Articles By Athlon Sports

Path: /news/lee-corso-says-f-bomb-espns-college-gameday-then-issues-apology-video

Lee Corso, the outspoken and fun co-host of ESPN's College GameDay pre-game show accidentally (or maybe not so accidentally) dropped an F-Bomb while he was getting ready to put on the University of Houston mascot hat (one of his GameDay traditions.)

He was originally going to yell the name of the winner through one of those cheerleader cones, but when that wasn't working out as well as Corso had hoped, he clearly said "F--- It!", tossed the cone down and pulled out the Houston Cougar mascot hat. 

When the f-word came out of his mouth, each one of his ESPN co-hosts jaw's dropped. Kirk Herbstreit immediately had a look of disbelief on his face and Chris Fowler put his head on the table, and then pretended to wash the mascot's mouth out with soap and said "shame on you!" to Corso.

Meanwhile, the celebrity guest Carl Lewis (and Houston grad) just had a huge smile on his face and clapped vigorously through the whole incident. Which is really the best reaction to have in a situation like that.

This isn't the first time Corso has cursed on the air, and quite frankly, we hope it's not the last.

Moments after the show, ESPN GameDay's official site showed a 12-second video of Corso apologizing for his on-air gaffe, where he said he got a little "too excited" and used an expletive he shouldn't have.

Are we wrong for kind of liking the fact that Corso gets so riled up during these broadcasts that his emotions get the better of him. We realize that ESPN can't have their announcers dropping F-bombs all the time (that would get expensive with the FCC), but it's nice to see a little unbridled enthusiasm on the screen from time to time. Isn't that what college football is all about, anyway?

<p> The ESPN College GameDay host got so excited he used the f-word on live TV</p>
Post date: Saturday, November 19, 2011 - 13:46
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-great-rivalries-cal-vs-stanford

This article on the California vs. Stanford college football rivalry originally appeared in Athlon's 1993 college football annuals. As the rivalry is renewed this week, we thought it was relevant to take a look back at the history of what is commonly known as the "Big Game."

Great Rivalries — California Golden Bears vs. Stanford Cardinal

By David Bush, San Francisco Chronicle

It is simply known as the Big Game. And many times it really is.

The rivalry between the University of California and Stanford has always been one of college football’s most exciting, even when one or both suffer through a mediocre season. The best example is the unforgettable 1982 contest, won on California’s sensational five-lateral kickoff return. Kevin Moen raced through the Stanford band, which had taken the field in premature celebration, to score as time expired.

Known simply as The Play, it has superseded Roy Riegels’ wrong-way run in the 1929 Rose Bowl game as the most famous play in college football history.

The rivals were finishing so-so seasons when they met at Berkeley’s Memorial Stadium on Nov. 20. Stanford, led by senior All-America quarterback John Elway, came in with a 5-5 record and a Hall of Fame Bowl invitation resting on the outcome. California was 6-4 under first-year coach Joe Kapp, an alumnus and the only man to play in the Rose Bowl, Grey Cup game (for the Canadian Football League title) and the Super Bowl.

The amazing climax overshadows the fact that it had been a gripping game throughout.

The underdog Golden Bears dominated the first half and led 10-0 before Stanford came back to take a 14-10 lead. A field goal and a sensational touchdown catch by receiver Wes Howell put California up 19-14 midway in the fourth quarter. A field goal pulled the Cardinal within two points, and on a fantastic Elway-led drive, Stanford rallied to take the lead. Faced with a fourth-and-17 situation on his own 13-yard line with 53 seconds remaining, Elway completed a 29-yard pass to Emile Harry. Three plays later, after the Cardinal advanced to the 18, Mark Harmon kicked a 35-yard field goal. Stanford led 20-19. Four seconds remained.

From the Stanford sideline, several players raced onto the field to celebrate their apparent victory. The Cardinal was penalized 15 yards and now had to kick off from the 25-yard line. About the same time, Richard Rodgers, California’s special teams captain, huddled with the kickoff lineup and told the men: “If you get the ball and you’re gonna be tackled, pitch it. Don’t fall with the ball.”

“I was thinking, ‘This guy’s crazy,’” recalls Dwight Garner, a freshman running back that year. He soon learned otherwise.

Seniors Moen and Mariet Ford, the other two players who would handle the ball on the kickoff, did not hear Rodgers. Moen was already on the field, and Ford was looking on the sideline for his shoes, which he had taken off because of cramps in his legs.

It was Moen who scooped up Harmon’s squib kick at the Golden Bears’ 43 and advanced 5 yards before being confronted by several Stanford players. “I saw Richard open on the sideline and yelled, ‘Here you go,’” remembers Moen, who tossed the ball overhanded to Rodgers. Rodgers ran a few yards, lateraled to Garner, then got behind him. As Garner was going down, wrapped up by a bevy of tacklers, he pitched back to Rodgers. Many, including the Stanford band, thought that Garner’s knees touched the turf, and the game was over. Some Stanford partisans still believe it.

At this point, California had managed to keep the ball alive but had not made much progress toward the goal line. As the band was streaming onto the field from Stanford’s end zone, Rodgers broke into the open and crossed the 50-yard line before shoveling the ball back to Ford at the Stanford 47.

“Once I got it, I just took off,” says Ford. “I saw the band in front of me, and I’m confused. I’m thinking about not getting put down by band members.”

With his leg cramping and Stanford defenders looming from the left, Ford knew he couldn’t reach the goal line. In desperation at the 25, he tossed the ball blindly over his right shoulder.

Ford: “I knew I was in front of Kevin but I never saw him.”

Moen: “I grabbed the ball but didn’t really see the goal line. All I saw was the band. As far as I was concerned, they were all Stanford players, and I just busted through them.”

Referee Charles Moffett conferred with the other officials for 43 seconds. None, he said, “thought anybody was down at any time. We could have called a penalty on the Stanford band. But we called one on the Stanford bench.”

Finally, Moffett gave the raised-arms touchdown signal. Thousands outside the stadium had left immediately after Harmon’s field goal and were on their way to their cars. They heard a mighty roar from inside. All they had missed was The Play of the Century.

“It was the right combination of guys and being lucky,” Moen says. “If you were going to try and script that kind of play, it never would have worked. To complete one lateral is hard enough. But four different guys and five different laterals along with everything else that was involved, well, that was unique.”

“Just a typical Cal-Stanford game,” Kapp deadpanned after his team’s 25-20 victory.

As incredible as that ending was, it wasn’t the only sensational windup of recent Big Game vintage. Since 1970, five of the 12 games at Berkeley have been decided on the last play and three others in the last two minutes. Another was in doubt until the final gun.

Stanford is a private school located outside the affluent suburban town of Palo Alto on the San Francisco peninsula. California is a public institution carved out of the cosmopolitan city of Berkeley on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay.

What the schools have in common besides geographical proximity are high academic standards, a good-natured dislike for each other in athletics and a particularly intense rivalry in football.

The first of the 95 football games between the northern California schools was played in March 19, 1892 — in San Francisco. According to the off-told story, the game was delayed because the Stanford student manager, a chap named Herbert Hoover, forgot the ball. Actually, according to John T. Sullivan’s 1981 book, The Big Game, Hoover, who in 1929 would become the 31st president of the United States, was only partially to blame. He was just one of several responsible parties who forgot about bringing the ball. The game was finally played, Stanford won 14-10 and the series was launched.

The era between World Wars was the football zenith for both schools. Nicknames fit their success. California had its Wonder Teams (1920-24) and Thunder Team (1937). Stanford had the Vow Boys (1933-35) and the Wow Boys (1940).

Perhaps the greatest Big Game in those years was played in 1924 between Andy Smith’s Wonder Team and Glenn S. “Pop” Warner’s undefeated Stanford squad. Both coaches are in the Hall of Fame. Stanford took a 6-0 lead at halftime, but the Golden Bears came back to go ahead 20-6 in the final quarter. Stanford, however, rallied and scored two touchdowns, the second with less than a minute left, and a dramatic 20-20 tie was in the books. Stanford then went to the Rose Bowl, losing 27-10 to Notre Dame and the Four Horsemen.

The series was discontinued from 1943-45 during World War II because Stanford did not field teams. When the rivalry resumed, it did not take legendary coach Lynn “Pappy” Waldorf long to build another dynasty at California. Between 1947-50 the Bears were 38-4-1, and played in three Rose Bowl games (losing all) and a memorable Big Game.

Down 18-14 with three minutes left in 1947 at Palo Alto, heavily favored California scored on a stunning 80-yard pass from fullback Jackie Jensen (who went on to hit 199 home runs as an outfielder for the New York Yankees, Washington and the Boston Red Sox) to Paul Keckley. In a series of events a screenwriter would reject as improbable, Keckley, who had injured a shoulder two weeks earlier, pleaded with Waldorf to go into the game. At first reluctant, Waldorf relented and sent in Keckley. Two plays later, he gathered in the toss from Jensen on the Cal 35, got the block he needed at the Stanford 40 and sailed across the goal line. Final score: California 21, Stanford 18.

In 1948 at Berkeley, California tackle Jim “Truck” Cullom kicked an extra point and blocked Stanford’s conversion attempt. The Bears won 7-6.

Fortunes at both schools were on the decline in the 1950s. In 1956 Waldorf ended his coaching career with a victory as sophomore quarterback Kapp led California to a 20-18 upset over Stanford and John Brodie, it’s All-America quarterback.

Kapp would lead the Bears into their last Rose Bowl appearance after the 1958 season, but he had to beat Stanford 16-15 in a controversial Big Game to do it. California took full advantage of the new two-point conversion option. The Bears’ two touchdowns followed by two-point conversions beat two touchdowns and a field goal. Arguments still rage over whether Stanford receiver Irv Nikolai really caught the first conversion out of bounds, as an official ruled.

A year later, the schools staged another hair-raiser. Stanford quarterback Dick Norman completed 34 of 39 passes for 401 yards, rallying his team from a 14-0 deficit to a 17-14 lead. California scored a go-ahead touchdown (20-17) with four minutes remaining and then had to hold off Norman’s last furious rally. Unable to find an open receiver on the game’s final play, Norman was tackled on the Cal 5-yard line, trying in vain to get out of bounds. A field-goal tee to be used for the tying attempt was tucked into the belt of his pants.

The following decade produced few notable games in the 101-year-old series, but the fun resumed in earnest in 1969. An underdog California team fell behind 17-0 midway in the first period. “At that point, I was wondering if I could make it to Rickey’s bar (in Palo Alto) have a drink and get back before the final gun,” says Bob Steiner, California’s Sports Information Director at the time.

The Bears rallied behind Dave Penhall, who had begun the season as third-string quarterback, to go in front 28-23 in the last period. But Stanford moved on the ground for the touchdown that won the game, 29-28.

The next year, the Bears, with Penhall again leading the offense, upset Rose Bowl-bound Stanford with Heisman Trophy winner Jim Plunkett 22-14.

California freshman quarterback Vince Ferragamo drilled a 7-yard touchdown pass to Steve Sweeney on the final play of the 1972 game to defeat the Stanford Cardinal (the nickname Indians was dropped that year) 24-21. Ferragamo completed only eight passes, but four were in the drive that covered 62 yards in 73 seconds. Sweeney lined up at tight end just once: on the last play. It was the only pass he caught as a tight end that year.

All-American Steve Bartkowski passed California to a 10-3 lead after three quarters of the 1974 renewal. Stanford, behind reserve quarterback Guy Benjamin, led 19-13 before Bartkowski brought the Bears back. After Steve Rivera’s one-handed catch on fourth and 10 resulted in a 23-yard gain, the Bears had a first down at the Cardinal 13 in the closing moments. With 23 seconds to play, Bartkowski connected with Rivera for a touchdown that, with Jim Breech’s extra point, put California up by one. But it wasn’t over.

Starting from his own 19, Benjamin completed two long aerials. On the second pass, Brad Williams dragged two defenders out of bounds at the California 33 with two seconds left. The image of Mike Langford’s 50-yard field goal sailing between the uprights on the last play is still remembered by legions of California and Stanford followers.

Two years afterwards, Stanford won the first of three straight games, scoring with 1:13 left to win 27-24 after recovering a fumble on the Bears’ 2-yard line. California won both in 1979 and 1980, but both times Stanford had to be stopped inside the 10-yard line in the final minutes.

In 1982 The Play ended a great game but not the great finishes. The Bears rallied from a 24-0 third-quarter deficit to nearly pull off an upset in 1985 at Stanford. A late-game-field-goal attempt fell short, preserving Stanford’s 24-22 triumph.

The Bears sent Kapp out a winner 17-11 in 1986. A tie, 11th in the series, resulted in 1988 when Stanford’s Tuan Van Le blocked a 20-yard field-goal try as time expired.

And the thrills continued into the 1990s. Three seasons ago, Stanford scored nine points in the final 12 seconds to win 27-25 on John Hopkins’ 39-yard field goal at the final gun.

Each year when the Big Game is played in late November, alumni share memories. The Play is, of course, the hands-down favorite of Golden Bear fans. And of the California players who brought it off.

“Once your football career is over, it’s over,” says Mariet Ford. “But not for me.”

<p> The history of the "Big Game" goes well beyond 1982's "The Play"</p>
Post date: Friday, November 18, 2011 - 17:14
Path: /nfl/chicago-bears-new-york-jets-oakland-raider-and-dallas-cowboys-are-overrated

There are contenders and there are pretenders, and sometimes this late in the season it’s impossible to separate the two. One moment a team like the Buffalo Bills can look like the best team in the AFC East. The next their fast start can fall like a house of cards.

Fortunes can change in reverse that quickly, too. Just ask the Green Bay Packers, who at this point last season were in a dogfight for the sixth and final NFC playoff seed which they didn’t lock up until the final week of the season. Then they went on a run for the ages to the Super Bowl championship, and judging by their 9-0 start this year they’ve never looked back.

So we may not know who the frauds and the hidden gems really are until the final chapter of this season has finally been completed. But if you’re looking for teams not to believe in, here are five that seem clearly overrated even though they’re teetering on the brink of contention.

In other words, these are four bandwagons you can avoid riding down the stretch …

Dallas Cowboys (5-4)
They may win the NFC East before this is over, but don’t get excited. If they win it, it’ll only because of a Giants collapse and the complete and utter failure that is the Philadelphia Eagles. This division, which once was an NFL powerhouse, is beginning to look mediocre at best.

This is what you need to know about the Cowboys, though: Tony Romo is good, but prone to bad mistakes and he usually makes them at terrible times. He’s always been on the verge of becoming a top quarterback, but then he finds a way to shoot himself in the foot.

So do you trust him? I don’t. Not this year. Not now. And I’m not impressed by the fact that they’ve won three of their last four games to salvage a 2-3 start either. They beat the Rams, Seahawks and fading Bills – all at home. The one loss was a 34-7 smackdown in Philadelphia against an Eagles team that’s been the biggest disappointment in the league.

Chicago Bears (6-3)
Four straight wins by Da Bears has everyone remembering that they were in the NFC championship game last season and even nearly won it. And that’s true.

The problem is they were a different team last year with a better defense. This year’s Bears defense ranks 25th in the league – 29th against the pass. They’ve won with thanks to turnovers (they are plus-9), great special teams play, and the MVP-like performance of Matt Forte.

Jay Cutler, meanwhile, is running a shockingly low-powered offense. He has 11 touchdown passes through nine games and his leading receiver is Forte, his running back. That’s usually a bad sign. If the defense isn’t strong and the quarterback isn’t strong, how can this team be trusted in a big spot down the stretch?

New York Jets (5-5)
All you needed to see from the Jets was their horrendous loss to Denver on Thursday night, where the two teams turned the NFL’s offensive clock back to the ‘50s and ‘60s. The Broncos ran the wishbone, for crying out loud, and they still had a more explosive offense than the Jets.

The Jets made the AFC championship game the last two seasons thanks mostly to their defense, which is a shell of its former self. Worse, quarterback Mark Sanchez looks like he’s taken a big step back in Year 3. He’s inaccurate, he’s making bad decisions, and it sure looks like his diva receivers (Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress) are getting frustrated.

Add in Rex Ryan’s mouth and the New York media and this could be a disaster in the making.

Oakland Raiders (5-4)
They looked for a while like one of the best stories in the NFL, the revival of a proud franchise that had been a joke for years. But there are few teams that could survive the loss of their starting quarterback (Jason Campbell) and starting running back (Darren McFadden) and continue to thrive.

Surviving the loss of McFadden will be easier, because of Michael Bush (not to mention the fact that McFadden will be back). The loss of Campbell, though, is huge. Yes, they made a bold move for Carson Palmer, but some thought he was on the decline when he last played for Cincinnati. Now, miracles are expected of him despite sitting out half a season and having to pick up a new offense on the fly?

This is a good team that will be a popular pick of many to do some playoff damage in 2012. But Palmer has thrown 7 interceptions in his first 76 attempted passes. That’s not good, and it’s only going to get worse.


<p> Some of these NFL Super Bowl contenders are pretenders</p>
Post date: Friday, November 18, 2011 - 13:12
Path: /mlb/athlon-sports-2011-al-mvp

With the World Series in the rear-view mirror and the hot stove just beginning to heat up, it's time to hand out some awards to this year's best performers on the diamond. The Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) has already named its AL and NL Rookies of the Year, AL and NL Managers of the Year, and AL and NL Cy Young award winners. And while no Athlon editors are members of the BBWAA, here's how four of us — Charlie Miller, Braden Gall, Patrick Snow and Mark Ross — would have voted if we did have a ballot to cast.


There's no lack of quality candidates for AL MVP, so this could come down to the closest vote of all the major awards, if anything due to the number of names that will receive consideration. In addition, four different teams have multiple MVP candidates, so in some cases voters will be pitting teammate against teammate when it comes to filling out their ballot.

The Boston Red Sox have center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, the Detroit Tigers have first baseman Miguel Cabrera and AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander, the New York Yankees have second baseman Robinson Cano and center fielder Curtis Granderson, and the Texas Rangers have third baseman Adrian Beltre, second baseman Ian Kinsler and designated hitter/infielder Michael Young. And that's not to forget Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista, one of the most feared hitters in all of baseball this season.

Contenders' Stats:

Jose Bautista, OF, Toronto Blue Jays: .302, 105 R, 155 H, 24 2B, 43 HR, 132 RBI, .447 OBP, .608 SLG, 1.056 OPS

Adrian Beltre, 3B, Texas Rangers: .296, 82 R, 144 H, 33 2B, 32 HR, 105 RBI, .331 OBP, .561 SLG, .892 OPS

Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Detroit Tigers: .344, 111 R, 197 H, 48 2B, 30 HR, 105 RBI, .448 OBP, .586 SLG, 1.033 OPS

Robinson Cano, 2B, New York Yankees: .302, 104 R, 188 H, 46 2B, 28 HR, 118 RBI, .349 OBP, .533 SLG, .882 OPS

Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Boston Red Sox: .321, 119 R, 212 H, 46 2B, 32 HR, 105 RBI, 39 SB, .376 OBP, .552 SLG, .928 OPS

Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Boston Red Sox: .338, 108 R, 213 H, 45 2B, 27 HR, 117 RBI, .410 OBP, .548 SLG, .957 OPS

Curtis Granderson, OF, New York Yankees: .262, 136 R, 153 H, 26 2B, 41 HR, 119 RBI, 25 SB, .364 OBP, .552 SLG, .916 OPS

Ian Kinsler, 2B, Texas Rangers: .255, 121 R, 158 H, 34 2B, 32 HR, 77 RBI, 30 SB, .335 OBP, .477 SLG, .832 OPS

Justin Verlander, P, Detroit Tigers: 24-5, 2.40 ERA, 251 IP, 57 BB, 250 K, 0.92 WHIP, 34 GS

Michael Young, DH/IF, Texas Rangers: .338, 88 R, 213 H, 41 2B, 11 HR, 106 RBI, .380 OBP, .474 SLG, .854 OPS

Athlon's Winner: Curtis Granderson, OF, New York Yankees

Granderson got two of the four first-place votes and beat out Ellsbury by one lone point, perhaps a indication of how the BBWAA's vote will pan out? Ellsbury got one first-place and two second-place votes to finish second. Tiger teammates Cabrera and Verlander tied for third with Verlander getting the remaning first-place vote, but also finishing seventh on one ballot. It's that sort of discrepancy which could play a significant role in the BBWAA vote in determining this year's AL MVP. Bautista rounded out the top five.

Here's how the Athlon editors voted

Charlie Miller's ballot:

1. Curtis Granderson
Granderson is the Yankees’ catalyst and led the AL in both runs and RBIs while adding strong defense in centerfield. Granderson, a career .215 hitter vs. lefties with a .346 slugging percentage, batted .273, slugged .604 and swatted 16 of his 41 homers off lefties.
2. Jacoby Ellsbury
Over the last month of the season as the Red Sox watched their lead evaporate, Ellsbury was solid, hitting .362 with a .693 slugging percentage since Aug. 26. Coming into 2011 the fleet centerfielder had just 20 career homers. He hit 32 this season.
3. Justin Verlander
For about four months the Tigers were rather ordinary when Verlander wasn’t on the mound. That changed over the last two months of the season as the Tigers played well enough when he wasn’t pitching to win the AL Central.
4. Miguel Cabrera
Cabrera was a hitting machine for the Tigers. He scored 111 runs, drove in 105 and won his first batting title.
5. Jose Bautista
Bautista was the most feared hitter in the Toronto lineup. So much so, that in 181 plate appearances with runners in scoring position, Bautista walked 64 times, 22 of those intentional.
6. Adrian Gonzalez
7. Robinson Cano
8. Michael Young
9. Alex Avila
10. Adrian Beltre

Braden Gall's ballot:

1. Justin Verlander
Without a clear hitter standing above the rest, the best pitching season in 20 years for the AL Central Champs absolutely makes Verlander the most indispensable piece of any team.
2. Jacoby Ellsbury
Had Boston made the playoffs this stat line, combined with his defensive value at one of the three key positions on the field, would have been good enough to win the MVP: Fifth in AL in hitting (.321), fourth in stolen bases (39), fifth in home runs (32), sixth in RBI (105), third in doubles (46) and third in runs scored (119). All from the lead-off spot.
3. Curtis Granderson
A 40-20 season while leading the league in runs scored and RBIs from the two-hole of the AL East champs while playing one of the premiere defensive positions? That is tough to beat, however, the Grandy-Man will lose votes because of the stout protection around him in the order.
4. Miguel Cabrera
Led the AL in batting and was key cog in heart of AL Central Champs line-up. But trails Ellsbury and Granderson in nearly every category — including the oft-overlooked defensive side of the ball. His ratios, particularly on-base percentage, makes him an easy top-five choice, but his overall game isn’t as dynamic as the two ahead of him on my ballot.
5. Jose Bautista
The power numbers are off the charts — at least for the modern era of baseball — but he did it on a team that finished 16 games out of first place and at .500 for the season. Without the home run champ, the Blue Jays are 20 games out of first? 22? Ricky Romero was the most valuable Blue Jay in 2011.
6. Michael Young
7. Adrian Gonzalez
8. Robinson Cano
9. Adrian Beltre
10. Asdrubal Cabrera

Patrick Snow's ballot:

1. Curtis Granderson
One of my favorite statistics when comparing hitters in runs scored plus RBIs. Guess who led the league in both, compiling 136 runs and 119 RBIs? Granderson was a Yankees’ catalyst, leading the AL East champs in runs, RBIs, home runs (41) and triples (10). He also added 25 steals and played a solid center field. Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera had another great season, but Granderson’s was better.
2. Miguel Cabrera
3. Jacoby Ellsbury
4. Jose Bautista
5. Adrian Gonzalez
6. Robinson Cano
7. Justin Verlander
8. Ian Kinsler
9. Michael Young
10. Victor Martinez

Mark Ross' ballot:

1. Jacoby Ellsbury
Boston’s center fielder bounced back from an injury-plagued 2010 to post a 30-30 campaign and finished in the top six in the AL in average, runs, hits, doubles, home runs, RBIs, stolen bases, on-base and slugging percentage, as the Red Sox lead-off hitter. He also didn’t make an error in 154 games in center.
2. Curtis Granderson
The Yankees’ center fielder led the AL in runs (136) and RBI (119) and finished second in home runs (41) and triples (10), while also stealing 25 bases.
3. Justin Verlander
Named the AL Cy Young winner by an unanimous vote, Verlander went 20-2 in his last 24 starts with one of the two losses being a 1-0 decision. During that same span, Detroit went from a game above .500 and seven games behind first place, to finishing the season at 95-67 and winning the AL Central by 15 games.
4. Miguel Cabrera
The linchpin of the Tigers’ offense, Cabrera finished with the highest batting average (.344) and on-base percentage (.448) in all of baseball and also led the majors in doubles (48). With runners in scoring position, Cabrera hit .388 for the year with 10 home runs and 75 RBIs.
5. Jose Bautista
The clear-cut MVP of the first half (.334, 73 R, 31 HR, 65 RBI), the Blue Jays' slugger still posted impressive numbers (.302, 105 R, 43 HR, 103 RBI) for the season, and led all of baseball in slugging percentage (.608) and OPS (1.056) despite being pitched around so much (ML-best 132 BB, including 24 intentional passes).
6. Adrian Gonzalez
7. Michael Young
8. Robinson Cano
9. Adrian Beltre
10. James Shields

Other Baseball awards-related content:

American League Rookie of the Year

National League Rookie of the Year

AL & NL Managers of the Year

American League Cy Young

National League Cy Young

National League MVP

<p> Athlon editors comb through the crowded field of contenders and cast their vote for this year's AL MVP</p>
Post date: Friday, November 18, 2011 - 12:24
Path: /news/tim-tebow-keeps-winning-heres-attempt-explain-how-and-why

Tim Tebow is a football player. That's the only explanation I can give after last night's unexplainable win against the New York Jets.

I'm not sure if I would call him a "quarterback." Sure, he starts each play under center and calls out the formation and takes the hike. And that's about as far as the quarterback moniker gets you, because once the ball is hiked, Tebow morphs into a fullback who sometimes mistakenly heaves the ball into the air in the direction of other players (I refuse to call what Tebow does a "pass").

But it works, because the Broncos quarterback is 4-1 in his starts this year, despite an extremely poor arm that can neither fire a pass into a small window, or even find it's target when a player is wide open.

And when you listen to sports pundits try to analyze and give reasons for how and why Tebow keeps winning, they're at a loss for words. The term "winner" is usually the fallback explanation. "He just knows how to win." Or, "He was a winner in college and...uhh, he's a leader...and he wins!"

But I don't think that's it. The explanation is much more simple than that. The football community is a copycat community. Whenever someone comes into the league and throws a wrinkle in the conventional thinking (Mike Martz in the early 2000s, Parcells' use of the wildcat a few years ago etc) there are always varying degrees of success. Sometimes it can take a team to a Super Bowl or two (like Martz) and others it's good for a few flukey wins (like the wildcat.)

And you can see how this is playing out with John Fox and Tim Tebow right now because the pundits (most of whom are ex-football players and coaches) are a good barometer for the current roster of players and coaches. If the pundits don't know how to explain this Tebow thing, then the current coaches probably can't either. And if they can't explain it, then they can't properly defend it.

Because almost every other team out there has a quarterback who is capable of throwing a pass (although last night Mark Sanchez made a strong case against that.) Team defenses know how to defend a quarterback who plays like a quarterback. But since they've never seen or played against a quarterback who runs (and throws) like a fullback, they're unsure how to create a package to properly defend him.

On last night's game-winning 20-yard touchdown run against the Jets, Eric Smith took the worst angle he could have and Tebow was free to take off. Because his instinct was he wanted to make Tebow throw the ball quickly.

But Tebow's not your typical quarterback who will heave the ball up under pressure. Tebow doesn't want to throw the ball. Tebow isn't good at throwing the ball (which is like saying a running back isn't fast, or a coernerback isn't good at covering guys). If Eric Smith makes that play against "Tim Tebow" and not a classic "quarterback" the Jets probably win the game.

But since no one's really ever seen a quarterback like this before, players revert to what they're used to. And that's why Tebow is winning. For now.

The Broncos should have lost that game last night. But everything fell perfectly for them to win it. From Sanchez's pick 6, to the Jets inability to run the ball and control any clock, to their poor defensive performance with 5 minutes to go in the game.

Is Tebow a long-term answer for the Broncos? No. Tebow will get figured out, just like all the flukey plays and players before him. But, man, he sure makes for amazing television, doesn't he? 

<p> The Broncos quarterback can turn losses into wins</p>
Post date: Friday, November 18, 2011 - 10:00
Path: /news/michael-vick-no-go-against-giants-should-he-play-again-year

Michael Vick's broken ribs have ruled him out of Sunday's game against the Giants. Vick will be replaced at quarterback with Vince Young.

And if the Eagles lose this Sunday, should the oft-injured and fragile Vick play another down this year? Philadelphia's record currently stands at a meager 3-6. Their playoff hopes are already extremely dim. But another loss seals their fate and all but mathmatically eliminates them from any hope of making the postseason.

So why play Vick another down? He'll be a game-time decision for next week's game against the Patriots. And even if he plays, he'll be even more fragile than he is now because his ribs still won't be 100% by then.

With Vince Young serving as a well-paid back-up, it makes sense that the Eagles should keep their most valuable commodity on the shelf, away from the possibility of concussions, broken bones and sprained MCLs, and let VY take the reigns--and the beatings--of the Eagles' quarterback position.

What good does it do to put Vick back out on the field? If you concede that Vick is the most important player on Philly's team, (and only LeSean McCoy could be in that conversation) the upside just isn't there. 

The best that could happen, is Vick comes back and leads the Eagles to a string of late-season wins and Philadelphia finishes somewhere around the .500 mark.

But they still miss the playoffs. That might mean something to the Cleveland Browns. But the Eagles set the bar a bit higher and the only thing you win with that plan is an even worse pick int he NFL draft.

The downside is that Vick, given the way he throws his body around, refuses to go down, and takes a beating on seemingly every play, gets seriously injured. A torn MCL takes a long time to heal, and an injury like that would affect his game even more than the classic pocket passers. 

It goes against the mentality of football players, but football player's don't always use logic and reasoning. 

If you're an Eagles fan who's more interested in the big picture then you realize that this is a lost season. The Dream Team didn't work. It happens. Chalk it up to a learning experience and call it a day. But putting Vick back on the field for meaningless games can only make this bad season worse.

What's more important to Eagles fans? Winning nothing now, or still having a chance to win it all next year?

<p> The Eagles quarterback misses the game everyone expected him to miss</p>
Post date: Friday, November 18, 2011 - 04:40
All taxonomy terms: classic movie posters, Funny, sports, Overtime
Path: /overtime/sports-celebrities-movie-classic-80s-movie-posters

Earlier this week, New England Patriots wide receiver and world-renowned Twitter addict Chad Ochocinco posted a new avatar featuring himself, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick photoshopped onto the movie poster for Lethal Weapon 3. As you can see, the results were spectacular. Ochocinco has already dropped the avatar, but in honor of his work, we decided to update some other classic movie posters with the biggest stars in sports. 

By Saul Hutson

<p> Ever wonder what it would look like if sports stars starred in classic 80s movies? Wonder no more</p>
Post date: Thursday, November 17, 2011 - 16:35
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-great-rivalries-texas-vs-texas-am

This profile of the Texas and Texas A&M college football rivalry originally appeared in Athlon's 1986 college football annuals. With Texas A&M leaving the Big 12 for the SEC next season, this year's Thanksgiving Day showdown could be the last game between the in-state rivals in their series that dates back to 1894.

The Great Rivalries — Texas vs. Texas A&M

By Galyn Wilkins

It has lasted longer than the Wars of the Roses, longer than the Hatfields and McCoys, and sometimes it seems as fiercely fought as the Normans vs. the Saxons.

We’re talking Rivalry here, with a capital R. Rivalry as in the Unversity of Texas vs. Texas A&M. Ninety-one years of air raids — real air raids — cattle rustling, pregame conflagrations that make the Chicago Fire look like a patio barbecue, close games, blowout games, games resembling a concerto with four perfect movements and games with no rhyme or reason.

Just to say they take it seriously is an understatement. They take it personally. They take it as one of life’s larger responsibilities. Just last year, for example, A&M Coach Jackie Sherrill was watching from his office window as students piled up logs for the annual pre-Texas game bonfire.

“Doesn’t look like a Boy Scout campfire,” thought Sherrill as the logs were hoisted by crane and guided by nervous but steady hands into place 100 feet above the ground.

Responding to an inner trumpet call to action, Sherrill bolted out of his office, climbed the stack of logs and joined the bonfire engineers. The idea, see, is that anyone in Aggieland or Longhornland is willing to risk his neck the week of the game.

In recent years, frankly, some of the creativity has been extinguished in this great bonfire of a football series. Some of it has been legislated out, of course, because the kids were getting a little too creative.

In the 1950s, for example, the Aggies were working on plans for stealing the Texas mascot, a 1,500-pound steer named Bevo. One of them probably said, “We’ve done that before. Let’s try something different.”

So, in the space of eight hours one night, they traveled the state in commando groups and stole every mascot in the Southwest Conference, including the Arkansas razorback and the Texas longhorn.

The last theft occurred in 1972, when Texas’ Bevo made yet another trip to College Station in a U-Haul trailer. After that, conference rules were passed prohibiting such pranks. Bevo the steer and Reveille the collie have slept peacefully ever since.

The series has been anything but peaceful, though. It continues to burn as bright as the Aggie bonfire. Their match three years ago was one of the biggest double-barreled surprises in the history of Kyle Field in College Station, one of those games so shattered by unreal events that it can’t be put back together in a logical explanation.

Texas was unbeaten and rolling toward an almost certain national championship. The Aggies were 5-4-1 and hoping to fire one last shocking shot at the end of the season.

They almost did, taking a 13-0 lead in the second period. That was hard enough to believe. Much harder to comprehend was the Longhorns’ comeback. Riding the arm of quarterback Rick McIvor, they scored 45 points in a 15-minute blitzkrieg and won 45-13. The Aggies, however, not only had the last laugh that season, as Texas lost its national championship bid on a upset by Georgia in the Cotton Bowl, but have won the last two games in convincing fashion 37-12 and 42-10.

It’s about time, the Aggies say. For reasons not revealed by musty archives, they got off to a terrible start, losing the first seven matches with Texas, starting in 1894, all shutouts.

And then Charley Moran arrived in College Station. We can picture him riding onto the Aggie campus astride a white horse, six-shooters strapped to his waist, “Beat Texas” buttons pinned to his tunic.

This was 1909 and Moran was the Aggies’ 10th football coach. Thus, their impatience with coaches was established early. Moran’s first words were, “I didn’t come here to lose.”

He didn’t. He is the only Aggie coach whose teams defeated Texas twice in one year. By the middle of 1910, his second season, the Aggies had a 10-game winning streak. Moran had lit the fire.

Texas authorities suspected a rat in the woodpile and, sure enough, one of Moran’s stars admitted later that “from time to time we used boys of questionable academic pedigree.”

Texas broke off relations, diplomatic and otherwise, with the Aggies after the 1911 game. A verse chanted in the saloons of Austin shows what Texas students and fans thought of Moran:

To hell, to hell with Charley Moran
And all his dirty crew,
And if you don’t like the words of this song,
To hell, to hell with you

When the schools decided to resume combat in 1915, Moran was fired, probably in a concession to the powerful politicos at Texas — but the Longhorns had not heard the last of Charley Moran.

From exile in Kentucky, Moran wrote each Aggie player, urging him to “beat those people from Austin, if you still love me and think anything of me.”

There must have been something of a mystic hangover from the Moran years, because in the first game after his departure, the Longhorns fumbled 12 times and A&M won 13-0.

A&M students carried their heroes off the field, then helped Longhorn rooters carry their warriors to the dressing room. It was a peace that couldn’t last, and didn’t.

The next year, Texas avenged that 13-0 loss 21-7 and celebrated by acquiring a mascot, a cantankerous Longhorn steer. In 1917, Texas students planned to parade the steer at the Aggie game in College Station with 21-7 branded into his flank.

In the dead of night before the game, a Model T-Ford chugged off toward Austin, loaded with Aggies and branding irons. The next morning, the student wranglers at Texas were appalled to discover that their prize mascot had been branded with the 13-0 score of the 1915 game.

Oddly enough, a billboard proclaiming the quenching delights of Bevo Beer solved the problem. An enterprising student took a branding iron and changed the 13-0 to B E V O. Bevo Beer didn’t survive, but Texas mascots have been called Bevo ever since.

If the Aggies’ favorite target has been Bevo, the Longhorns have long been dedicated to watering down the A&M bonfire. In 1915, due to incendiary causes still unknown, the bonfire exploded. A witness, C.E. Griesser, who still lives near the campus, recalled that incident recently. “It scattered Aggies and wood from hell to breakfast and left a hole 10 feet deep,” he said.

In 1948, a Texas student was buzzing the bonfire in an airplane when he ran out of gas. After a forced landing, Aggie students removed the wings and threw them into the bonfire. Following a lengthy discussion, they set the nervous pilot free.

By 1920 the game had become an annual crusade for players, students and fans of both schools. A paragraph in the 1920 Texas student newspaper says it all: “The A&M game is at hand and classes and quizzes are mere details.”

A&M had hired Dana X. Bible, who later would “jump ship” and, after eight years at Nebraska, become a legend at Texas, where he coached 10 years.

The Aggies knew Bible had built something in 1920 when his team wiped out Daniel Baker 110-0 in the season opener. By the time the Aggies arrived in Ausitn for the last game of the year, they hadn’t yielded a single point.

Though 1920 is beyond the memory and hindsight of most fans, and beyond videotape of course, it must have been one of the greatest games in the history of the series. Maybe it was even, as the Austin American-Statesmen declared, “the greatest athletic contest ever played in Texas.”

You can imagine the players bashing noses, denting leather helmets, wiping the blood off their knuckles on moleskin pants.

What the Aggies couldn’t imagine was Texas scoring a touchdown in the fourth quarter for a 7-3 victory, winding up a perfect 9-0 season. In a sneak preview of things to come much later, the Longhorns, exasperated after hammering at the Aggie defense all afternoon, pulled a trick pass play. They made tackle Tom Dennis eligible with a quick shift, and he caught a long pass at the A&M 3. Texas scored on the next play, bringing the first of 22 Southwest Conference titles to Austin.

Two years later, Bible used a shift of his own — to the history books. At halftime in Austin, where the Aggies had never won, Bible reminded his squad of the Alamo legend where Colonel William B. Travis supposedly drew a line in the dirt floor and invited all who wanted to stay and fight the huge Mexican force to step across the line and join him.

“Now men,” Bible said, screeching a chalk line across the locker room floor, “those who want to become known as the first A&M team to defeat Texas in Austin, step over the line.”

Bible was almost trampled in the rush, and the Aggies broke the 7-7 halftime tie and won 14-7.

Among the heroes illuminated by the rivalry, none symbolized its spirit more than Ed Bluestein, captain of the 1923 Longhorns.

After A&M’s 14-7 upset in 1922, Bluestein, a senior, got up in the depressed Texas locker room and said, “I want another crack at the Aggies and I’m going to do something about it.”

The next day he asked his calculus professor to flunk him so he could come back for another crack. The crack was hardly what he had in mind, however. He broke his leg on the Monday before the annual Thanksgiving Day bash.

Nevertheless, the Longhorns scored on a fumble recovery in the first quarter and held on for a 6-0 victory. Bluestein lived happily ever after, first as a Texas assistant coach and then as a highway patrolman stationed near the A&M campus.

Eventually, after Bear Bryant left A&M and Darrell Royal arrived at Texas with the makings of a dynasty, the Longhorns began to take charge of the series. They reeled off 10 straight wins, until in 1967 Edd Hargett threw an 80-yard missile to Bob Long that propelled the Aggies to a 10-7 victory and the conference title.

“There were several years when we didn’t have the manpower to keep up with Texas,” remembers Gene Stallings, then the Aggies’ coach. “That’s why we came up with those plays we called Texas Specials.”

Stallings pulled the chair from under the Longhorns in 1965 and 1966. In the first game, he had quarterback Harry Ledbetter throw what looked like a misdirected pass toward Jim Kauffman in the flat.

“We rehearsed every bit of it,” Stallings says. “Ledbetter had to throw the ball into the ground and turn around disgusted. Kauffman had to angrily kick the ground and start back toward the huddle.”

Suddenly, Kauffman picked up the ball and threw it downfield to Dude McLean. Bang! A 91-yard exploding cigar. See, it wasn’t an incomplete pass Ledbetter threw to Kauffman, but a lateral. Live ball. Ha-ha.

The trick not only astounded the Kyle Field crowd, but sent the giggling Aggies into a 17-0 lead. But, as Stallings would discover in the second half and in the rematch in Austin the next year, tricks are only fleeting, rickety glimpses of success. Texas came back from that 17-0 surprise to win 21-17.

Stallings pulled the Texas Special II the next year. Long, the kickoff receiver, faked a handoff to Lloyd Curington, ran toward the sideline, stopped at his 15 and threw a long lateral back to Curington, who ran 74 yards before he was apprehended for the fraud. The Aggies scored and crept to within 7-6, but Texas went on to a 22-14 victory.

“Those plays were fun,” Kauffman said not long ago, “and we realized they weren’t good, sound football. But when you’re out-manned, as we were, you have to get any edge you can.”

Field Scovell, now a Cotton Bowl impresario, was involved in a classic backfire as an Aggie guard in 1928. The Aggies had a play where the ball was hidden behind the flexed knee of a guard, there to be picked up by a furtive runner.

A Texas player, however, spotted it, grabbed it and headed toward the goal line. Scovell, the guard on the opposite side, chased the thief and caught him a few yards short of a touchdown.

“A lot of good that did,” Scovell says now. “We lost anyway 19-0.”

Hargett’s classy game in A&M’s 1967 triumph erased the nightmares of the backfires and the long Texas winning streaks.

But he soon discovered that in this rivalry a man can be standing with his cleats on the other team’s neck on year and have them shoved down his throat the next year.

When Hargett met the Longhorns at the end of the 1968 season, he had thrown 176 passes without an interception. They intercepted him five times en route to a 35-14 victory.

In 1975, the Longhorns took the nation’s top offense into Kyle Field – and lost 20-10. The Texas quarterback, Marty Akins, was on the sidelines most of the afternoon, sitting out an injury. It was a lifeboat of an explanation the Longhorns quickly jumped in after the game.

“If they say that was the reason they lost,” barked Aggie linebacker Ed Simonini, “well, they’re sick. I don’t like ‘em anyway.”

The feeling has always been mutual. Always will be.

See what you started, Charley Moran?

<p> Changing conference landscapes signal the end of this long-standing, heated in-state rivalry</p>
Post date: Thursday, November 17, 2011 - 12:54
Path: /news/joe-paterno-2007-game-day-profile

This profile originally appeared in Athlon's 2007 Penn State Game Day booklet.

Joe Paterno


Where to begin? Paterno is synonymous with Penn State football in much the same way that Bear Bryant is linked forever to Alabama, John Wooden to UCLA and Vince Lombardi to the Green Bay Packers. He ranks second in all-time Division I-A coaching victories and is within reach of the leader, Florida State’s Bobby Bowden. He has enjoyed five unbeaten seasons and won two national championships. He’s coached 71 first-team All-Americans, seven College Hall of Famers and 30 first-round NFL draft picks. Three of his former players—Jack Ham, Mike Munchak and Franco Harris—are enshrined in Canton. He’s a Hall of Famer himself, having been inducted into the college hall in December 2006. People like to think the Nittany Lions don’t have an emblem, but the truth is they do. It’s Paterno. Just try to imagine this program without visions of JoePa’s wavy pompadour or rolled-up trouser legs creeping into your subconscious. Go ahead, try. Not so easy, is it?

The on-field highlights of Paterno’s career are so familiar they hardly bear repeating. There’s the breakthrough 1968 season, in which the Lions went 11–0 and emerged as something more than just another regional power; the marvelous 1969 encore in which they matched their previous record by going unbeaten and defeating Missouri, 10–3, in the Orange Bowl; the national championship seasons of 1982 and ’86; the unbeaten 1994 season in which the Lions fielded what some regard as the best offense in college football history yet finished second to Nebraska in both polls; and, of course, the magical 29–27 victory over Ohio State in 2001, which gave Paterno his 324th career win, one more than Bryant amassed with the Crimson Tide.

What makes Paterno’s career so interesting is that none of those triumphs ever seemed preordained. The very idea that this lawyer’s son would become a football coach was absurd on its face. And not just to friends and family, but to Paterno himself. He was planning on attending law school.

A surprise phone call from Engle changed Paterno’s life. But even after taking up coaching at Penn State—the only postgraduate employer he has ever known—his ascent to the top of the profession was fraught with road blocks and detours. In 1967, his second season, Penn State lost its opener to Navy, 23–22, on a freak play. Coming on the heels of a 5–5 debut season, the loss shook the faith of some early Paterno backers. All of a sudden, Rip’s boy wonder didn’t seem so smart. “I thought I was going to get fired,” Paterno recalled recently. “A kid by the name of John Sladki from Johnstown … they threw a pass on the last play of the game, he deflected it and the guy caught it and ran. I go to bed sometimes thinking about Sladki, poor guy.” School officials stuck by their young coach. He justified their faith by guiding Penn State to victories in 31 of its next 33 games.

But there were more difficulties to come. An Alabama goal-line stand in the Sugar Bowl cost top-ranked Penn State the 1978 national championship and gave rise to talk that Paterno couldn’t win the big one. It remains the most haunting loss of the Paterno era. And while Paterno did finally get even with the Bear—more than even, actually—his triumph had a bittersweet aftertaste. Even as he was eclipsing Bryant’s career victories record in October 2001, the Lions were in the midst of their second consecutive losing season. From 2000 to 2004, Penn State would suffer four losing seasons. It was the school’s longest period of sustained mediocrity since the 1930s.

Still, Paterno avoided some other trap doors. He resisted the urge to leave for the NFL, spurning an offer from the Patriots in the early 1970s. He didn’t venture into politics as some other legendary sports figures have done, nor did he fall victim to health problems typically associated with high-pressure jobs. Even after suffering a broken leg last November when a player ran into him on the sideline at Wisconsin, he tried to talk his doctor into letting him coach the team’s next game a week later against Temple. The doctor refused, but the incident said volumes about Paterno’s determination. Said defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, “He’s a wily old rascal. He’s not going anywhere.”

Paterno’s only real indulgence—if that’s what it is—is his desire to keep on working. With the losing seasons a not-so-distant memory, some would like to see him step away. Forty-one years, they say, should be enough for anyone.

But that wily old rascal has built up an enormous reservoir of goodwill in his tenure as head coach. He may not be the saintly figure the national media makes him out to be. He may be cranky and stubborn, and he may scapegoat officials from time to time in a way that some find unseemly. But he graduates his players, he gives back to the university (more than $4 million in philanthropic contributions as of this writing) and he lends the football program an iconic dimension it might otherwise lack.

Oh, and he still wins games in bunches from time to time. In 2005, the Nittany Lions went 11–1 and defeated Florida State, 26–23, in a triple-overtime Orange Bowl marathon. After the game, senior quarterback Michael Robinson took a seat in the interview room and addressed Paterno’s critics. He was speaking specifically about the recent attacks on the coach’s fitness for command, but he could just as well have been addressing an earlier generation of skeptics, one that thought Paterno was too stogy or archaic or conservative to succeed.

“To think that people actually wanted him to give this game up, to call it quits, when we knew what type of team we could have, I mean, I’m at a loss for words,” Robinson said. “What could these people have been thinking?”


“I don’t think our uniforms look that bad. I think they say something to kids about team-oriented play and an austere approach to life.” —Paterno on Penn State’s conservative look—dark jerseys without player names, plain white helmets, black shoes.

“I consider myself, and I know my teammates and Penn State players past and present feel likewise, a better person for having played for Joe Paterno.” —Former quarterback and current television analyst Todd Blackledge

“One of the greatest things Coach Paterno has said, when asked about his greatest team, is ‘I don’t know. I’ll tell you in 20 years.’ He really believes his greatest team isn’t which one had the fewest losses. His greatest team is what becomes of the men he coached. That’s a rarity in collegiate and professional sports, but that just epitomizes the class and values of Coach Paterno.” —Steve Wisniewski, guard, 1985-88

“I think everyone on the team not only wanted to win the Big Ten but to show the nation that the program was back and that Coach Paterno still had it, that he’s able to do things the right way with the right guys and not bend or break any rules. To get back in the spotlight, I think all of the players just wanted that for Coach.” —Linebacker Paul Posluszny, on the 2005 season 

<p> A look at Joe Pa's 2007 Penn State profile</p>
Post date: Thursday, November 17, 2011 - 11:44
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy football rankings, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /columns/winning-game-plan/fantasy-football-rankings-week-11

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.

Teams on bye this week: Houston, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Pittsburgh

2011 NFL Week 11 Fantasy Football Rankings

Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Defense/Special Teams

Athlon Sports Week 11 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

<p> Athlon Sports has all the position rankings to get your fantasy football line up ready</p>
Post date: Thursday, November 17, 2011 - 06:17
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy football rankings, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /columns/winning-game-plan/fantasy-football-defensespecial-teams-rankings-week-11

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 11 — Defense/Special Teams Rankings

Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Defense/Special Teams

Athlon Sports Week 11 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

Teams on bye this week: Houston, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Pittsburgh

1 San Francisco 49ers vs. ARI
2 Green Bay Packers vs. TB
3 Dallas Cowboys at WAS
4 Chicago Bears vs. SD
5 New York Jets at DEN (Thursday)
6 Baltimore Ravens vs. CIN
7 Jacksonville Jaguars at CLE
8 New York Giants vs. PHI
9 Cincinnati Bengals at BAL
10 Detroit Lions vs. CAR
11 New England Patriots vs. KC
12 Cleveland Browns vs. JAC
13 Philadelphia Eagles at NYG
14 St. Louis Rams vs. SEA
15 Seattle Seahawks at STL
16 Oakland Raiders at MIN

<br />
Post date: Wednesday, November 16, 2011 - 16:24
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy football rankings, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /columns/winning-game-plan/fantasy-football-kicker-rankings-week-11

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 11 — Kicker Rankings

Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Defense/Special Teams

Athlon Sports Week 11 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

Teams on bye this week: Houston, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Pittsburgh

Rk Player Team OPPONENT
1 David Akers SF vs. ARI
2 Dan Bailey DAL at WAS
3 Jason Hanson DET vs. CAR
4 Mason Crosby GB vs. TB
5 Stephen Gostkowski NE vs. KC
6 Sebastian Janikowski OAK at MIN
7 Robbie Gould CHI vs. SD
8 Billy Cundiff BAL vs. CIN
9 Matt Bryant ATL vs. TEN
10 Nick Folk NYJ at DEN (Thursday)
11 Nick Novak SD at CHI
12 Mike Nugent CIN at BAL
13 Rob Bironas TEN at ATL
14 Josh Scobee JAC at CLE
15 Alex Henery PHI at NYG
16 Dan Carpenter MIA vs. BUF

<br />
Post date: Wednesday, November 16, 2011 - 16:13
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy football rankings, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /columns/winning-game-plan/fantasy-football-tight-end-rankings-week-11

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 11 — Tight End Rankings

Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Defense/Special Teams

Athlon Sports Week 11 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

Teams on bye this week: Houston, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Pittsburgh

Rk Player Team OPPONENT
1 Jason Witten DAL at WAS
2 Rob Gronkowski NE vs. KC
3 Antonio Gates SD at CHI
4 Jermichael Finley GB vs. TB
5 Aaron Hernandez NE vs. KC
6 Tony Gonzalez ATL vs. TEN
7 Fred Davis WAS vs. DAL
8 Brandon Pettigrew DET vs. CAR
9 Vernon Davis SF vs. ARI
10 Greg Olsen CAR at DET
11 Jake Ballard NYG vs. PHI
12 Dustin Keller NYJ at DEN (Thursday)
13 Kellen Winslow TB vs. GB
14 Benjamin Watson CLE vs. JAC
15 Brent Celek PHI vs. ARI
16 Ed Dickson BAL vs. CIN
17 Jermaine Gresham CIN at BAL
18 Scott Chandler BUF at MIA
19 Visanthe Shiancoe MIN vs. OAK
20 Daniel Fells DEN vs. NYJ (Thursday)
21 Jared Cook TEN at ATL
22 Anthony Fasano MIA vs. BUF
23 Kevin Boss OAK at MIN
24 Jeremy Shockey CAR at DET
25 Tony Scheffler DET vs. CAR
26 Marcedes Lewis JAC at CLE

<br />
Post date: Wednesday, November 16, 2011 - 15:55
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/why-running-shoes-do-more-harm-good-infographic

Free Your Feet
Created by: X Ray Technician Schools

You thought you were doing your body good by getting up, lacing up your running shoes and hitting the pavement. Well, according to this infograhic, you can see that what seemed like a healthy thing to do, can cause more harm than good. And, as always, the numbers don't lie.

<p> You thought running shoes were good for your feet, didn't you. Think again</p>
Post date: Wednesday, November 16, 2011 - 15:32
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy football rankings, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /columns/winning-game-plan/fantasy-football-wide-receiver-rankings-week-11

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 11 — Wide Receiver Rankings

Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Defense/Special Teams

Athlon Sports Week 11 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

Teams on bye this week: Houston, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Pittsburgh

Rk Player Team OPPONENT
1 Calvin Johnson DET vs. CAR
2 Greg Jennings GB vs. TB
3 Wes Welker NE vs. KC
4 Dez Bryant DAL at WAS
5 Larry Fitzgerald ARI at SF
6 Steve Smith CAR at DET
7 Brandon Marshall MIA vs. BUF
8 Hakeem Nicks NYG vs. PHI
9 Roddy White ATL vs. TEN
10 Brandon Lloyd STL vs. SEA
11 Vincent Jackson SD at CHI
12 Dwayne Bowe KC at NE
13 Anquan Boldin BAL vs. CIN
14 Jordy Nelson GB vs. TB
15 DeSean Jackson PHI at NYG
16 A.J. Green CIN at BAL
17 Santonio Holmes NYJ at DEN (Thursday)
18 Mario Manningham NYG vs. PHI
19 Steve Johnson BUF at MIA
20 Denarius Moore OAK at MIN
21 Victor Cruz NYG vs. PHI
22 Percy Harvin MIN vs. OAK
23 Plaxico Burress NYJ at DEN (Thursday)
24 Laurent Robinson DAL at WAS
25 Michael Crabtree SF vs. ARI
26 Deion Branch NE vs. KC
27 Mike Williams TB at GB
28 Earl Bennett CHI vs. SD
29 Damian Williams TEN at ATL
30 Greg Little CLE vs. JAC
31 Steve Breaston KC at NE
32 Jabar Gaffney WAS vs. DAL
33 Sidney Rice SEA at STL
34 Eric Decker DEN vs. NYJ (Thursday)
35 Early Doucet ARI at SF
36 Nate Washington TEN at ATL
37 Vincent Brown SD at CHI
38 Torrey Smith BAL vs. CIN
39 David Nelson BUF at MIA
40 Harry Douglas ATL vs. TEN
41 Michael Jenkins MIN vs. OAK
42 Jonathan Baldwin KC at NE
43 James Jones GB vs. TB
44 Doug Baldwin SEA at STL
45 Steve Smith PHI at NYG
46 Darrius Heyward-Bey OAK at MIN
47 Jerome Simpson CIN at BAL
48 Devin Hester CHI vs. SD
49 Nate Burleson DET vs. CAR
50 Titus Young DET vs. CAR
51 Donald Jones BUF at MIA
52 Davone Bess MIA vs. BUF
53 Preston Parker TB at GB
54 Johnny Knox CHI vs. SD
55 Arrelious Benn TB at GB
56 Jason Avant PHI at NYG
57 Patrick Crayton SD at CHI
58 Mike Thomas JAC at CLE
59 Ben Obomanu SEA at STL
60 Braylon Edwards SF vs. ARI
61 Brandon LaFell CAR at DET
62 Dane Sanzenbacher CHI vs. SD
63 Legedu Naanee CAR at DET
64 Jason Hill JAC at CLE
<br />
Post date: Wednesday, November 16, 2011 - 15:18
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy football rankings, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /columns/winning-game-plan/fantasy-football-running-back-rankings-week-11

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 11 — Running Back Rankings

Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Defense/Special Teams

Athlon Sports Week 11 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

Teams on bye this week: Houston, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Pittsburgh

Rk Player Team OPPONENT
1 Adrian Peterson MIN vs. OAK
2 Matt Forte CHI vs. SD
3 LeSean McCoy PHI at NYG
4 Ray Rice BAL vs. CIN
5 Maurice Jones-Drew JAC at CLE
6 Fred Jackson BUF at MIA
7 DeMarco Murray DAL at WAS
8 Steven Jackson STL vs. SEA
9 Michael Turner ATL vs. TEN
10 Michael Bush OAK at MIN
11 Frank Gore SF vs. ARI
12 Chris Johnson TEN at ATL
13 Marshawn Lynch SEA at STL
14 Shonn Greene NYJ at DEN (Thursday)
15 Ryan Mathews SD at CHI
16 Brandon Jacobs NYG vs. PHI
17 Willis McGahee DEN vs. NYJ (Thursday)
18 Reggie Bush MIA vs. BUF
19 Jonathan Stewart CAR at DET
20 Cedric Benson CIN at BAL
21 James Starks GB vs. TB
22 Beanie Wells ARI at SF
23 LeGarrette Blount TB at GB
24 Mike Tolbert SD at CHI
25 Lance Ball DEN vs. NYJ (Thursday)
26 BenJarvus Green-Ellis NE vs. KC
27 Jackie Battle KC at NE
28 Maurice Morris DET vs. CAR
29 Chris Ogbonnaya CLE vs. JAC
30 Roy Helu WAS vs. DAL
31 DeAngelo Williams CAR at DET
32 Kendall Hunter SF vs. ARI
33 Daniel Thomas MIA vs. BUF
34 Felix Jones DAL at WAS
35 Marion Barber CHI vs. SD
36 Ryan Grant GB vs. TB
37 Danny Woodhead NE vs. KC
38 Dexter McCluster KC at NE
39 Ricky Williams BAL vs. CIN
40 Jacquizz Rodgers ATL vs. TEN
41 Javon Ringer TEN at ATL
42 Joe McKnight NYJ at DEN (Thursday)
43 Bernard Scott CIN at BAL
44 Kevin Smith DET vs. CAR
45 Ryan Torain WAS vs. DAL
46 John Kuhn GB vs. TB
47 D.J. Ware NYG vs. PHI
48 Kregg Lumpkin TB at GB
<br />
Post date: Wednesday, November 16, 2011 - 14:52
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy football rankings, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /columns/winning-game-plan/fantasy-football-quarterback-rankings-week-11

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 11 — Quarterback Rankings

Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Defense/Special Teams

Athlon Sports Week 11 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

Teams on bye this week: Houston, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Pittsburgh

Rk Player Team OPPONENT
1 Aaron Rodgers GB vs. TB
2 Tom Brady NE vs. KC
3 Tony Romo DAL at WAS
4 Eli Manning NYG vs. PHI
5 Cam Newton CAR at DET
6 Matthew Stafford DET vs. CAR
7 Matt Ryan ATL vs. TEN
8 Philip Rivers SD at CHI
9 Carson Palmer OAK at MIN
10 Michael Vick PHI at NYG
11 Mark Sanchez NYJ at DEN (Thursday)
12 Jay Cutler CHI vs. SD
13 Ryan Fitzpatrick BUF at MIA
14 Tim Tebow DEN vs. NYJ (Thursday)
15 Josh Freeman TB at GB
26 Matt Hasselbeck TEN at ATL
17 Joe Flacco BAL vs. CIN
18 Sam Bradford STL vs. SEA
19 Alex Smith SF vs. ARI
20 Tarvaris Jackson SEA at STL
21 Andy Dalton CIN at BAL
22 John Skelton ARI at SF
23 Matt Moore MIA vs. BUF
24 Christian Ponder MIN vs. OAK
25 Rex Grossman WAS vs. DAL
26 Colt McCoy CLE vs. JAC

<br />
Post date: Wednesday, November 16, 2011 - 14:27
Path: /mlb/athlon-sports-2011-nl-cy-young

With the World Series in the rear-view mirror and the hot stove just beginning to heat up, it's time to hand out some awards to this year's best performers on the diamond. The Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) has already named its AL and NL Rookies of the Year, AL and NL Managers of the Year, as well as the American League Cy Young award. And while no Athlon editors are members of the BBWAA, here's how four of us — Charlie Miller, Braden Gall, Patrick Snow and Mark Ross — would have voted if we did have a ballot to cast.

NL Cy Young

Unlike the American League, the vote for the NL Cy Young figures to be closer. This year's field of cotenders and headlined by two previous Cy Young winners and Philadelphia Phillies teammates Roy Halladay (2003 AL, 2010 NL) and Cliff Lee (2008 AL), along with Clayton Kershaw, the Los Angeles Dodgers' young left-hander.

They are joined by three other past Cy Young winners Chris Carpenter (2005 NL) of the St. Louis Cardinals, Zack Greinke (2009 AL) of the Milwaukee Brewers, and Tim Lincecum (2008, 2009 NL) of the San Francisco Giants. Other contenders include Halladay and Lee's teammate Cole Hamels, Lincecum's teammates Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong, Arizona Diamondbacks ace Ian Kennedy, and a trio of closers — the Brewers' John Axford, NL Rookie of the Year winner Craig Kimbrel of the Atlanta Braves, and the Diamondbacks' J.J. Putz.

Contenders' Stats:

John Axford, RP, Milwaukee Brewers: 2-2, 1.95 ERA, 46 SV, 73 2/3 IP, 25 BB, 86 K, 1.14 WHIP, 74 GP

Matt Cain, SP, San Francisco Giants: 12-11, 2.88 ERA, 221 2/3 IP, 63 BB, 179 K, 1.08 WHIP, 33 GS

Chris Carpenter, SP, St. Louis Cardinals: 11-9, 3.45 ERA, 237 1/3 IP, 55 BB, 191 K, 1.26 WHIP, 34 GS

Zack Greinke, SP, Milwaukee Brewers: 16-6, 3.83 ERA, 171 2/3 IP, 45 BB, 201 K, 1.20 WHIP, 28 GS

Roy Halladay, SP, Philadelphia Phillies: 19-6, 2.35 ERA, 233 2/3 IP, 35 BB, 220 K, 1.04 WHIP, 32 GS

Cole Hamels, SP, Philadelphia Phillies: 14-9, 2.79 ERA, 216 IP, 44 BB, 194 K, 0.99 WHIP, 31 GS

Ian Kennedy, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks: 21-4, 2.88 ERA, 222 IP, 55 BB, 198 K, 1.09 WHIP, 33 GS

Clayton Kershaw, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers: 21-5, 2.28 ERA, 233 1/3 IP, 54 BB, 248 K, 0.98 WHIP, 33 GS

Craig Kimbrel, P, Atlanta Braves: 4-3, 2.10 ERA, 46 SV, 77 IP, 32 BB, 127 K, 1.04 WHIP,  79 GP

Cliff Lee, SP, Philadelphia Phillies: 17-8, 2.40 ERA, 232 2/3 IP, 42 BB, 238 K, 1.03 WHIP, 32 GS

Tim Lincecum, SP, San Francisco Giants: 13-14, 2.74 ERA, 217 IP, 86 BB, 220 K, 1.21 WHIP, 33 GS

J.J. Putz, RP, Arizona Diamondbacks: 2-2, 2.17 ERA, 45 SV, 58 IP, 12 BB, 61 K, 0.91 WHIP, 60 GP

Ryan Vogelsong, SP, San Francisco Giants: 13-7, 2.71 ERA, 179 2/3 IP, 61 BB, 139 K, 1.25 WHIP, 28 GS

Athlon's Winner: Clayton Kershaw, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers

Clayton Kershaw captures all four first-place votes with Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee finishing second and third respectively. Ian Kennedy came in fourth and Cole Hamels and Craig Kimbrel tied for fifth on our ballots.

Here's how the Athlon editors voted

Charlie Miller's ballot:

1. Clayton Kershaw
Ranking first in ERA, WHIP, strikeouts and tied for the lead in wins should be enough to earn a Cy Young award. The Dodgers were 23-10 in his starts, 59-69 in all other games.
2. Roy Halladay
Halladay failed to win 20 games finishing with 19 victories. However, he set career bests with 220 strikeouts (third in the NL) and a 2.35 ERA (second). The Phillies’ ace had his team’s third-best, and league’s fourth-best WHIP (1.04).
3. Cliff Lee
Lee, who had six shutouts this season, was in the top three in ERA, WHIP and whiffs. With 17 wins and a 1.03 WHIP, Lee continued to show why he is considered one of the best pitchers in the game. The Phillies were an identical 5-2 in Lee’s and Halladay’s no-decisions.
4. Craig Kimbrel
Before wearing down in September, Kimbrel was the best closer in the NL. He blew a save then got the win on June 8. He then converted 25 straight save opportunities before blowing another on Sept. 8.
5. Ian Kennedy
A 20-game winner for the first time, Kennedy tied with Kershaw with 21 wins to lead the NL, and ranked in the top eight in ERA, WHIP and Ks.
6. Cole Hamels
7. Ryan Vogelsong
8. Tim Lincecum
9. Matt Cain
10. John Axford

Braden Gall's ballot:

1. Clayton Kershaw
Led the NL in strikeouts (248), ERA (2.28) wins (21) and was third in innings pitched on average team.
2. Roy Halladay
No. 2 in the NL in innings (233.2), No. 3 in wins (19), No. 2 in ERA (2.35) and No.1 in BB/K rate (6.29) as ace of best team in the league.
3. Cliff Lee
No. 2 in strikeouts (238), No. 3 in ERA (2.40), No. 3 in WHIP (1.03), No. 4 in wins (17) and league-leader by wide margin with six shutouts.
4. Ian Kennedy
Won 21 of his 25 decisions with sub-3.00 ERA and 1.09 WHIP for AL West champs.
5. Zack Greinke
Posted 16-6 record in only 28 started with a NL-best 10.54 K/9 ratio for NL Central champs.
6. Cole Hamels
Fantastic ratios (2.79 ERA, 0.99 WHIP). Would be No. 1 on most teams, No. 3 on NL's best team.
7. John Axford
NL leading 46 saves in 48 chances with 1.95 ERA and 10.51 K/9 rate for NL Central champs.
8. Tim Lincecum
Just another solid season for The Freak: 217.0 IP, 13 wins, 220 strikeouts and a 2.74 ERA.
9. Chris Carpenter
Lead the league in innings at 237.1 while pushing Cardinals into playoffs with clutch outings down the stretch.
10. Craig Kimbrel
NL Rookie record for saves (46) with 127 strikeouts in 77.0 innings.

Patrick Snow's ballot:

1. Clayton Kershaw
The 23-year-old southpaw tied for the NL lead in wins (21), while leading senior circuit starters in ERA (2.28), strikeouts (248) and WHIP (0.98). Kershaw also held opponents to a league-best .207 batting average.
2. Roy Halladay
3. Cliff Lee
4. Ian Kennedy
5. Craig Kimbrel
6. Cole Hamels
7. Tim Lincecum
8. Matt Cain
9. John Axford
10. J.J. Putz

Mark Ross' ballot:

1. Clayton Kershaw
Kershaw finished the season with the lowest ERA (2.28) in the majors, was second in strikeouts (248), WHIP (0.98) and opponents’ batting average (.207), and tied for the NL lead in wins with 21. And he’s only 23 years old.
2. Roy Halladay
Last year’s winner posted another solid season winning 19, throwing a NL-leading eight complete games and walking just 35 in 233 2/3 innings, while striking out 220.
3. Cliff Lee
The 2008 AL Cy Young winner led the majors with six shutouts and finished third in both ERA (2.40) and strikeouts (238).
4. Ian Kennedy
Kennedy tied Kershaw for the NL lead in wins with 21 and held opponents to a .227 batting average as the ace of the worst-to-first Arizona Diamondbacks.
5. Craig Kimbrel
The unanimous choice for NL Rookie of the Year, Kimbrel tied for the NL lead in saves with 46 and threw the most innings of any closer in baseball.
6. Cole Hamels
7. John Axford
8. Matt Cain
9. Tim Lincecum
10. J.J. Putz

Other Baseball awards-related content:

American League Rookie of the Year

National League Rookie of the Year

AL & NL Managers of the Year

American League Cy Young

American League MVP

National League MVP

<p> Athlon editors name their choice for the NL's best pitcher this season</p>
Post date: Wednesday, November 16, 2011 - 10:58
All taxonomy terms: Hottest Fans, Overtime
Path: /overtime/hot-girls-asked-if-college-football-players-should-be-paid-video

Should college football players be paid? This is a complex and controversial topic in the world of collegiate athletics so we went to the experts (hot girls) to see what their take is on this tricky subject.

As you can imagine, yes, they had some very interesting answers. 

<p> Should college football players be paid? We ask these hot college football fans</p>
Post date: Wednesday, November 16, 2011 - 05:25
All taxonomy terms: 2005, Darrell Waltrip, nascar archive, NASCAR
Path: /nascar/darrell-waltrip-qa

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.

The following feature was originally published in the 2005 Athlon Sports Racing annual:

When the 2005 Nextel Cup season kicks off at Daytona during Speedweeks, Fox Sports will be on hand to broadcast all of the action to NASCAR fans across the country.

That means that Darrell Waltrip, Mr. Boogity, Boogity, Boogity himself, will be back in fans’ homes each week sharing with them what he’s learned and seen in a long, legendary career in the sport. Waltrip doesn’t just analyze what he sees on the track during the Fox broadcasts, though. He’s one of the most thoughtful and, as he has been throughout his career, outspoken people there is about NASCAR and stock-car racing.

So we sat down and had a good, long talk with Ol’ DW about what’s going on, and what should be going on, in the sport he’s been so much a part of for so long.

Athlon Sports: There certainly have been major changes in the sport in the past year or so, with the new title sponsor, Nextel, the new Chase for the Nextel Cup system, schedule realignment and, coming up for 2005, another significant change in the rules package for Nextel Cup cars with shorter spoilers. In general, do you think NASCAR has done a good job in working through all of that?
Darrell Waltrip: Our (Fox’s) half of the season in 2004 was a nightmare with all of the changes that were going on — freezing the field and the lucky dog and so much going on. You had so much going on under the caution, thinking back to Dover and some of those races where half the race was run under the caution. It was hard trying to explain that to the people at home. As time went by, they got it smoothed out and things got better. You look at the Chase, I was certainly not a fan of the changes they made. But when the season was over with and you looked at what it did, I still don’t think it’s necessarily the right way to pick a champion, but it’s a great way to create some excitement on television.

When I look back at my career, I talk about the “modern era.” That’s how I judge my career. Twenty years from now, when we look back at what they did with the changes to the format, we’ll talk about this era. Last year was not the closest championship, in my opinion, in NASCAR history because it was done under a totally different format.

I know Brian France is steering the ship, he’s at the head of it so he gets the good news and the bad news. But I think the Chase format had a lot more people involved in it than just Brian waking up one morning and saying, “Here’s what I am going to do.” I have to think NBC had a whole lot of input into what they thought would make it exciting. They did make a lot of changes and we got through 2004 with it being a pretty successful year. I think any time you make changes and look back and say, “Well, we made all of the changes and gained more than we lost,” that’s good.

AS: So you were not sold on the Chase format from the start and still aren’t a big fan of it?
DW: I am never going to be happy, personally, until the guy who wins the most races wins the Championship. I am just never going to be happy until that happens. I just think there’s still that premium on being consistent, and that’s important. But I think if I am a fan and I am sitting at home I want the guy who has won the most races to be the guy who should win the Championship. You win the most games in any other series that I am aware of, you’re more than likely going to win the Championship.

AS: Rockingham is gone, Darlington is down to one race and may not be able to hold on to that. Changes like that can be hard. Do you think they’re necessary?
DW: That is just progress. We’re in a performance business, and I don’t care what aspect of this sport you want to look at, you have to perform. If you’re going to racetracks that are not performing, not living up to standards of the other tracks, you have no choice. You have to move on. Every racetrack that has ever lost a date, dating back into ’70s, has lost it because it couldn’t keep up. I think the bar had to be raised, and it has to be raised more than once every 20 years. I think it has to be raised every year. There are some other racetracks out there that need to conform to some of what the newer tracks are doing.

Scheduling, races and dates, all of those things are the issue of the hour in my opinion. NASCAR makes a lot of rules regulating cars and procedures; it needs to make some rules that regulate tracks and pits and specifications of that nature. The burden shouldn’t always fall on the competitors and the car owners. The burden has to fall on some other shoulders occasionally.

AS: So are you saying that, for instance, at places like Daytona and Talladega, where NASCAR has tried all kinds of changes to rules governing the cars to slow them down and break up the big packs that seem so dangerous, changing those tracks should be an option that’s considered?
DW: There was a time in our sport when we needed extremely big, high-banked racetracks to make exciting racing, but we’re not there any more. We seem to need tracks that are smaller, not bigger.

I am not going to get my dog in a fight about whether we need to go to Daytona and Talladega. I do think there are some things they need to do to improve the racing at those places. I am not a fan of pack racing, and that’s what you have when you go there. I liked it better the way it used to be when we could draft and slingshot and make moves on people and not just block and switch around spots in the middle of the field. I don’t know what the answer to that one is. The restrictor plate is the most simple solution. It seems like we have to have a special car for every track — one for Daytona and Talladega and one for the road courses. I wish we could get down to where we just had one car for everywhere.

AS: What do you think of the idea of moving qualifying to Saturday at some tracks in 2005, then impounding the cars after that until the race?
DW: I don’t like that, because I don’t see benefit. I know what they say the benefit is. But what are those crews going to do all Saturday afternoon? They’re going to be there at the hotel, they’re going to be away from home just like they always were. You’re still there on Friday, which means you still have to get there Thursday night.

I don’t see where it saves anybody anything. The places they need it the most — Daytona and Talladega, where you spend a fortune trying to make two laps — they’re not going to do it. I would impound cars there before I would even think about doing it anywhere else. So you have more special rules and more special cars.

AS: The Chase produced a 26-year-old champion named Kurt Busch, and it seems that some fans aren’t quite sure what to make of him. What are your impressions of Busch and what kind of champion do you think he’ll make?
DW: My gut feeling is, based on what I’ve seen happen in the past, winning a Championship makes a difference in a person. It’s a really good wakeup call. I think it helped Tony Stewart. It helped me in 1981 when I won my first Championship. I saw that I had a different role to play. I had responsibilities that I didn’t have before, some of them were appointed to me and some I just took on my own. I think it helps you grow up. And I think people look at you a little bit differently and they’re willing to give you a second chance. What you do with that second chance will determine what kind of champion you will be.

I told Kurt Busch in New York, “Don’t change. Don’t start trying to be somebody you’re not. You’re a smart kid, you know where you’ve made mistakes and know what you’ve done wrong. Improve on those.” He can drive the wheels off a car. I said all during 2004 he could win every week, they had that kind of team and that kind of car. He has the driving part down and the team part down. That’s your platform. You let your driving do your talking.

AS: Busch has been forced to wear the “bad guy” label at times already in his career. You got saddled with that for at least parts of your career. Do you think it’d be harder to carry that kind of reputation now than it was back then, and how was it to have to deal with that everywhere you went?
DW: In my era, when I was in my prime, we didn’t even have television. I know it doesn’t seem like it was that long ago, but in the early 1980s there were very few races on from flag to flag. I had a different audience. The only people who were mad at me were the 30,000 who showed up at Bristol or maybe 10 or 15 drivers who liked me or didn’t­ like me. It was a whole different environment.

The world was different. Rivalries were big in every sport. You had Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson, in golf you had Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, whatever it might have been. Sports were all about rivalries, like Earnhardt and me. But then somewhere along in the middle 1990s, the whole world changed. Everything had to be politically correct. You couldn’t say or do or act the way you used to. You had to act the way people wanted you to. You couldn’t­ be yourself. So from that point on, people had this prototype of what a guy’s supposed to act like and look like, and if you don’t live up to that, then they don’t like you.

AS: Was Jeff Gordon that prototype?
DW: You’ve got it. The racing world that we have known changed in 1992. That’s when most people think racing started. They don’t know anything before that, they only know after that. There’s AJ, and there’s BJ — after Jeff and before Jeff.

AS: With Busch being the third-youngest champion in the sport’s history, it raises the question about younger drivers playing such a prominent role in the sport the past couple of years. Do you buy into the line of thinking that young drivers bring younger fans into the sport, and will that change the structure of NASCAR in any way?
DW: One of the concerns that I would have if I were at the helm is losing the sport’s established stars, the guys who’ve been here for so long. There is a portion of that 150,000 people who are up there every weekend who come to see those guys race. Those guys bring in an audience that we need, just like young guys do. We obviously needed a youth movement because, as you can see, we’re losing all of our older drivers, the older stars. But I don’t like to see them all squeezed out at one time. I know in my last two or three years that I drove, people would not leave me alone. All I wanted to do was for people to leave me alone, I just wanted to have fun and enjoy it. I liked to race, I liked to be at the track. If I got lapped, big whoop. Give me my own personal little space here, and leave me alone. But people won’t do that. You set a standard and you have to live up to it, and when you don’t live up to it any more then you need to quit. That’s how people look at it.

It’s no fun just to be a part of the show, you want to be the show. But when you get to the point where you are just part of the show, in today’s racing environment, somebody’s going to be taking your place.

AS: Unquestionably, younger drivers are getting more opportunities earlier in their careers than ever before. What advice would you give to these 19- and 20-year-olds breaking into one of the top NASCAR series?
DW: The one word that never left any of us as drivers and is the one thing fans appreciate is respect. If drivers would just respect each other, respect the sport, and respect the people who’ve made it what it is, that will go a long way in my book.

I like young drivers, and that’s one thing I like about guys like Jamie McMurray and Elliott Sadler, any number of those guys, they call me DW, that’s what people know me as, but they also call me Mr. Waltrip. That shows a lot of respect.

What does a young guy have to do? He has to earn the respect of the old guys on and off the racetrack. You don’t have to pull over for them, but you have to race them clean and show them the proper respect. And the fans are the same way, respect the fans. Somebody had to build this, and it wasn’t you. It’s your job to maintain it, but somebody had to build it, and the guy who had to build it is the guy who had to work the hardest.

AS: Is there a driver out there today, aside from your brother, Michael, who reminds you of yourself?
DW: I guess at one time Jeff Gordon reminded me of myself, but now I think Kurt Busch does. I was arrogant and obnoxious and irreverent, and I guess in some people’s minds you could say the same things about Kurt. That’s why I think he’ll be OK (laughter).

AS: In the ESPN movie about Dale Earnhardt, you were portrayed as a rival and as somebody who didn’t have a very good relationship with him. How was your relationship with him, really?
DW: Dale and I spent a lot of time together in the early years. We worked out of his father-in-law Robert Gee’s shop, worked on cars together and messed around and we were really good buddies at that time because neither one of us had anything. I mean, I was broke and he was borrowing money from me.

But then, like all relationships, it changed. Bobby Allison loved me until I got to where I could beat him all of the time and he didn’t like me any more. That’s kind of like Dale and I were. Dale and I got along just fine because we were not in the same league. But once we got to be in the same league and where we were looking at each other eye-to-eye all of the time, there were things about each other that we didn’t like.

AS: You raced for years and years, but because of television do the fans seem to know you better now, or at least feel closer to you, than they ever did when you were competing?
DW: What I love about race fans, whether they’re mine or whoever they pull for, is that they only remember the good times. They don’t remember the bad times. That’s why, God love them, on your worst day they’re still right there beside you. You can finish 43rd and they will come up and say, “Man, DW, you had a heck of a day. Great job.” And they pat you on your back and send you on your way.

AS: You’ve been known to say that if somebody offered you the chance to run NASCAR for one day, the first thing you’d do is ask for more time because it’d take longer than that to fix what you think is wrong. If you had that chance, what would be the first changes you’d make?
DW: The biggest problem with the cars, as we all know, is they are too aero-dependent. That could be cured so easily. You could take the car they have right now and mandate a spring rule to where the cars would get up off the track. I mean, they look like vacuum cleaners going around the racetrack. Mandate a spring rule to get the cars up off the track and that would take away some of that aero dependency.

The cars are not mechanically dependent like they were in all the years I raced. It’s not about springs and shocks and swaybars, it’s more about getting the aero package. I think that’s what hurts racing. I think if we took off those sloopy noses they’ve got on them now — they look like snowplows — and get the things looking more like a street car I think you would see better racing. I wouldn’t reinvent the race car, I would just square it up some. The cars of the past had character lines, and off those lines is where you made your templates and everything else. The cars now are like footballs. The rounder they get, the harder they are to police. So I’d try to get the cars back more like they were in the early 1990s, and that’s easy to do.

That’s one thing I would do. And I would do everything in my power (and I know that there are some things that people don’t like about what I am going to say) I would try to make my schedule more friendly. Rather than crisscrossing the country all the time, if they want to save money and make the sport a little friendlier for the competitors, I would have a West Coast swing and I would have an East Coast swing. I would try to do it in a way where the teams wouldn’t have to have a truck meeting them in Memphis to take something out west and something back to the east.

I would limit the tires they use. There’s way too many pit stops. They want to slow down pit stops, but you don’t need to slow them down — we just need to have less of them. I would come up with a number like they have in the Busch Series and that’s the tires you’d have for the weekend. That would save the teams a lot of money.

One of my favorite quotes from the past, and I can’t even tell you who it was, but one of the car owners told NASCAR one time, “I can’t afford for y’all to save me any more money.” That’s a classic quote. One other thing I would do? No testing, and no wind tunnel testing unless NASCAR wants to take a series of cars to the wind tunnel to get some numbers off them. I would open the racetracks a day early for a day of practice. A team could run two cars or three cars, but at the end of the day whatever car you present for inspection, that’s your car for the weekend. Everybody gets there at the same time and we’re all there together. You don’t have cars running all over the country trying to find places to test.

<p> Athlon Sports sits down with one of the sport's legends who now serves as its voice</p>
Post date: Tuesday, November 15, 2011 - 14:42
All taxonomy terms: maurice evans, NBA lockout, Overtime
Path: /overtime/maurice-evans-guide-nba-lockout

The NBA lockout is really confusing and scary. Between BRI, decertification and David Stern’s visible depression, it’s been very hard on basketball fans. But in the midst of these troubling times, one thing has become clear: player’s association vice president Maurice Evans loves himself some face time in front of the cameras.

No matter the situation, Evans was there with a pose that shed light on the mood of the negotiations. So to help clear things up on the first day that players begin missing paychecks, we went straight to the source to see how negotiations went south so quickly. 

By Saul Hutson


<p> Maurice Evans loves himself some face time in front of the cameras.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, November 15, 2011 - 13:41
Path: /nascar/2005-drivers-forum

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.

The following feature was originally published in the 2005 Athlon Sports Racing annual:

We’ve discovered that drivers are as bold and determined in sharing their opinions as they are when they’re dashing for the checkers. Once again, we’ve convened some of the sport’s top guns for some candid questions and even more candid replies. Some questions brought quick, definitive answers, while others drew a diverse range of opinions. Enjoy.

Are off-track incidents that draw penalties that deduct points fair (i.e., the cursing penalty or physical confrontations)?

Jeff Gordon: It depends on the circumstances. Obviously, the one with Junior was a total overreaction, but so were the other similar situations earlier in the year that involved the other drivers who were punished the same way as Junior for the same reason. If you are out there wrecking owners’ cars or embarrassing the sport, the penalties are fair and justified. You have to evaluate each one a little differently because each case is a little different. It’s a job I’m glad I don’t have to do or make the calls on that one.

Ricky Rudd: My personal opinion is that I can’t group all off-track incidents into that category, but maybe a cuss word that slips out, if you are referring to the Earnhardt incident, my feeling is that points should not have been taken away.

Elliott Sadler: NASCAR does a great job of keeping everyone on a level playing field, and they were more consistent in 2004. I think they are making progress as a sanctioning body as it relates to penalties. Some of them are more harsh than I may agree with and some of them are more mild than I agree with.

Brian Vickers: It really depends on the situation. When it comes to the penalties, if it’s a severe enough infraction, points need to be deducted. A fine is not much of a deterrent, but taking away points gets everyone’s attention.

Jimmie Johnson: I feel for NASCAR and for Junior on that deal. I mean, everybody wants a colorful driver to speak what’s on your mind. But there’s obviously laws and rules in place that we all have to abide by.

I know that all sporting events, everything from baseball, basketball, everything, including the racing, we’ve been under a lot of pressure from I guess — what is it called? The FCC. You know, there’s been things brought up in the drivers meeting about watching how we even use language on the radio across the board.

With the precedent (NASCAR) set earlier in the year, they weren’t left an option in my opinion. I feel that they didn’t want to affect the Championship based on this. I wouldn’t want to see the Championship affected by something somebody said outside of the race car. This deal needs to be settled on the racetrack. But, again, we have rulings and regulations that we have to abide by and a precedent that has been set that they didn’t have a choice but to fall in line with what they did earlier in the year.

Does the Nextel Cup Series need a separate point system for Chase participants (i.e., should the team that wins the most races be crowned champion, should anyone with at least one win be included, more points awarded for wins, etc.)?

Ryan Newman: I’ve made my opinion on the entire Chase system very clear. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with the original point system. No matter how they decide to build the Chase format, I don’t think it’s fair to take points away from anyone. I don’t see how they can justify that.

Johnson: I’ve been a fan of raising the difference in the points (first versus second place) all along. I think that would be a good change regardless of the way the Championship is decided anyway.

Gordon: I like and don’t like the new points system. It was fun and exciting toward the end of this season. No one knew who was going to win it all until the last half of the final race of the season. It was great. I do have concerns for the sponsors that don’t make The Chase and what should be done, I am not sure. I agree and don’t agree with it, but it did make for quite a ride there in the end.

Vickers: The Chase itself is great and I believe it accomplished the objectives NASCAR hoped it would in terms of drawing attention to the sport. The point system needs to reward wins and consistency. Maybe more points for wins and bonuses for top 5 finishes.

Sadler: I like the format the way it is. It’s a little bit of the new and a little bit of the old. I’m sure NASCAR will refine this system as we move forward, but for now I think it works just fine. We went into the final race with five drivers mathematically eligible. That’s exciting and our ratings were up as a result of it. I think the new format is great!

Are you concerned with sponsorship issues for teams who do not make The Chase?

Rudd: I believe it is a concern because of lot of these agreements that are in place today with the new point system were signed one or two years ago before the new system was announced. And now you’ve got sponsors that are not getting the exposure that they thought maybe they should be getting. Maybe they’ve had some good races and they have not gotten the exposure on the television because television is busy covering the top 10 in points. So I think there are some wrinkles that have to be worked out. It could affect the future contract negotiations that sponsors and teams enter into for sponsorships. I’m afraid that could be a big sticking point.

Sadler: No. I think the increased ratings because of the Chase is a home run for all of the sponsors involved in this great sport. If you’re in the top 10 it is a bonus but if you aren’t you can still go out and win races. If you do that your sponsor will get the attention and exposure they deserve. I’m a big supporter of the new format and believe all sponsors should be too.

Johnson: I guess it depends on your perspective and the point of view you want to take. When I talk to NASCAR and understand their point of view and why they wanted to bring this system into place — look at the numbers at the end of the season on the Joyce Julius reports, you’ve got more teams getting more exposure because of the first 26 races. It’s not just focused on the people competing for the Championship. There is a cutoff point and there are more teams farther back that are getting more exposure. So, I think you can work up an argument from either side. What’s the right answer? I think everybody knows that I’ve been the slowest to form and agree with the points system. But I do feel it’s going to be here to stay. There may be some tweaking that takes place. But I think this is going to hit what they wanted to hit and that it will bring some more attention to our sport.

Newman: I think sponsorship issues are always a concern for everyone involved in NASCAR. Each driver knows that they wouldn’t be where they are without his or her sponsor so they want that sponsor to get as much play and publicity as possible.

Whether or not you are in the Chase, performance should be every team’s main goal. If you perform well, and possibly win some races, your sponsor will get just as much attention as those who are gunning for the Championship.

Do you believe drivers in The Chase get raced against differently? How so?

Johnson: In the beginning, we saw some things take place that I hope kind of sent a message to the guys that aren’t in the Chase that want to be in the Chase in the future and want that respect paid back to them. We had a couple of problems. I had one at Richmond before we went into the final 10. When you’re caught up in it, you’re overly frustrated. When it doesn’t happen to you, you think, ‘There’s my chance to separate myself from a couple of cars.’ It’s just like any other time, I think. When it happens to you, you’re upset. If it doesn’t happen to you, you really don’t have an opinion. You just kind of let it roll by. But I think everybody raced pretty smart and clean.

Vickers: They may catch a break from a driver from time to time, but in most cases I would say every driver races one another the same whether it’s the second race of the season or the last. Everyone is there to win — each week.

Sadler: I think we all raced against each other the same way we had all year. I was involved in several incidents during the Chase, but none of them were with Chase contenders. We race against each other every week and most of us understand it takes a lot of give and take to make that work successfully.

Newman: No, not really. If they are in there (the Chase) I don’t think they expect any special treatment. But by the same token they ought to be treated fairly. To me the point system should be operated blindly out of sight of the competitors.

Who besides yourself and your teammate do you consider the front-runner for the 2005 Nextel Cup?

Johnson: You know, I would look to say for my own selfish reasons within my team, for Hendrick Motorsports, all the people working so hard to build great race cars for us. But there definitely is something out there that you’d love to see Mark (Martin) win one. The man has tried so hard for so many years and has been so close that it wouldn’t hurt my feelings, I should say, if he was the champion.

Sadler: I think Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson will be strong, but I also think Mark Martin is going to be a huge threat. This is a tough sport and we are undergoing more rule changes so that will change the competition some.

Vickers: I have great teammates at Hendrick Motorsports who’ll be in contention for the Championship next year. I don’t know that I can consider anyone else.

Newman: The returning champion, Kurt Busch, is always going to be tough. You really can’t count out any of the Roush cars. Matt Kenseth is tough, and Mark Martin really turned it on this year. The Hendrick teams really have it together right now too. They proved this year that they are capable of winning any race at any track.

Would you be in favor of a two-day weekend as opposed to the current three-day show in the Cup Series?

Gordon: I am in favor of more two-day weekends, because it will save money and time for everyone who works in this sport and is on the road almost every weekend. It will save money on tires and it will give those who travel the majority of the year more time at home and that is something you can’t put a price tag on.

Sadler: I’m a big supporter of it. I have a motorcoach I take to the track every week, but my crew guys don’t have that same luxury. If they can give those guys an extra day at home with their families then I absolutely support it 100 percent.

Newman: Definitely. If there is a way that NASCAR could work this out, I think every team would be in favor of it. It would cut back the cost of racing to a certain degree. Plus, every crew member would get an extra day at home with his or her family. As much as they’re gone with the current schedule, I can’t think of any of them who wouldn’t want an extra day at home, including myself.

Vickers: I’m kind of indifferent. There are some events better suited for two-day shows — that’s a fact. The real beneficiaries of two-day events are, and should be, the crew guys. Allowing them to be at home an extra day with their families would go a along way. They work so hard, travel so much that getting them an extra day would be my biggest concern for switching to two-day shows.

Is there someone outside your team who has influenced your career and you consider a mentor?

Sadler: Yes, my Uncle Bud has always been my hero and a huge inspiration in my life. Uncle Bud passed away last year after a long bout with cancer. I have a lot of cousins that still race and so does my brother and our family tradition started with our Uncle Bud.

Gordon: I have been fortunate enough to drive for some of the best owners and with some of the greatest drivers in the sport. I’ve had a ton of mentors. It’s hard to nail down just one. I mean, I drove for Richard Childress for the last three years. I’ve driven for Roger Mears, Rick Mears and Derrick Walker. The list can go on and on, so I have been blessed to be mentored by all of them.

Newman: My father, first and foremost. He’s the one who first introduced me to racing. He went on to sacrifice much of his time for me to pursue this career. He’s always been very supportive of my racing career.

Buddy Baker has pretty much been my mentor since I joined NASCAR. Buddy took me to my first test session and helped coach me through my first year with Penske. I still go to him with my questions, and I know I can always trust his answers. He’s a great friend.

Vickers: There’s been so many people along the way that have helped me throughout my career. From family, to friends to other drivers. If I had to pick one person, it would be my dad.

Rudd: Right off the top of my head I can’t think of anybody. But right at the beginning when I was coming in when I was 18 years old, I guess he was probably my age now at that time — James Hylton was very helpful when I was coming into the sport if for no other reason than he just took an interest in trying to give me some pointers. The other fella I would have to say was Junie Dunlavey, the car owner I drove for in 1979. Junie was a car owner, but he was also a very good coach. He worked with a lot of drivers who went on to be really great drivers. A lot of people didn’t realize that Junie at that time was more than just an owner. He was a very good driver coach. They didn’t really exist in the sport at that time. When I ran for Junie I had just run a handful of car races so he had his work cut out for him that year.

What would you do to make restrictor plate racing safer?

Gordon: There is really nothing else you can do other than what has already been done.

Rudd: Take off the restrictor plates.

Vickers: I’m comfortable right now the way plate racing is.

If the wives or girlfriends of the Nextel Cup drivers were to race against one another, who would you bet on? If the crew chiefs were to do the same who would you bet on?

Rudd: She’s not on the track any more, but it would have to be Robin Dallenbach. A lot of people don’t realize that she actually drove Cup cars for a while.

Sadler: I’d bet on Delana Harvick and Tommy Baldwin.

If you were given an opportunity with a top-notch team to run the Indianapolis 500, would you?

Johnson: I thought I was going to end up racing Indy cars. That was my dream when I was younger until I got into my teens, really. I watched Rick Mears and Robby Gordon. Robby came from the off-road ranks and was going into Indy cars and it seemed like that was the natural step for an off-road racer — actually the only step for an off-road racer at the time. Until Chevrolet took me under its wing and guided my career, I thought as a kid that Indy cars would be what I would race. There were races close to my house and I could catch them on television — especially the Indy 500. It was the biggest race we’d watch all year long. I always wanted to go to the Brickyard and to be there in a stock car in the best form of racing has a lot of cool things that come along with that. That was one of the few races I could sit and watch the whole race with my dad on television. I remember the fiery crashes with some of the starts in the ‘70s and ‘80s and I’ve just always had a big draw to the race track just like everybody does.

Sadler: No. I would like to run a World of Outlaws car, but I just don’t have any interest in running in many open wheel series.

Newman: Not at this time. I won’t say that I’ll never consider it, but not right now. The ALLTEL team and I are 100 percent focused on winning the NASCAR Nextel Cup Championship. We are completely consumed by that. I wouldn’t want to turn my focus to anything else until we accomplish that goal.

Rudd: That was a big decision we went through in 1998. We won the Brickyard 400 in 1997. I was invited to drive for one of the top Indy car teams to be a partner with Scott Goodyear. And I had to weigh that out really heavily. Even though we won in ‘97, our Cup team was struggling very hard to make that work, and I was a very active owner. If I had taken time away during the month of May with back and forth trips to Carolina between Cup races it would have been a major distraction. I was very excited about the opportunity offered by the car owner John Barns. Again, it was a tough decision and I finally made the decision that with the ownership role in Cup garage and trying to do both, both would have suffered.

Vickers: Without a doubt!

Gordon: I already have run with a top-notch team and always do. I wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t with a top-notch team.

It’s said that the difference between a man and a boy is the size of his toys. What are some of your favorite toys?

Gordon: I love toys. I think I have the ultimate toy. It is my Trophy truck. It is the ultimate motorcycle along with the ultimate monster truck all mixed in one. It weighs 4,500 pounds and makes 900 horsepower. It can get up to 35 feet in the air. That’s major air…for a truck.

Vickers: I’m still a kid. I enjoy keeping up with technology and all of the gadgets which come as a result of it. I mess around on my computer a lot, play video games —the kind of things the average 21-year-old likes. Nothing out of control.

Rudd: I fool with some four-wheelers a little bit and I play with go-karts a little bit and occasionally dirt bikes.

What other drivers or crew chiefs would you want to play poker against? Which would you not?

Vickers: I play poker with Jeff (Gordon), Jimmie (Johnson) and Casey Mears on somewhat of a regular basis. Jeff is a good poker player and probably the one I would most likely not wish to play against in a tournament.

Sadler: We play Texas Hold’em some at the track for fun. I enjoy playing with Greg Biffle and the other participants are usually bus drivers. Those guys are card sharks, especially Digger — Dale Jarrett’s bus driver. I enjoy playing cards so there’s not anyone I’d turn down in a friendly card game.

Gordon: Any of them. I’m pretty good.

How does a girl go about meeting a race car driver?

Johnson: I see a lot of attempts made to all kinds of drivers. I don’t know if I necessarily agree or if it’s the right way (laughs). At the track, it’s tough because the guys are there doing their jobs. Rarely do you catch one out on a night where their minds are not on racing. We’re all normal people. If you look at any sports figure and you get them away from their environment, they just really like to relax and do what the rest of the world does. So if you can catch somebody during the week at dinner or somewhere else, that would be your best bet.

At what age do you plan to retire? What do you plan to do after your driving career? Will you remain in racing in some capacity?

Sadler: That’s a good question. We’ve seen a new trend recently with young guys coming in and some of the elder drivers are in the process of retiring or at least cutting back to a partial schedule. I think you’ll see most of the guys in my generation racing til 40 or 45. After I retire I have no clue what I’ll be doing. I would love to partner with a sponsor and build a Busch or Cup team. That’s a long ways away for me.

Gordon: I will probably try to go until I am 40ish. I am sure I will do something involved in racing one way or another, even after I retire. I am already venturing into ownership and that will be something I plan to pursue for quite a long time.

Vickers: Retirement is not on my mind yet. I don’t think you’ll see drivers compete for as many years as they have in the past because the schedule and demands are just so great now. When I do step away from driving full-time I’d like to remain involved in the sport somehow or in another business field.

The following questions were asked under the assurance that answers would be printed anonymously:

Do you believe there are teams using traction control?

  • “Yes.”
  • “I don’t know.”

What are the drawbacks of being at the pinnacle of your sport? To put it another way, what sucks about your job?

  • “I don’t like flying. So that’s easy to answer.”
  • “Travel. Time away from home.”
  • “Nothing really sucks about it. You just don’t have a life outside of it. It consumes your life. It’s not a job. It’s a way of life.”
  • “The drawbacks are far less than the benefits. Time and privacy are probably the two biggest drawbacks.”

Who is the most underrated driver and crew chief (not necessarily on the same team) on the circuit?

  • “Greg Biffle is the most underrated.”
  • “Chris Andrews is a very underrated crew chief. I think you will be hearing more about him in years to come.”

Where is your favorite vacation spot?

  • “My wife and I went to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for our honeymoon. It was absolutely beautiful and very relaxing. So it’s right up there. I’m taking the team to Utah for vacation in December, so we’ll see how that goes. I’m sure we’ll have a great time skiing and snowmobiling.”
  • “Nags Head, North Carolina.”
  • “Anywhere that has a beach.”
  • “Don’t have one.”
  • “Mexico, because what happens in Mexico stays in Mexico, I always say.”
<p> Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman and three other drivers sit down with Athlon Sports and share what's on their minds</p>
Post date: Tuesday, November 15, 2011 - 13:34
Path: /nascar/top-drivers-rooted-dirt

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.

The following feature was originally published in the 2005 Athlon Sports Racing annual:


Jeff Gordon did it first. Then came Tony Stewart. These two dirt guys came through NASCAR like General Sherman burned through Atlanta. Gordon was a young, good-looking hot shoe in open wheel racing with the Indy 500 in his sights. Ford picked him up, and off to the Busch Series young Gordon went. The story is well-known: Gordon ran two years in the NASCAR Busch Series before Rick Hendrick stole him away from Ford.

Gordon moved up to the Cup ranks in 1993 and suffered through crashes and a steep learning curve before winning his first Cup race in 1994. That started an 11-year winning streak that has included four championships.

Stewart came along as the next hot driver pulled from the Midwest dirt tracks. Joe Gibbs made the call and put Stewart in the NASCAR Busch Series for two years. Stewart came close to winning a couple of races, and finally did so when he moved up to the Cup ranks in 1999 There, he won three races in his rookie year.

The success of Gordon and Stewart has put a premium on snatching young drivers off the dirt tracks in hopes of finding the next young star. As a result, the former breeding ground for the big-time NASCAR circuits has disappeared. Asphalt tracks like Hickory, Nashville and Birmingham no longer produce the top young talent.

The Search for the Next Star
The search for young talent landed at places like the Indiana State Fairgrounds (Hoosier 100), Illinois State Fairgrounds (Tony Bettenhausen 100) and the DuQuoin Fairgrounds (Ted Horn 100). Car owners were looking at the Silver Crown Series for drivers capable of following in the footsteps of Gordon and Stewart. Gordon won the USAC Silver Crown Series in 1991; Stewart won the 1995 title. With their success, open wheel dirt drivers began looking to Daytona instead of Indianapolis for the future.

Established Cup veteran Ken Schrader enjoyed an impressive career driving Sprint Cars, Midgets and the Silver Crown Series machines. Schrader moved into the Cup series in 1985 with a full-time ride with Junie Donlavey. After three seasons, Schrader signed on with Rick Hendrick and won just four races in 267 starts. His career has been lackluster since the early ’90s.

Dave Blaney has impressive credentials, including a World of Outlaws title and the 1984 USAC Silver Crown Championship. Bill Davis put Blaney in a Busch car for 20 races in 1998 and a full season in 1999, running the Gordon/Stewart plan. Blaney ran two full Cup seasons with Davis before joining the Jasper Engines team in 2002. The dirt track champion has produced mediocre results at best in the Cup Series. Blaney joins Richard Childress for 2005 in a competitive, fully funded effort. This year will determine whether Blaney is a success or a bust.

Mike Bliss owns 12 career Craftsman Truck wins and won the 2002 Truck Series Championship. Bliss has bounced around in the Busch and Cup Series in the last two seasons. Last year, Bliss claimed his one and only Busch victory and had a couple of great runs in a Joe Gibbs Cup car, including a fourth at Richmond. Bliss has signed a three-year deal with Gene Haas to run the NetZero Chevy, giving him his best opportunity in Cup racing to date.

Gibbs also went after ’98 Silver Crown Champion Jason Leffler. The plan was to follow in Stewart’s footsteps, running a Busch program for a couple of years to prepare the dirt track ace for the Cup level. Leffler’s credentials were impressive, as he came to Gibbs with two USAC Midget titles to go along with his Silver Crown title. In his first season in the Busch Series, Leffler won three poles and had one runner-up finish. Chip Ganassi offered Leffler a Cup ride for the 2001 season, which he took, but he was cut loose after 30 disappointing races.

Leffler made a NASCAR comeback with Jim Smith in 2002, making a couple of Cup and Truck starts in the Dodges out of Smith’s shop but failed to deliver a win. The next year, Leffler ran six Busch races in the Gene Haas Chevy and notched his first Truck win for Smith.

This season, Leffler will be back with Joe Gibbs for his second tour of duty in the Cup series. This time around he has enough experience to expect better results.

After losing Leffler to Ganassi in ‘01, Gibbs went after J.J. Yeley, who won the Silver Crown Championship in 2002 and the 2003 USAC Triple Crown. Yeley ran some Busch races and two Nextel Cup races in ‘04 but struggled to make the transition. All of the open wheel dirt track heroes who didn’t make it in Cup cars had less than two solid years of stock car experience before making the jump to Cup. This trend is undeniable.

Keys to Crossover Success
One reason dirt racers succeed on asphalt is that they have experience adapting to cars that change by the lap and track conditions that change even more quickly. The Silver Crown cars also run on asphalt at tracks like Phoenix, Richmond, Pikes Peak, Nazareth and Milwaukee, providing valuable experience.

Fuel capacity also makes a huge difference. Silver Crown cars hold 70 gallons of fuel (approximately 500 pounds) behind the rear axle. In a NASCAR Cup car, they haul 22 gallons (approximately 150 pounds) of fuel. Because of the heavy fuel load, Silver Crown drivers must nurse their cars so they don’t burn up the right rear tire. Once the fuel load burns down and lightens the load, it’s showtime.

Last year at the Silver Crown race at Nazareth, Kasey Kahne ran most of the race in seventh to 10th place. With a quarter of the laps left, he came to the front and won by taking care of his tires and finding the best groove.

If you watch Kahne in his Cup or Busch car, he is constantly searching for the right groove on the track. Listening to his radio communication, he is constantly making adjustments to meet changing track conditions.

The NASCAR Cup, Busch and Truck guys fight changing track conditions throughout the race. As 43 cars lay down rubber and oil, the best of the best know how to fight these ever-changing circumstances by changing grooves as the track changes. Drivers with an asphalt-only background take longer to learn how to run with these changing track conditions.

There is a huge difference in racing grooves at dirt tracks. The race last September at DuQuoin is a prime example. When the race started, every car hugged the bottom groove. By the time the race was halfway over, cars were running the bottom, middle and on the cushion of the high side. Adjustments like those provide perfect training for stock cars.

Traditionally, stock cars have relied on the right front tire and suspension to turn the car. Entering a turn, the weight transfers to the right front, and the driver has to nurse the car to keep that tire from burning up. The opposite is true for the open wheelers; they are running cars as loose as they can stand.

On the Fox broadcasts, Darrell Waltrip constantly talks about the younger dirt trackers riding on the right rear in the turns. He is referring to the dirt track racing technique of pitching a car into the turn after a late apex and placing the weight load on the right rear. This is a driving technique asphalt drivers have not had to learn.

Success Stories
Roger Penske went fishing in the USAC waters to find Ryan Newman. His open wheel record is impressive: 1993 All-American Midget Series Champion and Rookie of the Year, 1995 USAC National Midgets Rookie of the Year, 1996 USAC Silver Crown Rookie of the Year, 1999 Silver Crown Champion and 1999 USAC Rookie of the Year.

In 2000, Penske set Newman up in the ABC (ARCA, Busch, Cup) program. Newman ran a limited schedule of ARCA races, winning at Pocono in only his second start. He followed that up with wins at Kentucky and Lowe’s.

Newman ran a Busch schedule and seven Cup races in 2001 before joining the Cup series full-time in ‘02. He brought his open wheel experience along with a degree in Vehicle Structural Engineering from Purdue University. His two years of stock car experience provided Newman a comfort level before making the jump.

Jack Roush has joined the dirt track fraternity with the addition of Carl Edwards. Roush found Edwards in one of his “Gong Show” try-out sessions. Edwards followed his father’s footsteps, dirt racing across the Midwest in the Silver Crown Series in 2001 and ‘02. He joined Roush for a run at the Craftsman Truck title in 2003 and won three races. Last season, Edwards won three more Truck races and ran a third of the Cup schedule. In his 13 Cup starts, he recorded five top 10 runs. With his short but impressive career in NASCAR, he looks like a keeper.

A “Can’t Miss” Who Missed
Soon after Jeff Gordon made his move from open-wheel dirt cars to become a star in NASCAR, Kenny Bernstein had a great idea. If a youngster could make it, why not one of the best the World of Outlaws had to offer? Bernstein grabbed Steve Kinser, whose only Cup experience had been in the 1993 Daytona 500 qualifying race, where he lasted only two laps before crashing out.

Bernstein had limited success with several drivers behind the wheel of his King Motorsports Cup team. After parting ways with Brett Bodine at the end of the 1994 season, Kinser got the job in a move hailed as genius. Kinser won an IROC race in Talladega the previous year, so many observers thought a stock car superstar could be found in all of the dirt and dust.

Kinser got off to a shaky start at Daytona, using a provisional to get in and lasting only 27 laps before crashing out. The next week, he used another provisional to make the race at Rockingham, where he finished 27th, 56 laps off the pace. The Cup Series went to the first short track of the season at Richmond, where Kinser qualified 36th and finished 28th. Things improved in Atlanta, as Kinser qualified 23rd but made only nine laps before crashing out for the second time in four races. The track too tough to tame didn’t offer much help; just 95 laps into that race, the motor expired, leading to a 40th-place finish.

The next two races were short tracks where conventional wisdom said Kinser would be a little more at home. Bristol resulted in a DNQ followed by another at North Wilkesboro. That was the final straw. Kinser was out and Hut Stricklin was in. Kinser went back to dirt track racing, where he remains.

Kinser went straight to the Cup Series from the dirt cars, with no Busch, ARCA or other stock car experience. He came into the sport when the test sessions were limited, and the number of tires was restricted during race weekend. He never had a chance.

There is a definite pipeline that leads from short dirt tracks to the Nextel Cup Series. Some, like Gordon and Stewart, have reached the pinnacle of stock car success. Some, like Leffler and Edwards, are still proving themselves, while others have dropped out completely. However, the fact remains that the experience gained from slinging mud is a perfect first step on the way to a successful stock car career.

<p> Looking for the next Gordon or Stewart? Chances are you'll find him at the nearest dirt track, or in USAC's Silver Crown series</p>
Post date: Tuesday, November 15, 2011 - 12:20
All taxonomy terms: 2004, nascar archive, NASCAR
Path: /nascar/tube-talk

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.

The following feature was originally published in the 2004 Athlon Sports Racing annual:

With a new TV contract on the horizon, NASCAR must sift through the positives and negatives of its landmark deal of 2001.

Now that the TV guys have three years under their collective belts, it’s time to look to the future of TV and the sport. It’s no secret that both FOX and NBC have lost money on the current big-dollar package. Advertising sales have not covered the rights fees. But while the networks are hurting, most local affiliate stations have seen racing as a financial bonanza.

Interesting questions are on the horizon. What if one or both networks refuse to sign at the same rights fees or even decline to sign up for another go-round? The sanctioning body has never been known to look into the future, and now the TV networks have the upper hand. NBC has a history of cutting losses and has dropped sports such as the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball in recent years. Insiders say that NBC was close to dumping NASCAR early in 2003 because of the financial losses. What happens if the peacock passes on the next contract? Is ABC or CBS ready to sign on?

There are four networks that fight for golf, NCAA basketball and football, NBA, MLB and the NFL. The NASCAR season overlaps all other sports, making it difficult for the networks to schedule other sports. Business sense suggests that rights fees will not be as high for the next contract. If NASCAR refuses to accept lower fees, we could be back to cable and just a few network races.

Fox got off to a rocky start by not putting car sponsors on the car graphics at the 2001 Bud Shootout because said sponsors did not pony up with advertising dollars. Only the cars with sponsors that spend advertising dollars on FOX had their logos on the car graphics. Car and race sponsors were required to purchase advertising before they would get significant mentions or logo exposure. If the rights fees had not been so high, maybe that embarrassment would have been avoided. When people lose money, they tend to look after their own interests instead of the well-being of the sport.

Fox started off a lap down with sales; the week before their first Daytona 500 they had not sold all of the ad time. It was a fire sale to get advertisers on board. When advertisers backed off, the arm-twisting began. From the beginning, there was a Friends of Fox list for all camera operators and directors, and the teams on the list received extra exposure. Keep in mind, a primary reason to sponsor a racing team is the value of the TV exposure. When the new TV package was announced, primary sponsors were excited because the value of their marketing dollar grew with the added TV exposure.

Soon the sponsors found out the hard way that unless they spent additional dollars on TV network advertising, they were snubbed on the exposure. If you ever wonder why your favorite driver does not get much air time, see if his sponsor advertises on the networks. Would Michael Waltrip get the same amount of face time on TV if NAPA did not spend the big bucks on network advertising?

The irony lies with the value of the TV exposure. Sponsorships are sold based on the value of exposure during race coverage. That value exceeds the equal amount of commercial ad time. Given the amount of logo exposure during a race, it could be argued that purchasing advertising time during race coverage does not make sense.

The same arm-twisting tactics were used on the tracks and their race sponsors. This led to a lawsuit at Atlanta Motor Speedway, which had a contract with Cracker Barrel for its spring race. Cracker Barrel’s contract was based on the old TV package with logo exposure and title to the race. With the new package, Cracker Barrel had to pony up advertising dollars or the race would be known as the Atlanta 500 to the TV audience. Lawyers had to settle that one.

In the first year there were a significant number of commercials for NASCAR. The commercials were entertaining and ran instead of paid advertisements. Every time a NASCAR spot ran, you can bet the losing-money meter was running.

This is why you see races without sponsors. The networks required the race sponsors to purchase advertising to get mentions and exposures during the race. Losing race and title sponsors hurt tracks, but that was the cost of doing business with the new packages. Once again, the losses by the network created the unintended result of losing race sponsors.

There was an incident at Charlotte where promoter Humpy Wheeler was prepared to hook wreckers to the TV trucks and equipment because his race sponsor would not be mentioned during one of his races. The race sponsor did not purchase an advertising package, so its name would not be part of the network broadcast.

Soon, the new rights packages will be negotiated. Fox and NBC are smarter and know what is fair to offer. Since they’re loaded with knowledge they did not have before, it is reasonable to assume that the bids will be lower. This means the purse money is less, the track’s share will be less, and even the sanctioning body will get less money from the TV contracts.

A significant portion of the Nextel advertising cash will be spent with Fox and NBC. This will help, but is it enough to get the networks in the black? Winston money could not be put on TV, so NASCAR’s Nextel package is designed to offset network losses. When NASCAR and the networks sit down to negotiate, the Nextel money will be a large part of the package.

On a local basis, the Fox and NBC affiliates are finding success with advertising sales, but the cable guys are still kicking serious butt with the number of races on TNT, FX and the others. The cable guys are offering the same number of races at a lower spot rate.

Daytona has announced a marketing package with Disney for the Daytona 500. Disney owns ABC and ESPN, but the Daytona 500 will be televised on NBC in 2004 with the Disney promotion in full swing. You can bet NBC will go out of its way to avoid the Disney promotions whenever possible.

It has been said many times that money is the root of all evil. The TV decisions are all about the money. Disney is paying big bucks for a Daytona promotion, and the TV broadcast will all but snub the mouse by purposefully limiting exposure. NASCAR receives money from both NBC and Disney, so it will win either way.

The moral of this story: Be careful what you wish for. NASCAR was strutting around, bragging about its huge rights fees from the networks. But the trickle-down effect has hurt both car and race sponsorships significantly. The future might be bright, but someone has to pay the light bill.

<p> With a new TV contract on the horizon, NASCAR must sift through the positives and negatives of its landmark deal of 2001</p>
Post date: Tuesday, November 15, 2011 - 12:05
Path: /nascar/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.

The following "13 Tough Questions" feature was originally published in the 2004 Athlon Sports Racing annual:

1. Can the ALLTEL car win the Nextel Cup?

The ALLTEL team, led by Ryan Newman, is the odds-on favorite to win the 2004 Nextel Cup. Newman and his Penske South guys proved they were the cream of the crop last year, and their prospects appear very favorable to repeat their title.

The question is not if they are capable; the question is whether they will play on a level field. Nextel enters the sport in 2004 with cars sponsored by its competitors competing to win the championship the company funds. This could present a unique set of problems. The NASCAR marketing department did a great job in replacing Winston as the long-time series sponsor and preparing Nextel for competing companies in the sport. But Winston did not face this issue.

Will the emergence of Ryan Newman, decked out in the ALLTEL colors, damage the NASCAR/Nextel program the first year out of the box?

The answer is preceded by two questions:

Could they? Can the sanctioning body keep Newman from winning the championship? That answer is a qualified yes. There are more than a couple of ways to keep a car from winning. The inspection process is the most effective way to keep a team down. Many measurements are left to discretion and judgment. If football is a game of inches, racing is a game of ounces and millimeters. The performance of a race car is directly related to how closely the rulebook is followed and how strictly the rules are enforced during inspection.

Any time penalties are handed out by judgment calls there is room to favor, or not to favor, a particular team. If this does not ring a bell, take a look at the yellow line issues involving Sterling Marlin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. last season. The majority of participants feel that the two rulings were inconsistent. Marlin got penalized; Junior got a check. This discretion is one way to affect the outcome of a race — or a season.

Add speeding on pit road to this list. There is no way to prove whether a driver did or did not speed. When was the last time you saw a radar gun anywhere near pit road? Worse, there is no appeal process that can take place during a race to rectify a situation such as this. One or two of these incidents can change the outcome of an entire season.

But would they? Most believe NASCAR can and has adversely affected specific teams in the past. Competitors have little or no recourse in these matters. We believe it is doubtful that NASCAR would hinder the performance of the ALLTEL team to prevent Newman from winning a championship, but it does make for interesting water cooler talk. The Nextel folks knew coming in that Newman was quickly becoming the ace of NASCAR’s premier division. He can, and probably will, have a Nextel Cup on his mantle before long. This will cause some red faces if it happens in the first year, but we do not see an effort to prevent what we believe is inevitable. There were red faces at Lowe’s Motor Speedway when the Home Depot car pulled into Victory Lane last season, but embarrassment is nothing new in this sport. The bigger problem we see is that the outcome can be affected, even if it is not.

2. Should Jimmy Spencer have been suspended for punching Kurt Busch?

This is one of those things that NASCAR had to do but probably did not want to. The one-race suspension had no effect on the point standings for the car or driver. Neither would have made the top 25 and finished in the money.

There were sponsor considerations in the mix as well. Sirius sponsors races at Michigan and Watkins Glen (both owned by International Speedway Corporation). Other than that, this suspension happened because the police saw the incident and Jack Roush pushed the issue.

Add this to the well-publicized feud between Kurt Busch and Jimmy Spencer and the suspension was inevitable. There have been numerous incidents in the sport involving fists, water bottles and an assortment of other objects, although none ended with suspensions. Looking back to the Kevin Harvick/Greg Biffle incident after the Busch race at Bristol in 2002, physical contact between the two was made, television cameras caught the fray and it was every bit as intentional as the Spencer slap. Oddly enough, the incident did not result in a suspension for either driver.

The bottom line is, NASCAR felt it had to put an end to the feud brewing between Spencer and Busch. That, and they knew that with the sport reaching a new base of fans, letting the incident go would not sit well with some.

Did they do the right thing? We don’t think Spencer should have been suspended while Busch only got fined, especially when you consider that bumping someone’s car while running 185 mph is much more dangerous than a punch in the face. Let them race, let them fight and see if the risk of a bloody nose is more of a deterrent for reckless driving than a simple fine.

3. Is aero ruining racing?

Hell yes! Racing is not as exciting as it used to be. Engineers have massaged the cars down to the foot-pound of downforce, causing the smallest wrinkle on the front fender to take a car out of contention. When the engineer becomes more critical than the driver, it’s not racing.

Simply put, the aerodynamics of today’s cars equalize driving talent. As recently as the mid-1990s, young drivers could not compete due to a lack of experience; now the aerodynamic equalizer allows rookies to not only compete, but also win. While new winners are good for the sport, giving up better racing is not a fair trade-off. The number of first-time winners over the last few years could be a direct correlation to the aero packages on the cars today.

There are numerous races where the best car gets caught in traffic and cannot get back to the front. Clean air, dirty air and track position are factors in every race, but today’s cars have to balance front and rear downforce. If the balance is off, the cars will not handle. If you take away front downforce the cars push; with less rear downforce the cars are too loose.

The term “taking air off the rear spoiler” is a prime example. When a trailing car reaches the back bumper of another car, the air passes over the rear spoiler and takes away rear downforce, causing the back end to want to swing out.

The aero push is the same concept. When a trailing car closes on a competitor, the air goes over the hood and decreases front downforce. The trailing car loses grip in the front and cannot advance.

The great equalizer works when the car is in clean air. With proper track position, a less experienced driver or an inferior car can win a race. As a result, track position has won or lost the majority of the races in the last two years.

New rules are on the way to lessen the impact of aerodynamics. Softer tires and less rear spoiler should “mess up” some of the aero. Thus, we should see more finishes based on driver talent and less on wind tunnel technology.

4. Was Dodge right to bump Bill Davis?

This is a tough one. In the 2003 season, two teams lost their factory support for different reasons. The Jasper Motorsports team lost support from Ford for running a Dodge in the fall Talladega race. The Jasper team was way down the list with Ford anyway and did not have much to lose.

The shocker was Dodge dropping Bill Davis for working with Toyota. We are going to side with Dodge on this one. All of the manufacturers in Nextel Cup racing have poured millions of dollars into the sport, and they must protect their investment.

Further, Dodge is the elite Truck manufacturer. For one of their own to aid and abet their biggest foe for the upcoming season was inexcusable.

Dodge, Ford, and GM are not happy that Toyota is coming into the sport. When Dodge pulled factory support for the two Davis teams, Detroit sent a message to all teams of all makes: If you want factory support, you must not do anything that helps the competition.

We question the short-term logic of Davis in jeopardizing his two Cup teams for the Craftsman Truck Series. None of the other Toyota teams for the 2004 truck season race in other series, so they have nothing to lose. Davis now faces the future without substantial support for his Nextel Cup effort.

It is reasonable to assume that Toyota will land with Bill Davis Racing when they expand into Busch and Cup racing in the future. In the meantime, the BDR Nextel car will race without factory support. The arrangement with Toyota should include some support that might carry over to the Cup side of the garage in the future.

5. Is there favoritism in NASCAR?

Over the years there have been accusations of preferential treatment for certain teams and drivers. Fans and the media have voiced various opinions, but the best place for opinions is in the garage. When asked the question, two incidents continually surface. The first is the yellow line infraction at Talladega by Dale Earnhardt Jr.

At the 2003 Daytona 500, Sterling Marlin was penalized for advancing his position by going under the yellow line. It appeared Marlin went low to avoid getting into the back of Elliott Sadler. Later in the year at Talladega, Dale Earnhardt Jr. clearly went below the yellow line to make a pass and win the race. While Marlin was penalized, officials gave a pass to NASCAR’s most popular driver and No. 1 souvenir salesman.

Another less-known incident involved Earnhardt again. In the fall Atlanta race, which was run on Monday due to a rain-out, Ricky Rudd spun into the wet front stretch infield. With the infield heavily saturated, it was clear Rudd would have to be towed out. Spotters alerted drivers of the spin, warning of the impending yellow flag. The new rules prohibiting racing back to the yellow caused several drivers to back off. Kurt Busch did not lift and passed a couple of cars coming off turn four. NASCAR had to give cars their laps back and penalized Busch for passing the cars, but the yellow flag was late coming out. The late yellow led to confusion.

Review of the incident found that Earnhardt had entered pit road just before Rudd spun. Many people in the garage felt the yellow flag was late coming out to keep Earnhardt on the lead lap.

Of course we remember Watkins Glen in 2002. With all the cars lined up for a restart with one lap to go, the drivers were warned not to jump the restart. The TV commentators heard these warnings and then discussed where the restart line was. Before they could finish, the leader, Tony Stewart, jumped the gun. The NBC guys fully expected Stewart to get the black flag in light of NASCAR’s warnings. No penalty was assessed and Stewart went on to win the championship by 38 points over Mark Martin.

We also recall a race at Martinsville where Rusty Wallace jumped a late restart, got black-flagged and lost the race. Was this favoritism? You decide. The old saying, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know that matters” should be changed to “It’s not what was done, it’s who did it that matters.”

6. Was Kevin Harvick grandstanding in the incidents with Ricky Rudd and Greg Biffle?

Yes, and here are the facts. Kevin Harvick accosted Greg Biffle after a Busch race in Bristol in 2002. During the race, Harvick made contact with Biffle and ended up in the wall and out of the race. Harvick waited on the wall of his pit box until the end of the race. When Biffle got out of his car on pit road, Harvick ran across pit road and dove over the hood of the car and grabbed Biffle around the collar.

Then this year at Richmond, Harvick jumped out of his car and started a near-riot on pit road after a late-race altercation that knocked him out of the race. There are many photographs of an angry Harvick standing on his car screaming at Ricky Rudd. This ended a great run and a top 5 finish.

Harvick had the cameras and a national TV audience for both cases. Many competitors throw him under the bus on this one. The terms “showboat” and “immature” are mentioned a great deal when talking about these incidents. On both occasions, Harvick embarrassed himself, Richard Childress and his team.

We wonder if Harvick would have approached Rudd if there were no cameras or anyone to break up a potential fight. We don’t think so. This goes back to maturity. Harvick constantly gets into trouble and almost thrives on being the bad boy.

His one-race suspension for the truck race incident at Martinsville was a wake-up call, but Harvick hit the snooze button and went on his way. Dale Earnhardt was known as The Intimidator; Harvick is trying to be an imitator — but falls short.

7. Will Jeff Gordon be a better driver now that he is single again?

There are two Jeff Gordons. One was married and shackled; the other is single and free. We wonder which one is the better race car driver. Without getting into the reasons for the divorce, we see the single Jeff definitely having more fun.

Fun has little to do with winning races, but it can change attitudes and mindset. The old Gordon was almost a recluse and rarely seen out on his own. The new and improved Gordon is loose and happy. The fact that the legal stuff and tabloid reports are over also makes life easier.

Any time that an ordeal of this nature comes to a conclusion, the person involved has to have a great feeling of relief. Now that the ball-and-chain has been removed, we should see a different person and a different race car driver. We predict that the best of Gordon as a driver has yet to be seen.

8. Has Kurt Busch learned anything about maturity after a year of embarrassments?

Kurt Busch has just completed a tough season. He started the year with strong finishes, including three wins in the first 15 races. Then a stretch of bad luck and crashes took Busch from second in the points to ninth by July. At the Michigan race in August, Busch sideswiped Jimmy Spencer’s car, trying to ruin the fenders, affect aerodynamics and possibly causing a tire rub.

It is one thing to bump, trade paint and race hard, but Busch had nothing to gain from the incident. His biggest mistake was openly discussing his intent on the radio for all to hear. When the tape surfaced, Busch looked like an idiot.

After the race, he got a slap to the face that bloodied his nose and left a shiner. Some say he deserved it, and most sided with Spencer. The idiotic statements caught on tape cost him the respect of almost every one of his competitors on the circuit. Some drivers offered to pay Spencer’s fine, and fans made Busch the target of the most boos on the circuit.

Fittingly, the sponsors sat him down for a chewing, both in private and in public. Even his teammates could not defend Busch’s immature behavior. When Busch, in the Sharpie car, won the Sharpie 500 at Bristol, the boo-birds were overwhelmingly loud. The Sharpie people were stunned by the negative response to their driver on what could have been a career-changing day. Needless to say, sponsors are not happy when their driver is seen as a liability.

After the Bristol win, Busch disappeared off the radar screen. Bad finishes and more motor problems dropped him out of the top 10.

At Martinsville, Busch blew another motor, came down pit road and spun in the oil. Once again, his immaturity took over and he lit up the car and spun again in complete disregard for his and other pit crews. NASCAR took a dim view and invited crew chief, owner and driver to the red trailer for a sit-down. Busch either did not hear the request or blew it off.

The next week in Atlanta, Busch had his NASCAR license taken. He had to go through the credential line to gain admission to the pits and garage. This was merely a slap on the wrist, but it was a huge inconvenience for Busch.

Nextel Cup racing is for adults. Other young drivers have figured out how to get along; why can’t Busch? He had the luxury of seeing Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart act up and pay the price, but it appears he did not pay attention.

Busch is a driver who did not pay his dues like his elder drivers. Most drivers in their 40s spent years driving second-rate, underfinanced equipment, while Busch started his Cup career in a winning car. There is an underlying resentment toward the young, cocky and arrogant drivers on the circuit. It is hard to justify his behavior, and it costs his team in the long run. This is the one sport where the respect of your competitors and fans can affect a career, and we are not sure Busch is mature enough to understand the basics of getting along in this sport.

9. Are ticket sales declining?

Watch a race on TV and you will quickly notice the number of commercials for tickets to upcoming races. This is a new and very necessary development. Only a few tracks sell out all of their races, and as the realignment talks continue, this issue gets more pressing.

There are several factors that have led to empty seats at tracks that used to sell out. The economic conditions can’t be blamed for everything. To determine the cause of the decline we need to identify the three types of ticket buys for Nextel Cup races.

  • The race fan: Joe Six-Pack goes with his family or buddies to a race or two each season. He buys and pays for his four tickets around nine months before the race on an annual renewal.
  • The local business uses tickets for employees and to entertain customers at the race in the area. Sometimes they utilize hospitality packages that include food, beverages, and more. Each local business is good for 20-100 tickets per race.
  • National corporate accounts purchase hundreds of tickets at multiple tracks across the country. Most of these corporations sponsor cars and most of the time they host their customers and guests with structured at-the-track hospitality. These are the tents you see in restricted areas just outside the grandstands. The hospitality package can run as much as $350 per person, not including the gouging by the hotels.

Joe Six-Pack has economic factors to consider every year at renewal time. The economy has been unkind to some, jobs have changed, children are born and priorities change. And when a race fan elects not to renew for one season, he is more than likely to stay away in future years. Getting him back can be very difficult.

The distance from the track is another issue. Overnight accommodations are budget-killers for the average race fans. Most hotels jack up room rates and require two- or three-night minimums for a race weekend. Charging race fans $250 dollars for a room that is $49 come Monday night, can be prohibitive.

After the economic issues come the boring racing that has emerged with all the aerodynamic hocus-pocus. Many long-time fans are burned out by the lack of actual racing on the track.

The local corporate customers face the same economic factors as Joe Six-Pack, but they are also faced with redundancy. You can only entertain the same customers so many times with the same thing. Customers who are not race fans are usually good for only one or two outings. In the days of budget cuts, every dollar has to have maximum impact. To be blunt, if you are not a die-hard fan, once you have seen one race, you have seen them all.

National corporate customers who purchase hundreds of tickets are declining in number for several reasons. Tickets and hospitality packages are purchased to enhance and increase business. When business declines, these are the first cuts. Instead of purchasing 400 at a particular track, they might cut 100 from the annual ticket buy. Multiply this by dozens of customers and you get thousands of available tickets.

The arrogance and poor customer relations of the tracks have added to the decline. The cost of doing business goes up every year, with no improvement in the product. This sounds like a harsh indictment of the tracks, but if you listen to the corporate customers, they will echo these comments. The tracks are responsible for most of their own problems. The needs of corporate customers have been ignored for years while constant price increases have shrunk the numbers. When all tracks sold out there was no need for good customer service.

Poor customer service, economics and follow- the-leader racing has run off thousands of ticket buyers in the last few years. If NASCAR fixes the problems with racing on the track, people will come back. Follow the leader does not sell tickets; passing the leader will.

Race tickets used to be a sellers’ market. Not anymore.

10. Will Rusty win again?

This is a repeat question from our 2003 Racing Annual. We predicted at least one win for Rusty Wallace a year ago, but we reverse course in 2004 and predict that he will once again miss out on a visit to Victory Lane.

Wallace didn’t do much in 2003 to give us reason to believe. The Miller Lite Team had a car to win in three or four races only to self-destruct.

His is now the secondary team at Penske South, and that creates a new set of problems. In looking at the record books, Wallace has fared much better without teammates. And starting over with a new crew chief in 2004 should put the team behind to begin the year.

Wallace has led the effort to change the rules to bring the cars back to him, instead of working to catch up to the leaders. We expect Wallace to improve over last year, but this team is always capable of snatching defeat from jaws of victory.

11. What effect will Toyota have on NASCAR?

Toyota will have both good and bad effects on all divisions of NASCAR. The level of competition in the Craftsman Truck Series will be better, and that is a good thing.

Toyota plans to dominate the truck series, and that makes everyone nervous as they look ahead to the time when Toyota enters the other series. Toyota’s entrance to American stock car racing will increase the cost of doing business for all teams. The sport is already financially strapped and plagued by decreasing sponsorship, and now Daddy Warbucks is showing up to further strain the teams.

It is expected that Toyota will bring huge dollars to its teams, which will force existing manufacturers to step up to keep up. General Motors and Ford went through this when Dodge threw its money around.

It is reasonable to assume that the manufacturers will circle the wagons, and fewer teams will get full support. The losers will be the teams that get shut out.

Everyone will be watching the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, and how Toyota operates in the first year. If they dominate and run the lesser teams out of business, the war will begin. Other manufacturers might cut their losses and run. In the long term, that will be a disaster.

NASCAR is known to look at short-term profit without considering long-term results. If Toyota runs teams out of business, the results might be unintended but shouldn’t be unexpected.

12. Why not use the red flag when a driver is in danger?

The racing back to the caution rule was changed last year, but we ask, why?

The yellow flag is for the safety of the driver. Racing and passing are not important compared to the safety of the drivers. So why not use the red flag when a driver is in jeopardy?

The Dale Jarrett incident at New Hampshire led to the rule change, and other crashes and incidents have caused a great deal of concern. Racing back to the line has always been a part of the sport and in most cases there is no danger. When there is danger, such as with Jarrett’s incident, use the red flag, freeze the field and no one gets a lap back. If there is a harmless spin or debris on the track, throw the yellow and race back to the line.

Looking back at the 2003 season, there were several hard crashes and fires that should have resulted in a red flag. Bobby Labonte, Rusty Wallace, Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman were involved with fires and needed a quick exit. This type of incident needs a red flag so all competitors know that a driver is in danger. When this occurs, all cars should slow to a crawl to allow safety crews to roll.

On the other hand, if there is debris on the track, throw the yellow and race to the line. If this were the case we would not need a lucky dog or scoring disputes.

We cannot find a driver who does not agree. The red is one of seven flags; it means danger but it’s not used when there is danger to a driver. Tiger Woods uses all the clubs in his golf bag. Why doesn’t NASCAR use all their flags?

13. What will softer tires do for the sport?

At the urging of several drivers, NASCAR wants to soften the compounds for the Goodyear racing tires for the 2004 Nextel Cup season. It is no secret that racing has become a little boring in the last few years. The most critical strategy is to get and maintain track position. With today’s aerodynamics and the harder tires it is difficult to pass. Most races are won or lost on track position.

In the old days, teams could bolt on four new tires and race through the pack. With softer tires the difference in lap times between new and old tires is greater. If a car stays out on older tires while others pit, he will be a sitting duck when the green flag drops.

With the harder tire, the lap times are closer between new and old tires, making staying out on the track a solid strategy. We remember races when drivers raced through the field because they had the best tires.

Drivers and fans are starting to complain about the follow-the-leader racing. The excitement level for fans is at an all-time low, and the frustration of drivers stuck in traffic is at an all-time high. There is an increased number of wrecks in Nextel Cup racing, with part of the reason being the inability to pass due to the hard tires and aerodynamics.

Let these guys race. The show will improve, and strategy decisions will be made on racing faster, not longer.

BONUS! Is it time to throw away the plates?

Ask the drivers, and they will tell you they are ready to race and get rid of the plates. But with the current configuration of Daytona and Talladega, the plates are a must. Insurance requirements keep the cars under 200 mph. To get rid of the plates, these two tracks would have to be changed.

International Speedway Corporation owns Daytona and Talladega along with Homestead-Miami. They spent millions adding banks to Homestead without safety issues. Why can’t they spend money for the safety of drivers and fans?

The racing would be better with fewer wrecks. The slingshot pass might return and follow-the-leader racing might be a thing of the past. The overwhelming majority of the drivers do not like plate racing. It costs teams way too much money and forces racers to simply become drivers until the white flag waves. Unfortunately, though, they currently have no choice.

There are two solutions that would eliminate plate racing at these two tracks. The banks can be cut down or the seats can be moved away from the track. Both will cost money, but how much money is spent repairing and replacing torn-up race cars?

The teams and sponsors pay every day. The tracks, on the other hand, can fix the problem by spending a one-time-only lump sum.

<p> Athlon asks the questions that are on everyone's mind, even if they may not like the answers</p>
Post date: Tuesday, November 15, 2011 - 11:58