Articles By Athlon Sports

Path: /college-football/baylors-robert-griffin-iii-makes-late-season-awards-push

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

<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

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.


<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

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.

<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

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.

<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

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.


<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

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

Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
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

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

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

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

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.

<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

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

Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
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

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
<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

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

Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
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

<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

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

Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
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

<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

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

Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
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

<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

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

Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
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

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

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.

<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

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 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:

<p> Wayne puts his daughter's sexy twitpics over the boards</p>
Post date: Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - 11:18
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy football rankings, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /columns/winning-game-plan/fantasy-football-kicker-rankings-week-13

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 — Kicker Rankings

Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Defense/Special Teams

Athlon Sports Week 13 Waiver Wire

Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system

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

Rk Player Team OPPONENT
1 John Kasay NO vs. DET
2 Billy Cundiff BAL at CLE
3 Sebastian Janikowski OAK at MIA
4 David Akers SF vs. STL
5 Dan Bailey DAL at ARI
6 Stephen Gostkowski NE vs. IND
7 Mason Crosby GB at NYG
8 Jason Hanson DET at NO
9 Robbie Gould CHI vs. KC
10 Nick Novak SD at JAC
11 Neil Rackers HOU vs. ATL
12 Rob Bironas TEN at BUF
13 Matt Bryant ATL at HOU
14 Mike Nugent CIN at PIT
15 Shaun Suisham PIT vs. CIN
16 Lawrence Tynes NYG vs. GB

<br />
Post date: Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - 09:05
All taxonomy terms: Anna Benson, Baseball wives, dildo, Kris Benson, News
Path: /news/anna-benson-threatens-chuck-knoblauchs-wife-dildo

Anna Benson, the wife of former Mets pitcher Kris Benson is on a TV show called Baseball Wives which debuts tonight on VH1.  Which is sort of like Basketball Wives, but with, ya know, baseball ones. That seems normal enough, right?

Well, if you weren't going to watch this show before, VH1 just gave you a great reason to tune in.

They are promoting the show the best way possible: By leaking information that Anna Benson (who has a history of crazy) is going totally crazy on the show and has allegedly threatened Chuck Knoblauch's wife with a dildo.

Now, how can you not watch a show with that sort of hype?

During the tiff, Anna first pulled a stun gun out and placed it on a table. But since that wasn't enough (is it ever?), she then pulled out a 12-inch dildo and started waving it around.

No word on how Cheri Knoblauch responded to the threat. There's also no word on how Kris Benson feels about his wife's 12-inch dildo. 

Benson has a history of over-the-top behavior. From appearing in FHM and Stuff magazines in a scantily clad bikini to saying that she was the most exciting thing to happen to the New York Mets since 1986. And at one point said on Howard Sternt hat if her husband ever cheated on him she would get revenge by sleeping with all of his teammates (at that point, presumably, all of his teammates bought him a prostitute.)

According to TMZ, staffers ont he show have threatened to walk off due to Anna's insane antics. This may be a ploy to get people to tune into see crazy dildo-related drama, but is there anything really wrong with that?

Check your local listings for the debut of VH1's Baseball Wives tonight.

<p> The Baseball wives star and ex wife of Kris Benson is going a little crazy</p>
Post date: Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - 08:39
Path: /news/ndamukong-suh-gets-chinese-reenactment-video

Ndamukung Suh, who was suspended today for pounding a Green Bay Packers' head into the ground and then stomping on him on live television, now gets the Chinese reenactment video treatment.

In case you've lived under a rock (which is controlled by communist dictators) these reenactment videos have been made famous by a Taiwan TV station. They first got popular after they reenacted Elin bashing Tiger Woods over the head with a golf club.

And once they found gold, they kept pumping out more and more.

The highlight of the Ndamukong Suh video is easily the part where he tears the Packers player limb from bloody limb (with Suh hadoukening Jay Cutler coming a close second). Although I think if that had actually happened, he may have been suspended for a little more than just two games. (We're guessing four, minimum.)

<p> In case you didn't know what happened with the Lions defensive lineman</p>
Post date: Tuesday, November 29, 2011 - 14:41
All taxonomy terms: 2007, nascar archive, Rusty Wallace, NASCAR
Path: /nascar/rusty-comes-clean

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 2007 Athlon Sports Racing annual

Athlon Sports: Do you regret that you retired? That maybe you retired too soon?
Rusty Wallace: Let me say it this way: I miss driving the car. I love doing the television stuff with ABC and ESPN. Looking back at it right now I wish that maybe I would have run one more year. On the other hand, if I would have run another year I might have missed out on some of the good opportunities, but it’s awful hard to watch that No. 2 car run around that track without me in it.

AS: How does a driver know when to retire? When does that bell go off?
RW: I think a driver knows when to retire when in his mind he starts thinking about other things, he starts thinking about business. I’m content with my decision, because my mind was starting to move around on different things.

AS: If the TV deal hadn’t happened, what would you be doing this year?
RW: If the TV thing wouldn’t have happened, I would have been paying more attention to my car dealerships. I would have been paying much more attention to Steven’s Busch team. I would have had a lot of personal service agreements with different companies. I would have been biding my time until the TV thing did happen. The TV was going to happen, because I already had an offer before I had the ABC offer. So I had one of them already nailed down and that’s the thing that made me comfortable. I really thought that ABC and ESPN was definitely the best company to work for. I knew they were going to come in and really try to take NASCAR to a new level, and helping build the sport was really important to me.

AS: Was the TV deal the main reason?
RW: Honestly, the number one reason I retired was that I was just flat tired of 36 races. Really 38 — 36 points-paying races and the Bud Shootout at Daytona and the All-Star event in Charlotte. That’s 38 weekends out of someone’s life. And you get so dedicated to your racecar that you don’t understand what’s really out there in this world. People talk about all kinds of different things, business-wise or non-business-wise that are totally normal to people. I’m talking about a spring, shock or sway bar that doesn’t mean anything to anybody else. But it means everything to me, because it’s all about performance; about how fast it will make the car go around a corner.

AS: As for the Car of Tomorrow, do you think it is going to make some of your generation’s drivers more competitive? Like Dale Jarrett, Bobby Labonte, Sterling Marlin?
RW: I don’t really know what to think about the Car of Tomorrow yet. We gotta see it in competition. They can test that thing all they want, but until the track gets slicked up and everyone gets in real good positions, we don’t know. They can talk safety all they want, and yeah, safety is one of the main reasons they built that car, but also, another reason was to try to get these cars where they can run side-by-side. They don’t pick up these big aero pushes that everybody talks about. A lot of the problem with this is that some of the racetracks absolutely need a better design in order to pass on. They need to have more banking. At a lot of the racetracks the banking falls out from underneath the car at crucial places. Bruton Smith was one of the leaders; he saw the problem happening and caught it quick enough at Las Vegas to change that track. So Bruton redesigned the racetrack because he knows he wants to create side-by-side racing. I think the fix for a lot of these tracks is compound banking.

AS: Like they did at Homestead.
RW: Yeah, if you expect a car to run on the outside of you and as fast, the next angle needs to have more banking. It just needs more help. And if you get further away, it needs more help. So the only way to do that is get the compound banking.

AS: We keep hearing about aerodynamics and aero push, but do you think the problem is as much the racetracks as aerodynamics?
RW: Yeah. I think you can take a stock car with the amount of downforce it has and only go so far in trying to fix the aerodynamic push problem, or the lack of being able to pass a car. I think you can only go so far, and the next thing you gotta do is fix the track so it will make for better racing.

AS: Do you think NASCAR has become too commercial and politically correct for there to be another “Bubba” from the south make it as a Cup driver?
RW: Well, NASCAR personnel got up in the meeting — at the ESPN meeting we had with like 300 people — and said they don’t want us singing any country music because it showed “Bubba’s” and kinda going back in time. I jumped up in the meeting and really threw a fit. And when it was all said and done, the guy said that he really didn’t mean to say (it) that way, but we knew what the deal was.

They are attempting to appeal to teenage people. And look, I have a big problem that we keep promoting all these young kids, young kids, young kids and that’s the way to go. There are a lot of veterans out there — and I’m not saying it because I’m one, it doesn’t make a difference to me because now I’m retired — but I think the longer you run the smarter you get. And I think the better you get behind the wheel, personally.

But you can tell that they are really trying to get the new fan; the new young fan. And when I heard that comment — myself and the late Dale Sr. are pretty big country fans. And when I heard that one official say we really don’t want country western around here, I had a big problem with that. And they tried to retract and reword it, but I heard them loud and clear. I heard that particular fella loud and clear, and it really pissed me off.

AS: Well, you know Brian France has come up with the idea that he doesn’t want Confederate flags flying in the infield.
RW: Well look…there’s nothing wrong with cleaning it up a little bit, but I think you gotta stick with your roots. You have to figure out how to take care of your loyal fans and at the same time understand how to get new fans. You can’t just say, “Okay, screw the old fans. We’re going to go all new now. And screw the country western people, we are gonna go with all rock ’n’ roll and the new young crowd.” I know I’m probably saying some controversial things, but I really don’t care because I believe in what I’m saying.

AS: Is there one thing that you’re most proud of that you have accomplished in a racecar?
RW: I’m real happy with having a lot of finishes — and my average finishes — and stats that I’ve got that I don’t toot my own horn (over). I’m proud that I won the last two races ever run at the Riverside Speedway. When you look at (the list of names that includes) Fred Lorenzen and Fireball Roberts, you know A.J. Foyt and all that and you get right down there and you see Rusty Wallace…Rusty Wallace. I’m proud of those.

I’m proud that I won nine races at Bristol, which was a big record. And that I won enough short track races that they keep calling me “Rusty the Short Track King.” And that’s how I got the phone call from the Iowa Speedway, they said, “Call the drivers who design tracks,” and I said, “There is not one.” They said, “Wait a minute, drivers don’t design the tracks?” They said, “Well, let me ask the question a different way: We’re kinda gonna build a short track…whose won the most short track (races)?” And I go, “Rusty Wallace.” And that’s simply how that deal with the Iowa Speedway came along. I don’t need to sit here and pound my chest, but I’m proud of it (my career).

AS: So, let’s go to your very first Cup start. You ran for Roger Penske in Atlanta in 1980 and finished second. Was that too much success for your first Cup race, and did that give you the attitude that this Cup deal was going to be easy?
RW: Yeah, it did. When I finished second I said, “My gosh, my first race and I finished second?” I’ve won a lot of races now. I’ve won a bunch of ASA races and jumped right into that and finished second. I went, “Wow.” But I tested a lot there, and I had Penske behind me. The only thing I do regret out of that is that we didn’t hold course and stay working at it. Later, I got together with BlueMax and started winning races. After I won the championship and my car owner Raymond Beadle started falling on tough times financially, I called Penske and asked if he would like to get back together. He said, “Hell yeah.” We won a pile of races together, an enormous amount of races together.

AS: It’s always been said, “To win a championship you have to lose one.” You lost a tough one in 1988 to Bill Elliott. What did you learn in 1988 that helped you win the title in 1989?
RW: In ’88, I just wanted to win the race and I never did put a big importance on trying to lead laps. When I saw how little I lost the championship by (24 points) and went back and looked, I said, “My god, if I would have looked more at the bonus points that would have won it for me.” Back in ’89, I drove my guts out. I led all the laps I could and did everything I possibly could and I won the championship. I still think I only won it by like 12 points over Earnhardt. That’s how critical the bonus points were, and if I would have put that in effect in ’88 I might have won in ’88.

AS: Besides Daytona and Indy — which you never won — is there any other trophy missing from your trophy case you wish were there?
RW: Well, Daytona and Indy are the biggest ones that I wish that were there. The other one was Darlington. I finished second in the Southern 500 one year, but I always ran good there. There were times that I ran bad there, but the old Southern 500…not the first one, but the one with that special ring, the Southern 500, I wish I could have got.

AS: It’s been said that when a driver gets hurt he is never the same. We saw that with Darrell Waltrip in ’83 at Daytona. Some people will argue that happened with Dale Earnhardt Sr. at Talladega. You almost got killed at Bristol back in the ’80s. How did that wreck and the two horrific crashes in 1993 affect you?
RW: The short track one never affected me. The one that affected me is the one that I went over my roof for the second time within, like, five weeks. I went upside down at Daytona in ’93, running third with like 20 laps to go. Michael Waltrip and Rick Wilson get together and they came flying across the racetrack and one of them tags me. I forgot which one of the characters it was that did that, but I went end-over-end. When I got out I said, “Doggone, every time one of these cars get sideways the air catches them and throws them upside down.” Well, then I went to Talladega and me and Earnhardt got together coming up to the start/finish line. He tapped me accidentally, and I blocked him off, he had a big run, and I take half the blame on that one too. (If he were still alive, he’d sit there with a cold Miller Lite with me and go, “Yeah, it’s 50 percent your fault and 50 percent my fault.”) He’d laugh about it now. He thought he killed me then, but now I think back and you know after we got hit again the car got sideways and the air caught it. So, it went in the air again. I said, “You know what, this is starting to spook me out. Because every time one of these (cars) get sideways they turn over.” Well NASCAR — at the same time — after my wreck — said enough is enough. That big wreck at Talladega in ’93 is what led NASCAR to create the roof flaps. So, if anything good came out of that, my crash helped develop the roof flaps that has made racing much safer for all competitors now.

AS: Since we’re talking points: You’ve been in it and out of it, and now this year you’ve had a chance to look at it from outside the cockpit. What’s your opinion of the Chase?
RW: My opinion of the Chase is that there is a lot of talent out there that deserves to be in the Chase and they need to open the thing up for a couple more spots. I really think that in my mind they will maybe open it up from 10 to 12, but NASCAR is so big right now and there’s so much money in it that there are some big guys that have big sponsors that really need to be in it. Like not having Jeff Gordon and Dale Jr. in it was something that seemed weird last year.

AS: You’ve talked a couple times about Dale Earnhardt. It’s been said that when Dale was alive, he was “the guy” in the garage. It seemed once we lost Dale like you became that guy. Did you?
RW: NASCAR has been really willing to listen to anything that they think will improve the sport — whether on the track or off. There has been a lot of time that drivers would say, I’m thinking this or that, but they wouldn’t say anything. (They’d say) “Rusty, go in there and talk to them. They’ll listen to you; they won’t listen to anybody else.” Which was nonsense; they listened to me, but they would listen to anybody.

I think that Earnhardt would go in there and he would sit down and talk, and I would go in there with Dale and sit down and talk, and they would listen to Dale and Rusty, and it was kinda fun. When Dale passed on, I would still go in there and talk, and they would say “do this or do that.”

There’ll never be (another) Dale, like the one we had; he was definitely the focal guy. He was the guy that NASCAR could be in a 10-person meeting and he would bust the door open and say, “Hey, what y’all doin’ in here?” He would cause them to start laughing and he would sit down and wiggle in between them. “What’s goin’ on? Do ya got any coffee? Hey, how ’bout this.” He would start a funny conversation, and they could be in the most serious thing about how they’re trying to fix the world. (But) Earnhardt would slam right down in there and they would laugh and love it.

But now, nobody has replaced Dale. I was not strong enough to replace Dale, nor would I have even tried to. Tony Stewart’s not. There’s not anybody out there strong enough to replace Dale. Even his son, as popular as he is with the fans, I don’t think he wants that role.

AS: I don’t know if it had any effect, but you didn’t win very many races after Dale died. Did his passing have an effect on how you drove?
RW: No, it didn’t have an effect on me (as a driver). It did have an effect on me that we lost him. I had a long talk with Mr. France (Jr.) one day — long talk meaning about 20 seconds — and he said, “Wallace, you’ve won a pile of races, but right now your career is right at the very peak and you’re teetering about going down hill.” He said, “You need to think about retiring. I don’t need you or Earnhardt, or guys like that getting hurt. You’ve accomplished all you need to accomplish. You need to think about it.” He told me that, and a month later Dale got killed and we were in the hospital at Daytona, and I looked at Mr. France, and he goes, ‘Well, we’ve lost Earnhardt.’ And I said, “Well, I remember what you told me and you’re probably right.”

AS: Tell us about running without a restrictor plate at Talladega a couple of years ago.
RW: Well, I went to do a little check for Nextel. (They were talking about using the radio towers to do the communication so (that) when a driver pushes a button in the car, it would go to a tower, from the tower down to the pit area. They had a source that let the fans tie into communications.) They wanted me to run about 200. So we put on a restrictor plate and the car should have run about 195, but it didn’t run that fast. We went to get the other restrictor plate and I remember (NASCAR series director) John Darby saying, “You’re not going to believe this, but we don’t have the plate, we’ve left it at home accidentally. Why don’t you just take it off? Be careful.”

We took that plate off and that car ran over 230 mph on the straightaways. I ran like two laps and averaged something like 220 mph. It was just amazing. I came through the tri-oval with (the) whole front end hydroplaning off the ground and I was able to run two laps. I was taking the right front tire and tearing the rubber off in just two laps. That’s how fast that car was going. That was a real cool feel, but that feel taught me right then that a stock car running that fast is basically uncontrollable. I totally understand the roof flaps. And by the way, the roof flaps operate up to about 197 mph. If you get a car going any faster than that it (the speed) will take it out of what the roof flaps can control. That’s one of the main reasons the cars stay below 195 mph. If they start pushing that upper limit, they can get in a situation that the roof flap won’t help. And we like the roof flaps! These things aren’t IndyCars; they don’t have near enough downforce to keep them on the track. So, the speeds that NASCAR has chosen in my mind are correct.

AS: You spent a lot of years racing before you got to NASCAR. Now we see young guys coming in with the best equipment available and start winning almost immediately. Does that offend you? Or is that just the way the sport evolved?
RW: Well, I would be a liar if I said it didn’t offend me. Yeah, it offended me. It doesn’t offend me any longer, but it did for a while. (Because) that’s not the way I did it. They didn’t pay their dues like Bobby Allison, Dale Earnhardt Sr., Cale Yarborough and David Pearson. Like I had to do. We all had to pay our dues to get into this sport. Well, there’s young kids that have run some short track races and run real good. And they put ’em in the car and they perform good. And why do they do that? Because they got really good assistants nowadays and they can. So that’s the normal way of life nowadays. I don’t fight it at all. But originally, I will tell you the truth; originally it did bother me.

AS: Speaking of young kids, you own a Busch team now and your son is one of the drivers. Is it nerve-racking as a parent watching him out there?
RW: It is very nerve-racking, but the thing that I like about Steven is that he is bullet-fast. He is one of the fastest drivers I have ever seen.

We put him in the Busch car this year for like 15 races. He really had a lot of experience — he’s incredibly fast. A lot of the big drivers come to me and say “That kid’s gonna be something.” Those are the things that excite me about Steven. He is gonna run the Busch Series full-time in 2007. We are still working deathly hard on sponsors so we can get it to where he can run all those races. Steve’s gonna be big in this sport, because he’s better than I am, that’s for sure. He’s more aggressive, he’s faster, but he scares me to death and his mother can hardly watch.

AS: You’ve seen the sport evolve over the course of 25 years. What is your opinion of multi-car teams? Are they ruining the sport or helping it?
RW: Well multi-car teams…it takes a lot of money to make these cars go quicker. And the more teams you got, the more money you got. The more teams you got the less money it takes to operate it, because a lot of the infrastructure is already in (place). If you got 50 people in place, it doesn’t take 50 more people to run another car. Multi-car teams allow more technology to be shared between the teams; it allowed more money to come in. Now, I’m not a believer that you have to be a multi-car team to win. I still think a good single-car team can win. You know with all the flack that I had last year with Ryan Newman, I would think that if Ryan Newman was sitting right here, he would still tell ya that we operated as single-car teams. Our beliefs in the way things needed to be done were absolutely opposite, and he would tell you that Rusty never came up and made him win. And Ryan never came up and made me win the last year we were in it.

I will tell ya when I originally started the No. 2 car I was winning like crazy and when we went to multi-car teams that’s when my wins started falling off. And I think that the major concentration that was on that No. 2 car got spread. I’ll tell Penske this all the time, I think that was one thing that hurt the teams. And I learned that from Dale Sr. Dale said to me if you are gonna have a multi-car team you better have a teammate and another team that could absolutely help elevate your game — that you could get along with really well; that you have dinner with, hang out with, and you know in your heart is making both of your (teams) better, or else you better not do it.

AS: And you never had that situation with Jeremy Mayfield or Newman.
RW: I never had that situation with Jeremy or Ryan. I like ’em both. I had more of a problem with Newman. But I really think with him being in his 20s, being a youngster, me being in my later 40s, the generation gap — if you wanna call it that — was too far apart. And there was no fixin’ it. I really admire his driving and how good of a driver he is when they put the right equipment underneath him.

AS: You basically drove for three owners in your career: Cliff Stewart, Raymond Beadle and Roger Penske. Was there ever any time during that span when somebody made you an offer that we’ve not heard about publicly?
RW: Yeah. The biggest offer I had in my life was (from) Junior Johnson. It was after we had such a successful year winning a championship in ’89 with Raymond Beadle. And we knew we were starting to get into financial problems and Junior Johnson came up to me and said, “Look…I wanna hire ya.” It was a big contract and a lot of money in those days but I had another year on my contract with Beadle. I had to honor it, and I did that. It was nice to be thought of because some of the greatest drivers drove (for Junior).

When you think of Junior Johnson, you think of Darrell Waltrip, you think of Cale Yarborough, Bill Elliott, Terry Labonte. And Junior was the guy. I still think he is one of the greatest car owners in the world.

AS: Is there one move in your career that you would like to take back?
RW: Yeah, there are a lot of things I would like to take back, Some of the boisterous things, (the) ridiculous comments I used to make when I was a youngster. I wish I could take some of those stupid cocky words I use to say back then.

I don’t wanna take back about speaking the truth and being a guy the media could come to and get the truth. Or being a controversial or non-controversial figure among NASCAR. I think NASCAR needs more controversial figures to make it exciting.

AS: Nothing on the racetrack?
RW: On the racetrack…I’m thinking right now…I’m sure there is a lot. Now I can’t think of anything.

AS: The ’89 Winston?
RW: The ’89 Winston, Uhhh…No, I’m OK with that! I really am, ’cause I know what happened. I know we won the first segment and I know what we did wrong in the second segment — by putting the right side tires on backwards. I knew I had it (the car) right in the third segment, and I still think I had the car to win. It was a controversial way, but I watched my buddy, Dale Earnhardt Sr., do it a lot that way. And I’m not saying he’s the one who taught me how to do that, but it happened. Darrell and I…I think Darrell Waltrip will tell you right now that him and I are really good friends and we laugh about it now.

AS: So you did mend the fences?
RW: Oh yeah, absolutely. We mended the fence the next week. The very next week we mended the fence.

AS: The ’04 Food City 500 at Bristol, when your power steering went out, were you going to tag Kurt Busch to win?
RW: (Long pause) Yes! And I tried. I couldn’t get it done because I couldn’t turn the damn car as quick as I needed too. I was going to try to do the bump and run. My biggest mistake of my life was probably the last race at Bristol (the 2005 Sharpie 500), the one that Matt Kenseth won. I had a car that I think had a shot at winning too, and I elected to stay on the racetrack and not pit, because I wanted to assure myself a spot in the Chase for the Championship. The fifth-place finish I had basically did that for me.

AS: Without naming names, is there any driver you constantly intimidated and how did you do it? Did you just have anybody’s number?
RW: I think the one I intimidated the most was Jeff Gordon, because after he hit me at Bristol — for the next seven races in a row — I kept pounding on his bumper. Finally, at the very last race in Homestead I had him screaming on the radio going… “He’s crazy. He’s crazy. Tell ’em to get off my butt.” And I’d still like to take him out one more time.

AS: (Laughing) You still owe him one.
RW: I would still like to take him out one more time.

AS: Is there anybody that ever intimidated you?
RW: Dale Sr.

AS: Did he?
RW: Every time Dale Sr. got behind me I went, “Oh boy, I don’t know what he is gonna do.”

<p> Athlon Sports sat down with the 1989 Winston Cup champion who retired in 2005 and moved to the broadcasting booth</p>
Post date: Tuesday, November 29, 2011 - 12:45
All taxonomy terms: 2007, Denny Hamlin, nascar archive, NASCAR
Path: /nascar/who-kid-getting-know-denny-hamlin

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 2007 Athlon Sports Racing annual

Athlon Sports: How old were you when you started racing go-karts, and who got you your first go-kart?
Denny Hamlin: My parents got me my first go-kart when I was 8, and we took it to Amelia Motor Raceway on a Wednesday. That was their practice day. We just wanted to see how I did. I had never driven anything at all. I hadn’t even ridden a bicycle. I think I got loose a couple of times and he (my Dad) immediately noticed. They put me in a race the next weekend and we won it. I’ve still got that trophy.

AS: How old were you the first time you sat in a racecar? What was the color and the number?
DH: It was a purple-and-white 11. I was at Langley Speedway. I remember setting the track record that day, and that record still stands...I remember leading every lap but one. I got passed on a restart by Bobby Spivey and I remember passing him right back. I got passed because I missed a shift. I was all excited and I missed a shift, and they went around me, but I passed them the next lap.

AS: When you first arrived, how intimidating was that whole group at Gibbs Racing?
DH: It was definitely intimidating. Gibbs is definitely known for winning and knowing how to find talent and put people in the right places. It’s a lot to live up to. When they signed me they were just coming off the championship by Bobby and then Tony again a couple of years ago, so they know how to win. You’re given the same equipment as those guys and you’re expected to go out there and win and contend for championships.

AS: When you look at your career, one thing that stands out is that you made big splashes. In your Truck debut you got a top 10. In your Busch debut you finished eighth, and in your second Cup start you finished with another top 10.
DH: That’s what I credit to getting where I’m at so fast. You’re given opportunities, but trying to make the best of them is kind of hard to do. Performing at your best when it matters the most is what I take the most pride in. We were on our way to a great Cup debut until we got a flat tire under green at Kansas, but we definitely followed up in Charlotte with that top-10 finish.

AS: How do you balance Denny Hamlin, the professional athlete with Denny Hamlin, the guy hanging with buddies?
DH: When I get in my car, and I get ready to go racing, that’s when I kick in that mode where I don’t want to be messed with, there’s no more play, it’s serious. Up until that point, I’m the same guy that I am when I go home and have fun with my friends. For me, it’s a relatively easy transition.

AS: What was the biggest surprise: winning the Bud Shootout, the Pocono wins or making the Chase as a rookie?
DH: I don’t know. Making the Chase definitely was a real big deal, but the Bud Shootout was probably the biggest moment I had all year. Winning the very first race of the season and just giving a big boost to the whole team. (But) it was really probably making the Chase, because that’s a huge accomplishment your first year.

AS: Did you hate for 2006 to end or did you need a breather?
DH: I was 50/50. Performance-wise I wish we would have kept going, but then again I was very exhausted at the end of the season. You can ask anybody at Gibbs, and it looked like I was death warming over for the last, probably, two months of the season. Running both series, I’ve got a lot of sponsor obligations. That really wore me down more than anything.

AS: Do you have a win number in mind for 2007?
DH: Ideally we’d like to win four races (but) we’d like to win at least two races. It’s so competitive now you’ve got to be happy to win any race. I think no less than two and anything over four would be a great bonus.

AS: Do you think the Car of Tomorrow factor works in JGR’s favor because you can adapt to any situation so quickly?
DH: Yeah. I think that will definitely help. It’s going to suit some guys’ driving style better than others. Eventually we’re all going to get it figured out and you’re going to see the best teams rise to the top. But I don’t have a whole lot of bad habits to bring to the Car of Tomorrow. They don’t drive that much different in my opinion. I’ve only driven them once, but it didn’t drive so much different that I was going to completely change how I race.

AS: Did Tony haze you at all since you were the rookie?
DH: He was pretty easy on me all year long to tell you the truth. I was surprised that he didn’t pick on me a lot more than he did. The best thing about our relationship is probably on the racetrack. We’re really generous to each other. During the Chase when I needed a spot he’d let me have it. That’s all you can ask for in a teammate is to do everything in his power to help you. I can’t thank him enough for that.

AS: You’ve had some really funny, unique instances off the track. Which do you think stands out more: flipping the lawnmower while filming the FedEx commercial, the incident during the Charlotte test when you sliced your hand open or wrestling one of your buddies and getting the black eye?
DH: Probably the race (around the hauler) and cutting my hand because it just shows my competitiveness. Obviously, it was a foot race that time, but you can’t ever let someone outdo you. That’s what I tried to do — I tried to beat someone at racing and I ended up paying for it. It just shows how competitive I am.

AS: Do you ever replay a race in your mind when you’re done with it? Or do you just move on to the next week?
DH: No, I constantly do. I always watch the race. When I come home, it doesn’t matter if I get home at 6:00 a.m. because it’s a West Coast race or 3:00 a.m., I always watch the entire race as soon as I get home. Just to kind of critique it while it’s fresh in my mind. I feel like I can learn a whole lot more.

AS: Tony told me one time that he realized he had made it to the big time when he was driving through his hometown and in front of the hardware store was a Coke machine with his picture on it. Do you have any specific instances like that?
DH: You’ve definitely made it when that’s the case. For me it’s weird just watching my commercials. Before I was always watching to see when I was on TV; now it’s like, ‘All right, we’ll turn the channel.’ It’s definitely a difference.

AS: When you look at ’07, how are you going to try and avoid the dreaded Sophomore Slump? Are you working on some things you need to improve on?
DH: I know that there are a lot of areas that people don’t see that I need improvement on. Working out is one thing. Of course, when you’re fit, you’re going to feel better. It’s going to help you at the end of the race to feel better and get everything you can get. That’s just one step. The things on the track that I need to work on, I know will just take time to get better.

AS: When you look at the Daytona 500 this past year and you’re sitting in the drivers meeting, was it a surreal moment knowing you were about to compete in the Daytona 500?
DH: The moment that I really realized it was when I (was) walking out on pit row. You can see all the celebrities walking by and meeting with people and stuff and I’m just a face in the crowd, still an unknown. That was the moment where I really realized that I was (a) part of the Daytona 500.

AS: What costs more in your new house? The furniture or the home entertainment system?
DH: The entertainment system. Without a doubt.

AS: What’s in your your iPod?
DH: To be quite honest, my top 25 has a lot of rap in it for sure. I’m a big T.I. fan. I like The Game. There are just a few guys that I really like. There’s a lot of rock on it too. Of course, there’s a lot of Nickelback, Staind and other artists. All-American Rejects are good. I can listen to just about anything.

AS: When you signed that first big contract, what was the first extravagant thing you bought?
DH: I remember buying a plasma TV. That was my very first gift to myself. I had a very, very small contract and spent pretty much all of it on a new TV for my house.

AS: When you look back at your personal cars, does anything stand out?
DH: My Ford Ranger, my very first truck that I fixed up, was my pride and joy. I got it in Mini Truckin’ magazine, so that was a pretty proud moment for me when I was 16, 17. I spent a lot of time fixing it up and stuff. That was the first and really only vehicle that I have taken from scratch and made something of it.

AS: You and crew chief Mike Ford have such a great chemistry. How does he get the most out of you?
DH: He shoots me straightforward. You have some crew chiefs that try to sugarcoat things and they make it sound better than what you know it really is. Mike isn’t like that. He’s a realist and he’ll say, ‘All right we don’t have a chance today, so we need to just do something.’ I appreciate the honesty more than I do someone trying to make me feel better, because that just makes me madder or worse.

<p> Athlon Sports helps introduce the racing world to NASCAR's 2006 Rookie of the Year</p>
Post date: Tuesday, November 29, 2011 - 12:30
All taxonomy terms: 2007, Dale Earnhardt Jr., nascar archive, NASCAR
Path: /nascar/being-junior

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 2007 Athlon Sports Racing annual

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is NASCAR’s most popular driver by any measure. Officially, he’s run away with the award in fan voting four years in a row. He carries both the legacy of his late father, who won seven championships, and the loyalty of an entirely new generation of young fans.

Winning the Nextel Cup championship isn’t just a goal for the 32-year-old star. To millions of fans, it is his destiny. He’s getting closer. In 2006, he finished fifth in the final points standings, trailing only Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick. Given his resurgence following a disappointing 2005 season, Earnhardt Jr. must be considered one of the favorites for the 2007 crown.

It’s not easy, though, given the extraordinary expectations, not to mention the hopes and dreams that follow the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet on every single lap around a NASCAR track.

As this interview attests, Junior handles it all with remarkable grace and humility, and those are characteristics that reflect the character of a champion.

Athlon Sports: When you look at your popularity, I don’t think it can all be attributed to the fact that you are Dale Earnhardt’s son. Sure, you inherited the loyalty of most of your father’s fans, but I think one of the big keys is that people see you as your own man and, especially with young fans, a voice of your generation. You’ve got enough confidence and self-reliance to be yourself. Is that harder than it looks?
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: I was just worried about what everybody thought early in my career, and now, you get to the point to where you feel like you’ve paid your dues and you’ve just got to make yourself happy. If that doesn’t suit everybody, that doesn’t suit everybody, and that’s just the way the world is.

AS: Life can be a progression in which a man finds out that things he once blindly accepted were wrong. When you reach your 30s, you kind of stumble across the concept of wisdom. Have you experienced that?
DE: Wisdom? I’m not there yet. I think I understand the concept because I kind of watched my daddy get there … and other people that I’ve known over the years, other family members growing up. Right now, I’m at the common-sense level. I’m not at the wisdom level. The wisdom level’s yet to come.

AS: You’ve been through a lot. Do hard times make you better and tougher?
DE: Absolutely. I think, yeah, there are certain things in this world that could happen to me that might break me, but it ain’t happened yet. Things that are tough do make you stronger. I think the 2005 season made me better — like other things, my granddaddy died and my daddy died, dealing with watching my family go through some issues — those type things make you tougher day to day, but the year I had in ’05 made me more appreciative.

One thing I got was more appreciative of the people I work with. I don’t know why. The guys I had in ’05 were good. It wasn’t like I saw what it was like to be around a bunch of bums. They weren’t bad people, and they knew what they were doing. I missed Tony (Eury) Jr. a lot, and being back with him is good because I missed him and I missed working with him. I missed that trust and the belief, I guess, I had in him. He’s matured, and he’s got all these guys behind him and believing in him. He’s got all these people working on his team and believing in me. That sort of inspired me.

Steve Hmiel taught me a lot. Everybody’s got their faults. Everybody’s got their issues. Maybe he could hold his temper better, but Steve taught me a lot about, really, where racing is in your life, where it ranks in importance. In the past, I bounced around between family and friends, back and forth, and I settled a lot of questions I had in life. Every time we had a problem — every single disaster — he (Hmiel) had a way to settle it down and calm it down. He helped me get the deal and come out the other end where you could actually go home and live with yourself and still be able to look at yourself in the mirror.

I learned a lot. To be in a position I’m in now … to have given it all away and gotten it back … that’s a blessing.

AS: What role does Steve Hmiel take now? I’m assuming you don’t have as close contact with him now, but is he still one of people you rely on?
DE: Absolutely. One of the reasons why I like working with Steve is I have a lot more respect for him. I have way more respect for Steve than I had for Pete (Rondeau) because I’ve known Steve for a long time. I trust Steve. They might know the same stuff. One might not be any better than the other, but it was, I guess, just a matter of respect and authority. There were certain lines I’d never cross over with Steve, whereas I might with Pete or even now with Tony Jr. You can’t overstate how much Steve helped prepare me for getting back together with Tony Jr. The thing about Tony Jr. is, when you cross those lines with him, he’ll throw it right back at you and keep you in check. Either way works out. You have enough respect that you won’t cross that line with them, Steve and Tony Jr., and if you do, it’s a different situation (than with Rondeau) because you know each other so well, and they’re strong enough to throw it back at you.

At this point in his career, I think Steve (Hmiel’s) a little over-qualified for being a crew chief, because of what he’s been through and achieved in his career and what he’s accomplished. He needs to be the Director of Motorsports, to have a position supervising the whole operation. He serves our team better handling the wind-tunnel stuff and the body-shop stuff instead of this. Those are the things he should be doing, and he needs to be doing. When Steve was my crew chief, it wasn’t a long-term solution, but it was a solution that worked very well at the time, one that got us and me back on track. After Steve came in and straightened things out, we went into the 2006 season and knew we didn’t have any excuses anymore. The cars were better, and every time we changed something, the car improved. The finishes got better. It was obvious that Steve improved things because he knew what he was doing, and that’s not something that got as much attention as it probably should have, but within the team, we all knew what a great effect Steve Hmiel had on the team and how much he set a standard and laid a groundwork for better things.

AS: Have you learned to cope with adversity better?
DE: Oh, yeah, that’s another lesson I learned when we had a bad year, didn’t make the Chase, in ’05. We could go back to the shop, and work and work and work, and come back two days later and not run any faster than we’d been running. You just have to go through experiences week after week after week to find speed, and that’s not found in how late you stay at work.

AS: Who taught you to be your own man? Was it your father?
DE: I didn’t really learn all that from my daddy. I learned as much from Gary Hargett (who ran his short-track teams before he moved up to the Busch Series and then Cup) and the people I spent most of my time with.

A lot of people don’t know him (Hargett) and probably never will, but I admired him because of what a ‘smartass’ he was. Gary always had a comment and a quote for every moment, and my mom was probably the same way. I was racing late models with Gary for three years, and every weekend we were together. That sort of molded my personality coming into the Busch Series.

I didn’t really get that from Dad, or Tony (Eury) Sr. (his uncle and crew chief in the Busch Series and Cup through 2004), maybe Tony Jr. a little bit, because he’s pretty much his own man. Those are the two men (Hargett and Eury Jr.) I admired the most at that time and still do today.

Darrell Waltrip was pretty good. Rusty (Wallace) was pretty good at that, and those were the guys I watched my dad race. I didn’t pay much attention to Dad’s interviews and how Dad was, personality-wise, in front of the cameras. Dad’s whole deal was a persona. … It was real, but he was like John Wayne. Like I said, it was a persona. He sold the merchandise, and all that stuff sold his personality.

AS: It did seem to get under your skin when people wrote that you were ‘overrated.’ First of all, given your popularity, it’s kind of unavoidable for some to make that observation, but, secondly, doesn’t that kind of come with the territory?
DE: I’ve got a big old core group of fans, and they totally overshadow all of the negative things that you hear yourself or you hear that somebody said about you. When I have a bad weekend, I get letters about how to keep my head up and keep digging, and how everybody is behind me. … Even the people that aren’t my fans, they aren’t going to write me about how happy they are that I didn’t run good.

I know what I’m capable of, and I know I haven’t reached those capabilities yet, so that’s disappointing. These are good years for me and my career at this age, and to not be able to reach that potential and not be able to accomplish the goals is difficult and disappointing. You just try to remedy whatever you feel like the faults are and try to maintain a positive attitude. That’s probably the most important thing, to stay positive around your team. Negative attitudes sort of spread like a virus through the team and can really self-destruct the whole program.

AS: You and your cousin, Tony Eury Jr., are close personally as well as professionally. What changed in the year apart? Did the two of you need that separation, and was it a good thing in the long run?
DE: Well, I think, yes. On my side of it, I think I appreciate what Tony Jr. does more than I once did. I think, too, that he believes or takes to heart everything I’m saying and tries to use that as information more so than in the past. You know, we’re both just showing each other a lot more respect. When I’m talking about the car and when he’s putting the (chassis) setup under there or wanting to make a change, I’m going with it 100 percent. There’s no doubt in my mind that it’s going to work. We’re going to try to maintain that respect because that’s sort of the key to keeping each other happy.

One of us has got to get out and sort of pat the other on the back and put his nose back to the grindstone a little bit and try to get it back where it was. … Now I go to every race track with a lot of confidence. … That was pretty much what I needed to do as my end of the bargain. Now my determination shows outwardly, and I don’t keep it all in anymore.

AS: You competed for a championship last year. Is this going to be the year you win it?
DE: First of all, I think that’s always the goal. You’ve got to set the bar high, and the championship was the goal last year and the year before that. I think the year we had in 2006 might make it more realistic, and we might come into this year with more momentum and optimism, stuff like that.

I don’t really know exactly what the expectations are, but I know that they’re high. I know people want us to win or expect us to win, expect me to be a contender, you know, week-in, week-out, and, you know, there are a lot of variables. There were a lot of variables in my dad’s day. He had sort of up-and-down years earlier in his career trying to get with the right program and the right people.

Even he wasn’t the sole reason why those guys won all those championships. It came down to every one of them having some sort of a talent and some way to fit the pieces to the puzzle together. … There are a lot of things that play into winning races and being successful year-in and year-out. … I feel like I can win a championship. I’m a good enough racecar driver, so, basically, that’s what we just focus on — go out and win races and win that championship.

I have good confidence in myself, but I don’t know if I have realized my potential, personally. I don’t know if I’ve realized exactly how capable of driving a racecar I am. With that said, I feel like I got most of the field covered, but I still think there’s a lot more to it and a lot more to learn.

AS: Success is enjoyable, but it really doesn’t make you better. It doesn’t mold your character like facing adversity. What did you learn from a difficult 2005 season that helped you regain your form in 2006?
DE: It was a difficult year, and, you know, there were times when maybe it wasn’t that tough, and there were times, or things that happened, that might’ve been tougher than it seemed from outside. You know, the atmosphere in the garage can be very different from one week to the next. For the first part of that season, when we first started out and were trying to get our act together, it was a little easier to handle. It was easy to handle when we struggled a little bit. Getting the cars to turn, getting the cars to work, it was just a situation where you were so busy that, I don’t know, things didn’t pile up on you and it wasn’t something you dwelled on.

Then, though, it was hard to make the change as far as the crew chief was concerned. I really like Pete (Rondeau), and he and I haven’t talked since. It cost me a friendship. I don’t know, man. I hope I’ll talk to him again one of these days. I hope we can patch it up sometime down the road. Maybe he’ll get in a good situation where I’ll feel it was all for the better. It was tough and, then, even with Steve (Hmiel), we ran badly a few times and people were asking questions, but it was easy to defend and it didn’t really bother me. I was learning a lot. The experience was different. Running in the back and not having everything go your way was an experience that I got something good out of. Then we started having some good runs, and all those little problems that you see very easily on the surface, there’s a lot more under the surface. It’s kind of the iceberg theory. You couldn’t see all the little problems anymore, and the big problems became little problems, and everything was cool.

Then, when 2006 started, the biggest problem became the pressure, I suppose, as we saw our chance to make the Chase become a little more realistic. The pressure of that happening and trying to accomplish it started weighing on everybody. As the season went along, it raised expectations. You run every lap really, really hard. You’re exhausted when it’s over with. There’s all the testing, and it all gets magnified because you’re running better, and you’ve gotten back to where you’re one of the better teams, and now you want to take that extra step and really work hard to become, you know, the best. That comes with the territory. There was definitely this pressure — and it comes from both inside, from me and my crew, and outside, with expectations — that we hadn’t had the year before.

AS: No matter how hard you work, though, it still becomes a matter of doing the best you can, doesn’t it? One great week doesn’t necessarily mean anything the next. One week the car may be near-perfect, and the next, the team can’t get it to run. There’s no chance to relax, is there?
DE: You get your hopes up. You find yourself in the Chase for the Championship, and you know it’s a legitimate thing. The championship is out there, man, and it’s so close you can taste it. In 2005, there were a lot of times where, it would’ve been foolish to get your hopes up, but last year we had a legitimate shot. We had a reason to get our hopes up. You finish in the top five several times, and then you get a win (Richmond, Va., on May 6, 2006), and you finish top five at Darlington, and you start feeling like you’re really on a roll because, even when you finish back eighth or ninth, you see that it’s somewhat of an improvement.

But there are always frustrations. Everything’s going great, and then you get to the next track, where you’re 33rd in practice, and you go, ‘Thirty-third? What the hell’s wrong? At least we could be 15th or 20th, have some kind of hope.’ That’s when your maturity’s got to kick in, weeks like that. You’ve got to settle down, work with your crew and make the best of it. That’s as much a challenge, if not more so, than winning a race with a car that’s real strong.

AS: In general, you’re well-liked in the media, but you face greater demands on your time than most drivers simply because of your popularity and because there’s such a demand for interviews. Everywhere you go, there are photographers snapping your picture and a crush of people crowding in, even when you have other things on your mind and other duties you have to concentrate on. How do you cope with all that?
DE: I’ve got a lot better handle on that than I used to. I’m not going to go knock a camera out of somebody’s hands like some guys do. At the same time, I think about that a lot. I’ll be sitting in the car, feeling really frustrated, just grinding my teeth and agonizing over what we need to do, what we have to do. And there’s a guy sitting there, filming me. And I think to myself, man, why’s the guy filming me? I’m not going to run over there and knock the camera out of his hand, but I’m thinking, he’s sure as hell making a big deal out of everything. Remember that baseball player (Kenny Rogers), year before last, I think, who knocked down the cameraman? Coverage was, like, minute-by-minute. He went to court today, etc., etc., is he going to play, will he apologize, etc., etc.

The guy lost his temper. Everybody loses their temper. They need to drop it, but in a sense, he’s got to eventually understand that, until he chills out and quits giving them something to report, it won’t go away. If he keeps giving them what they want — there’s a guy in front of the courthouse filming him, and obviously he’s not filming him for any reason, he’s hoping he blows up again — there’s no reason why you’re filming that guy, because he’s not doing anything to film. Obviously you’re trying to get something out of the guy, and sure enough, he starts running his mouth. So the guys who are filming him, they end up getting what they wanted.

I was thinking about that. If you’re going to sit there and enjoy the popularity, you’ve got to enjoy the other side of it too when you’re not running good. It comes with the territory.

AS: Your friend Tony Stewart climbs the fence when he wins a race. Carl Edwards does back flips. Have you ever thought about coming up with some unique form of celebration that would set you apart?
DE: Nah, man, that’s not me. To each his own, but I want it to be spontaneous. I don’t want to be trapped into some kind of performance that would be expected. I mean, when Tony climbs the fence and mounts the flag stand, I think it’s cool. Only thing about it, he knows if he wins a race, he’s going to have to climb a fence. It’s like that back flip. I’d be worried that one day it’s not going to work, know what I mean?

<p> In 2007 Athlon Sports sat down to talk with NASCAR's most popular driver</p>
Post date: Tuesday, November 29, 2011 - 12:24
All taxonomy terms: 2007, nascar archive, NASCAR
Path: /nascar/season-change

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 2007 Athlon Sports Racing annual

Throughout the course of history, people point to individual years, moments in time for professional sports that turn into living, breathing examples of the term “make-or-break.” As time sets in, the importance of these moments reaches a daunting crescendo, forever changing a sport’s course of direction for the better — or for the worse. In baseball, no one will forget the strike that devastated the game in 1994; in football, no one will ever forget the dawning of the Super Bowl era in 1967. These are moments through which heroes are born and villains appear, from which a sport either rises or self-destructs under the weight of its own decisions.

Welcome to the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing, 2007.

On the eve of beginning a second brand-new, blockbuster television contract, America’s No. 1 sport on wheels finds itself at a crossroads perhaps bigger than the day after the Daytona 500 nearly six years ago, when a legend found his grave and NASCAR was born to a nation screaming for a sport filled with fan-friendly athletes their children could admire and competition enhanced with respect, not performance-enhancing substances. Dale Earnhardt’s death back in 2001 produced a NASCAR honeymoon the likes of which had never been seen before in its history; ratings doubled, drivers became national celebrities, and everyone remotely involved with the sport began raking in cash as if there were a national mint printing out money hidden behind turn four at every track.

That honeymoon period, for all intents and purposes, is now wearing off. Television ratings dipped in 2006 for the first time in a half-dozen years; cries of unfair enforcement of rules violations, illegally enhanced competition, and unfair preferential treatment towards certain teams dotted the landscape of criticism coming from all angles, questioning that only seemed to increase each week during a tumultuous season. From the Daytona 500, whose winner, Jimmie Johnson, saw his crew chief suspended for four weeks after rules violations, to the Chase for the Championship, in which the driver winning the most races wasn’t even competing for the title, it appeared NASCAR spent most of the year trying to explain what was going wrong rather than priding itself on what it did right. A sport that never before had to hold itself accountable on a national stage before this decade now seems to be struggling with the rising expectations that come with that type of popularity, all the while trying to keep old-time fans bent on tradition from leaving a sport that’s grown far beyond their level of satisfaction.

Now, in the aftermath of 2006 comes an even bigger challenge: 2007. As the NASCAR powers that be prepare for the future, they find themselves handling a tidal wave of change quickly approaching tsunami status. In examining the oncoming flood, they discover that each wave of change comes with its own level of importance, but all seem armed with a list of consequences that threaten to turn the sport sideways quicker than a last-lap Bristol bump-and-run. The debuts of Toyota and the Car of Tomorrow (COT), juggling a litany of new teams and potential qualifying nightmares, and reenergizing television coverage through a new broadcast partner present a mere fragment of potential roadblocks that, if not deftly avoided, could prove capable of stopping NASCAR’s growth in its tracks, sending it on a permanent detour not easily sidestepped.

“The voices of discontent are always louder than the voices of reason,” says Jeff Burton recently when asked about the constant criticism concerning the sport’s future. “Whatever the discontent is, whatever happens to be the subject, that’s going to be allowed a voice. The whole issue is never heard as much as the two or three people that say ‘The World is Falling, The Sky Is Falling, the World is Coming to an End.’”

That may be true, but there’s no denying that those voices continue to grow louder as the new season looms.

In perhaps the biggest change affecting the sport, a project several years in the making will finally come to fruition in March, with new cars making their debut at the Nextel Cup level that look nothing like their counterparts raced at Homestead this past November. In perhaps the biggest design change since NASCAR went from bigger, bulkier cars in the early 1980s to the sleeker models you see today, the Car of Tomorrow will make its debut in Bristol surrounded by a firestorm of controversy.

Led by Cup driver-owner-turned-engineer Brett Bodine, the car promises to cure several ills that have infected NASCAR over this decade: the dreaded aero push, safety concerns and poor side-by-side racing. The list of improvements is billed as massive: to help safety, there’s a larger, more centralized driver compartment for easy entry and exit. For the aero push, there’s a brand new front splitter, complete with an air dam rule that allows teams only a specific number of inches to move the car up or down. Of course, the biggest change perhaps, concerns the car’s rear end; in place of the traditional spoiler is a rear wing, with the sides attached to the back of the car and its top lifted several inches into the air.

The complete list of changes is too numerous to mention — and growing by the day. NASCAR has fallen far behind on finalizing both the dimensions of the COT and the inspection process; so much so, in fact, that even the biggest teams on the circuit have yet to get their cars approved. Kevin Harvick admitted that RCR planned to test every week from December straight through March just to feel content that the team is prepared enough for the initial inspection process. But several other teams are struggling simply to be ready to go out and test.

“We still only have just one car built right now,” quipped Tony Stewart when asked about Joe Gibbs Racing’s COT preparation in December. “So I don’t know what the plan is going to be. Maybe (teammate) Denny (Hamlin)’s going to drive, I’m going to ride shotgun, and J.J. (Yeley)’ll ride in the back seat, and we’ll switch every third of the race.”

Beyond the simplicity of having cars ready for the March debut, criticisms of the COT run deep. Perhaps the biggest is this: a driver’s ability to make a difference is becoming less and less important with a vehicle designed more to be like a common template IROC car than for teams to add their own personal touch.

“It used to be that the drivers were the engineers,” Mark Martin reminisced when asked about the COT. “They led the team and led the car to be good enough to win. Experience was at a premium. Now, the engineers make the cars. It’s gotten so technical that we (drivers) can’t help as much as we used to.”

The continued devaluation of veteran knowledge means that, more than ever, the COT will likely throw things into the hands of younger drivers capable of adapting quickly to new concepts and car setups. Still, Jeff Burton claims that in the end, the ability to make the new design work will wind up in the driver’s hands.

“There’s certainly going to be a change in how you have to approach the Car of Tomorrow races, there’s no question about that,” he theorized. “At the same token, the cars that will go around the corners fast are the cars that are going to run well. You can’t tell me that Jimmie Johnson or Jeff Gordon or that any of the Top 30 drivers can’t adapt to whatever the car is. That’s our job.”

One additional concern about the COT is simply its appearance. With the rear wing contributing to a futuristic, “space-age” type of design, it’ll be more difficult than ever to compare the Fords, Chevys, Toyotas and Dodges that run on the race track with the ones you drive on the street. Fans haven’t necessarily reacted with glee to the pictures they’ve seen on the Internet and fleeting glimpses of future models on the racetrack; drivers are also keenly aware of that fact.

“I’m somewhat disappointed with the way it looks,” says Tony Stewart when pressed on the issue. “I think it’s something that the SCCA (would use). It just looks like a road course car. At the road course races, it’s going to look really cool … but I think to go from what we’ve been driving to what we’re going to be driving is a pretty big change.”

“I believe it’s a possibility,” says Dale Earnhardt Jr. about the chance that the car design might alienate fans. “Everybody asks that question … it’s common conversation about the car. So it’s got to be a concern, you know?”

Of course, these concerns must be weighed with the simple fact that change is coming, like it or not; and, with any type of design implementation like this, there’s bound to be some growing pains.

“I think in the first half of the year it’s going to really separate the fields,” predicted Harvick. “Because there’s going to be some people that really miss the boat. Some of the teams are going to hit it, and somebody’s going to hit it at particular race tracks.”

“We’ll be ready (for January testing),” Burton said when pressed about the process. “The program is behind — for everybody. NASCAR’s behind. Everybody involved in it’s behind. It honestly needs another six months … but it’s here, and it will work out.

“It’s a huge challenge, it’s a huge undertaking for the teams. There’s a large learning curve we’ll all go through. But I’ve also said that if you gave all these teams Pintos, it’d be one hell of a race. And that’s what we’re going to see.”

Ending a six-year, $400 million dollar television blockbuster contract after the 2006 season, NASCAR has merely continued to up the ante, signing an eight-year, reportedly $550 million dollar deal to partner with FOX, TNT, and ABC/ESPN beginning in 2007. The landmark signing marks ESPN’s return to NASCAR after a six-year absence; the network was deemed largely responsible for fueling the sport’s growth through its coverage in the 1980s and ’90s.

With FOX and TNT planning only minor changes to their approach next year, the focus of the new contract turns to ABC/ESPN, which now inherits the broadcast rights to the majority of Nextel Cup events, beginning with the Brickyard 400 in July, as well as the entire Busch Series season of 35 races. Longtime viewers expecting a return of ESPN’s old broadcast crew, though, are going to be in for an unpleasant surprise. Only Jerry Punch returns from the seven-member announcing team that broadcast their final race together in November of 2000; he’ll be joined in the booth by driver-turned-broadcaster Rusty Wallace and crew chief-turned-television rookie Andy Petree. On pit road, several of the faces are plucked from the former NBC broadcast crew, as Allen Bestwick and Dave Burns join newcomers Jamie Little and Mike Massaro from reporting the stories on pit road.

How these seven on-air personalities develop chemistry over the second half of 2007 will be something to watch, as well as the leeway NASCAR gives ESPN to develop ideas it feels will enhance the sport. Already, a major concept has been shot down. The popular “side-by-side” philosophy incorporated during IRL races, in which commercials were shown alongside race coverage, was proposed and encouraged by ESPN brass but turned down by NASCAR execs worried about the possible loss of revenue such a setup would create. That’s likely not the last idea ESPN will throw Daytona Beach’s way — and it’s not the last one they won’t accept, either.

Hugging the back bumper of the COT in the firestorm of changes affecting the sport, the debut of the Toyota Camry this February will mark the first major “foreign” competition within NASCAR during the modern era. “Foreign” is in quotes, of course, as many Toyotas are actually put together on the North American side of the ocean. Nevertheless, the branding of an American sport with a Japanese name has several traditionalist fans none too pleased. Aware of the potential pitfalls, the Toyota PR department has been working overtime since the announcement was made to calm fans’ fears about a hostile takeover with money and resources at their disposal that far outweigh traditional NASCAR powers Chevy, Ford and Dodge.

“Everything we have done, we have checked in advance with NASCAR,” says Toyota’s Jim Aust in an interview this spring. “We don’t want to be running in a direction that is opposed to what their ideas are, and how they want to run the series. We don’t want to come in and disrupt the organization in any way. There’s no value in that for us, since we’re looking to be in NASCAR for a long time.”

Still, it didn’t take long for the company to make a splash with cash, luring away Dale Jarrett from Robert Yates with a deal worth upwards of $20 million over two years. With all that money getting thrown around, the manufacturer likely won’t be happy with a poor early-season performance, but with the way the current qualifying system is set up, they’re likely to get one. Only two of the seven Toyota teams are guaranteed starting spots over the season’s first five races. Bill Davis’ No. 22 driven by Dave Blaney is the lone team to finish in the Top 35 in car owner points in 2006, locking down a qualifying spot; as for Jarrett, the 50-year-old finds himself the automatic beneficiary of the champion’s provisional driving Michael Waltrip’s Toyota, as he’s the most recent titlist not locked into the field for every race.

The other five wheelmen in the Toyota brigade will have to qualify on their own, facing a Daytona 500 entry list that’ll likely be upwards of two dozen cars competing for just seven “open spots” in the field. That’s opening a whole different can of worms, as longtime single-car team owners such as Morgan-McClure Motorsports and PPI will struggle to compete against the onslaught of newly sponsored Toyota outfits attempting to qualify each week. With over 50 full-time teams looking to attempt the full schedule, something or someone is going to fall, and fall hard; everyone from tiny Front Row Motorsports to Petty Enterprises is vulnerable to the inevitable collapse this environment will produce.

“It’s going to be a major problem for the sponsors,” says Jeff Burton about the possibility of a dozen DNQs each week. “The top 35 thing is great … we have to find a way to take it to the next step. But I disagree with just saying OK you’re a team owner, you’re in every race, you’re guaranteed that every time, no matter what. I think if you don’t do a certain amount of things (to remain competitive within the top 35), you completely lose the opportunity to compete.”

No matter what solution is reached, only one thing is certain: upwards of a half-dozen teams and drivers may lose their financial ability to compete full-time by the time the 2007 season is complete.

Needless to say, these are only three of a myriad of big issues heading into next year. There have been reports the Chase for the Championship will be tinkered with, but any adjustments will supposedly be minor; a rumor involving adding 10 points for the race winner could be in place by the end of January. While the Chase still doesn’t make everyone warm and fuzzy inside, with some claiming it doesn’t promote enough aggressiveness, most drivers are on board with promoting only minor changes to a system that’s produced championship battles that went down to the final race in each of its first three years.

“I could care less, really, what they do and what they change,” says Dale Earnhardt Jr. “I think what we had is awesome … if they want to try to improve it, I’m fine with that.”

“Remember, this isn’t a win or lose game like football or basketball,” says Burton. “It’s a major difference. When you finish second in a football game, you lost; when you finish second in a NASCAR race, you didn’t lose. The guy that ran 43rd lost, so the points system has to show that as well.”

Showcasing the degree of respect NASCAR has gained across the globe, an influx of open wheel drivers continues to pour into the sport, headlined next season by Formula 1 defector and former CART champion Juan Pablo Montoya, on hand to run for Rookie of the Year with car owner Chip Ganassi. Capable of luring in the Hispanic audience NASCAR has long coveted, the Colombian will be thrown under the microscope, making an already-difficult transition that much more daunting.

“I mean, he’s fast, he can go fast, he’s proved that to me already,” Jeff Gordon says about Montoya. “I don’t think that’s going to be an issue for him. I think it’s racing in these tight quarters, learning how to use your mirror a lot more than ever before, and listening to your spotter, getting used to hearing somebody talk to you that much and having to pay attention to what they’re saying (that’s important).”

So far, Montoya needs to take heed of that advice; in his Cup debut at Homestead, he tangled with teammate Casey Mears, then got involved in a tit-for-tat incident with Ryan Newman that ended with his car up in flames after being punted into the turn one wall. A similar kind of incident at Daytona or Talladega would take out half the field, turning NASCAR ballets into demolition derbies of the highest caliber.

Among Montoya’s open wheel cohorts entering the series in 2007 is champ car vet A.J. Allmendinger, with a part-time Busch Series effort being started by reigning IRL champ Sam Hornish, Jr. Jacques Villeneuve and Patrick Carpentier are among those rumored to be considering a full-time switch over the next year or two. All of them lack stock car experience, making an easy transition out of the question; Allmendinger has already DNQ’d for a Nextel Cup event, and Hornish hit the wall in both of his two career Busch starts.

Of course, all those drivers will be battling to tread water in the choppy waters of the NASCAR world that have been increasingly difficult to navigate. With the winds of change reaching a screeching howl, there’s so much going on, it’s enough to make any driver’s head spin.

“You think about what’s going on next year,” says Burton. “We have the cars we’re running today that we’ve got to make better. We’ve got the Car of Tomorrow we’re still developing. Chevy’s coming out with a new package. I mean, there’s a lot.”

As for the sport itself, preparation has turned to wary anticipation, criticism reaching its peak on the eve of a revolutionary storm that will forever alter the landscape of everything it touches. The eye of that hurricane looms just offshore; the sky, once blue, has turned ominous, as the wind picks up like voices screaming into their heads. Undaunted, NASCAR aficionados stay the course, preparing for the worst while hoping forecasts are wrong and that the whole thing will just blow over. Appearing ready and willing to handle what comes their way, they claim they’re fully prepared to ride out the storm ahead.

In this year of change, they’ll need every bit of preparation they can get.

<p> The 2007 season represents an important turning point for NASCAR</p>
Post date: Tuesday, November 29, 2011 - 11:56
All taxonomy terms: fantasy sports, taxes, News
Path: /news/should-you-pay-taxes-your-fantasy-football-winnings

fantasy football
Free Tax Filing, Efile Taxes, Income Tax Returns -

Every year more and more people play fantasy sports. Which means more and more people are winning millions of dollars in prizes. And very, very few ever claim these winnings on their tax returns or pay anything on the cash prizes they receive. Here's a look at how fantays players should file their winnigns during tax time and everything they need to know before April 15th.

<p> Very few people claim their fantasy sports winnings on their taxes. Should they?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, November 29, 2011 - 10:57
All taxonomy terms: 2006, Kevin Harvick, nascar archive, NASCAR
Path: /nascar/scoop-kevin-harvick

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 2006 Athlon Sports Racing annual

Kevin Harvick broke Richard Childress Racing’s victory drought with a win in the spring race at Bristol Motor Speedway in 2005, but for the second straight year the team found itself shut out of the Chase for the Nextel Cup.

Harvick, driving the No. 29 Chevrolet sponsored by GM Goodwrench, was seventh in the standings in mid-June, but he finished better than 10th only twice the rest of the season and wound up a disappointing 14th in the final standings, a repeat of 2004.

The brash Harvick came to Cup racing abruptly, stepping in for the second race of the 2001 season after Dale Earnhardt’s death in a crash in the Daytona 500. He has now completed five years in the Cup Series and has five career victories on his résumé. In addition, he won four Busch Series races in Childress-owned cars in 2005 — bringing his career total to 17 Busch wins — and he also saw Tony Stewart win in the Busch series and Ron Hornaday win in the Truck series in entries owned by Kevin Harvick, Inc.

Harvick, who celebrated his 30th birthday in December, was fifth in the final Cup standings in 2003. Obviously, he’d like to be back up there again in ’06 to earn a spot in the Chase and, he hopes, contend for a title. Can that happen? Well, we went right to the source — a one-on-one interview between Harvick and veteran motorsports writer David Poole. Here are highlights of that conversation:

You’ve been doing this for five years now. How have you seen things change? What things in the sport are heading in the right direction, and where do there need to be some course corrections?

I think the one area that’s probably the hardest for everybody to anticipate and the thing that scares everybody the most is the cost. It goes up quite a bit every year, so I mean it’s just a matter of where does that end and when do things become predictable on what you’re going to have to spend. The good thing about everything that’s going on is that the fan base continues to grow. People enjoy watching what we’re doing. That’s the most exciting part.

There have been times when you’ve been frustrated by how things have gone with your current team, and at times you’ve been vocal about the need for things to change. Are you optimistic for the long term about where Richard Childress Racing is going?

I think you have to be. Richard has made a lot of changes to make things go in the right direction. We shot ourselves in the foot multiple times last year, and that’s the hardest thing to swallow. We had really competitive cars, but we made a lot of mistakes. Competitively, I am not too disappointed. It’s just about minimizing those mistakes for us at the 29 team.

Now that you’re a car owner, you have to keep your eye out for talent in the sport. Who are a couple of guys who the fans might not yet fully grasp how good they are? Who’s underrated?

I think Tony Raines is going to get his shot with the Hall of Fame Racing team, a chance to prove himself. I think if you go look at somebody like a David Green, who never really got the right opportunity in Cup — there are a handful of guys in the Busch and Truck series that never got that good shot at what they wanted to do. Guys like Mike Garvey or Butch Miller, who never really got the ultimate opportunity that a lot of the guys in the garage did get.

Sometimes frustration over not performing as well as you might expect to can come out in a way that seems like a driver doesn’t appreciate what he’s got when it’s likely that the opposite is true. A driver knows he’s only going to have so many opportunities to succeed, and it’s awfully annoying not to seize them.

Being a competitor, liking what you do and wanting to win, you’re trying to do all of the things we’re here to do and that’s to win races and championships and finish as well as we can every week. When you don’t do those things, whether you’ve screwed up in the driver’s seat or wherever, it is frustrating not to capitalize on those moments and get everything out of them. Sometimes you show those frustrations in different ways from other people. Some people here don’t really care about whether they win or lose. The day I fall into that category is the day I will just quit.

Has being a car owner helped give you a bigger picture of the sport?

Oh yes. It has helped me to understand a lot of things. But there are some things that it has driven the nail home harder and made it worse. All in all, though, it has helped me understand — whether it’s maneuvering people or spending the money, whatever, it makes you understand where Richard is coming from on a lot of things.

Someone once asked Darrell Waltrip what’s the first thing he’d ask for if somebody made him “King of NASCAR” for a day. Waltrip said, “More time.” If somebody gave you the reins for a day, where would you begin?

I think we’d race twice at fewer tracks than we do now. We’d spread it out more across places where the fans like to go. Some of the places that have been here for a long time and have been around the sport deserve two races. But that’s where I’d start. I don’t know that I would be one of those people who wouldn’t add more races. There are more markets we can go to. Everything is there, and maybe trying to mix it up with a Saturday race and then like a Wednesday race to try to do something a little different as far as the scheduling goes. Once we all get going we’re all are on the road all the time anyway. If we raced on Saturday and Wednesday we could pack more races together and maybe have more time off at the end of the year.

NASCAR is trying a lot of things on the competition side, looking at the “car of tomorrow” and things like that. How critical are those projects?

The hardest thing to compare to 10 or 20 years ago is that there are so many good cars and so little tolerance. Look at the fields. All of the cars are separated by less than a second now after qualifying, and it used to be more like three or four seconds. I watched a Bristol race on TV the other day from several years ago and there were five cars on the lead lap. Who knows if we would have had the same problems then that we’re having now with things like the “aero push” because all of those cars weren’t racing together. It’s hard to compare apples to oranges.

There are so many good teams now, everything is so close and you’re in such a small box, it’s hard to pass anybody. Everybody has good people now, because there are just more good people in the sport now. You hear people talking about how great the racing is in the Truck Series or the Busch Series. What makes that racing good is that people in those races make mistakes. You have a set amount of tires to race on and people can’t put tires on every time they come in. The fields get mixed up. And then the crews make mistakes and the drivers make mistakes and that mixes the field up. When you get to Cup races, though, you’ve got the best of the best and everything doesn’t get stirred up. So it doesn’t seem like there’s as much going on because everybody runs well.

When there’s a rain delay at the track, the networks can’t get a camera to your motor home fast enough, and you always have fun with those guys. As his retirement approached last year, Rusty Wallace said one thing he’s noticed in recent years is that some drivers don’t get the fact that entertaining people is part of this job. You seem to understand and enjoy that aspect of it. True?

You have to have a personality. You have to at least express who you are and have fun with it. You have to be somewhat entertaining to watch. We are part of the show. We still have our jobs to do and we’re out here to race. But we have to entertain the fans, too. We do have some guys in this garage who’ve won races, but nobody really cares about them because they’re sticks in the mud.

Is 2006 a particularly important year for you?

Well, I think every year is important. We have a lot of things that are coming to a head, and there are a lot of things we wanted to do in 2005 and in 2004 that we had done in years before. I am going to run more Busch races, and I think that will be good, because I like being in the car and at the track.

It’s all about putting all of the elements together, isn’t it?

You can have fast cars and you can have everything going your way. All it takes is one instant to ruin it. Somebody’s going to have a perfect day. If you’re off a second on pit road, these days that’s a long way on the track. A lot of things can go wrong and you have to have them all right to win. When nobody’s car is dominant, it’s harder and harder to recover from any mistake you make. So you just can’t afford to make any.

<p> Athlon Sports sat down with the brash driver in 2006 to discuss his competitive spirit, car ownership and more</p>
Post date: Tuesday, November 29, 2011 - 10:56
Path: /nascar/2006s-13-tough-questions-and-their-politically-incorrect-answers

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 2006 Athlon Sports Racing annual

1. What was the reasoning behind the crew and car swap at DEI?

Spokesmen for Dale Earnhardt, Inc. would have you believe it was based on performance. By giving Michael Waltrip the 8 team’s crew and fleet of cars, it was a show of support by DEI. They were telling him, “We’re giving you the best we’ve got, now go win.”

Well, in a sense it was.

We were also told of the strained relationship between Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his cousin/car chief, Tony Eury Jr.

At least that one holds some merit.

When decisions are made for reasons other than winning trophies, good things rarely happen. DEI management, led by Teresa Earnhardt, made a decision based on financial concerns. Waltrip’s sponsor, NAPA, felt the DEI effort focused on the Budweiser team and the company’s championship-contending driver.

The now-infamous team swap was made to show NAPA it was the driver, not the equipment, that was causing the disparity between the teams. When Waltrip inherited a fleet of championship-material cars and could not win — even though the chemistry was never there with Eury Jr. — DEI was able to point to this fact.

The move backfired when Junior could not get Waltrip’s old fleet up to speed. Chemistry with his new crew chief, Pete Rondeau, never developed either. In essence, the cure was the poison. The end result was that two teams suffered from one of the worst management decisions in NASCAR’s modern era.

2. What is the future management team of NASCAR?

Many insiders say it’s a done deal. Others say there is nothing to the rumor swirling around current NASCAR CEO Brian France. What’s the rumor? That France is considering a jump into NFL franchise ownership.

Brian France took over day-to-day leadership duties from his semi-retired father, Bill France Jr., in September 2003. In no time, he shook up the status quo. Changes included a new points format, cutting and slicing of the schedule (dubbed Realignment 2004 and Beyond), welcoming in Nextel as only the second title sponsor of the premier series and lifting his father’s ban on hard liquor sponsorship in the sport. He was also the lead negotiator for both TV contracts. In short, he has been the driving force behind NASCAR’s push to rival the other four major sporting leagues.

However, rumors of his departure have surrounded France since the ban on liquor was lifted for the 2005 season. The NFL talk surfaced after Magic Johnson said he had talked to him about owning a professional sports team.

When Brian France opened the door to liquor sponsorships, a split appeared between Brian and his sister, Lesa France Kennedy, and Jim France (brother to Bill Jr.). If Brian were to leave, it is believed that the keys to the shop would go to Lesa, who is currently the President of International Speedway Corporation.

So what does the future hold? We see Brian moving on to the NFL or some other professional sports league, thereby handing the reins to Lesa. She is regarded as the future of the management team and will be welcomed in the garage area.

3. What’s the story behind Bobby Labonte leaving Joe Gibbs Racing?

Nextel Cup, Busch and Craftsman Truck Series racing are divided into two camps: Stock car racers who cut their teeth on pavement, and open wheel dirt track racers. These two types of drivers usually have completely different driving styles, requiring different chassis set-ups. They are used to a car feeling a certain way, regardless of whether it’s a stock or open wheel, and that’s the way they prefer it.

As Tony Stewart emerged as the top performer at Joe Gibbs Racing, the technology, testing and engineering drifted away from Labonte’s traditional stock car setup and morphed into a Stewart-style, open wheel method. A tug-of-war ensued, and Stewart won.

At times, Labonte was not privy to the setups under his own car. He was told to learn how to drive what was given to him instead of setting up the car to fit his driving style. Labonte finally had his fill and asked for a release from the team that took him to the 2000 championship.

This was a development that had been brewing, and when it finally boiled over, Labonte was ready to jump ship, even if that meant going to an organization that has not won a race since 1999.

4. Do car sponsors that spend money on television advertising get more exposure on race broadcasts?

Yes, and it’s just short of extortion. One of the sport’s dirty little secrets is that race and team sponsors have to pay to get coverage from the television networks.

Broadcast directors can, and do, control which cars and drivers get more face time. There has even been an ‘FOF’ list made for the TV crews to follow during races. What is ‘FOF’? That stands for ‘Friends of FOX.’ The FOF list alerts the production crew who has paid for advertising and, more important, who has not.

Take a pen and paper and log the commercials that air during a race. Then, log the driver features, interviews and airtime for each team/driver. You should see a connection.

Compare this to teams and drivers that do not advertise, and the game becomes clear. This is not a coincidence. And it is not a new development. It started at the very first race of the network TV package.

If you recall the 2001 Bud Shootout, FOX ran starting lineup graphics of each driver and car during driver introductions. Many cars appeared without their sponsor logo(s). Only the cars that had paying television advertisers were shown in full regalia. Also of note that day, the announcers never referred to a sponsor who was not running ad space. For example, Rusty Wallace was not referred to as driving the Miller Lite Dodge, rather the blue No. 2.

Of course, turmoil ensued, as sponsors who were not running TV ads cried foul. NASCAR claimed to have no prior knowledge of the tactic, and FOX eventually relented for the running of the 500 the next weekend.

In short, the networks have a racket. They overpaid for the television rights and are attempting to make it up on the backs of the sponsors that keep the sport alive.

5. Does Shane Hmiel deserve a third shot in NASCAR after failing two drug tests?

Ask Brian Rose. The young and talented driver from Bowling Green, Ky., was just starting to make a name for himself in the Craftsman Truck Series when he was suspended indefinitely in April 2003 after failing a drug test. Today he is less visible than Jimmy Hoffa. He threw away his chances and was blackballed from the sport.

Shane Hmiel is another story. He failed his second drug test last year and has been on an indefinite suspension since. His family has been involved in the sport for years; his father, Steve, has served in the DEI and Roush organizations, among others, in various capacities.

While we do not believe Hmiel received special treatment, it is reasonable to assume that his last name got him chance number two.

But the question remains: Should there be a third opportunity for the young man?

We say no. NASCAR has a chance to step up and make the statement that Major League Baseball, the NFL and the NBA have all failed to make: ‘No matter who you are, this type of behavior will not be tolerated. Period.’ Unfortunately, it is time for Hmiel to leave the sport for the safety of the drivers and crew members.

Rusty Wallace said it best in the drivers’ meeting at Homestead: “Driving race cars is a privilege.” If a driver fails to recognize that fact, he should find another field that tolerates his habits.

6. Is driver/crew chief chemistry overrated?

You hear it on broadcasts all the time. Even throughout this magazine. Everyone talks up team chemistry, especially between a driver and his crew chief. Is it all it’s made out be, or is it simply a sexy term that is easy to throw around?

Start by asking Carl Edwards and Bob Osborne. Right out of the box, they hit on a combination. Granted, both are wildly talented, but would either have been as good with other mates? The answer is no.

The dynamic duos of today come in two different categories: learning together and teacher-student.

The aforementioned DEI experiment took chemistry and wrecked it. The driver swap did not work largely because the new teams never found the right chemistry. Neither Michael Waltrip nor Dale Earnhardt Jr. could perform up to the standards of the previous year when each driver was more familiar and comfortable with his crew chief.

A driver must be able to relay information to the crew, and the crew must be able to speak his language to adapt to the changing conditions. Sometimes it is simply the tone of a voice, or a term a driver uses. Ryan Newman has described his car as having too much yaw. While most would scratch their heads at a term like ‘yaw’ when applied to a stock car, Newman’s and crew chief Matt Borland’s engineering backgrounds tell them that the car had too much side-to-side movement. A perfect example of driver/crew chief chemistry.

Once said chemistry is lost, it takes a long time to find it with another. Ray Evernham and Jeff Gordon had won three of four Winston Cup titles when Evernham left Hendrick Motorsports. It took Gordon going through one crew chief before finally settling on Robbie Loomis before he won another in 2001.

Harry Hyde was known as Tim Richmond’s mentor in the 1980s. The movie Days of Thunder was loosely based on the story of how Hyde taught the hardheaded Richmond how to race in the series.

Today’s best example of a teacher-student relationship may be the Jimmy Fennig/Kurt Busch partnership. Though they would seem to be polar opposites, Fennig’s guiding hand led a raw but talented Busch to a 2004 title.

For first-hand proof of whether chemistry is key, observe both Fennig and Busch this season, as each will be paired with new partners.

7. What happened to the DuPont team in 2005?

Jeff Gordon’s streak of 11 consecutive top 10 points finishes ended last year. The 2005 season started out as planned with three wins in the first nine races, including the Daytona 500, but it went south from there.

The problems surfaced with poor performances on the cookie-cutter tracks through the summer. The DuPont team could not find the aero balance needed to compete on the intermediate tracks. To make matters more frustrating, Gordon’s teammate, Jimmie Johnson, was excelling.

The underlying issue was not with Gordon, but with crew chief Robbie Loomis. The grueling work and travel schedule took their toll on Loomis as he dealt with the health care of his mother. With Loomis stretched too thin, the DuPont crew lost its edge.

It soon became apparent that Loomis needed to pull back on the travel and day-to-day duties that consumed the majority of his time. To his credit, Loomis put his family first and stepped down as the crew chief on the 24. Although results were slow in coming with new chief Steve Letarte, they did surface eventually, as evidenced by the team’s stellar run in the season’s last five events.

Loomis joins Petty Enterprises in 2006 in a managerial role that will reduce his travel schedule.

8. Can Jimmie Johnson and the Lowe’s team win a Championship?

Team Lowe’s has climbed the championship mountain three straight years, only to find that someone has beaten it to the summit each time.

Johnson’s performance over that time has been exceptional. He has recorded 15 wins and, most telling of all, has led the point standings after 25 of the last 58 races.

Winning four of the last six races in 2004 showed that this team can never be counted out, even when the odds are all but impossible to overcome. However, confidence has to be shaken after three straight years of coming close. Rumors have flown during the offseason that defections from the team, including crew chief Chad Knaus, were imminent. While these rumors are just that, one wonders whether doubt is creeping into the 48 camp.

All this aside, we believe the Lowe’s team will be back and as strong as ever in 2006. The Hendrick organization is solid and built to last. JJ will get his Cup. It’s only a matter of when.

For inspiration, the team needs only to look to Bobby Allison, who played the role of bridesmaid five times before finally earning his title.

9. Can the Busch Series survive without the Buschwhackers?

Cup drivers who participate in Busch Series events have drawn fire over the past several years. The knock is that the more experienced Cuppers hold an unfair advantage over the Busch drivers who are trying to cut their teeth in the world of big-time auto racing.

As with any issue, this one boils down to money. Track operators are put in a tough position. While Cup participants sell tickets, they are also running the Busch teams out of business.

By winning the majority of the purses, the powerhouse Cup organizations are elbowing out the fledgling Busch teams while also using the Busch races as test sessions for Sunday’s Cup event.

In looking at 2005, when a Busch race was a companion event to a Nextel Cup race, the Cup drivers won 22 of the 27 events. Of the Busch winners, Martin Truex Jr., out of the DEI stable, won five times. Only two full-time Busch drivers with no Cup ties won races: Johnny Sauter won in Milwaukee and David Green won Pikes Peak.

If this trend continues, the Busch Series will fold, which will adversely affect the sport and ruin a great training ground for future drivers.

This is a critical issue that must be addressed soon, as the security of the sport is at stake.

10. What is wrong with Richard Childress Racing?

Richard Childress’ three-car stable has failed to make the Chase for the Championship since its inception. Since losing Dale Earnhardt in 2001, this team has employed eight full-time pilots but has not found the right combination of driver, crew chief and crew.

When Dale Earnhardt drove the 3 car, the RCR bunch only had to build a car that was close to a winner and Earnhardt would do the rest. He could win with a third-place car by using his experience, talent and savvy.

In 2001, Childress put Kevin Harvick in the seat of the Goodwrench Chevy. With the Earnhardt setups, he was a front-runner on most weekends. However, after that first year, the operation fell off and has not been a consistent threat since.

While the revolving door of drivers has not helped, the technology and aerodynamic aspects cannot be overlooked. With Roush Racing and Hendrick Motorsports on the cutting edge of the sport, the RCR operation has simply tried to keep up.

Until the right drivers are paired with the right crew chief, the slide will continue. Harvick’s split with the team is rumored for 2007, when he may be heading to the Toyota camp. A new season brings new hope, as rookie Clint Bowyer may be the young hotshoe Childress is looking for who can lead the team into the future. However, if the company cannot catch up in the aero and technology departments, it may not matter.

11. Are there too many events on the Nextel Cup schedule?

This depends on who is asked. The drivers, vendors, NASCAR officials and crew members will all reply with a stern, “Yes.” Time away from home is cited as the No. 1 drawback to the NASCAR lifestyle.

Assuming that all the drivers and teams are based in the Charlotte area, meaning that the three Lowe’s events don’t count as travel weekends, the circuit is on the road 36 weekends per year (including Preseason Thunder at Daytona in January). From the Feb. 11th Bud Shootout to the Nov. 19th Ford 400 in Homestead, the series is on the road each weekend except for three. That leaves the participants with 16 race-free weekends. However, throw in sponsor appearances/obligations, and that number dips even further.

Last season, Rusty Wallace stated that if the season were only 30 races long, he would continue driving in the Nextel Cup Series. Let’s take a look at that idea. How could we whittle away at the 36 weekends drivers are currently on tour?

Six event weekends must be dropped, so let’s start by taking away one of the two longest and most boring events; therefore, race No. 14 at Pocono loses a date. Next, we eliminate weekends No. 16 and 22, the road courses. Yes, they have their merit, but we have to get rid of weekends somehow. Would you rather we eliminate Bristol?

From here on, we take dates only from tracks that have two races. The folks in Texas whined for two or three years about deserving two dates. Once they were given them, they failed to sell out. So, there goes our fourth date.

We never understood why the Chase started at Loudon, so New Hampshire, you lose weekend No. 27. The last one is tough, but Michigan — you’re next. There goes the sixth date. We’re down to 30 races, with nine off-weekends spread throughout the season.

Of course the other side of the argument is that racing, like most commodities, is a supply and demand issue. The planned expansion to the northwest, New York City and other rumored markets shows no signs of letting up. Whether these planned venues would replace existing dates or open new ones can only be answered by the brass in Daytona Beach. And we have a feeling even they don’t know yet.

We believe racing would improve with fewer races, less testing and less time away from home. The overall quality of the product would increase, while the demand would go up with less supply.

The people who count — the drivers, owners, crew and support staff — would love to cut the number, and their families would vote the same. The 36-race schedule has cost us Ricky Rudd, Rusty Wallace, Bill Elliott and Terry Labonte, and soon, Mark Martin. These guys are still top-of-the-line competitors and are an asset to the sport. Let’s hope something is done about the grueling schedule before we lose drivers like Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon to burnout.

12. How many chances should a driver get at the Cup level?

The 2005 season saw the dismissal of Jason Leffler from the FedEx team at Joe Gibbs Racing. Leffler joins Mike Bliss, Dave Blaney and Mike Wallace as drivers who have had multiple opportunities in the Nextel Cup Series without scoring a win.

Leffler’s run with Joe Gibbs was his third opportunity, as he was dismissed from his Ganassi ride after 30 races in 2001. He got a ride with Gene Haas for 11 events in 2003 and ’04. Which led to last season, when he lasted with the Gibbs operation for only 19 races.

Dave Blaney’s résumé included rides with Bill Davis and the Jasper team before landing with Richard Childress in ’05. After losing that ride, he is returning to Bill Davis for another shot in the No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge.

Mike Wallace lost his ride to Scott Wimmer in the Morgan McClure Chevy this past season; both are recycled drivers.

It has been said, “Why not take a chance on a driver who might get it done instead of a driver you know has never succeeded?” Each time a driver succeeds in his first attempt, the sledding gets tougher for the retreads. The immediate success of Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin is cutting into the odds of re-scoring rides.

Our opinion: Give the up-and-comers a crack at the show. Sure, many will try and fail, but that is the nature of the business. The simple fact is that not everyone is cut out to handle auto racing at this level. As teams look for those diamonds in the rough, our hope is that we will see an increase in drivers like Edwards or Busch. Not only will this spread the opportunities around, but it will also give struggling organizations a better shot at finding the next Big Thing.

13. Would Kurt Busch have been suspended if he were running for a Nextel Cup Championship?

To put it simply, there is not a snowball’s chance in Daytona. The well-publicized and over-reported police incident involving Kurt Busch at Phoenix leads to a tough question for everyone involved.

If the incident had taken place in 2004 while Busch was in the thick of the championship race, as opposed to being a lame duck driver at an organization he was leaving, there is no way Jack Roush would have cut ties.

Roush saw the opportunity to get some payback for the six years of documented arrogance and half-season of contract squabbles. Very little was on the line, so the decision to pull the trigger was an easy one.

Again, this issue comes down to dollars and cents. Roush could plug in a substitute driver and still earn his share of the purses. But to risk a championship? Never. There is just too much money on the line. Had the police incident occurred with Mark Martin, Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth or Carl Edwards, they would have received the proverbial slap on the wrist.

Which brings us to a bonus question:

Can Kurt Busch make amends with the fans?

A dramatic moment in Busch’s career was his win in the 2003 Sharpie 500 at Bristol. His primary sponsor was also sponsoring the event. After winning the race to the delight of the Sharpie VIP’s in attendance, Busch pulled in to Victory Lane to a chorus of boos. Needless to say, the smiles on the faces of the VIP’s turned south.

Of course, this all stemmed from his incident with Jimmy Spencer the prior weekend at Michigan when the two feuded on track and off. Busch walked away with a busted nose, and Spencer walked straight into a one-race suspension. Mr. Excitement is always a fan favorite at Bristol, where his driving style meshes well with a half-mile short track. Subsequently, Spencer’s popularity soared while Busch’s plummeted.

The answer to the question is yes, Kurt Busch can gain back the respect of the fans. We’ve seen Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip and Rusty Wallace all vilified for their colorful behavior. Fans love to hate a driver as much as they love to pull for one. If Busch would go to men like Waltrip or Wallace to receive some mentoring, he could straighten up and fly right.

We hope this happens. Busch is an amazing talent who could be one of the better drivers of his generation. Time heals all wounds. Let’s hope this comes to pass with Busch.

<p> You want sanitized answers to racing's burning questions? Look elsewhere.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, November 29, 2011 - 10:46
All taxonomy terms: 2006, nascar archive, NASCAR
Path: /nascar/tube-talk-round-2

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 2006 Athlon Sports Racing annual

It was called, according to the T-shirts the crew working NASCAR for ESPN2’s RPM 2Night show in 2001 had made up after that season in exile, “The Outside Looking In Tour.”

The back of the shirt listed the glamorous venues from which they were forced to do their jobs that season. Places like “Halifax Marina/Pep Boys Rooftop, Daytona Beach, Fla.,” “Diamond Hill & Co. Plywood, Darlington, S.C.” and various race track helipads including “Snake Pit Helipad” in Phoenix. In that first season of NASCAR’s first consolidated television deal, the pain from the divorce between stock-car racing and the cable sports network that had grown with it was still fresh. The bitterness was still real. NASCAR fans could not believe ESPN had been jilted.

While Winston Cup races had been spread out across the dial before 2001, it was ESPN that had most completely embraced the sport. And now, ESPN was on the outside looking in while Fox and NBC were doing Cup races?

NASCAR officials could not believe ESPN hadn’t come to the bargaining table with a bid for the rights that came close to what the sport was looking for out of the deal. If the whole point of getting tracks to agree to sell the rights in one package was to get a fair market value for the growing sport’s television rights, NASCAR couldn’t very well choose a sense of loyalty over significantly higher bids.

So when the 2001 season began, with Fox airing the ill-fated Daytona 500 in which Dale Earnhardt died, NASCAR opted to shut ESPN out by saying that RPM 2Night, a daily show that covered the sport, was a “magazine” show and not a news show. Under the terms of the new contract, magazine shows could not shoot footage inside the track during race weekends. So drivers who wanted to continue talking to ESPN’s reporters had to be shuttled in and out of the track in golf carts, or stop off at helipads on their way home from races.

That’s why it seemed so significant in February 2005 to see ESPN’s SportsCenter, the nightly gathering place for American sports fans, back with such prominence for Speedweeks. There was a set overlooking the track’s victory circle, just as there had been back in the days before the breakup. With negotiations of a new television contract looming near season’s end, the timing could hardly have been more obvious. And the conclusion everyone jumped to in February became a reality in December when the new eight-year contract worth $4.48 billion was finalized.

Beginning in 2007, ESPN, along with its corporate sister in the Disney empire, ABC, will be back in the stock car racing business. While the enormous price tag on the new deal got most of the immediate headlines, the biggest impact of NASCAR’s second major broadcasting contract may very well wind up being just how that deal positions the sport to continue the growth that ESPN helped spark in the mid-1980s and fueled throughout the 1990s with its expanding coverage of the sport. And make no mistake about it, having NASCAR races on ESPN will absolutely change how the sport is treated all the way across the networks’ vast array of programming, promotional and other commercial platforms.

“It’s an understatement to say that we’re delighted to rekindle our relationship with NASCAR,” says George Bodenheimer, president of ESPN and ABC Sports, which not only get the season’s final 17 Nextel Cup races each year through 2014, but also will become the full-season home for the NASCAR Busch Series. ABC/ESPN will have 52 races and plans more than 400 hours of NASCAR programming annually.

“To all the NASCAR officials, all the owners, all the drivers,” Bodenheimer says, “and most importantly to all the NASCAR fans, the millions of them out there, we say, ‘Welcome home.’”

ABC will broadcast all 10 of each year’s Chase for the Nextel Cup races, making NASCAR the centerpiece of its Sunday sports programming each fall while Fox, CBS and, beginning in 2006, NBC, will be serving up the NFL.

“In our minds, NASCAR’s Chase for the Cup is an absolute crown jewel in the sports world and a major asset for our company overall and ABC Sports in particular,” Bodenheimer says. “As for the Busch Series, we really feel like it’s the jewel in the rough. I really look at this deal as another in a series of agreements with new media rights that fuel all of our platforms. In fact, we have 18 different businesses that will enjoy NASCAR products and help fuel their growth.”

What makes the story about a television deal that doesn’t even begin until 2007 relevant for this year, in fact, is that array of businesses connected to ESPN that will begin ramping up for the sport’s return throughout the course of this season.

ESPN Radio, ESPN the Magazine, the network’s products for mobile phones and other data delivery devices that are just being rolled out, all will be part of where NASCAR goes.

“I can’t tell you how excited we are to get the resources of the Disney Company,” NASCAR chairman Brian France says. “All of the Chase events will be live on ABC. It will be a tremendous franchise for them and for us. We’re excited about that.”

ESPN’s first actual NASCAR race broadcasts since the end of the 2000 season will come in the Busch Series races beginning at Daytona next year. Its first Nextel Cup race in the new deal won’t be until late July in the season’s 20th race — Pocono — if the schedule for 2007 stays the same as it is in 2006.

Nextel Cup’s new television calendar will look like the following a year from now:

Fox will have the Daytona 500 and the next 12 Cup races of each season.

Fox and NBC alternated showing the Daytona 500 in the six-year contract that expires after this season, so NBC will have its final shot at the circuit’s biggest race — at least for now — this year. Fox also has the Bud Shootout at Daytona and will broadcast two Craftsman Truck Series races each year.

Speed Channel, which is part of the Fox corporate family, will continue to air the remainder of the Truck Series schedule as well as extensive ancillary programming — practice, qualifying and pre-race shows — on NASCAR weekends. It picks up the Gatorade Duels at Daytona, the 150-mile races that set the field for the Daytona 500, along with the NASCAR Nextel All-Star Challenge and activities surrounding that event.

TNT, which shares the second half of the season with NBC in the current deal, will strike out on its own to air six Cup races each year, beginning with the season’s 14th race. The centerpiece of its package will be the Pepsi 400 from Daytona on July 4th weekend.

ESPN/ABC takes over after TNT’s six races and completes the Cup season.

ABC will likely do the Allstate 400 from Indianapolis and the 10 Chase races each year, with ESPN carrying the other six in that corporate family’s 17-race Cup inventory.

NASCAR loves how Fox has promoted its racing coverage in recent years, especially when that network has had the Daytona 500. For months prior to the 2005 season, Fox ran promos touting the Super Bowl and the Daytona 500 as signature events on largely equal terms — something NASCAR would only have dared to dream about just a few years ago.

Speed Channel provides Fox with the perfect cable partner to cater to fans who can’t get enough coverage from the track, and the new contract will require that its shows promote live race coverage even when it’s on cable rivals TNT or ESPN or on ABC as well as Fox.

It was important for TNT to be part of NASCAR’s television future for several reasons. One, simply, is longevity. By the end of the new contract, Turner Sports, through TBS or TNT, will have been airing live NASCAR events for more than three decades. But second, and more important, TNT is part of AOL/Time Warner, a media giant with which NASCAR also does extensive business in the Internet arena. Rather than go back and start over with new partners on popular services available to online subscribers, having AOL/Time Warner back in the fold sustains the current relationship.

Financially, the stakes are big. ESPN and ABC will pay about $270 million per year in the new contract. Fox and Speed Channel are paying around $205 million, while TNT is paying $80 million.

That annual figure of $555 million represents about a 40 percent increase in the $400 million average per year in the current deal. Because the current contract increased each year from 2001, however, NASCAR may actually get less television rights money in 2007 than it gets this year as the “old” contract finishes up at around $570 million.

NBC elected not to continue in the negotiations for the new deal after losing money the first go-round.

There’s much debate within the television industry whether sports rights contracts should be expected to be profitable in and of themselves — the argument being that not having attractive sports events hurts a network more on the bottom line than the money that might be lost in acquiring them. The executives involved in the new deal, predictably, sound convinced that they can make it all work out just fine.

“When we started (in 2001), we felt that NASCAR was an important product,” says Ed Goren, Fox Sports president. “But the reality is, it took a couple years for Madison Avenue to buy into that.

“Over the last five years, our regular-season ratings have grown by 20 percent. We just came off our highest-rated season ever, averaging a 6.0 rating. You look at the Daytona 500, we didn’t sell out that first year of the Daytona 500, yet over the last five years the Daytona 500 has averaged a 10.5. In ’05, we had 35 million viewers. It was seen in more homes than any NASCAR race in history.

“I think it’s just taken a while for Madison Avenue to catch up with what we all believed in five years ago. I think we’re starting (the new deal) from a much different base.”

David Levy, Turner Sports president, agrees.

“NASCAR has come a long, long way over the last couple years,” he says. “What we’ve seen is we’ve not seen the typical NASCAR advertiser, meaning the ones that are sponsoring the cars, but we’ve also seen a cross-section of a whole bunch of new advertisers that have come on board in support of this event.

“It has become mainstream, if you will, from an advertiser’s perspective. But the key here is there’s still a tremendous amount of growth. I think there’s still a lot of growth in the ratings side. I still believe that there’s going to be more and more advertisers, as you see the ratings grow, become more attached to this sport.”

And while the coverage on Fox, Speed, TNT and even ABC will all be part of whether the new television deal does well on the bottom line, the fact remains that only one of NASCAR’s partners in that contract is at the center of deciding what “mainstream” means in the world of sports. When ESPN had rights to the National Hockey League, especially the Stanley Cup playoffs, professional hockey was a prominent part of SportsCenter highlights and the network gave the NHL promotion suited for a major event. As the NBA emerged as a more prominent part of ESPN’s programming, it became difficult to go more than 15 minutes in a nightly SportsCenter without hearing the name “LeBron James.”

Who knows? By February 2007 when ESPN comes back to begin doing Busch races, the guys on SportsCenter may even have a few racing catchphrases to drop into the sports fans’ lexicon.

But sorry, guys. Fox will still be around, and we’re pretty sure Darrell Waltrip has “boogity, boogity, boogity” trademarked by now.

<p> After helping to make Nextel Cup racing the force that it is today, ESPN has opened the pocketbook in a big way to get back into the NASCAR business</p>
Post date: Tuesday, November 29, 2011 - 10:40