NBC analyst Johnny Miller, during a Wednesday conference call.
“It’s a statement. I’m not sure what the statement is.”
Statement or not, The Players Championship will be without three of the top eight players in the world this weekend, when a field led by Phil Mickelson and… other golfers attempt to conquer a brutally difficult 7,220-yard course — with a $9.5 million purse and $1.71 winner’s share on the line — at TPC Sawgrass.
by Matt Taliaferro and Nathan Rush
Location: Dover, Del.
Specs: 1-mile oval; Banking/Turns: 24°; Banking/Straightaways: 9°
2010 Winners: Kyle Busch (May); Jimmie Johnson (Sept.)
2011 Race Length: 400 miles/400 laps
Track Qualifying Record: 161.522 mph (Jeremy Mayfield, 2004)
Race Record: 132.719 mph (Mark Martin, 1997)
From the Spotter's Stand
Jimmie Johnson has been rock solid at the concrete 1-mile oval in Dover, and last year was no different. The 48 dominated for the sixth time at “The Monster Mile” — and for the third time in four races — by starting on the pole, leading a race-high 191 laps and taking the checkers by a 2.637-second margin over runner-up Jeff Burton in the second race of the Chase.
Earlier in the year, Johnson led 225 laps but could not hold it together after being busted for speeding on pit road while going mano a mano with wild child and eventual winner Kyle Busch. Rowdy led 131 laps before raising the “Miles the Monster” trophy in Victory Lane for the second time in his career.
Crew Chief’s Take
“Dover is an all-concrete track and is banked all the way around; even the straights have nine degrees of banking. Therefore, right-side tire management is a race-long concern.
“Dover provides drivers with multiple grooves from which to choose, but normally, the best cars are the ones that will run the low line around the track. The transitions from turns to straights are unique. Drivers call it ‘falling down’ in the turns.
“Back in the 1990s, it was asphalt, but it was so rough it was more like a gravel road. Concrete has its pluses and minuses, but it made this track a lot better.”
Looking at Checkers: Look no further than the 48’s six wins in 18 career Cup starts.
Pretty Solid Pick: Mark Martin has made no secret of his love of Dover. His four wins are proof of it.
Good Sleeper Pick: Guys turn it up a notch when racing at their home track, and this is Martin Truex’s.
Runs on Seven Cylinders: Juan Pablo Montoya has led only three of the 3,222 laps he’s completed at Dover.
Insider Tip: Trouble happens quick here. Having a good qualifier who stays up front is a bonus.
Classic Moments at Dover
Proving his shocking win in the Daytona 500 earlier in the season was no fluke, Derrike Cope leads 93 laps and wins the 1990 Budweiser 500 in Dover.
Cope starts 15th, but shoots to the lead by lap 160. However, a miscalculation by his crew chief causes his No. 10 Purolator Chevy to run out of gas while pacing the field, dropping him off the lead lap.
Cope has a strong car, though, and races his way back onto the lead lap (without the aid of Lucky Dogs or wave-arounds). A fast pit stop under a lap 421 caution bumps him up to second, and on lap 446, he passes Rusty Wallace, who leads 131 laps in the Miller Genuine Draft Pontiac, for the lead.
From there, Cope holds off Ken Schrader to earn his second, and final, career victory. Dick Trickle, Mark Martin and Sterling Marlin round out the top 5.
Another notable feat that occurred during this race was when Dale Earnhardt’s engine blew, his No. 3 crew actually repaired it, and the car returned to competition. Predictably, though, the engine fatally expired later in the event, marking Earnhardt’s only DNF of the 1990 season.
by Vito Pugliese
Of all of NASCAR’s greatest assets, there are two current active drivers who rank near the top of that list — though in some circles, the “t” in “assets” might be removed from that descriptor. Be it on the radio or on pit road, Kyle and Kurt Busch have been the source of many a memorable scene and sound bite over the years. As different as the two Las Vegas, Nev., natives have become, there are some strikingly similar characteristics between the two brothers.
Older brother Kurt burst onto the scene in the 2000 season, replacing then-driver Chad Little in Jack Roush’s No. 97 John Deere Ford for seven races. He promptly managed to piss of NASCAR’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., at Rockingham, and was thrust into general American conscious while giving an explanation of his on-track tiff with Junior as part of MTV’s “Real Life” series about Driver 8.
It would be two years, with his backside-slapping and pointing to Jimmy Spencer at the 2002 Brickyard 400, and “decrepit old has-been” blast that followed shortly thereafter, when he became a fixture as one of NASCAR’s more “entertaining” characters.
While Kurt’s NASCAR past is as colorful as his bright yellow and red Shell Dodge Charger, his radio traffic the past few years has been as well, peppered with enough F-bombs and salty language to make Gunnery Sergeant R. Lee Ermey blush. Here are some highlights:
After being struck while leaving his pits at New Hampshire in 2009 after disagreeing with the decision to stop, and suffering significant right side damage to his car:
Spotter: “Uh, I can’t see the right side from here …”
Kurt Busch: “We’re on the f***in’ back straightaway, f***in’ Einstein!”
Dover 2010, after being penalized for speeding entering pit road:
“It’s gotta be about f***in’ half way, that’s when we usually FALL APART.”
Pocono 2010, after hitting the wall off of Turn 2:
“Just got in the wall pretty hard, f***ed it all up … not that it was any good anyway.”
“I’d love to hit the fence right now, head-on, and get knocked out because this is f***in’ bull****.”
"We look like a monkey f***in’ a football. The f***in’ Penske cars are a f***in’ joke. f*** everybody! F***!"
Crew chief Steve Addington, prior to a pit stop: “You want to put a round of wedge in it?”
Kurt Busch: “Go ahead … knock yourself out …”
Where else are you going to get this kind of comic relief in motorsports?
To Kurt’s consternation, it has been a perplexing state of affairs at Penske Racing. For the team that started with dominant performances at Daytona, it has dropped from leading the point standings to eighth in the last six races. The No. 22 Dodge has shown no signs of being anything more than a mid-pack car, finishing in the top 10 just once during that time frame — a 10th at Texas in early April.
While the struggles of Dodge’s flagship — and arguably only — team in the Sprint Cup Series are less than amusing to the driver, a timely Kurt Busch freak-out broadcast across the airwaves always provides more than enough fodder for discussion. The focus of the latest freak out — at Richmond — was directed at Penske Technical Director Tom German, who has announced he is to leave the organization at the end of this month to enroll at MIT’s Sloan School of Management.
Team beratement aside, Kurt has also had some run-ins along the way (besides his notorious tiffs with Spencer). He and Jimmie Johnson have had a couple of on-track dust-ups the last few seasons. He’s also scrapped with Tony Stewart — a longtime Kurt antagonist — which resulted in a punch being thrown in the NASCAR hauler at Daytona in 2008 after an incident … in practice … for an exhibition race!
Who else elicits this type of reaction?