Articles By Athlon Sports

All taxonomy terms: Atlanta Falcons, Julio Jones, News
Path: /news/julio-jones-expected-play-against-texans-should-you-start-him
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Julio Jones is expected to suit up against the Texans and make it into the starting lineup today after battling hamstring issues the last few weeks.

Jones missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday after missing the last two weeks of football, but should be playing today for the first time since November 13th.

The questions is, do you play him?

The short answer is yes. (The even shorter answer is y).

Jones has been pretty spectacular this season and there's no reason to think he'll be anythng less against a Texans defense that hasn't been that strong against the pass.

Matt Ryan will be glad to have his rookie burner back and will look to get him involved and get their rhythm back as the Falcons make their way for a playoff push.

It's a little scary that he didn't practice this week, which means there will be some rust, and probably a few timing issues. But looking at Julio's history, he managed to come into the league with limited training camp and produce right away. 

And we're hoping he can do that again after missing practice for nearly a month.

Don't expect gigantic numbers out of Julio Jones today, but something along the lines of 5 catches for 65 yards and a score is probably the low end. Unless he tweaks his hammy again. Then all bets are off.

But the Falcons wouldn't be putting him out there if they thought he would injure that hamstring again. Start Julio Jones with confidence today against the Texans.

Teaser:
<p> The Falcons receiver has battled hamstring problems</p>
Post date: Sunday, December 4, 2011 - 08:14
Path: /college-football/boises-kellen-moore-eyes-end-brilliant-career
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Kellen Moore, Boise State

Kellen Moore is one of the Top 5 finalists for the 2011 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, a distinction awarded to the nation's top senior quarterback and one that rewards character, citizenship, integrity and those who honor the game. Please click here for a full list of the 2011 Golden Arm Award nominees.

The Boise State senior signal-caller is finishing off a brilliant career in which he set a new record for most wins as a starting quarterback with 48, surpassing Colt McCoy.

His season began with a bang in the Broncos’ win over Georgia at Atlanta. He was 28-of-34 passing for 261 yards and three scores in that contest.

In Boise State’s lone loss, Moore drove his troops into field goal range before a potential game-winning kick sailed wide as time expired.

 

Passing Cmp Att Pct Yds Y/A TD Int Rate
2011 272 372 73.1 3,194 8.6 38 7 175.2
Career 1,103 1,591 69.3 14,061 8.8 137 26 168.7

Teaser:
<p> Kellen Moore is one of the Top 5 finalists for the 2011 Johnny&nbsp;Unitas Golden Arm Award, a distinction awarded to the nation's top senior quarterback and one that rewards character, citizenship, integrity and those who honor the game. Please click here for a full list of the&nbsp;<strong><a href="http://www.athlonsports.com/college-football/golden-arm" target="_blank">2011 Golden Arm Award nominees</a></strong>.</p>
Post date: Friday, December 2, 2011 - 17:22
Path: /college-football/stanfords-andrew-luck-lock-sweep-postseason-awards
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Andrew Luck, Stanford

Andrew Luck is one of the Top 5 finalists for the 2011 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, a distinction awarded to the nation's top senior quarterback and one that rewards character, citizenship, integrity and those who honor the game. Please click here for a full list of the 2011 Golden Arm Award nominees.

Widely projected as a high pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, Luck spurned the NFL for another year in college, and Stanford fans certainly rejoiced. Luck didn’t disappoint the Cardinal faithful and, if anything, actually improved his NFL stock with another terrific season.

Trusted with some play-calling responsibilities, the fourth-year junior has freedom to change plays and protections. After throwing an interception that was returned for a TD against USC with just more than three minutes to play, he rallied his team for the tying score and the eventual win in overtime.

Luck led the Cardinal to an 11-1 season with the only blemish a 53-30 loss to Pac-12 North champion Oregon. For his part, Luck passed for 3,170 yards and 35 touchdowns.

He has led the Stanford Cardinal to back-to-back BCS bowls.

 

Passing Cmp Att Pct Yds Y/A TD Int Rate
2011 261 373 70.0 3,170 8.5 35 9 167.5
Career 686 1,033 66.4 9,083 8.8 80 21 161.8

Teaser:
<p> The Cardinal QB has broken records and is projected to be the top pick in the NFL draft.</p>
Post date: Friday, December 2, 2011 - 17:22
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR
Path: /nascar/2008s-13-tough-questions-and-their-politically-incorrect-answers
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In celebration of Athlon Sports' upcoming 10th annual Racing magazine, we've dug into the archives to uncover some of the most memorable features, profiles and Q&As that have graced our pages. Visit the site daily for more retrospective looks at NASCAR throughout the decade.

Article originally published in 2008 Athlon Sports Racing annual

1. Has the Top 35 rule run its course?

Without question. Frankly, the rule should have never been around in the first place. It was designed at the end of 2004 to combat “field filler” operations — bare-bones Cup teams using provisionals just to start and park — and it was debatable whether such a drastic move was even needed to kill them off. There’s no doubt the rule did just that; within six months, it knocked out entire organizations looking simply to show up and collect a check each week.

But NASCAR circa 2008 is a whole different story. With 47 full-time teams now involved in the series, competition is at an all-time high. Each weekend, fully funded teams like Michael Waltrip Racing, Team Red Bull and The Wood Brothers come to the track loaded and ready to race — except that they have one hand tied behind their backs. For those outside the top 35 in points, the majority of Friday practice must be focused on qualifying, while teams with exemptions can work on race setups from the start. That creates a damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario: if those “outsider” teams actually make the race, they have so much less practice time that it’s nearly impossible for them to dig out of the hole they’re in. It’s an ugly merry-go-round that never stops, and for those lying squarely on the top 35 “bubble,” the importance of maintaining their position has become so high that they wind up racing conservatively rather than letting it all hang out.

NASCAR’s motives are somewhat pure. It wants to protect both the sponsors and teams putting hard-earned money into the series each week. But isn’t sports about competition, not safety nets? To its credit, the sanctioning body at least made a change this offseason that allowed the non-top 35 teams to qualify together. But what good will that do in a system where the ninth-fastest qualifying time still could get sent home, just because the team didn’t have as many points as everyone else?

The Gatorade Duel 150’s at Daytona are now simply nothing more than a glorified math problem. How fun are qualifying races to watch when three dozen cars are automatically in the field to begin with?

Here’s the ugly truth: nowadays a major sponsor will go home each week — that’s just the way it is. But it’s time to let to the driving on the track decide which of those sponsors it will be. After all, isn’t qualifying part of the competition that makes a race weekend a ‘race weekend’?

2. Will a rivalry develop between Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr.?

Originally, we would have said no — and then two incidents during the Chase got us thinking differently. Busch’s chances at a title went up in smoke courtesy of an “accidental” tap by Junior at Kansas, a boo-boo that would be 100 percent believable — if it hadn’t occurred on the middle of the back straightaway. The two wound up coming together again at Homestead, where Junior’s pit road spinout caused him to make contact with the No. 5 car. By then, title dreams for Busch were up in smoke, but that didn’t keep him from being smoking mad at Junior all over again.

Look, it’s no secret that Busch is bitter after being pushed out of a ride at Hendrick, an organization he thought he’d be in the rest of his career. It’s not all that often you see a man who finished fifth in points switching rides at the beginning of the next season, and in Kyle’s defense, he’s got reason to complain. The fact of the matter is, no amount of immaturity would have taken him out of a ride he excelled in if Mr. Popularity hadn’t been available.

But while Junior was adjusting to a brighter future, Busch got busy landing on his feet over at rival Joe Gibbs Racing, and that’s what makes this interesting. Not only is Busch out to prove he’s been wronged by the team that dumped him, but the kid might also have the equipment underneath him to make his case. In ’08 testing at Atlanta last Fall, Busch blew his old team — as well as everyone else — out of the water, posting the fastest time of anyone there in his new Toyota Camry.

That left no doubt that Busch is fired up, but will he do enough to piss off his replacement? A laid-back personality most of the time, Junior can be fiery on the radio but rarely on the racetrack; unlike his dad, he’ll say I’m sorry after a wreck instead of shaking his middle finger. Still, with the pressure to perform at Hendrick likely to cause more than a little stress next year, don’t be surprised to see a whole different Junior if he gets involved in a wreck not of his making; and right now, it’s not a question of if he’ll receive some payback from Busch. It’s a question of when.

3. What are the potential pitfalls of financial investors entering the sport?

George Gillett, Robert Kauffman and John Henry, we don’t mean to be rude. There’s nothing but respect for the millions of dollars you bring to the NASCAR table — and the all-too-gracious attitude you’ve displayed in spending what it takes to be competitive.

It’s just that, well, you’re a different breed of “car owner” than what we’re accustomed to seeing. Bud Moore, Junie Donlavey, Junior Johnson — now these were men who cared about the traditions of our sport, mostly because they lived it. Along for the ride since NASCAR’s inception, these famous entrepreneurs succeeded at racing’s top level without the seemingly unlimited funding it takes to be competitive nowadays. Most important, though, when the going got tough, they dug in their heels. Diehard racers to the core, by no means would they ever just pack up and leave, for NASCAR wasn’t just a job for them — it was part of their soul.

Where the hesitation comes in with men like Gillett, Kauffman and Henry is whether they entertain that same type of love for a sport they’re approaching as little more than part of a business. Some might argue that these men couldn’t even name 10 drivers in a 43-car field as recently as six months ago; now, all three wield enormous power over the top level of the most prestigious stock car organization in the world.

That’s not to say these men can’t be successful. But what if they bite off more than they can chew, losing more money than expected right off the bat? Will they stick around and gut out their losses, or will they simply cut and run, leaving a trail of broken hearts and shattered dreams in their wake? Such a nightmare scenario of crashing and burning in NASCAR can already be condensed into two words: Bobby Ginn. In February, Ginn was the maverick owner with a five-year plan whose driver nearly stole the Daytona 500; by November, he was the maverick scam artist with a list of out-of-court settlements a mile long.

You can’t really blame people like Ray Evernham, Michael Waltrip and even Jack Roush for taking these guys on — NASCAR’s a game of who has the most money these days, and they’ve got to do what it takes to keep up.

For their sake, we just hope those checks keep coming in.

4. What was the straw that broke the camel’s back at DEI, and what happens now?

The worst thing any fan can hear from the insiders is “we may never know the truth.” In this case, though, the issues between Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his stepmother Teresa look to be increasingly complex, far beyond the power struggle that has played out in the media. There’s a saying that family quarrels have a bitterness unmatched by others, and when it comes to a lifetime of differences, no one can adequately explain that story better than both parties, each giving their side. Unfortunately for the gossip hounds, Teresa has chosen to keep her mouth shut; that’s her prerogative, and until that changes all we can tell you is that this move came down to basic, irreconcilable differences in philosophy — nothing more, nothing less.

Now, DEI looks to the future, and to do so it must first come to terms with the past — and that goes beyond digesting the fact that Junior is gone. Last July, DEI ingested a sprawling operation in Ginn Racing, and as of November it was still struggling to integrate that merger into every facet of its program. Luckily for DEI, that merger came packed with one heck of a secret weapon: Mark Martin. Even at 48, Martin possesses the type of leadership skills and insight this organization needs to formulate a plan of cohesive success. Having taken youngster Regan Smith under his wing in ’07, Martin hopes to do the same type of tutoring this year with co-driver Aric Almirola.

But the individual who really could benefit from Martin’s teachings is the other Martin. Martin Truex Jr. emerged as far more than Earnhardt’s sidekick in ’07; once his buddy became a “lame duck,” Truex stepped up and took the leadership role to heart over at DEI. However, a frustrating Chase seemed to cause him to revert to the Truex of old, letting emotions get the better of him one too many times. For DEI to step it up, Truex needs to bring it down a notch — driving with his head and not with his heart. If he can learn to be patient, there’s nowhere to go with this four-car program but up — especially now that the loss of Joe Gibbs Racing has bumped it up the ladder at Chevrolet.

5. Are team orders ruining racing?

It’s on the verge of happening. Fans may remember the ugliness of 2004 at Richmond, when we believe that this all began. In a desperation move, Chip Ganassi Racing angrily demanded that James Finch’s car driven by Mike Wallace should “slow down” in order for Jamie McMurray to pass. At the time, Ganassi gave technical support to Finch’s group, and with a berth in the Chase at stake for McMurray, it figured competition be damned.

Luckily for the good of the sport, Wallace didn’t give in, but the price tag proved high, as the small-time team lost its partnership with Ganassi soon after. You’d think that ugly incident would have sounded the NASCAR alarm, but ever since that day, it seems the problem has gotten 10 times worse.

At Dover this season, a glimpse into a repulsive future was offered to all of us; at the end of the race, Casey Mears reluctantly pulled over for his teammate Kyle Busch at the request of the Hendrick organization, giving Busch five more points in the battle for the ’07 title. At the time, Busch’s car was a mangled mess, damaged in an earlier wreck; but even though Mears had four fresh tires, his shot for the win became secondary to “being a good teammate.” When that move went public, the garage reaction was even more revolting. Not only did people feel Hendrick was in the right, but they also claimed that the team was merely doing what was necessary to keep up with the Joneses. Why, just one week earlier, Greg Biffle had done the exact same thing for Roush Fenway Racing at New Hampshire — all in the name of giving Carl Edwards that three-point boost for the title.

But what’s good for the team isn’t good for competition. What’s going to happen one year when Mears is leading the final race of the season at Homestead, but Jeff Gordon’s running second and needs to take the win in order to complete his Drive For Five?

At this point, there’s virtually no doubt Mears would pull over, cutting the fan base in half with the white flag of surrender. Now, if you’re NASCAR, how do you police this? We don’t have the answer yet, but throwing up your hands and doing nothing about it — the sanctioning body’s response to this so far — is not going to help correct this problem.

6. Car of Tomorrow: Success or Failure?

NASCAR’s latest method for tightening its control over the sport came in the form of the much-heralded (and ballyhooed) Car of Tomorrow. The CoT made its debut at Bristol last season to not-so-rave reviews. Race winner Kyle Busch went so far as to say the car “sucked” in his Victory Lane interview.

The car, which was implemented to provide a safer machine to the competitors while increasing competition and saving owners money, has widely been panned by drivers, teams and fans alike.

While the first two CoT events, at Bristol and Martinsville, witnessed .064- and .065-second margins of victory — not unusual for a short track finish — the other 14 CoT races proved hard to watch.

With aerodynamic adjustments off-limits to the teams, the cars were cookie-cutter recreations of one another with no aero differences. While that may sound like a recipe for great racing — bunch the field up and the drama goes up proportionally — it instead made it hard for drivers to pass, as Matt Kenseth pointed out.

“If everybody is running the same speed, how are you gonna pass?” he asked. Good question.

Drivers, teams, officials and NASCAR understand that the car is still a work in progress and will most likely improve the financial conditions that owners now face. The racing itself will also improve a bit over time as drivers and teams continue to perfect the nuances of the piece.

In the short term, though, NASCAR must deal with a backlash from fans who accurately see a series that once rewarded ingenuity transformed into a resurrected IROC Series.

So the answer seems to be that the Car of Tomorrow Era is off to a shaky start, and that the directive from the sanctioning body will continue to be a less-than-popular one. But the car is not going away, so like it or not, this is the face of the sport, circa 2008.

7. Which driver at Roush Racing stands the greatest chance of losing his ride as the company condenses from five to four teams by 2009?

Trick question! The answer is none. In case you haven’t noticed, the two-car team that was Yates Racing has quietly transformed into a little dinner joint we like to call “Roush B.” Ever since former owner Robert Yates announced his retirement, the organization he led to the ’99 Cup championship has now deteriorated into little more than the new right arm for Jack Roush’s future R & D projects. Consider these facts:

Within 48 hours after transferring the deed to his son, Doug, the open seat in the team’s No. 88 (now No. 28) car was magically filled for 2008 — by none other than Roush Fenway Truck Series driver Travis Kvapil. Kind of funny how that worked, considering the team already seemed to have a driver in place. Kenny Wallace was busy subbing for an injured Ricky Rudd at the time; up until Yates’ retirement announcement, he appeared all but a shoe-in to get the ride the following year.

But Wallace was kicked off the ship of the future, and soon afterwards, a lot of old-time Yates employees jumped off to join him on shore. The team quickly announced a move from their shop in Mooresville, N.C. to a building right next to the main Roush Fenway facility down the road in Concord. Right away, the new neighbors figured Doug Yates would need plenty of help, so they wasted no time sending a housewarming gift — a new co-owner. Former Roush Fenway GM Max Jones pledged to work together with Yates to oversee construction of chassis delivered by — you guessed it — the Roush Fenway program next door.

No offense to Jack Roush, but how much more obvious can you make the fact that you just expanded from five cars to seven? Now, all he has to do at the end of this season is have the Yates/Jones group “purchase” one of the teams currently in his possession. Like clockwork, the cars move one building down the road and — voila! — Roush is technically down to a four-car organization, washing his hands of this whole NASCAR team limit rule.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is that the elder Yates was OK with letting this happen. No doubt, it’s a sad state of affairs for a team that used to run circles around Roush no more than half a dozen years ago.

8. How will Dale Earnhardt Jr. fare at Hendrick Motorsports?

When Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced his intention to leave Dale Earnhardt, Inc., last May, Rick Hendrick realized the potential of teaming his wildly successful organization — a company that boasts four Cup titles over the preceding decade — with the sport’s most recognizable, popular and marketable personality.

Although some have questioned Earnhardt’s true driving ability and where it stacks up against the greats of the sport, the 32-year-old does boast 17 career Cup wins, two Busch Series titles and three finishes of fifth or better in the Nextel Cup point standings. That’s more than many drivers — some thought to be more naturally gifted and in better equipment — can claim.

Junior left DEI to win championships, and the fact of the matter is, Hendrick Motorsports is the perfect place to go to achieve that goal. While he will have to learn to fit into the system at a company known for its white-collar approach and clean-cut, wholesome reputation, it should only be a matter of time before he finds his niche within the organization and learns to succeed working within its parameters.

How many princes can live in the same kingdom will be the larger issue with a group that includes Cup champions Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. But Hendrick is a leader of the highest caliber, and if anyone can make everyone play nice, it’s him.

Don’t expect Earnhardt to set the circuit ablaze this season, but he will rack up his share of wins in the next few years and should win the championship that proved unattainable at DEI.

9. Have the latest changes to the Chase format worked as expected?

It’s a mixed review of sorts. To a man, each driver liked the new way in which the playoff format was “seeded” in ’07; the extra bonus points for wins made finishes more exciting, as the extra incentive to go all out for a regular-season race trophy paid off.

But it seemed like having 12 drivers compete for the title made far too many people feel like they had a chance at the Chase, diminishing the focus on the racing at each individual event. Certain title contenders also pulled so far ahead of the 13th-place bubble that by the last month of the regular season, they spent a four-race stretch literally twiddling their thumbs. That’s a consequence of the 10-point win bonus; if a “locked-in” Chase driver doesn’t have a car that could win the race, why would he bother to take any chances? A fifth or a seventh wouldn’t really matter for Jeff Gordon in the grand scheme of things, since it wasn’t going to earn him a better playoff “seeding.”

So if the Chase still has to exist — and it looks like it’s not going anywhere — early results seem to be better with 10 drivers gunning for the title, not 12.

Check out this Richmond drama if the field had been cut by two in ’07: Clint Bowyer would have made it in by the skin of his teeth, at ninth in points by 19 over Martin Truex Jr. and Kurt Busch. Those two would have tied for the 10th and final spot in the Chase, giving us an unlikely field of 11 contenders, with Kevin Harvick missing the boat by only five points.

Now that’s one heck of a battle for the playoffs. Instead, fans were treated to three straight hours of seeing if Brian France would simply change the rules and let longshot Dale Earnhardt Jr. into the Chase in 13th.

Such nonsense didn’t happen, and now the question is whether France has one more rule change left in him. Let’s see if he’ll use it for 2008.

10. Should Greg Biffle have been awarded the win at Kansas last season?

In one of the craziest races seen in quite some time, Greg Biffle was flagged the winner of the LifeLock 400 at Kansas Speedway last season. The event had been shortened by a lengthy rain delay and chopped from 400 miles to 315 on account of impending darkness.

After a late caution that would have taken the race into a green-white-checker finish, NASCAR decided to call the race then and there, with Biffle leading the field but running on fumes.

Coming to the checkers/yellow behind the pace car and at caution speed, Biffle’s car slowed, appearing to have run out of fuel. When Biffle dipped to the apron of the track, second- and third-place Clint Bowyer and Jimmie Johnson cruised by, crossing the finish line ahead of Biffle.

Biffle claimed he was not out of fuel, but just conserving enough gas to do a few victory burnouts. He never did, though, as NASCAR asked his team to push the car directly to Victory Lane instead.

While Biffle and team claim otherwise, it seemed obvious that he was, in fact, out of fuel, and because he could not keep a “cautious pace” gave up his spot in the running order.

The rule book, which leaves plenty of room for interpretation, states:
“…cars will be scored on the basis of their respective track position. No passing will be permitted, as long as cars maintain a reasonable speed considering the conditions that exist on the track. The determination of respective track position and a reasonable speed are judgment calls that will be made by NASCAR Officials.”

Get that last part? “Reasonable speed (is a) judgment call that will be made by NASCAR Officials.”

How a driver can be flagged the winner without having crossed the start/finish line first remains a mystery. Although the field was frozen with Biffle in the lead, he could not keep a cautious speed, which truly is the central point here.

The singular objective in racing of any form is to complete the full distance of the event before all other competitors. Biffle did not.

So no, Greg Biffle should not have been awarded the Kansas win, but because the guys in race control seemingly fell asleep at the wheel, his victory will stand.

11. Why did Joe Gibbs Racing defect from Chevrolet to Toyota?

Three reasons: pecking order on the GM food chain, lots of cash and foresight.

JGR, although successful to the tune of 58 wins and three Cup titles in 16 seasons in the sport, would never supplant Hendrick Motorsports as GM’s top dog. At Toyota, the Gibbs powerhouse brings the swagger and success the new manufacturer desires. In short, JGR will receive the best resources Toyota has to give.

Some of what Toyota can give may have already been delivered. Gibbs was the recipient of a reported $60-$75 million to jump the GM ship. In a sport that is strictly a business six days a week, the bottom line demanded that Gibbs make the decision.

Lastly, Joe Gibbs is a man of vision. Whether winning Super Bowls or Cup titles, he has obviously mastered the art of motivation and leadership. If Gibbs’ transition results in wins and championships, other owners — Roger Penske and Ray Evernham come to mind — will wish they had had the foresight to capitalize on Toyota’s new way of doing business.

12. Is it time for NASCAR to revamp the schedule?

This topic is one that demands a feature unto itself but can be summed up quickly enough. The simple answer is yes, NASCAR needs to shake up the logistics of the schedule to better accommodate the teams and the fans. After all, 14- and 17-race streaks could be divided up to give everyone a well-deserved break.

NASCAR’s larger problem centers around the stagnation of the Chase and its venues. A 10-race playoff stretch is much too long to hold the attention of a fanbase already weary from a 26-race regular season. Further, said events need to be rotated among all of the circuit’s venues to ensure a renewed interest in a playoff format whose legitimacy and entertainment value are questioned by many as it now stands.

The unfortunate truth, however, tells us that changing the venues and/or dates may prove to be difficult at best. With Chase-hosted tracks basing their year-long marketing programs around the fact that they host a coveted spot on tour, the call would depend in large part on the blessings of Speedway Motorsports, Inc., and Dover Motorsport, Inc.

Like many issues alive within the sport today, the question is easier to answer on paper than to enact as policy.

13. What tracks are in jeopardy of losing a date now that Bruton Smith owns New Hampshire International Speedway?

The obvious answer is New Hampshire itself. When Smith, the owner and CEO of Speedway Motorsports, Inc., bought the one-mile oval from Bob Bahre in November 2007 for $340 million, the assumption was that he would move New Hampshire’s September date — the event that kicks off NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship — to Las Vegas, where the billionaire could host a spectacle in a city known for spectacles.

SMI owns and operates seven race tracks that host Cup events: Atlanta, Bristol, Infineon, Las Vegas, Lowe’s, New Hampshire and Texas. Atlanta, Bristol, Texas and, currently, New Hampshire each have two dates, and Smith has made his desire for a second date in Vegas widely known.

While New Hampshire is candidate No. 1 to forfeit a date, it also makes a case for itself to retain its events because of its location. NHIS, along with Watkins Glen and Pocono, are the only tracks in the coveted Northeast market to host Cup races. Also, if Smith were to upgrade the facility, installing lights and variable banking, the quality of racing would improve as well.

Atlanta is a candidate to give up a date as the South is well-represented, and the track has difficulty selling out both races. One of its dates could go to Vegas, with the new date swapped with NHIS to accommodate the first Chase date.

What Smith plans to do with his two new dates remain a mystery, but his track record (read: North Wilkesboro) points to a track being purchased for its dates, not its specific events.

Teaser:
<p> Questions about the Top 35 rule, issues facing the top teams, Car of Tomorrow, and more</p>
Post date: Friday, December 2, 2011 - 16:13
All taxonomy terms: 2008, nascar archive, NASCAR
Path: /nascar/f-word
Body:

In celebration of Athlon Sports' upcoming 10th annual Racing magazine, we've dug into the archives to uncover some of the most memorable features, profiles and Q&As that have graced our pages. Visit the site daily for more retrospective looks at NASCAR throughout the decade.

Article originally published in 2008 Athlon Sports Racing annual

— by Monte Dutton

Many NASCAR insiders would prefer that the spots in the starting fields of Sprint Cup races were determined by franchises. It’s a team sport, they say, so why shouldn’t it be composed of organized teams assured of a chance to compete in every race?

“There are two or three of us who like the idea of a franchise,” understates Richard Petty. “NASCAR, basically, does not.”

It’s a complicated issue, and the central complication is the complexity in comparing auto racing to other sports. Stock-car racers are fond of calling theirs “the ultimate team sport,” though, by definition, it isn’t a team sport at all.

Two teams don’t meet and race against each other. Forty-three contestants — yes, they’re composed of drivers with teams behind them — compete on an individual basis, which is more comparable to what would otherwise be referred to as an individual sport, like golf. There’s an element of teamwork in every sport. Even golfers use clubs that are constructed for them. The team element is more relevant to NASCAR, but it isn’t definitively a team sport.

The absence of franchises undermines the market value of teams because they have no reliable right to compete in every race. NASCAR has evolved in a way that protects teams in a manner that would’ve been unthinkable a decade ago. Now, for instance, 35 spots in each race’s 43-car field are guaranteed on the basis of owner standings. During the season’s first five races, those spots are determined by the standings of the previous year, which makes it difficult for start-up teams to acquire security. This very issue greatly complicated Toyota’s entry into what is now the Sprint Cup Series in 2007.

“I believe that a franchise system — and I hate to use the word ‘franchise’ — is the right thing to do for the investment of the car owners and, primarily, the investment of the sponsors,” says Jeff Burton. “By the same token — what about, in baseball, when the Florida Marlins win the World Series and then dump everybody afterwards — there ought to be a way you can lose your franchise. You shouldn’t be able to operate with a continuing losing record. You should not be able to keep your franchise without putting a competitive team on the court.”

Or the track.

“You should not be able to do that,” Burton continues, “but I believe that we are to the point where our car owners have so much invested and our sponsors have so much invested that we’ve got to find a way to protect them. The ‘top-35 thing’ works better than the way it used to be, but in this environment, it’s not good enough.”

From NASCAR’s perspective, the current system works. It conveys a fleeting, unofficial franchise system based on recent performance. While franchising appeals to many within the sport, it’s objectionable to hard-liner fans who think every race ought to be contested between the fastest 43 cars based on qualifying speeds. The fact that qualifying mainly determines the starting order, not the composition of the field, is disturbing to purists.

The controversy even divides families. Petty, who won more races than anyone in NASCAR history, still heads up the team founded by his late father, Lee, who himself was a three-time champion. Richard is an ardent supporter of franchises. His son, still-active driver Kyle, is unsure. “I think it should be the fastest 43 cars. I have no problem with that,” says Kyle Petty. “That’s from the competition side. This is where this is a goofy sport. From an owner’s side, I should have a franchise. We’ve been here 60 years doing the same thing, beating our heads against the wall pulling from California to New York to Florida and back six times a year with some of the schedules they’ve made throughout the years, and we’ve got nothing to show for it.

“Is it a sport or a business? It’s really a business six days a week. It’s only a sport on Sunday, but it’s a business Monday through Saturday. That’s the way it works. From a business side, I’m not against the top 35 having a free ride. I’m not against a franchise, but for the quality of the show, it should be the 43 fastest cars.”

The official NASCAR position, as conveyed by spokesman Ramsey Poston, holds that the current system is an effective compromise. From another perspective, though, it has the effect of creating a makeshift franchising system in which all the value and power remains centered in the ruling body’s hands. There’s no long-term value for teams like Petty Enterprises and the Wood Brothers that have been instrumental in the sport’s history. And most observers don’t see any further shift toward franchising in the foreseeable future.

“The issue of franchises in NASCAR has generated quite a bit of buzz, mostly because of all the new owners and investors coming into the sport,” says Michael Smith of SportsBusiness Journal. “As people try to put two and two together to read the changing landscape of ownership in NASCAR while wondering why so many new owners are suddenly interested, many have speculated that franchises are on the horizon.

“But there’s really no reason, from NASCAR’s perspective, to believe that franchises will be issued in the near future.”

Even as NASCAR officials strain to come up with meaningful cost-cutting measures, costs associated with every aspect of the sport are escalating at a rapid rate. Teams that once constructed race cars in a somewhat modest shop are now employing hundreds. They own and maintain private jets to transport personnel to tracks all across the country. Some field teams in all three of NASCAR’s so-called “major touring series” — Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Craftsman Truck.

One of the chief recent developments is the soliciting of lucrative investors with relatively little prior knowledge or interest in the sport.

John Henry, principal owner of the Boston Red Sox, is now Jack Roush’s partner, hence the name Roush Fenway Racing. George Gillett, owner of the Montreal Canadiens, bought into Ray Evernham’s team, making it Gillett-Evernham Motorsports. Two members of the Arizona Diamondbacks’ ownership group, Jeff Moorad and Tom Garfinkel, now own controlling interest in Hall of Fame Racing. It’s a trend that shows no sign of abating, and all this new capital makes it more and more difficult for family teams like Petty Enterprises to remain competitive.

Rob Kauffman, a London-based investor, bought half of Michael Waltrip Racing. One of Kauffman’s advisers is real-estate developer Johnny Harris, who also acquired a stake and now sits on the team’s six-member board. Harris is a member of the Carolina Panthers’ ownership group.

“John Henry is an excellent example of a strategic investor,” says Timothy Frost, whose firm, Frost Motorsports LLC, has participated in securing sponsors and investors. “These investors own companies active in a wide range of activities related to sports. They’re able to use their resources in ways — marketing, sponsorships, media exposure, souvenir and collectible sales — that benefit the race teams in areas other than just performance on the track.”

Still, the ultimate value and power remain firmly centered in NASCAR’s hands. The system as it has evolved has conveyed only fleeting, short-term value to the participants. The sport is changing rapidly, and it’s hard for longstanding teams not to be swept away in these changes.

“If you don’t have an open mind, you’ve got to be surrounded with enough people who do have open minds to help you make the transition or change you have to make,” says Bobby Labonte, who now drives for Petty Enterprises.

“It takes a while to change.”

A Forbes magazine article estimated that the average NASCAR team is valued at $120 million. Its estimate rose by 67 percent between 2006 and 2007. According to the article, 20 percent of NASCAR’s top teams were losing money, in part because Forbes judged there to be 41 in the “top teams” category. The most valuable team, by those estimates, was Roush Fenway Racing at $316 million. Hendrick Motorsports, the most successful team of 2006, was valued at $297 million, followed by Joe Gibbs Racing at $173 million. The Forbes estimates were based on total sponsorship values and race-related income.

As a comparison, the average National Hockey League franchise is worth $150-200 million, according to Forbes.

Forbes’ Jack Gage writes that licensing is on the decline in NASCAR, and sponsorship rates have flattened out since 2003. Despite rising costs, the average NASCAR team still banks $12.3 million in profits, or roughly 15 percent of revenue, and estimates say that $100 million will be saved sport-wide over the next two years by switching to the Car of Tomorrow.

“What franchising would do is give team owners the security to know that they’ll be able to compete from year to year, that they’ll have a spot on the track, compared to the current model where teams are often reliant on sponsorship to keep their doors open from year to year,” says SportsBusiness Journal’s Smith.

“Many of the top owners in NASCAR have operations that take on franchise tendencies anyway, which is why there’s a deepening gap between the haves and have-nots. Hendrick, Roush Fenway, GEM (Gillett-Evernham) and now MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing), among others, all can rest assured that they’ll be around for years to come because their owners don’t rely on their NASCAR teams for income. They all have developed alternate sources of income. … Teams that rely on sponsorship for 80 percent of their revenue without any other significant streams of income are more likely to run the risk of going out of business.”

Jack Roush admits his agreement with Henry and Fenway Sports Group began partly as a response to Toyota’s entry.

“Toyota will not find that others will wither in their path as they have found in other series in which they’ve competed,” says Roush, a longtime Ford owner.

“Toyota is bringing about changes in the way we do business. They are willing to pay more for a service than sound business practices would otherwise justify.”

“NASCAR certainly understands (the Toyota) problem,” Roush adds. “I regard the Car of Tomorrow as primarily NASCAR’s initiative to limit technology as a way of controlling technology.”

Joe Gibbs took another tack. The Washington Redskins head coach, whose NASCAR operations are managed by his son J.D., switched his three-car team from Chevrolet to Toyota. Three of the sport’s big names — two-time Cup champion Tony Stewart, 2006 Rookie of the Year Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch — will compete in Toyotas this year, greatly enhancing the likelihood that the sport’s newest manufacturer will begin winning races this year.

That move, in turn, is a reaction by Toyota to the frustrations associated with entering the sport. Had Toyota not successfully wooed JGR away from Chevrolet, it would have begun the season with only one driver, Dave Blaney, assured of a spot in the Daytona 500 field. Now there will be at least four.

Burton, one of three Sprint Cup Series drivers competing regularly for RCR, admits the future is fraught with uncertainty.

“I’m nervous about having manufacturers, sponsors, and millions and millions of dollars put into this program for marketing reasons, without the product on the race track, and that’s going to happen to major teams and major corporations,” he says. “In the long run, I don’t think it’s good for our sport. I do believe that there is a ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality in this sport that has worked for a long time.

“In today’s economy and taking into account the ultra-competitive nature of the sport, I believe there need to be some changes. I don’t believe it’s in our sport’s best interest, being that without corporate involvement, we’re nothing. We can’t even come close to running our programs on the purse (prize money). It’s not even a thought. It’s NASCAR’s charge to find a way to make that work for everybody. … The current program, locking in the top 35, is the best we’ve ever had, but it’s time to find a way to do it even better.”

To Burton, teams deserve even greater security.

“With the Dallas Cowboys and the Carolina Panthers, they know they are going to have a chance to play in every game,” he says. “They don’t know if they’re going to make the playoffs, but we need that here. I think it would protect the owners, and it would protect our sponsors and I think we have to find a way to move toward that. I think we need 43 teams that know they are going to be in the show, but, at the same time have to do things to validate that they deserve a franchise.

“We need to find a way to guarantee everybody they are going to be in the show for our sponsors and car owners. It isn’t about the drivers; it’s about the sponsors and the car owners. At the same time, if a car owner doesn’t do a certain amount of things, he could lose his franchise.”

Four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon owns a stake in Hendrick Motorsports, giving him a perspective derived from seeing the issue from two sides.

“It doesn’t necessarily have to be franchising,” he says, echoing Burton. “I’m a big fan of making these teams hold their value. Look at our team. It basically has no value other than the people, the machines and the building space that we have.

“Somebody can go out there and basically start up a new organization. Maybe Hendrick Motorsports is a bad example because it’s an organization that has been so solid that it might have a little bit more value than some other teams out there, but other than having our sponsorship dollars and … the winnings that you get, the value that should come along with it isn’t there. Hendrick has spent hundreds of millions of dollars over the years to get our organization where it is.

“If something catastrophic were to happen, then it wouldn’t be worth the money that’s been invested at this point.”

No reliable, specific plan has emerged to accommodate the concerns voiced by Burton, Gordon and others. The absence of a balanced plan is itself an obstacle in persuading NASCAR to move further toward a franchise system.

“When you support the sport and help build the sport, you should have something for that,” says Jimmie Johnson, the Cup champion of the past two seasons.

“We’ve all talked about franchising our sport, and I’m sure it will never happen, but this (stability for the top 35 in owner points) is the only thing that these owners have that they can count on that they can sell to their sponsor.”

The current system is a compromise in itself, of course. The official NASCAR position is that it provides a balance between the extremes of cutthroat competition and docile stability.

“There should not be a welfare system in sports,” says Kyle Petty. “When kids play baseball, and I’m going to be very politically incorrect here, they ought to keep score, and there ought to be a winner and there ought to be a loser.

“You learn from losing. Kids learn from losing. You learn sportsmanship from losing. That’s what we do out here on Sundays. There are winners and losers.

“In the business world, there’s a totally different set of rules. If I look at this as a business, there are certain things, and I’m not going to call it welfare. Call it sweat equity. We put 60 years here, and we deserve something back for those 60 years. The Wood Brothers deserve something back for their 50 years.

“For the sport to have potential to grow, it also has to be built on the back of some of those guys. Call it what you want to call it, but I do think there’s a different standard from the business side to the racing.”

Richard Petty’s career — begun working on father Lee’s car, then racing at the highest level from 1958–1992 and now with a still-active role in the family team — has spanned the sport’s entire history. In fact, Lee Petty competed in NASCAR’s very first race in 1949.

“The guys who helped build NASCAR paved the way for the guys that come in now with money,” Richard Petty says.

“When it first started, Junior (Johnson), Bud Moore, us, all these guys were racers. They didn’t have any outside business. All they wanted to do was race.

“Then, all of a sudden, there was some money in it, so people with money came in and said they were going to spend money to make money. The first thing you know, the money runs the racers out of the racing business.”

Why does NASCAR oppose the concept of franchises?

“I don’t know if they think they lose some of their authority over everybody if there were franchises. One of these days, it will probably happen,” opines Richard Petty. “I don’t know if I’ll live long enough to see it or not, but it will probably happen some day.

“I think the only thing in my mind that keeps NASCAR from being completely legitimate, major league, with golfing or football or baseball or whatever, is being franchised. All the other entities are basically franchised. As they are franchised, you get a lot of people’s ideas thrown in the middle of the thing.

“And in the long run it winds up better for everybody.”

Teaser:
<p> Is franchising in NASCAR’s future? Depends on who you ask.</p>
Post date: Friday, December 2, 2011 - 16:05
All taxonomy terms: 2008, nascar archive, NASCAR
Path: /nascar/fighting-fear
Body:

In celebration of Athlon Sports' upcoming 10th annual Racing magazine, we've dug into the archives to uncover some of the most memorable features, profiles and Q&As that have graced our pages. Visit the site daily for more retrospective looks at NASCAR throughout the decade.

Article originally published in 2008 Athlon Sports Racing annual

— by Tom Bowles

Every Sunday, 43 drivers strap in, armed with the guts the rest of us wish we had. Going door-to-door at speeds up to 200 miles per hour, they put their lives on the line in a way few of us ever will, dancing precariously close to the edge of a cliff where the consequences of falling over are often injury or death. Clearly, stock car driving is not a profession for the meek.

So, why have races become a procession for the cowardly?

Throughout the 2007 season, the knock against NASCAR from its fan base was that when people curled up on a lazy Sunday, they turned on the television and got 500 miles of lethargy staring right back at them. All too often, side-by-side finishes like the one between Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon at Martinsville last spring were juxtaposed with three quarters’ worth of Talladega tedium, in which racing resembled a 200-mph straight-lined version of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade — with none of the floats or pizzazz that keep people coming back. Sure, Santa Claus comes through at the very end of the show, but after hours of watching the same monotonous march, are you really going to stick around that long to see him?

“There were times — at the speedways and restrictor plate races — where you’re (just) riding and riding and riding,” said ESPN commentator Rusty Wallace, referencing an eerie comfort level among the top-level drivers in the series that made fans less than comfortable with the current state of the sport.

No matter what Mike Helton or Brian France might tell you, that failure to push the envelope is a noticeable problem. In fact, they’ve got their own letters of warning signed, sealed and delivered from a group of anxious TV networks worried about a second straight season of ratings decline.

So, what’s at the root of it all? The answer appears simple — better safe than sorry. In a sport where drivers are supposed to make the rules, it’s the rules that are bending the drivers into submission, turning a culture based on aggression into one that may have mistakenly concluded ‘racing’ and ‘conservative’ go hand-in-hand.

THE SAFETY CULTURE
NASCAR has been criticized from all angles of late, but if there’s one constant where it has escaped the damnation, it’s in the arena of keeping drivers safe. Only one Cup driver, Ricky Rudd, missed significant time due to injury in 2007, and no one has been seriously hurt since Jerry Nadeau’s crash at Richmond in 2003. This decade, no series has done more to make the cars safer for the men behind the wheel. This process began only through the tragic death of a driver, the legendary Dale Earnhardt Sr.

Nicknamed the Intimidator, Earnhardt’s fears in racing were simply that he was never going fast enough. Throwing caution to the wind, he had no problem speeding to 76 wins and seven titles. But on Feb. 14, 2001, he ran into one opponent he just couldn’t outrun.

Death.

Seven years after the man most thought was invincible proved to be all too mortal, the Intimidator’s legacy now extends far beyond the record books. While some modern initiatives had started before Earnhardt’s untimely passing, there’s no doubt his tragic crash on the last lap at the 2001 Daytona 500 clearly accelerated that process.

“It really woke everybody up,” says Wallace of that fateful day. “When we lost (other drivers), a lot of people said this just had to be a fluke. But then, we lost Dale Sr. and we went, ‘Oh my God, the sport has really lost one of the biggest stars and there absolutely is a problem.’”

Earnhardt’s death followed that of the Busch Series’ Adam Petty, Cup’s Kenny Irwin and Truck Series driver Tony Roper — all killed in wrecks one year earlier. That four-pronged hit at the sport’s top levels struck when many of today’s drivers were impressionable youngsters rising through the ranks. After a relative lull in NASCAR fatalities, it was an eerie reminder of the risk they took once they strapped on their belts every Sunday. As drivers made their ascendancy from relative unknowns to booming superstars throughout 2001 and ’02, their own safety was suddenly an issue; after all, these weren’t unknown drivers losing their lives — they were friends.

“I swear that never enters into a driver’s mind while he’s driving,” Wallace says about the fear of death. “The drivers are nervous … but as far as when they’re in the car, it just completely goes away.”

However, Wallace is old school, from the Earnhardt and Rudd generation of hard knocks. Wallace flipped end-over-end at Talladega in 1993 and broke his hand, only to suit up and drive in the next race. Rudd actually was so desperate to race, he taped his eyes open in order to run the 1984 Daytona 500.

Notice, though, that Rudd stepped out of the car last September with a separated shoulder, in a different place in his life when it comes to risk versus reward. You talk to drivers like Johnson, the 2007 Nextel Cup champ, and you realize that mentalities around the circuit may have changed.

“Yeah, all the time,” says the Nextel Cup champion of the fear he sometimes feels during the race. “That’s something I’ve seen a lot lately. There certainly are times when I’m in the car and things are going wrong and I am scared. It’s going to hurt. You can get hurt, and those things go through my head.”

Of course, Johnson knows the consequences of wrecking firsthand. One of his best friends in racing, Blaise Alexander, was killed in the fall of 2001 during a wreck at Lowe’s. That was also the same weekend Johnson made his first start in the Cup Series, a chilling reminder about the blurry line that exists in this sport between who makes it and who doesn’t.

“The scariest thing that still hovers out there is hitting a wall at close to 200 miles an hour, driver’s side first,” says Wallace. “And fire.”

Fiery fear has led to NASCAR doing everything in its power to prevent the Earnhardt nightmare from happening again. Several fixes have indeed gone on to markedly improve the safety of drivers. For example, the HANS Device, a head-and-neck restraint system mandated by the sport since 2002, has been credited by many as saving them from serious injury. The installation of soft walls at tracks has also transferred a large degree of energy from the driver to the car, tearing up more sheet metal and not the men behind the wheel.

However, in its safety crusade, NASCAR seems to have literally thrown caution to the wind. Yellow flags — once only used as an absolute necessity — are now waved for anything as simple as a small piece of metal lying on the apron of the track, out of harm’s way. The rate of cautions in races has gone up significantly this decade, with more questions than answers surrounding the level and consistency of their use.

“To me, it’s about the integrity of the sport, and when I feel our own sanctioning body isn’t taking care of that, it’s hard to support them,” Tony Stewart said following the Phoenix event last year. NASCAR forced a retraction of his statement soon after, but his accusations were what many had been afraid to state for years.

In truth, some debris cautions do have legitimate safety concerns behind them; a piece of metal can rupture a tire at lightning speed. Throughout a race, so much falls off these cars — and out of the stands — that debris cautions could be called at any time. Rupturing the consistency of the race, they affect outcomes of long green flag runs — while arbitrarily inflating lead changes in the process.

CONSERVATISM IN A BOX
Something that won’t be arbitrary this season is the full-time use of NASCAR’s ultimate safety fix — the Car of Tomorrow. Making its debut last March, the new car was built around the concept of safety first, leading to a list of landmark advancements.

“NASCAR really stepped out and said, ‘Well we’re going to go further yet and make this racing safer yet,’” says Wallace. “Taller, wider, impact-resistant foam, wide seats … They definitely took the Car of Tomorrow to the next step.”

There’s only one problem; in its rush to put a safer product on the track, NASCAR ignored the car’s real purpose: how it would compete. With a new rear wing and a front end splitter designed to provide both downforce and support, it has instead raised questions as to just how much safety should affect competition.

“It doesn’t have much front end travel,” says Kurt Busch of the new CoT. “That front splitter hits the ground way too soon, and so the rear is sitting there bouncing around like it normally does. But the front is so restricted by its movement, it makes it very difficult to drive. And if a car’s tough to drive, we’re not going to run side by side as much.”

What it’s also done is aid the “aero push,” the by-product of aerodynamically sleek stock cars running up against each other with too much downforce. It’s a problem the CoT was supposed to eliminate, but instead it has made the phenomenon worse.

“I used to go to the race track with lift,” says Wallace. “I’ll never forget going to Daytona (in the late 1980s). I went to Daytona with 100 pounds of lift in the front and 100 pounds of downforce in the back and it was one of the best-handling cars I ever had.

“Now, the car’s got close to 1,000 pounds of downforce.”

That’s caused frustration, in no uncertain terms, for the men for whom the CoT was made.

“My car pretty much sucks from unloading it to loading it back up,” says Kyle Busch. “We work on it and try to make it better, but never really get it the way you want it.”

“In the past, the cars weren’t as competitive as they are, so the little things, you didn’t notice as much,” says Jeff Burton. “The reason we notice them now is all the cars run so close to the same speed.”

That result is more in tune with adjustability than anything. With NASCAR so focused on making the cars generic enough that they can be assured of basic safety controls, it has forgotten to give teams the tools needed to make the cars better or worse.

“You build this rules package and you make everything the same aerodynamically and they give you so little stuff to adjust … it’s just the closer they are to the same speed, the harder it’s gonna be to pass,” says Matt Kenseth.

“That’s easy to figure out. If everybody is running the same speed, how are you gonna pass?”

RACING FOR POINTS, NOT PRIDE
These safety innovations come four years following another modern NASCAR contraption, the Chase for the Championship.

The playoff format, introduced in 2004, has always been controversial, but even with all its tweaks, the points scored during the stretch resemble the same system NASCAR has had in place since 1975. Under that format, consistency proved to be the key to success, and the Chase has proved to be the same. Only once in four seasons has the driver winning the most races during the Chase won the title. Johnson was the first to accomplish that feat in ’07. Usually, the opposite is true. In fact, Stewart won the Chase title in 2005 without winning a single race during the postseason.

“In the old format, you were penalized for having bad races, just like you are in this format,” Jeff Burton says. “The key to winning the championship in the old format was running well. The key to being in the Chase is running well. So the performance hasn’t changed, but the pressure to (get in championship contention) is higher today.”

That pressure comes by virtue of a 26-race regular season in which drivers fight to be one of 12 eligible for a shot at the title.

The format makes one quarter of the starting field title contenders; it’s a major difference from years past, in which three to five drivers would usually find themselves in realistic contention. That has many teams thinking differently during the regular season — their strategies revolving around the equivalent of a complicated math problem.

“You have to make every lap, every race is a calculated risk,” says Burton. “With the situation I’m in, what risk am I willing to give?”

In the regular season, that apparently means running conservatively.

“In race four, I’m sure as hell not going to wreck trying to pass a guy for eighth when I’m running ninth with 10 laps to go,” says Carl Edwards. “You’ve got to think of the big picture. That’s just how it is when you’re racing for points.”

What of the little guy, you ask? Surely, the underdogs will go all out for 500 miles, trying to prove to sponsors and competitors alike they belong.

But in the past few years, NASCAR rules force even backmarkers to concentrate on just bringing it home in one piece. Fighting for a coveted exemption for the top 35 cars in owner points, the DNF is now a dreaded killer. Being forced to qualify on speed each week — and facing your sponsors when you fail to make the field — is a lot less enticing than coming to the track knowing you’re in the show. So, these teams play it safe, running just well enough to keep their exemption until the following week rather than taking a chance and letting it all hang out, even when you’re running well.

“Our first goal was to get back in the top 35 in points, so I had to take care of the car all day,” says Dave Blaney, who was driving for bubble-team Bill Davis Racing when he finished third at Talladega. “I didn’t want to do anything to put it in harm’s way. I was way more cautious than I probably wanted to be.”

CHOKING DOWN EMOTION
In August, Juan Pablo Montoya and Kevin Harvick held a war of words on the race track at Watkins Glen. But it wasn’t what the two said to one another that was newsworthy. After the two got involved in a wreck and both felt they were the innocent victim, a verbal barrage of insults ensued that would make your mother blush.

Afterwards, neither got fined, an unprecedented break from an aggressive fining system.

As NASCAR has raised the level of safety this decade, it’s also done so for image-conscious rulemaking in order to push forth marketing appeal as a “family sport.” In the past few years, drivers have lost championship points for saying a cuss word in Victory Lane, been fined for a post-race shove, or suspended due to off-track incidents amounting to little more than a speeding ticket. Personality appears to have fallen by the wayside in favor of political correctness, with financial backers carrying more power than at any time in the sport’s history.

“It’s just a phase in our sport,” says Kurt Busch. “It used to be where you jumped out of your car and had a fight on the back straightaway in the first Daytona 500 ever broadcast on live TV. Nowadays, your sponsor would call you and tell you they’re going to drop you, or your old car owner would call you and say they didn’t like you getting pulled over and getting a harmless traffic ticket. And so those things don’t bode well.”

“It’s more than just NASCAR trying to keep us from tearing each other apart after a race,” adds Johnson, speaking from the standpoint of someone who’s been criticized for starting major melees due to ill-timed driver aggression.

“There are other things and other influences that aren’t fun to experience when the world hates you. And I don’t know many guys that like to go around being booed and being picked on and having that negative media attention on them.”

HOW TO FIX IT
With evidence mounting, you’d think there’s a simple solution to stop the conservative wave facing the sport: fix the rules.

“Give out incentives from leading a certain lap of the race,” proposes Kyle Busch, who claims that the 10-point bonus drivers received in the Chase for winning regular-season races will promote aggression long-term.

“I think you could break down the race tracks in quarters and have more awards to stay on the throttle, give a three- or four-point bonus for running in the top 5 in certain stages of the race,” adds Wallace.

“You could have whoever’s running in the top 5 get more money at the one-quarter point of the race, and halfway through the race you get more, and three quarters of the race, etc.

“Keep them up on the wheel so they’re grinding like hell for the winnings.”

That’ll help, but fixing personalities is also a necessity. Drivers need to say what they feel and do what they think is right at every moment — as the fans seem to see through anything less.

“The winner ain’t the one with the fastest car,” Dale Earnhardt Sr. said. “It’s the one who refuses to lose.”

More than ever, that type of attitude is exactly what NASCAR needs. Otherwise, it will be the fans staying the hell home, not the drivers scared of going too fast.

Teaser:
<p> Aggression has given way to caution on the track. Is this change permanent?</p>
Post date: Friday, December 2, 2011 - 15:59
All taxonomy terms: Denver Broncos, Tebowing, Tim Tebow, Overtime
Path: /overtime/ultrasound-photo-baby-tebowing-beats-every-other-photo-tebowing
Body:

This ultrasound photo of a fetus "Tebowing" may be the first time anything having to do with Tim Tebow has been inside a woman.

If you look, you can clearly see that the baby is kneeling down, with his/her right fist on his/her head in the perfect Tebowing form.

We're not sure what he's praying for (A healthy trip down the canal? For his mom to stop playing Mozart 22 hours a day? For Tim Tebow not cut off his foreskin?), but this little guy would probably make Tim Tebow proud.

What's also unclear is if this baby is a fan of the Broncos, or is just inspired by Tebow's on-field heroics. Either way, we're pretty sure this baby is going to grow up to be a winner. Even if he can't throw a football.

The father of this baby is John Keller (@JKells1). We don't know who he is or anything about him. But we really like what he made.

Teaser:
<p> Tim Tebow is everywhere, even in random women's wombs</p>
Post date: Friday, December 2, 2011 - 15:14
Path: /college-football/oklahomas-landry-jones-quietly-having-great-season
Body:

Landry Jones, Oklahoma

Landry Jones is one of the Top 5 finalists for the 2011 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, a distinction awarded to the nation's top senior quarterback and one that rewards character, citizenship, integrity and those who honor the game. Please click here for a full list of the 2011 Golden Arm Award nominees.

Even though the Sooners lost two potent weapons on offense during the season in wideout Ryan Broyles and running back Dominique Whaley, the Oklahoma offense led by Jones is still averaging 43 points a game.

Jones turned in a huge performance in the annual Red River Rivalry with Texas, throwing for 367 yards and three touchdowns in the Sooners’ win. Jones established a new school record with 505 yards passing against Kansas State this season.

Jones has already topped 4,000 yards with 4,052 yards passing this season with 28 touchdowns. He has three five-TD games passing in 2011.

 

Passing Cmp Att Pct Yds Y/A TD Int Rate
2011 312 487 64.1 4,052 8.3 28 12 148.0
Career 978 1,553 63.0 11,968 7.7 92 38 142.4

Teaser:
<p> The Sooners star is having an under-the-radar type season</p>
Post date: Friday, December 2, 2011 - 10:03
All taxonomy terms: 2008, Martin Truex Jr., nascar archive, NASCAR
Path: /nascar/exclusive-qa-martin-truex-jr
Body:

In celebration of Athlon Sports' upcoming 10th annual Racing magazine, we've dug into the archives to uncover some of the most memorable features, profiles and Q&As that have graced our pages. Visit the site daily for more retrospective looks at NASCAR throughout the decade.

Article originally published in 2008 Athlon Sports Racing annual

Just 16 years removed from his first go-kart, Martin Truex Jr. has come a long way in the fashion most racers prefer: Fast.

In a family-owned Busch North ride by 2000 that spawned sporadic trips up to the Busch Series, the New Jersey native got the call to drive the Chance2 Chevy for JR Motorsports in 2003. It’s been a fast track to success ever since.

Two Busch titles followed in 2004 and 2005 driving for Dale Earnhardt Jr. A promotion to Cup in ’05 came next.

After a breakthrough 2007 season — highlighted by a win at Dover and a spot in the Chase — Truex now sits poised to lead Dale Earnhardt, Inc. into the future without its famous son and Truex’s good friend.

That’s OK with Truex, though. He stepped up admirably in a season of turmoil at DEI and is now ready to “Just go race!”

Athlon Sports’ Matt Taliaferro sat down with Truex after a practice session on a sunny autumn afternoon in Charlotte and found the 27-year-old to be the ultimate combination of old-school, fix-it-yourself short-tracker and new-school, big-money NASCAR driver who is living his dream.

Athlon Sports: Your dad was a Busch North champ and you cut your teeth driving up there — and with him. How proud a moment for you and him was it when you got the call from Chance2 to drive in the Busch Series?
Martin Truex Jr.: It was surreal for me. You know, I remember sitting there just working on my (own) car, building cars to go racing. I was having fun doing what I was doing and I watched the Busch races and the Cup races on the weekends and just dreamed about what it would be like to race with those guys. And the next thing I know I am racing with them and beating them and winning championships. So, it was just cool to get the call, and the way everything went down so quick it was really kind of shocking to me.

So tell me about when you made the transition to Cup in 2004. You’re already on your way to a Busch Series championship that year and DEI enters you into the Atlanta fall race. Now you are on the track with the big boys; intimidating as hell or ‘hell yeah!’?
Hell yeah! It was like, you know you just wanted to do it, and then when I got there and started doing it, you just wanted to win just like it was anywhere else. So it’s no different than when I first got out there racing go-carts. First time I got out there I wanted to win.

The Bass Pro team showed signs of life late in 2006 when you almost won Homestead. You guys got off to a rocky start in 2007 but rebounded with the Nextel Open win, the big Dover win and ran consistently enough down the stretch to earn a Chase spot. What turned the season around?
Nothing. Just good timing. Like you said we got off to a rocky start but we had been fast all year. We had great racecars; my guys were doing a great job for me. And it was like for a while there it seemed that everything that could go wrong would.

Just like it is right now (during the ’07 Chase), you know, we would get a flat tire (and) the caution would come out when we pitted under green. Just anything that you could imagine that could go wrong, went wrong and that is what took us out of finishes.

But we had fast cars and we just kept doing what we knew how to do and then sooner or later the bad luck went away. Things started going the way we needed them to and that was the only difference.

Do you think we will ever see another team like yours that really got it started — as a group — in the Busch Series, stayed there for a couple years, won championships, then made the jump to Cup and now contends for titles? There is a different mindset to building teams now, one where a team rushes a driver through the ranks and sticks him with an experienced crew. You guys did it all together.
Yeah, it doesn’t happen that much anymore. I am not sure why. It’s worked great for us. Obviously, you know, I think when people come into the sport now, there are (more) demands. They have to have success right away to stay around. I don’t think doing it the way we did it is the formula to come in and be successful right away, but I think in the long run it makes you stronger.

The Car of Tomorrow made its plate-track debut at Talladega last October to mixed reactions. What was the quality of racing like from your view?
Sometimes it was wild and crazy like we all thought it would be and sometimes it was mellow. I think the times that it was single file and everyone was riding around the top it was just people being smart and trying to be patient. You know, usually everyone gets yelled at and says that people are driving stupid and being idiots, so a lot of us were being smart and not doing that. Then we got criticized for the race being boring … It’s just one of those deals where you can’t win.

Mark Martin once said that racing within the Chase was one of the most stressful racing conditions that he had ever been subjected to, and coming from Mark Martin, that is saying something. You’ve now been through the rigors of racing in the Chase. Does Chase racing feel the same for you, or is this just going out every week doing the same thing?
It hasn’t been stressful to me at all. We just take it as it comes. We go out there to race and do the best job we can do, and that’s all you can do.

So do you have a different mindset when you go into a weekend during the Chase?
Absolutely not. Not at all.

Junior’s decision and subsequent announcement last June coincided with a hot streak for you that produced four top-3 finishes in five races. Coincidence or statement?
Both. You know, it was a bit of a coincidence because, like I said earlier, we had been running well enough to be able to do that (all season). And it was (another) coincidence that we had been able to do it at that exact time.

You know, finally, the things that we needed to start going right started going right when he made his announcement, which was definitely a coincidence. We weren’t doing anything different by any means. The racing gods looked upon us and quit doing bad things to us, I guess.

Let me ask you what was more special: that first career Cup win at Dover or qualifying for the Chase?
Whoa. I would say the Dover win. You know, that first win, there is nothing like it. It’s great to be in the Chase and all, but that win was part of the reason we are in the Chase. So it’s definitely the win at Dover.

Tony Stewart told us he realized he ‘made it’ when he saw his face on a Coke machine in his hometown. Have you ever had an incident like that were you saw something and said, “Wow, I’m officially here?”
No. You know, I’m happy with the way things are going. I don’t need a sign or a picture to let me know that I’ve made it. I am happy with the way things are going.

I live in Nashville, which has a Bass Pro Shop where I spend too much time and money. I know you have a great love for the outdoors as well. How cool is it that you get to combine your passion for the outdoors and your passion for racing? That would just be the ultimate for me.
Yeah it’s awesome. You know, if I had to pick a sponsor — and just say Bass Pro was never in the mix and was out of the sport — that’s what I would want to be a part of. It’s been a dream come true for me. I got really lucky and just kind of stepped into it and met John (Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops), and they were kind of sponsoring the car when I came in to drive it. We just formed a relationship and it’s been great ever since.

I love hunting and fishing. When I am not here at the racetrack I am doing something that I can support Bass Pro Shop with. So it’s been a dream come true for me. It’s a great relationship.

What is your biggest bass?
My biggest bass? About 8 pounds.

You got me beat by a couple ... I’m still looking for the wall mount. Do you get to fish at all on race weekends around the country?
Sometimes, yeah. Actually the biggest bass I caught was down in Atlanta (at) the first race this year. I went with Ryan Newman on a Saturday after practice in the afternoon and caught some big bass.

You got the Tracker boat and everything?
I got the Nitro Bass Boat. Yep, absolutely.

At the end of a 36-race season are you ready keep racing or go home?
I am ready for a break. Ready to do some hunting. Kick back.

You ever been hunting with Richard Childress?
Nope. But I have been hunting a good bit.

Any vacations?
Probably. I don’t know. It’s fun to get some time off and do whatever you want. You have no schedule — hopefully — no schedule to commit to.

I know that your goal every year is to win a championship, to win races. Well now you’ve won races and you have made the Chase. Are there specific tracks, specific events, a specific number in mind that you look at at the beginning of the season?
No, we just tried to be prepared the best we can for all the racetracks, the different types of racetracks. Not put all our eggs in one basket and, you know, just go race!

Teaser:
<p> Just 16 years removed from his first go-kart, Martin Truex Jr. has come a long way in the fashion most racers prefer: Fast.</p>
Post date: Friday, December 2, 2011 - 09:07
Path: /overtime/clemsons-dabo-swinney-kills-steve-spurrier-and-south-carolina
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Steve Spurrier, South Carolina's college football coach was trying to make a case for his team earlier this week and made the following statement: "We may not be LSU or Alabama, but we ain't Clemson."

That didn't sit too well with Clemson Tigers coach Dabo Swinney. After hearing about Spurrier's remarks from a reporter, the Tigers coach proceeded to detroy South Carolina's history and program with lines like "they're never going to be Clemson, and no three game win streak will change that," while giving political answers like "I have a lot of respect for Coach Spurrier."

This isn't the first time Steve Spurrier has irked others around college football. He likes to get a dig in here and there, but no one has ever calmly and completely detroyed one of Spurrier's comments.

A few favorite lines:

"My grandkids won't live long enough to see this turn into a real rivalry."

"We've won more bowl games than they've even been to."

"We got 100 plus more wins than South Carolina. That's reality."

"The best era of South Carolina football is right now. After five years [at South Carolina] coach Spurrier has 35 wins. If I had 35 wins in five years there'd be a new coach here. Because there's a different standard at Clemson than there is at South Carolina."

"Now what do you want to talk about, anything else?"

Well done Dabo. Well done.

Teaser:
<p> The Tigers coach retaliates and totally destroys Spurrier</p>
Post date: Friday, December 2, 2011 - 05:55
Path: /news/oklahoma-states-brandon-weeden-has-put-eye-popping-stats-2011
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Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State

Brandon Weeden is one of the Top 5 finalists for the 2011 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, a distinction awarded to the nation's top senior quarterback and one that rewards character, citizenship, integrity and those who honor the game. Please click here for a full list of the 2011 Golden Arm Award nominees.

Triggering one of the most potent offenses in the land, Weeden has kept the Cowboys in the national title hunt through the season’s final week.

His most brilliant performance this season came during a second-half comeback against Texas A&M with 438 yards passing and two touchdowns. He threw for a school-record 502 yards and four scores in a win over Kansas State.

He has now thrown for more than 4,00 yards and 34 touchdowns in consecutive seasons, despite playing for two different offensive coordinators.

 

Passing Cmp Att Pct Yds Y/A TD Int Rate
2011 355 486 73.1 4,111 8.5 34 12 162.3
Career 713 1.024 69.6 8,644 8.4 72 26 158.7

Teaser:
<p> The Cowboys quarterback has thrown for over 4,000 yards and 34 touchdowns</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 1, 2011 - 17:29
Path: /college-football/baylors-robert-griffin-iii-makes-late-season-awards-push
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Robert Griffin III, Baylor

Robert Griffin III is one of the Top 5 finalists for the 2011 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, a distinction awarded to the nation's top senior quarterback and one that rewards character, citizenship, integrity and those who honor the game. Please click here for a full list of the 2011 Golden Arm Award nominees.

RGIII, as he is known around Waco, is easily the most dangerous dual-threat quarterback in football this season. The senior may not be solely responsible for the football resurgence at Baylor, but he is the primary source. His play-making ability has led Baylor to five Big 12 wins — with one game to play — for the first time in history. He tossed a touchdown pass in the final minute to give Baylor its first-ever win over Oklahoma.

Griffin has thrown for more than 3,600 yards this season and 34 touchdowns while getting intercepted just five times. He can frustrate defenses with his legs as well, accounting for 612 yards on the ground so far this season.

 

Passing Cmp Att Pct Yds Y/A TD Int Rate
2011 252 347 72.6 3,678 10.6 34 5 191.1
Career 761 1,137 66.9 9,751 8.6 75 16 157.9

 

Rushing Att Yds Avg TD
2011 149 612 4.1 7
Career 498 2,167 4.4 30

Teaser:
<p> The Bears quarterback might just be the best player in college football</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 1, 2011 - 17:11
Path: /overtime/oklahoma-sooners-fan-matt-lynch-college-footballs-worst-fan
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Some people in this world are idiots. And Oklahoma fan Matt Lynch is one of them. This weekend Oklahoma State play their bitter inpstate rival Oklahoma in a game known as "Bedlam."

To try and talk trash to a couple of the Oklahoma State stars Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon, Matt tweeted out this gem:

As if this wasn't a bad enough joke to begin with, Matt is referencing the tragic plane crash that killed Kurt Budke and Miranda Serna, members of the Oklahoma State basketball staff. As you can imagine, trouble ensued for young Matt.

Weeden himself couldn't believe it and tweeted:

And that's when the trouble started. It seems that Matt was like most kids these days and thought that hiding behind the anonymity of the Internet made him free from repercussions for his actions. But he was wrong.

Anyone who knows anything knows that information can be found, if you know where to look.  Hence, this tweet:

Here's a hint, if you're going to make a tasteless joke, don't expect to hide in your mom's basement. Shit will rain down on you.

And the shit kept raining as the community college he attended felt they should tweet out their lack of affiliation with their dirt bag student:

And now, Matt's twitter page no longer exists. We also wonder how his parents feel about this. Because everyone who goes to a community college lives with their parents, unless they're, like, 47 and their a working mom who's trying to learn Excel so she can get a job that isn't waitressing.

Anyway, maybe Matt will think twice about spraying his hate-filled crap all over the Internet. I doubt it, but we can only hope.

Via cowboysrideforfree.com

Teaser:
<p> After tweeting a very tasteless joke, he disappeared from the Internet</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 1, 2011 - 15:58
Path: /overtime/worst-cheerleading-squad-ever-video
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Last night's Michigan State cheerleading accident was scary for a little while. Then we learned the girl was OK, and then we learned later that her dad had posted on her Facebook page that he was glad she didn't have a "big booty" while her butt was shown on ESPN as she was lying face down on the floor.

So this seems like as good a time as any to honor the worst cheerleading squad in the history of cheerleading squads:

I have no idea where these girls are from, or how old they are, but they clearly needed some more practice before hitting the big time.

Teaser:
<p> In honor of the Michigan State cheerleading accident, here's the worst squad ever</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 1, 2011 - 15:25
All taxonomy terms: Maria Menounos, wrestling, WWE, Overtime
Path: /overtime/maria-menounos-will-be-wrestling-wwe-again-photos
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Maria Menounos, the Access Hollywood and Extra hottie, is getting back in the ring for the WWE.

Back in 2009, Maria was part of a 6-girl tag team featuring Kelly Kelly, Gail Smith, Beth Phoenix, Rosa Mendes and Alicia Fox. We're not sure how big of a WWE fan Maria is, but it doesn't matter because her team kicked ass the last time she was in the ring and we will expect no less from Menounos this time.

The highlight of her last performance was when she slapped Beth Phoenix, a girl who outweights her by probably 50 pounds. But since wrestling definitely isn't scripted, we're pretty sure that show of courage was a testament to how well Menounos will do in her next go around. (We're hoping she body slams King Kong Bundy...if he's still alive.)

And Maria even got a little dinged up, saying afterwards:  "I kind of smashed my tailbone on that flip, but I got some ice on it and I'm fine," she said. "I told Vince, I want to come back with (wrestler) Maria Kanellis as 'The Golden Greeks' and come out to 'Zorba the Greek' music.'"

What Maria will be doing this go round still remains to be scene, but she tweeted out the news to her followers:

"Cats out of the bag-im goin back to wrestle in the wwe!!! Had my first training session be4 flying last night-lots of bruises!!!psyched!"

We're not sure exactly what her training session would look like, but we're guessing there's going to be some footage of it on Extra once she gets closer to the main event.

To refresh your memory on why this is good news, here are some photos from her previous WWE performance:

And for good measure, here are some Maria Menounos bikini shots.

Teaser:
<p> The Extra hottie Maria Menounos will be getting back in the WWE ring</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 1, 2011 - 13:32
Path: /nfl/will-green-bay-packers-go-undefeated-complete-analysis
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There is a long, long way to go for the Green Bay Packers – probably longer than they even realize. That’s a lesson that was learned the hard way by so many previously unbeaten teams. Even the teams that look unbeatable, the way the Packers do right now, can be beaten when they least expect it.

Just ask the 2007 New England Patriots, who were once 2 ½ minutes away from finishing 19-0.

So it remains to be seen if the Packers, now 11-0 and counting, can even get close to making a real run at perfection, and if they can even threaten the 1972 Miami Dolphins, who remain the NFL’s only unbeaten team. But it’s hard to ignore that the rest of their schedule does set up rather nicely – three of five games at home, with two road games against struggling teams.

It’s entirely possible that their run at regular-season perfection will rest on a decision: With the possibility that they can clinch the NFC North on Sunday and possibly wrap up the No. 1 overall seed in a few weeks, will trying to be perfect mean anything to the Packers? Or will they pull a page from the once-undefeated Indianapolis Colts’ playbook and rest their undefeated starters down the stretch?

“To me, those are really questions for three weeks or so down the line,” said Packers coach Mike McCarthy. “There are so many factors that go into making those types of decisions. We’re really focused on getting to win No. 12.”

“We’re not really thinking about that right now, we’re thinking about the Giants,” said Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. “But I think there are no games that are not meaningful in a 16-game season.”

If that sounds like Rodgers wants to play them all so he can win them all … well, read into that whatever you want. If he plays them all, though, along with the rest of his first-team teammates, it’s hard to find a game on the schedule that the Packers might lose:

Dec. 4 at New York Giants
A few weeks ago, this might have a game that could trip up the Packers, but that was when the Giants were 6-2 and looked like a threat in the NFC. Now they’re 6-5, losers of three straight, and have a defense that ranks 28th in the NFL and just gave up 49 points and 577 yards to the New Orleans Saints. They don’t have the personnel in the secondary or at linebacker to match up with the Packers’ receivers, and with defensive end Osi Umenyiora (ankle) out and Justin Tuck (ankle) ailing, they don’t have the pass rush either. Maybe the Giants can keep it relatively close. Maybe. But Rodgers should little trouble piling up the points.

Dec. 11 vs. Oakland Raiders
Right above the Giants in the defensive rankings are the 27th-ranked Raiders, another defensively challenged team that has little chance of slowing down the Packers – especially in Green Bay. If it wasn’t for their defense, they might have a chance. Carson Palmer, their new quarterback, is settling down. They can run the ball with the best teams in the NFL, whether it’s Michael Bush or Darren McFadden getting the carries. They’re also 4-1 on the road. But the defense just isn’t a match for what the Packers’ offense has to offer.

Dec. 18 at Kansas City Chiefs
Have you seen Tyler Palko play? OK, maybe it’ll be Kyle Orton at quarterback by this game, but the Chiefs would need a shocking effort to have a chance. Very little has been going right for this team this season, and they’ll be in full death-march mode in the final three games. The good news for them is that the game is at home. Then again, they’ve lost three straight at home. So really, there’s no good news here for the Chiefs.

Dec. 25 vs. Chicago Bears
Don’t discount a Christmas night surprise here, especially if Jay Cutler makes an early return from a broken thumb. Even if he doesn’t, Caleb Hanie could benefit from the Bears’ strong rushing attack which could help at least slow the Packers down. Add in the fact that at this stage in the season, even if the Packers are playing their starters, they’re likely to be overcautious in resting anyone that even has a minor injury. And then there’s the weather – Christmas night in Green Bay shouldn’t be too cold, windy or snowy, right? And since the Bears will very likely need to win this game to keep an edge in the wild-card chase, the ingredients could all be here to make this the Packers’ most dangerous game.

Jan. 1 vs. Detroit Lions
On Thanksgving afternoon in Detroit, the Packers beat the Lions soundly, 27-15, which certainly takes some of the steam out of this rematch. The Lions once looked like the Packers’ greatest challenge, but in many ways they barely put up a fight. The Lions are good and will get better. Same for QB Matt Stafford. But they are not yet in the Packers’ class. So if the Packers want this game and want the undefeated regular-season record, they will be able to take it. These aren’t the same Lions. They haven’t looked as dangerous recently as they were before their bye week. They may need this game too, and lots of things can change, but if the Packers are 15-0 coming into this game, they won’t have trouble getting Win No. 16.

By RALPH VACCHIANO
 

Teaser:
<p> The Packers have a long way to go to get to win every game this season</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 1, 2011 - 12:58
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy football rankings, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /columns/winning-game-plan/fantasy-football-rankings-week-13
Body:

We rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any Website can give you. Click here for all of our fantasy football rankings each week.

These rankings are our suggestions, but of course as always: You are responsible for setting your own lineup.

2011 NFL Week 13 Fantasy Football Rankings

Quarterbacks
Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Kickers
Defense/Special Teams

Athlon Sports Week 13 Waiver Wire

Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system:

OFFENSIVE SCORING
All touchdowns are 6 points
1 point for 25 yards passing
1 point for 10 yards rushing/receiving
Receptions are .5 points
Interceptions/fumbles are minus-2 points

DEFENSIVE SCORING
0 points allowed = 12 points
1-6 points allowed = 10 points
7-13 points allowed = 8 pts
14-20 points allowed = 6 points
21-27 points allowed = 2 pts
28+ points allowed = 0 points
Safeties = 2 points
Fumbles recovered = 2 points
Interceptions = 2 points
Sacks = 1 point
Defensive/Special Teams TDs = 6 points

KICKER SCORING
PATs = 1 point
39 yards and under = 3 points
40-49 yards = 4 points
50-59 yards = 5 points
60+ yards = 6 points

Teaser:
<br />
Post date: Thursday, December 1, 2011 - 07:54
Path: /overtime/candice-swanepoel-one-sexiest-victorias-secret-angels-photos
Body:

Candice Swanepoel (pronounced swanee-pool), one of the hottest Victoria's Secret angels, blew crowds away with her sexiness in the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show in late November. Scroll down to see more of her sexy photos.

Originally from South Africa, this 23 year old fashion model was discovered when she was 15.

She's done modeling shoots for Guess, Diesel and Tommy Hilfiger and according to Forbes is one of the top ten-earning models in the world.

According to Swanepoel some of her must-haves are leather pants (and really, who doesn't like leather pants?) a summer dress and daisy dukes.

Some of our favorite Candice Swanepoel quotes:

"I always spoil the girls in my family with lots of Victoria's Secret goodies like a robe, perfume, or gift card. They can't get enough. I also like to take the time to think of very personal gifts, but I always start too late!" 

"When I think of a bombshell, I immediately think of Bridget Bardot. She's a woman who is so secure and just oozes sexy. Whether you are super feminine or more into that boyish style, you just own your look."

"One of the saddest things in our industry is you get to meet the most interesting people who you connect with immediately – you work with them for two days, and when you leave you know you might never see them again."

"I love boxing, I do a lot of resistance training."

"I grew up on a dairy-and-beef farm. I’m a total farm (and daddy’s) girl."

"I would have to say the ‘Miraculous’ bra which is all of our favorites. It comes with a lacy panty, which is one-size-fits-all, in every color you can imagine. So yeah, that’s super sexy. It gives you two sizes so you feel voluptuous and like a bombshell!"

Can we just express our gratitude for the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show? It used to be back in the day that guys had basically only the Sear Catalog underwear section to thumb through to see sexy girls. Then we got upgraded to the Victoria's Secret catalog, and now it's a full-fledged TV show for the mainstream masses that's promoted weeks in advance and has some of the biggest stars in the world performing.

Thanks Victoria's Secret. We really appreciate it.

Now that you have a little background on Candice Swanepoel, here are some of our favorite photos of this Victoria's Secret hottie. We're not sure who gets to date a girl who looks like her, but since we're pretty sure it's not guys like us, at least we can look at her.

Teaser:
<p> Candace Swanepoel has more sexy than you've had hot meals</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 1, 2011 - 01:59
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy football rankings, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /columns/winning-game-plan/fantasy-football-defensespecial-teams-rankings-week-13
Body:

We rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any Website can give you. Click here for all of our fantasy football rankings each week.

These rankings are our suggestions, but of course as always: You are responsible for setting your own lineup.

2011 NFL Week 13 — Defense/Special Teams Rankings

Quarterbacks
Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Kickers
Defense/Special Teams

Athlon Sports Week 13 Waiver Wire

Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system

0 points allowed = 12 points
1-6 points allowed = 10 points
7-13 points allowed = 8 pts
14-20 points allowed = 6 points
21-27 points allowed = 2 pts
28+ points allowed = 0 points
Safeties = 2 points
Fumbles recovered = 2 points
Interceptions = 2 points
Sacks = 1 point
Defensive/Special Teams TDs = 6 points

Rk Player OPPONENT
1 Baltimore Ravens at CLE
2 San Francisco 49ers vs. STL
3 Chicago Bears vs. KC
4 Dallas Cowboys at ARI
5 Pittsburgh Steelers vs. CIN
6 New York Jets at WAS
7 Houston Texans vs, ATL
8 Denver Broncos at MIN
9 Cincinnati Bengals at PIT
10 New England Patriots vs. IND
11 Tennessee Titans at BUF
12 Philadelphia Eagles at SEA (Thursday)
13 Atlanta Falcons at HOU
14 Green Bay Packers at NYG
15 Washington Redskins vs. NYG
16 San Diego Chargers at JAC
Teaser:
<br />
Post date: Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - 16:14
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy football rankings, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /columns/winning-game-plan/fantasy-football-wide-receiver-rankings-week-13
Body:

We rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any Website can give you. Click here for all of our fantasy football rankings each week.

These rankings are our suggestions, but of course as always: You are responsible for setting your own lineup.

2011 NFL Week 13 — Wide Receiver Rankings

Quarterbacks
Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Kickers
Defense/Special Teams

Athlon Sports Week 13 Waiver Wire

Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system

All touchdowns are 6 points
1 point for 25 yards passing
1 point for 10 yards rushing/receiving
Receptions are .5 points
Interceptions/fumbles are minus-2 points

Rk Player Team OPPONENT
1 Calvin Johnson DET at NO
2 Wes Welker NE vs. IND
3 Steve Smith CAR at TB
4 Greg Jennings GB at NYG
5 Larry Fitzgerald ARI vs. DAL
6 Brandon Marshall MIA vs. OAK
7 Hakeem Nicks NYG vs. GB
8 Mike Wallace PIT vs. CIN
9 Roddy White ATL at HOU
10 Jordy Nelson GB at NYG
11 Dez Bryant DAL at ARI
12 Vincent Jackson SD at JAC
13 Marques Colston NO vs. DET
14 Andre Johnson HOU vs. ATL
15 Brandon Lloyd STL at SF
16 Victor Cruz NYG vs. GB
17 Dwayne Bowe KC at CHI
18 A.J. Green CIN at PIT
19 Percy Harvin MIN vs. DEN
20 Laurent Robinson DAL at ARI
21 DeSean Jackson PHI at SEA (Thursday)
22 Antonio Brown PIT vs. CIN
23 Anquan Boldin BAL at CLE
24 Mike Williams TB vs. CAR
25 Steve Johnson BUF vs. TEN
26 Santonio Holmes NYJ at WAS
27 Michael Crabtree SF vs. STL
28 Deion Branch NE vs. IND
29 Lance Moore NO vs. DET
30 Eric Decker DEN at MIN
31 Reggie Wayne IND at NE
32 Nate Washington TEN at BUF
33 Plaxico Burress NYJ at WAS
34 Pierre Garcon IND at NE
35 Nate Burleson DET at NO
36 Mario Manningham NYG vs. GB
37 Santana Moss WAS vs. NYJ
38 Greg Little CLE vs. BAL
39 Doug Baldwin SEA vs. PHI (Thursday)
40 Damian Williams TEN at BUF
41 Riley Cooper PHI at SEA (Thursday)
42 Torrey Smith BAL at CLE
43 Johnny Knox CHI vs. KC
44 David Nelson BUF vs. TEN
45 Jabar Gaffney WAS vs. NYJ
46 Earl Bennett CHI vs. KC
47 Harry Douglas ATL at HOU
48 Steve Breaston KC at CHI
49 Jason Avant PHI at SEA (Thursday)
50 Malcom Floyd SD at JAC
51 Jerome Simpson CIN at PIT
52 Darrius Heyward-Bey OAK at MIA
53 James Jones GB at NYG
54 Arrelious Benn TB vs. CAR
55 Davone Bess MIA vs. OAK
56 Mike Thomas JAC vs. SD
57 Vincent Brown SD vs. DEN
58 Titus Young DET at NO
59 Early Doucet ARI vs. DAL
60 Kevin Walter HOU vs. ATL
61 Jacoby Jones HOU vs. ATL
62 Jonathan Baldwin KC at CHI
63 Devery Henderson NO vs. DET
64 Brandon LaFell CAR at TB

Teaser:
<br />
Post date: Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - 16:10
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy football rankings, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /columns/winning-game-plan/fantasy-football-tight-end-rankings-week-13
Body:

We rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any Website can give you. Click here for all of our fantasy football rankings each week.

These rankings are our suggestions, but of course as always: You are responsible for setting your own lineup.

2011 NFL Week 13 — Tight End Rankings

Quarterbacks
Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Kickers
Defense/Special Teams

Athlon Sports Week 13 Waiver Wire

Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system

All touchdowns are 6 points
1 point for 25 yards passing
1 point for 10 yards rushing/receiving
Receptions are .5 points
Interceptions/fumbles are minus-2 points

Rk Player Team OPPONENT
1 Rob Gronkowski NE vs. IND
2 Jimmy Graham NO vs. DET
3 Jason Witten DAL at ARI
4 Antonio Gates SD at JAC
5 Aaron Hernandez NE vs. IND
6 Fred Davis WAS vs. NYJ
7 Tony Gonzalez ATL at HOU
8 Jermichael Finley GB at NYG
9 Brent Celek PHI at SEA (Thursday)
10 Kellen Winslow TB vs. CAR
11 Brandon Pettigrew DET at NO
12 Dustin Keller NYJ at WAS
13 Vernon Davis SF vs. STL
14 Greg Olsen CAR at IND
15 Jermaine Gresham CIN at PIT
16 Jake Ballard NYG vs. GB
17 Owen Daniels HOU vs. ATL
18 Heath Miller PIT vs. CIN
19 Scott Chandler BUF vs. TEN
20 Jared Cook TEN at BUF
21 Ed Dickson BAL at CLE
22 Dallas Clark IND at NE
23 Benjamin Watson CLE vs. BAL
24 Visanthe Shiancoe MIN vs. DEN
25 Anthony Fasano MIA vs. OAK
26 Marcedes Lewis JAC vs. SD

Teaser:
<br />
Post date: Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - 16:09
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy football rankings, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /columns/winning-game-plan/fantasy-football-running-back-rankings-week-13
Body:

We rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any Website can give you. Click here for all of our fantasy football rankings each week.

These rankings are our suggestions, but of course as always: You are responsible for setting your own lineup.

2011 NFL Week 13 — Running Back Rankings

Quarterbacks
Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Kickers
Defense/Special Teams

Athlon Sports Week 13 Waiver Wire

Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system

All touchdowns are 6 points
1 point for 25 yards passing
1 point for 10 yards rushing/receiving
Receptions are .5 points
Interceptions/fumbles are minus-2 points

Rk Player Team OPPONENT
1 Ray Rice BAL at CLE
2 Arian Foster HOU vs. ATL
3 Matt Forte CHI vs. KC
4 LeSean McCoy PHI at SEA (Thursday)
5 Maurice Jones-Drew JAC vs. SD
6 Frank Gore SF vs. STL
7 DeMarco Murray DAL at ARI
8 LeGarrette Blount TB vs. CAR
9 Chris Johnson TEN at BUF
10 Michael Bush OAK at MIA
11 Michael Turner ATL at HOU
12 Marshawn Lynch SEA vs. PHI (Thursday)
13 Beanie Wells ARI vs. DAL
14 Willis McGahee DEN at MIN
15 Reggie Bush MIA vs. OAK
16 Rashard Mendenhall PIT vs. CIN
17 Ryan Mathews SD at JAC
18 Steven Jackson STL at SF
19 BenJarvus Green-Ellis NE vs. IND
20 Jonathan Stewart CAR at TB
21 Cedric Benson CIN at PIT
22 Shonn Greene NYJ at WAS
23 Darren Sproles NO vs. DET
24 DeAngelo Williams CAR at TB
25 Donald Brown IND at NE
26 Maurice Morris DET at NO
27 C.J. Spiller BUF vs. TEN
28 Roy Helu WAS vs. NYJ
29 Toby Gerhart MIN vs. DEN
30 Peyton Hillis CLE vs. BAL
31 Brandon Jacobs NYG vs. GB
32 Mark Ingram NO vs. DET
33 Mike Tolbert SD at JAC
34 Marion Barber CHI vs. KC
35 Ben Tate HOU vs. ATL
36 Ryan Grant GB at NYG
37 Pierre Thomas NO vs. DET
38 Daniel Thomas MIA vs. OAK
39 James Starks GB at NYG
40 Joseph Addai IND at NE
41 Thomas Jones KC at CHI
42 Felix Jones DAL at ARI
43 Danny Woodhead NE vs. IND
44 Ricky Williams BAL at CLE
45 Kendall Hunter SF vs. STL
46 Dexter McCluster KC at CHI
47 D.J. Ware NYG vs. GB
48 Joe McKnight NYJ at WAS

Teaser:
<br />
Post date: Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - 15:26
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy football rankings, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /columns/winning-game-plan/fantasy-football-quarterback-rankings-week-13
Body:

We rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any Website can give you. Click here for all of our fantasy football rankings each week.

These rankings are our suggestions, but of course as always: You are responsible for setting your own lineup.

2011 NFL Week 13 — Quarterback Rankings

Quarterbacks
Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Kickers
Defense/Special Teams

Athlon Sports Week 13 Waiver Wire

Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system

All touchdowns are 6 points
1 point for 25 yards passing
1 point for 10 yards rushing/receiving
Receptions are .5 points
Interceptions/fumbles are minus-2 points

Rk Player Team OPPONENT
1 Aaron Rodgers GB at NYG
2 Tom Brady NE vs. IND
3 Cam Newton CAR at TB
4 Drew Brees NO vs. DET
5 Eli Manning NYG vs. GB
6 Matthew Stafford DET at NO
7 Tony Romo DAL at ARI
8 Ben Roethlisberger PIT vs. CIN
9 Philip Rivers SD at JAC
10 Matt Ryan ATL at HOU
11 Tim Tebow DEN at MIN
12 Vince Young PHI at SEA (Thursday)
13 Josh Freeman TB vs. CAR
14 Carson Palmer OAK at MIA
15 Mark Sanchez NYJ at WAS
16 Matt Hasselbeck TEN at BUF
17 Ryan Fitzpatrick BUF vs. TEN
18 Joe Flacco BAL at CLE
19 Matt Moore MIA vs. OAK
20 Andy Dalton CIN at PIT
21 Alex Smith SF vs. STL
22 Rex Grossman WAS vs. NYJ
23 Sam Bradford STL at SF
24 Christian Ponder MIN vs. DEN
25 Tarvaris Jackson SEA vs. PHI (Thursday)
26 John Skelton ARI vs. DAL

Teaser:
<br />
Post date: Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - 15:14
Path: /news/jerry-sandusky-has-new-accuser-and-details-are-horrific
Body:

A civil suit has been filed against Penn State, Jerry Sandusky and Second Mile (Sandusky's children's charity) by an unnamed adult this week.

The suit claims that as a young boy who was 10 at the time (the accuser is an adult now) had met Sandusky through his Second Mile charity and claims that he was sexually abused and raped more than 100 times between 1992 and 1996.

According to the report, Sandusky abused the child in numerous places, including the Penn State locker room, in Sandusky's home, and on a bowl trip with the team.

In a statement released by the accuser, he also claims that Sandusky threatened to harm him and his family if he told anyone about the incident. Here's an excerpt:

"I am the man in this lawsuit and I’m writing this statement and taking this action because I don’t want other kids to be hurt and abused by Jerry Sandusky or anybody like Penn State to allow people like him to do it—rape kids!

I never told anybody what he did to me over 100 times at all kinds of places until the newspapers reported that he had abused other kids and the people at Penn State and Second Mile didn’t do the things they should have to protect me and the other kids.

I am hurting and have been for a long time because of what happened but feel now even more tormented that I have learned of so many other kids were abused after me.

Now that I have told and done something about it I am feeling better and going to get help and work with the police. I want other people who have been hurt to know they can come forward and get help and help protect others in the future."

This is the first lawsuit involving the Sandusky accusations to hit Penn State. And this accuser is not one of the eight named in the initial grand jury report.

This is still an allegation, but if it is true, then there is no telling ho wmany children were sexually abused countless times. If one child was abused more than 100 times, Sandusky came in contact with hundreds, if not thousands of children through his Second Mile charity over the course of decades. It would not be a surprise if Sandusky through the course of investigation that Jerry Sandusky was one of the biggest pedophiles in the history of the United States.

And there's only one way someone could get away with this for so long: by people and an institution looking the other way.

How many more accusers will come forward remains to be seen, but with the accusations that numerous incidents happened on Penn State grounds could a very serious long term affect on the school's ability to continuing as a state institution.

Read the full complaint here.

Teaser:
<p> A civil suit has been filed against Second Mile, Penn State and Jerry Sandusky&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - 12:45
Path: /overtime/paulina-gretzky-forced-shut-down-her-sexy-twitter-photos
Body:

Paulina Gretzky, the daughter of hallowed hockey hero Wayne Gretzky, used to have a Twitter page full of borderline raunchy photos of herself and her equally hot friends partying and in various stages of undress.

But the Great One put a stop to it, apparently.

Shortly before she shut her page down, she tweeted: "Having a nice sit-down dinner with my dad about social media. Haha."

We're guessing that conversation went something like this:

Wayne: "Stop posting naked pictures of yourself on the Internet or I will kill you."

Paulina: "Sorry dad."

Wayne scored more assists than any other NHL player scored total points. But he doesn't want to see his daughter scoring on Twitter.

One of the main reasons Wayne wanted her to shut it down (aside from millions of guys gawking at his half-naked daughter) was that he is currently in a bid to buy the Toronto Maple Leafs and doesn't need any distractions from his daughter to muddle the deal.

Now, when you try to go to Twitter.com/PaulinaGretzky you get a "Sorry that page doesn't exist" notification. Which is causing almost as much sadness as when Wayne himself retired.

Wayne has never come out and publicly said anything about his daughter's Twitter page, but you can probably assume he wasn't a fan, even if he wasn't going to be buying the Leafs.

We'll see what the 22-year old will come up with next becasue she clearly likes the camera and will need to find an outlet in her attempt to become the next Kim Kardashian. If her dad's deal falls through, we'd expect this page to be back up the following day. Or maybe she can parlay it into a TV show, which would undoubtedly be more popular than her dad's sport.

If you missed some of her photos, here's a few of the best ones. As you can see, she's a fan of the duckface, and of the hipstamatic. And of not wearing clothes:

Teaser:
<p> Wayne puts his daughter's sexy twitpics over the boards</p>
Post date: Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - 11:18

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