Articles By Athlon Sports

All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/2013-college-football-fcs-top-25-and-predictions
Body:

College football isn't just about the major conferences and the BCS. The FCS  settles its national champion with a playoff, something most FBS fans have wanted for years. North Dakota State tops Athlon's Top 25 FCS teams for 2013, as the Bison look to win their third consecutive national championship. 

1. North Dakota State (14-1, 7-1 MVC)
A tremendous amount of returning talent powers the Bison as they seek a third straight national title. Cornerback Marcus Williams and linebacker Grant Olson fuel the nation’s stingiest defense, and quarterback Brock Jensen will feed 1,000-yard backs Sam Ojuri and John Crockett. A word of caution for Kansas State, which hosts the Bison on Aug. 30: coach Craig Bohl’s program is 6–3 against FBS opponents since joining the FCS ranks in 2006.

2. Montana State (11-2, 7-1 Big Sky) 
The three-time defending Big Sky champions welcome back linebacker Na’a Moeakiola and defensive end Brad Daly but have several holes to plug on defense. This season, the Bobcats offense has to lead the way, and it can, behind fourth-year starting quarterback DeNarius McGhee, running back Cody Kirk and receiver Tanner Bleskin.

3. Georgia Southern (10-4, 6-2 Southern) 
The FBS-bound Eagles are ineligible for the Southern Conference title and a playoff berth after three straight semifinal-round appearances. With a solid offensive line and the return of quarterback Jerick McKinnon (1,817 rushing yards, 20 rushing TDs) and fullback Dominique Swope (1,246, 17 total TDs), Georgia Southern’s triple option attack could lead the FCS in rushing once again.

4. Sam Houston State (11-4, 6-1 Southland) 
Two straight losses in the national final are motivating coach Willie Fritz’s squad. The offense will score in bunches with the return of quarterback Brian Bell, All-America running back Timothy Flanders and multi-dimensional running back/receiver Richard Sincere. Still, the defense is vulnerable after suffering key losses.

5. Villanova (8-4, 6-2 CAA) 
With the return of 18 starters, veteran coach Andy Talley seemingly has one of his better teams, although a competitive CAA race will test the Wildcats. Quarterback John Robertson, the 2012 Jerry Rice Award winner, has fellow playmakers in running backs Kevin Monangai and Jamal Abdur-Rahman. Plus, the Wildcats are as deep in the trenches as any FCS team.

6. Appalachian State (8-4, 6-2 Southern)
Scott Satterfield faces the difficult task of replacing legendary coach Jerry Moore as the Mountaineers head toward the FBS. Ineligible for the SoCon title and a playoff berth, they feature a terrific passing game led by quarterback Jamal Jackson and receivers Sean Price, Andrew Peacock and Tony Washington.

7. Eastern Washington (11-3, 7-1 Big Sky) 
The Eagles’ schedule is diabolical — road games at Oregon State, Toledo, Sam Houston State, Montana and Cal Poly, and a home date against Montana State. Can they overcome it? Last season’s national semifinalists expect to with the likes of quarterback Vernon Adams, linebacker Ronnie Hamlin and cornerback T.J. Lee III.

8. Towson (7-4, 6-2 CAA) 
Junior running back Terrance West has scored 44 touchdowns in his career and is beaming over the return of all five starting offensive linemen. Wisconsin transfer Joe Brennan may take over at quarterback, while the defense will be strong at linebacker and defensive back.

9. Montana (5-6, 3-5 Big Sky) 
The Grizzlies are still coming out of a tumultuous period, including last year’s first losing record since 1985. The reinstatement of 2011 starting quarterback Jordan Johnson could settle the position again. The defense is stacked in the front seven with end Zach Wagenmann and senior linebackers Jordan Tripp, Brock Coyle and John Kanongata’a.

10. South Dakota State (9-4, 6-2 MVC)
Zach Zenner led the FCS in rushing yards (2,044 yards) as a sophomore and is the focal point of the offense. But the Jackrabbits need quarterback Austin Sumner to provide his 2011 level of production instead of last year’s drop-off. Sophomore linebacker T.J. Lally is a big-game player already.

11. New Hampshire (8-4, 6-2 CAA) 
Opponents will be hard-pressed to slow the Wildcats’ bid for a 10th straight FCS playoff berth. Nico Steriti, who averaged 6.6 yards per carry as a sophomore, heads a deep running attack, and quarterbacks Sean Goldrich and Andy Vailas always get the ball to junior wide receiver R.J. Harris. New Hampshire must replace linebacker Matt Evans, the school’s all-time tackles leader.

12. Central Arkansas (9-3, 6-1 Southland) 
Dual-threat quarterback Wynrick Smothers (3,103 yards passing, 449 yards rushing in 2012) and defensive end Jonathan Woodard are poised for big seasons for the Bears, who have yet to lose in two seasons on their purple-and-gray turf. Linebacker Justin Heard and cornerback Jestin Love also star for the emerging defense.

13. Richmond (8-3, 6-2 CAA) 
The Spiders enjoyed a five-win improvement in coach Danny Rocco’s first season as the head coach, and they may be poised for another leap forward with the return of 18 starters. In a run-heavy CAA, senior wideout Ben Edwards (80 receptions) stands out for quarterback Michael Strauss. Defensive linemen Evan Kelly and Kerry Wynn track down the opposing quarterbacks.

14. Northern Iowa (5-6, 4-4 MVC) 
The Panthers have softened the schedule after overindulging last season — at Wisconsin and at Iowa in the first three weeks of the season — and they expect to get back on track behind junior running back David Johnson and sophomore quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen. Placekicker Tyler Sievertsen, who’s made 28-of-33 career field goal attempts, likes the comforts of the UNI Dome.

15. Cal Poly (9-3, 7-1 Big Sky) 
After making a splash in their Big Sky debut, the Mustangs return a veteran squad, but their losses include quarterback Andre Broadous and 1,500-yard back Deonte Williams. Slotback Kristaan Ivory is the new offensive star, and defensive tackle Sullivan Grosz gets into opponents’ backfields.

16. Northern Arizona (8-3, 6-2 Big Sky) 
Two season-ending losses — at home vs. Southern Utah and Cal Poly — sabotaged the Lumberjacks, who return 18 starters. Running back Zach Bauman seeks a fourth straight 1,000-yard season, and fellow seniors Anders Battle and Lucky Dozier headline one of the better secondaries in the FCS.

17. James Madison (7-4, 5-3 CAA)
Sophomore quarterback Michael Birdsong is a star in the making, and running back Dae’Quan Scott does a little bit of everything for the Dukes. All-America middle linebacker Stephon Robertson works sideline to sideline, backed by emerging safety Dean Marlowe.

18. Chattanooga (6-5, 5-3 Southern)
The Mocs are primed for SoCon title contention with the conference’s best defense, featuring 2012 Defensive Player of the Year Davis Tull at end, linebacker Wes Dothard and cornerback Kadeem Wise. Jacob Huesman, son of coach Russ Huesman, has supplanted Terrell Robinson at quarterback.

19. Wofford (9-4, 6-2 Southern) 
With FBS-bound Appalachian State and Georgia Southern ineligible for the SoCon title, the Terriers are the league favorites. They lose standout Eric Breitenstein but now feature fullback Donovan Johnson, who has 1,793 career rushing yards. Linebacker Mike McCrimon and Alvin Scioneaux are rocks on defense.

20. Eastern Illinois (7-5, 6-1 OVC)
Behind his lethal passing attack, first-year coach Dino Babers took the Panthers from worst to first in the Ohio Valley Conference. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and wide receiver Erik Lora, whose 136 receptions set the FCS single-season record, lead the passing game.

21. Tennessee State (8-3, 4-3 OVC)
After beginning last season with seven straight wins, the Tigers need talented junior quarterback Michael German to be their closer. Much of the defense returns, including shutdown cornerback Steven Godbolt III and aptly named linebacker Nick Thrasher, their leading tackler.

22. Delaware (5-6, 2-6 CAA) 
New coach Dave Brock inherits a talented team that features senior tailback Andrew Pierce (3,637 career rushing yards) and, the Blue Hens hope, a healthier Trent Hurley at quarterback. Linebacker Jeff Williams broke in as a premier pass-rusher last season.

23. Youngstown State (7-4, 4-4 MVC) 
A tough schedule in November means the Penguins need a fast start as they chase their first playoff appearance since 2006. Quarterback Kurt Hess will air it out to make amends for last season’s disappointment.

24. Illinois State (9-4, 5-3 MVC) 
The Redbirds have filled major holes on offense with transfers — quarterback Jared Barnett, from Iowa State, and power running back Collin Keoshian, from Glendale (Calif.) Community College. Premier defensive end Colton Underwood has to lead a defense that also sustained heavy losses.

25. The Citadel (7-4, 5-3 Southern) 
A rare sweep of Appalachian State and Georgia Southern last season could be a prelude for an even better 2013. The Bulldogs’ triple option returns quarterbacks Ben Dupree and Aaron Miller, 1,000-yard fullback Darien Robinson and a veteran offensive line.

 

Related College Football Content

College Football's Top 25 Teams for 2013
College Football Team Rankings for 2013: No. 26-40

College Football Team Rankings for 2013: No. 41-60

College Fooball Team Rankings for 2013: No. 61-80

College Football Team Rankings for 2013: No. 81-100

College Football Team Rankings for 2013: No. 101-125

College Football's Top 50 Quarterbacks of the BCS Era

College Football's Top 50 Running Backs of BCS Era

College Football's Top 50 Wide Receivers of BCS Era

College Football's Top 30 Tight Ends of the BCS Era

Teaser:
<p> 2013 College Football FCS Top 25 and Predictions</p>
Post date: Friday, June 14, 2013 - 07:50
Path: /nascar/fantasy-nascar-picks-pocono-international-speedway
Body:

To help guide you through the 2013 Fantasy NASCAR season, Athlon Sports contributor Geoffrey Miller will be offering his best predictions for each race. And because Yahoo's Fantasy Auto Racing game is arguably the most popular, he’ll break down the picks according to its NASCAR driver classes — A-List, B-List, C-List. The main picks are designed to make optimal use of Yahoo!’s 9-start maximum rule over the course of the season. The “also consider” section ranks unmentioned drivers strictly by expected result without consideration of start limitations.


It’s round one of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Michigan International Speedway this weekend — and the one year anniversary of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s most recent win. Oh, that’s the only thing everyone is talking about this week? Sorry about that. Jump in, make your picks and, hopefully, make us look like we know what we’re talking about.


A-List (Pick two, start one)
Jimmie Johnson  Johnson was so, so good at Pocono Raceway. Without a differing pit strategy from Ryan Newman, there’s a good chance Johnson could have led all but about 10 laps or so thanks to the green flag pit stops. Most worrisome for the field is that Johnson discussed after the race how the car’s demands are really sharpening in to focus for that team. In other words: Johnson and crew chief aren’t trying out new setup theories at this point, they’re improving on what’s already working. There’s a good chance Johnson erases his distinction of never winning at Michigan come Sunday.

Denny Hamlin  Hamlin didn’t quite come through at Pocono like expected, and he’s now starting to reach desperation mode if the summer comeback from the four races he missed is going to happen. It was just two years ago that Hamlin drove away from the field to win at Michigan, and remember he was injured in a crash while battling for the lead earlier this year at Auto Club Speedway — Michigan’s sister track in shape and design. Last year, his Michigan race ended in a fire on pit road — knocking his average finish at MIS to 13.6.

Also consider: Matt Kenseth, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne
 

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy NASCAR tips for the Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, June 12, 2013 - 17:59
Path: /college-football/wisconsin-finds-perfect-fit-new-coach-gary-andersen
Body:

Gary Andersen’s final act as Utah State’s head football coach, heartfelt but atypical among college coaches, helped assuage the pain and frustration felt by his players, most of whom were stunned to learn their coach had taken a new job less than a week after capping arguably the most memorable season in the history of the program.

Andersen’s decision to call the Utah State players — one by one over a span of two days — so he could personally explain the reasons behind his decision to take over the Wisconsin program impressed the players at his new school.

“That did surprise me, because you don’t hear about things like that very often,” says Wisconsin senior linebacker Chris Borland, who learned of Andersen’s classy gesture online. “That speaks a lot to his character. Coaches fly by night these days. To stay connected to his guys like that, at all hours of the night, over 100 guys, that is really special.”

Kyle Whittingham, who has been the head coach at Utah for the last eight seasons, has known Andersen since the two first worked together at Idaho State in 1992. Whittingham wasn’t surprised to learn that Andersen had devoted hours on the phone to talk to his players before he left Logan, his home from 2009-12, for Madison.

“He cares tremendously about his players,” Whittingham says. “That is one of his strengths. He has a great rapport and has always been able to develop a strong bond with his players.”

And Wisconsin’s players needed a hug — probably even more than Utah State’s did.

Three days after crushing Nebraska in the Big Ten title game, the UW players learned they were losing their coach, Bret Bielema.

About 24 hours after Bielema told the players not to worry if they heard his name linked to any job openings, he was in New York City finalizing an agreement to take over the Arkansas program.

By the time he returned to Madison for a team meeting, the UW players knew Bielema was gone. Although most of them respected his right to make such a career move, many were taken aback when he said he was leaving in part to win a championship.

Hadn’t UW just won its third consecutive Big Ten title?

“I was a little surprised by that, and he said that to me,” UW athletic director Barry Alvarez says. “I thought we were very close to playing for a national championship a year ago (2011). We just won three (Big Ten) championships.”

Andersen, 49, has been working at a frenetic pace since being introduced as UW’s head coach on Dec. 21. He had the opportunity to meet the players and evaluate the team’s personnel shortly after he was hired and watched the 2013 Rose Bowl from the UW sideline.

However, he generally kept a low profile and let the UW staff focus on the bowl game.

“I respected that,” senior defensive end Tyler Dippel says. “I thought it was cool. He wasn’t some guy trying to come in and move everyone aside and say this is what we’re doing now.”

Instead, Andersen focused on building his staff, holding together the bulk of UW’s 2013 recruiting class and reaching out to the state’s high school coaches.

Andersen hired five coaches with whom he had worked, including three from Utah State; retained two from UW’s 2012 staff; and added two others to finalize the staff.

“It is an important part to this puzzle,” Andersen said when asked about hiring familiar faces. “It helps the transition. We need to hit the ground running. It is important to start fast.”

 Andersen’s final team at Utah State had 47 in-state players, or 44.8 percent of the roster. Shortly after UW lost to Stanford in the Rose Bowl, Andersen met with key members of the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association to assure them he would work diligently to keep the state’s best high school players home.

“He did a really good job explaining his philosophy and how they’re going to handle things,” says Tom Swittel, president of the WFCA. “He seems like a very down-to-earth guy. He’s not going to blow smoke up anyone’s rear end. He is going to say what is on his mind, and as a coach I appreciate that.

“He wants to continue to get the best kids in the state of Wisconsin. He made a point of saying that they don’t know how many that means every year. But they are committed to that.”

Andersen is also committed to keeping UW in contention for Big Ten titles.

When Bielema took over as UW’s head coach in 2006, he inherited a veteran-laden team coming off a 10–3 season under Alvarez. Bielema’s record in his first season: 12–1, with the lone loss at Michigan.

Andersen inherits a team that returns a total of 12 starters on offense and defense, as well as both specialists, from a group that finished 8–6.

“What’s my stamp going to be on it?” Andersen said when asked about the direction of the program. “I sure hope my stamp at the end of the day is to be a football team that’s physical, tough-minded, plays aggressive, plays the game the right way, is respected by their opponents, solid in all three phases (and) has one of the best graduation rates in the country. That’s what I expect. … Again, we’ll never be perfect. I’ll never say that. But we sure will try to be every single day and fight to get to that position.”

Andersen’s Utah State résumé suggests that he will not disappoint at UW.

From 1998-2008, the Aggies compiled a cumulative record of 35–90. They never finished above .500 in that 11-year span. Utah State finished 4–8, 4–8 and 7–6 in Andersen’s first three seasons. In 2012, Andersen guided the Aggies to the outright Western Athletic Conference title with a 6–0 league record. The 11–2 overall mark was the best in program history, and the Aggies finished 16th in the final Associated Press poll. The 41–15 victory over Toledo in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl was the second bowl victory in program history.

“It was a rebuild, a complete rebuild,” Whittingham says. “He built it from the ground up. But Gary is organized, pays attention to details and has a good vision of the big picture.”

Andersen, whose Utah State team suffered a 16–14 loss at Wisconsin last season, wasn’t planning to change jobs until UW entered the picture. He reportedly turned down offers from California, Kentucky and Colorado. But when Alvarez offered him a new challenge, Andersen jumped at the chance, because he had seen the campus and the fan support, and the players reminded him of those he recruited at Utah State.

“The second that Coach Alvarez had contacted me and gave me the opportunity,” Andersen says, “I knew that that was a job I was going to take.”


This article appeared in Athlon Sports' 2013 Big Ten Preview Edition. Visit our online store to order your copy to get more in-depth analysis on the 2013 SEC season.
 

Related College Football Content

Wisconsin Badgers 2013 Team Preview
Big Ten Predictions for 2013
College Football's Top 25 Teams for 2013
College Football Team Rankings for 2013: No. 26-40

College Football Team Rankings for 2013: No. 41-60

College Fooball Team Rankings for 2013: No. 61-80

College Football Team Rankings for 2013: No. 81-100

College Football's Top 50 Quarterbacks of the BCS Era

College Football's Top 50 Running Backs of BCS Era

College Football's Top 50 Wide Receivers of BCS Era

College Football's Top 30 Tight Ends of the BCS Era

Teaser:
<p> Wisconsin Finds the Perfect Fit in New Coach Gary Andersen</p>
Post date: Wednesday, June 12, 2013 - 07:40
Path: /nascar/nascar-numbers-game-6-amazing-stats-michigan
Body:

Watch the telecast of this weekend’s race at Michigan International Speedway and you will hear it referred to as “the sister track” to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. While that’s true in some ways — both are two-mile D-shaped tracks and the latter was built by Roger Penske to resemble the former — the two surfaces have now created two completely different styles of racing.

The weather-beaten surface in Fontana created a manic multiple-groove free-for-all earlier this year. Michigan, which was repaved prior to its two race dates in 2012, is speedy, stretches out the field and welcomes savvy pit strategy. It won’t provide the action that Fontana had, but it will create an atmosphere that allows the smartest race teams in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series to prevail.

In just two events last season, we caught a glimpse of what future races at MIS might entail. It favors some of the usual suspects.


195  Not a statistic, but the lap (out of a scheduled 200) on which Jimmie Johnson’s motor blew while leading the race at Michigan last summer.

Johnson’s detractors might have blacked this out, but the No. 48 was dangerously close to scoring the win in the most recent race at MIS (and the only race run on the current Goodyear tire compound). He led 23 laps in a heated battle with Brad Keselowski and Greg Biffle before his Hendrick motor popped, saddling him with a 27th-place result and forcing a green-white-checker finish. If not for the malfunction, Johnson would have likely joined Biffle and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in finishing inside the top 5 in both 2012 Michigan races.


99.5%  Keselowski spent a race-high 99.5 percent of all laps in the top 15 during last summer’s race at Michigan.

He led 17 laps and averaged a running position of 6.95 before finishing second to Biffle. The Michigan native has been knocking on the door to Cup Series victory lane at MIS ever since he collected back-to-back wins in the Nationwide Series races in 2009 and 2010. Really, a win this weekend would be the official break in a rare Keselowski slump. In six races dating back to Kansas, he and the No. 2 Penske Racing team have averaged a finish of 22.8 and seen their Chase-making probability drop by 22.67 percent.


54.8%  Johnson (55.9 percent) and Keselowski (53.3 percent) combined for a 54.8 percent passing efficiency on 336 total encounters in the most recent race at MIS.

Despite two different pit strategies, the two eventual title contenders had no trouble moving through traffic before sizing up one another. The race was an early sign that the two drivers were destined to duel for a championship, even though neither was the day’s victor.
 

Teaser:
<p> David Smith crunches the numbers and finds the key NASCAR stats for the Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, June 11, 2013 - 18:54
Path: /nascar/motivated-johnson-no-match-nascar-field-pocono
Body:

A five-time champion in their respective sport is rarely in need of motivation. So when you hand it to them on a silver platter, whatever the reason, you better hide yourself inside a bunker and hope for the best. After Dover’s fluky finish a week ago, where a restart penalty all but took a win away from Jimmie Johnson, something inside the 37-year-old snapped. Struggling to hold his tongue on several occasions, it was clear “Mr. Politically Correct” felt NASCAR made the wrong call, robbing him of what would be a record-setting Dover performance.

For a regular season race — sometimes used as test sessions for the No. 48 team — it’s been a long time since I’ve seen them enter the following Sunday so focused. Johnson, typically unflappable, was angry, even borderline insulted over it all. And we see what happens when star athletes get mad. Just ask LeBron James, Michael Jordan or even Joe Namath.

The Dover penalty, no matter what side you’re on, made Johnson “want it” more than anyone else at Pocono. And when a driver of that talent level gets prodded to the point they feel a statement must be made, what you get is the type of dominating snoozer Pocono turned out to be. It may not have been pretty — and at times, borderline unwatchable — but that kind of “whip the field” mentality is what’s made this guy the best NASCAR driver of the last decade … maybe more. Superstars are called that for a reason, and it’s not because they push their sport towards record ratings. That’s unfortunate for stock car racing, which has suffered under the Johnson era but you can’t suspend raw talent. You can only hope to contain it.

After seeing Sunday’s race, I doubt it will be contained anytime soon, especially after chief rivals seemed to stumble all over themselves. Their rough road ahead is what brings us “Through the Gears” after Pocono …


FIRST GEAR: Toyota’s loss is Jimmie Johnson’s gain
It’s easy to wax poetic about Johnson’s dominating performance, his first victory at Pocono since 2004. But to a point, that was expected considering the team’s level of anger, track position at a repaved facility (he started on the pole) and the momentum his No. 48 team has built over the past few months. Consistency-wise, they’re the best in the sport right now — no one else is remotely close.

Perhaps the bigger piece of news for Chevy’s top dog is how the top finishers shook out behind him. For the first time all season, not a single Toyota driver found his way inside the top 5 at race’s end. Mid-week changes at Toyota Racing Development to dial the engines back after a series of reliability problems turned the cars from Superman to Clark Kent. Denny Hamlin, the prototypical favorite at this track, failed to lead a lap, finished a quiet eighth and explained how suddenly, his Camry’s engine appeared to be hindered by kryptonite.

“By no means did we have a winning car this weekend,” he said. “I think all of us had to play defense on the straightaway, which is really tough.”

Add in Matt Kenseth’s rough day, slumping to 25th from fourth after contact with Juan Pablo Montoya, and a so-so sixth for Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing as a whole had an average finish of 13.0 with “Toyota engine, Version II.” That’s crucial for Johnson, whose lone obstacle, it seemed, entering the postseason was whether the durability of these rival motors would hold up. If the Toyotas have to dial it back that much, just to make each race the distance, they’re threatening to gift wrap the 2013 trophy for Johnson and hand it to him at Phoenix, the penultimate race — because he’ll still be able to skip Homestead and still win No. 6.


SECOND GEAR: Tough times for the Gen-6
Clearly, Pocono Raceway is not at fault for Johnson stomping the field. When a driver has a car that good, there’s only so much you can do to make the races exciting. To the Tricky Triangle’s credit, the crowd looked fairly full as track president Brandon Igdalsky continues to come up with great ways to maximize fan experience both inside and outside the track.

But no amount of free concerts, celebrity poker tournaments or cheap tickets can hide how awful NASCAR’s product was on Sunday. Behind Johnson, most of the field kept running in place while even a series of late restarts struggled to live up to their typical excitement. Several drivers appeared on cruise control, running in place, while side-by-side competition was nowhere to be found. It’s a puzzling development, especially at a triangular-shaped facility whose shortened distance last June provided one of the season’s best races and finishes.

When you end up with that type of flat, across-the-board product so soon after, it’s hard to point guilt anywhere other than NASCAR’s Gen-6. Fontana, at this point, seems a distant memory as the same type of aerodynamic issues are plaguing this new generation of car. High speeds, while good for the record books, have posed a problem when it comes to aggressive competition; drivers are chasing the racetrack, so much it makes running two-abreast too big of a risk to take. Add in the conservatism of making the Chase, with such a close battle for those positions (see point four below) and the final equation leaves what you’re watching seem like a conservative, single-file parade.

Is there a fix? One thought would be to slow the cars down; that, in turn, cuts down on the aero push and gives drivers more freedom to maneuver around the track. What made Fontana so great was its multiple grooves, giving drivers control over where to plant the car. Since then, I’ve heard the term “one-groove” track too many times to my liking. If drivers don’t feel they can control a car in a second groove (and under this point system) they’re not going to go there unless forced to — on those crazy restarts.

How you get those multiple grooves back in play? I’m not certain of the answer. But the right people should be racking their brains, because the optimism — and hype — this new car generated is threatening to fade.
 

Teaser:
<p> Reaction from Jimmie Johnson's dominant win in NASCAR's Party in the Poconos 400 at Pocono Raceway.</p>
Post date: Monday, June 10, 2013 - 16:33
Path: /college-football/best-and-worst-times-be-nebraska-football-fan
Body:

Even for the best college football programs, certain eras are better than others. And even the most successful programs have their lean years.

In a semi-regular series, Athlon Sports will look at the best times to be a fan for college football’s major powers -- when the stadium was a little louder, when the tailgates were a little livelier, and when it was just a little more fun to hang out on campus.

For Nebraska, was it more fun to be in Lincoln when Tommie Frazier was king? Or when Johnny Rodgers won the school its first Heisman? What about when the storied program was in its infancy?

Of course, there’s a flip side. Forgettable and even painful seasons when fans found better things to do on Saturdays, or worse, nothing to do during bowl season.

Here's when it was fun to be a Nebraska fan and the times best forgotten.

BEST TIMES TO BE A NEBRASKA FAN

1993-97
Record: 60-3
National titles: 3
Coach: Tom Osborne
Notable players: Tommie Frazier, Aaron Taylor, Grant Wistrom, Zach Wiegert, Trev Alberts, Brendan Stai, Ed Stewart, Jason Peter
Why this was a great time to be a fan: Osborne’s long wait for a national title ended in ’94 with a 13-0 record and a 24-17 win over Miami in the Orange Bowl. That was only the start. With Tommie Frazier at quarterback, Nebraska’s offense was one of the best in college football history, and the ’95 team was one of the sport’s legendary teams. The 62-24 demolition of Florida in the Fiesta Bowl for a second national title in two years was par for the course -- Nebraska defeated opponents by 38.7 points per game that year. In the final season before the BCS, Nebraska split a national title with Michigan in 1997, going 13-0 and finishing first in the coaches’ poll. Frazier was gone by then, but Nebraska produced an Outland winner (Aaron Taylor) and Lombardi winner (Grant Wistrom) that season.

1970-72
Record: 33-2-2
National titles: 2
Coach: Bob Devaney
Notable players: Johnny Rodgers, Rich Glover, Bob Newton, Larry Jacobson
Why this was a great time to be a fan: The era brought Nebraska’s first AP national champion in 1970 and the Cornhuskers’ first Heisman winner, Johnny Rodgers, in 1972. Nebraska went 24-0-1 in 1971 and ’72, earning back-to-back national titles. The 1971 squad may have been Devaney’s best team. That year, the biggest matchup became the Game of the Century against rival Oklahoma on Thanksgiving. Led by Rodgers, the Cornhuskers defeated the Sooners 35-31 in a wild matchup between the top two teams. Devaney avenged earlier bowl losses to Alabama and Bear Bryant to defeat the Tide 38-6 in the 1972 Orange Bowl to seal the title. Bryant called the ’71 Nebraska team one of the best he had faced with good reason -- Nebraska defeated teams that finished No. 2 (Oklahoma), No. 3 (Colorado) and No. 4 (Alabama).

1978-84
Record: 72-14
National titles: 0
Coach: Tom Osborne
Notable players: Mike Rozier, Turner Gill, Irving Fryar, Dave Rimington, Dean Steinkuhler, Roger Craig (right)
Why this was a great time to be a fan: Osborne set the tone for the remainder of his tenure during the late ’70s and early ’80s when the Huskers won five Big Eight titles and three outright. Rozier won the Heisman in 1983, but the undefeated Huskers missed out on a national title with a 31-30 loss to national champion Miami in a classic Orange Bowl upset. This may have been the most heartbreaking time to be a Nebraska fan: Of the 14 losses during this span, 12 were by a touchdown or less.

1962-66
Record: 38-6
National titles: 0
Coach: Bob Devaney
Notable players: Wayne Meylan, Bob Brown, Larry Kramer, Freeman White, Walt Barnes, LaVerne Allers
Why this was a great time to be a fan: The mid-'60s would be upstaged, but Nebraska entered new territory when Devaney was hired in 1962. The previous coach, Bill Jennings, went 15-34-1 in four seasons. In his first season, Devaney led Nebraska to its third bowl game in school history in 1962 and the following year led Nebraska to four consecutive Big Eight titles. Nebraska fans of this era were the first to get a taste of success.

WORST TIMES TO BE A NEBRASKA FAN

1941-61
Record: 72-125-4
Why this was a bad time to be a fan: Think fans of the Bill Callahan (right) era had it bad? It’s tough to remember a time when Nebraska wasn’t relevant, but the Huskers cycled through eight different coaches before 1962, each experiencing various degrees of futility. During this time, Nebraska won two or fewer games six times. The rivalry with Oklahoma wasn’t even a blip on the radar at the time as Nebraska lost 16 in a row from 1943-58.

2004-08
Record: 27-22
Coach: Bill Callahan
Why this was a bad time to be a fan: The previous four decades set the standards that Callahan failed to meet. He was supposed to bring Nebraska into the modern era on offense, but he ended up in the record books for the wrong reasons. Callahan’s first season (5-6) ended a streak of 35 seasons without a bowl and was Nebraska’s first losing season since 1961.

IT WASN'T AS BAD AS YOU THINK FROM...

1998-2003
Record: 59-29
Coach: Frank Solich
Why this wasn't so bad: Solich was Osborne’s preferred successor, but he struggled to live up to his former boss. Still, Solich led Nebraska to a 33-5 record from 1999-2001, producing a national title game appearance and a Heisman winner. Solich remains the last Nebraska coach to win a conference title (in 1999).
 

Related College Football Content

Big Ten Predictions for 2013
College Football's Top 25 Teams for 2013

College Football Team Rankings for 2013: No. 26-40

College Football Team Rankings for 2013: No. 41-60

College Fooball Team Rankings for 2013: No. 61-80

College Football Team Rankings for 2013: No. 81-100

College Football Team Rankings for 2013: No. 101-125

College Football's Top 50 Quarterbacks of the BCS Era

College Football's Top 50 Running Backs of BCS Era

College Football's Top 50 Wide Receivers of BCS Era

College Football's Top 30 Tight Ends of the BCS Era

Teaser:
<p> Tommie Frazier or Johnny Rodgers? Bob Devaney or Tom Osborne? The best times to root for the Huskers</p>
Post date: Monday, June 10, 2013 - 07:55
Path: /college-football/campus-quarterbacks-best-friend
Body:

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The tight end position has evolved into a highly sought-after commodity at the NFL level.

A lot of that has to do with the type of athletes who are suiting up and honing their craft in college. The really talented ones are an integral part of any offensive scheme and bolster a quarterback's confidence when dropping back in the pocket.

Here is a list of the top tight ends at the FBS level in 2013:

AUSTIN SEFERIAN-JENKINS (Washington): While position rankings can be subjective, that isn't the case at tight end. The 6-foot-6, 265-pound Seferian-Jenkins is a nightmare for opposing defenses to handle and is without a doubt the top player at his position in the country. He was named to the All-Pac-12 second team and was a finalist for the Mackey Award in 2012, hauling in 69 balls for 850 yards and seven touchdowns. He doesn't have the straight-line speed to blow by defenders, but he uses his size to his advantage and adjusts for the ball in flight. The only thing that could derail an All-America campaign this season outside of injury is Seferian-Jenkins himself. An off-season arrest for DUI has left the talented playmaker suspended from team activities, and until the case plays itself out in the court system, Seferian-Jenkins is in football limbo.

COLT LYERLA (Oregon): He may not have put up eye-popping numbers in Oregon's prolific offensive attack, but there is no mistaking Lyerla's enormous talent. This 6-5, 246-pounder can do it all on the field. Chip Kelly made sure to showcase that last year, as Lyerla finished with 25 catches for 392 yards and six touchdowns. He also added a seventh score on 13 carries. A prep standout at running back and linebacker, Lyerla is perhaps the most athletic tight end in the country, something the NFL is looking for at the position. Kelly is no longer calling the plays in Eugene, but the script won't change that much for Oregon going forward. The playmakers on offense will continue to shine, and Lyerla has as bright a future as any Duck on the roster.

ERIC EBRON (North Carolina): Another supreme athlete at the position, the 6-4, 245-pound Ebron is evolving into a complete player in Chapel Hill. The junior is extremely fast, explosive after the catch and doesn't mind blocking. A second-team All-ACC selection as a sophomore in 2012, Ebron finished with 40 receptions for 625 yards and four touchdowns. UNC's workhorse tailback Giovani Bernard has moved on to the NFL and North Carolina could get more vertical in its offensive play-calling as a result. That could mean big numbers for Ebron, who will undoubtedly be one of Bryn Renner's top targets in 2013.

C.J. FIEDOROWICZ (Iowa): This Iowa Hawkeye isn't the greatest athlete at the position, but he is as reliable as they come. A huge target at 6-7, 265 pounds, Fiedorowicz knows how to take advantage of smaller defenders. He earned All-Big Ten honorable mention a year ago, finishing with 45 receptions, for 433 yards and one touchdown. He also may be the best blocking tight end on this list, a skill set that will help bolster his NFL stock when draft time comes around.

XAVIER GRIMBLE (USC): On a team that featured two All-Americans in Marqise Lee and Robert Woods on the outside, it wasn't easy for this Trojan to earn recognition as a viable receiving threat. However, that was a common mistake for USC's opponents, as the 6-5, 250-pound Grimble made plays when on the field (nine starts last year), finishing 2012 with 29 catches for 316 yards and five touchdowns. The Trojans are stock-piling at the position with Randall Telfer and Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick fighting to earn playing time, but it is Grimble who has been the most productive. Another big target with above- average athleticism for the position, Grimble will continue to produce in USC's offensive attack.

JACOB PEDERSEN (Wisconsin): The 6-4, 240-pound Pedersen gets better with each year in Madison. After earning second-team All-Big Ten honors as a sophomore in 2011, he was an All-Big Ten first-team member as a junior in 2012. He finished last season with 27 receptions for 355 yards and four touchdowns, but his modest numbers were more a product of a heavy emphasis on the run (Montee Ball) and subpar quarterback play than anything else. While new head coach Gary Anderson has a defensive pedigree, he will maximize his offensive talent in his debut season with the Badgers and that is likely to include Pedersen.

NICK O'LEARY (Florida State): The 6-3, 238-pound Seminole is a bit undersized at this time, but he has shown flashes of brilliant play over the last two seasons and has some real potential. A receiving threat who can line up outside and make plays down the field, O'Leary finished last season with 21 receptions for 242 yards and three touchdowns. It marked the most TD catches by a tight end at FSU since 1994. With some added bulk and dedication to blocking, O'Leary has the chance to really make a name for himself in 2013.

ARTHUR LYNCH (Georgia): Relegated to backup duty until last year, the 6-5, 260-pound Lynch showed enough in 14 games (13 starts) to land on this list, finishing with 26 catches for 448 yards and three touchdowns. He has great size and is probably a better blocker than most on this list. The Bulldogs have supreme talent at the skill positions this year and Lynch certainly could take advantage with a seasoned quarterback, Aaron Murray, who wants to go out with a bang.

CHRIS COYLE (Arizona State): A special teams ace his first two seasons in Tempe, Coyle burst on the scene as a legitimate vertical threat in Arizona State's passing game last year, finishing with a team-high 57 receptions (a school record for a tight end) for 696 yards and five touchdowns. He falls into the "tweener" category, with marginal size (6-3, 238) for the tight end position, but that didn't stop Coyle from becoming a key target in 2012.

KANEAKUA FRIEL (BYU): The 6-5, 250-pound Friel took time off from football to do mission work in Africa, but got right back into the swing of things in 2012, finishing with 30 receptions for 308 yards and five touchdowns as a junior. He provided glimpses of strong play last year and is a competent blocker, but will need to be a more consistent offensive threat in 2013 to bolster his draft stock.

HONORABLE MENTION: Asa Watson (North Carolina State), Jordan Najvar (Baylor), Jace Amaro (Texas Tech), Ted Bosler (Indiana) and Ben Koyack (Notre Dame).

Teaser:
<p> The tight end position has evolved into a highly sought-after commodity at the NFL level.</p>
Post date: Friday, June 7, 2013 - 12:00
Path: /nascar/pocono-key-denny-hamlins-nascar-chase-hopes
Body:

1. Denny Hamlin needs Pocono more than ever
A crash last Sunday at Dover International Speedway after a flat tire dented Denny Hamlin's hope of a strong run and probably didn't feel the best for a guy just weeks removed from a pretty serious back injury. Hamlin, however, seems to be worried about one thing: Making the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

One of — make that two of — the best things Hamlin his in his uphill climb to the redemption of entry into NASCAR's playoff system is a pair of visits to Pocono Raceway. You may remember that Hamlin won his first Cup race at Pocono in 2006 even after he cut a tire and crashed one-fourth of the way in. Since, he has four wins and sits just two behind Pocono active wins leader Jeff Gordon.

"We were certainly disappointed with the way Dover ended for us, and now it’s up to our FedEx team to dig down and capitalize on some of our better tracks coming up," Hamlin said.

Hamlin's continuing climb starts this week from 26th in Sprint Cup points, some 224 points behind the leader Jimmie Johnson. To get to 20th and become eligible for one of two at-large bids, Hamlin needs to make up 74 points on Ryan Newman (currently 20th) between Sunday and Richmond in September. And he’ll need, at the very least, one win.

A victory this weekend — and season sweep of Pocono, if he's really feeling greedy — would be immensely helpful.


2. Drivers appreciate Pocono's shift work
Plenty of scenes in Days of Thunder feature an oddity that Sprint Cup drivers never use: shifting mid-corner or mid-straightaway as a device to find more speed while already racing at normal pace. It won't be exactly how Cole Trickle does it in the movie this weekend at Pocono, but drivers will get to at least act like they are during each green flag lap.

Pocono's odd three-corner layout demands slow speeds in two corners that lay ahead of two extremely fast straightaways. The contrast bogs a car's engine in a low RPM range if just one gear for an entire lap is being used, which in turn depletes peak acceleration. Since the track opened in 1971, most drivers shifted between third and fourth gears to maximize performance until a new gear rule unexpectedly made that impossible in 2005. The gear rule changed again in 2011 and brought shifting back.

"It’s a fun race track and with the shifting it’s a really tough racetrack. It’s almost like a road course, it’s really tough on the cars and it’s a mentally challenging racetrack," said Carl Edwards.

"It's like a three-cornered, left handed road course, making it a lot of fun to drive," said Paul Menard.
 

Teaser:
<p> Geoffrey Miller highlights the five storylines to follow as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visits Pocono Raceway.</p>
Post date: Friday, June 7, 2013 - 10:09
All taxonomy terms: Austin Meadows, MLB, Monthly
Path: /monthly/classmates-austin-meadows-and-robert-nkemdiche-are-top-prospects
Body:

When Austin Meadows tries to balance what’s left of his high school experience with the demands of being one of Major League Baseball’s next great center fielders, he’s got a sympathetic ear just down the hall at Grayson High School in Loganville, Ga.

Meadows is classmates with Robert Nkemdiche, the nation’s top overall college football prospect for the class of 2013. Meadows is a 6'3", 200-pound left-handed outfield prospect whom some analysts have projected to be the No. 1 overall pick in the MLB Draft (June 6-8). 

“We’re both really blessed to be going through these situations right now. We’re each doing our own thing, but we’ve talked about how special it is,” Meadows says.

Meadows is currently wrapping up his senior season at Grayson amidst the constant presence of MLB scouts and baseball media from across the country. But it’s nothing new around Grayson, as Nkemdiche’s talent made the campus a preferred destination for a who’s who in college football coaching over the last two years.

“I think it made me a little bit more prepared for what was coming with Austin,” Grayson baseball coach Jed Hixson says. “Every day on campus you’d pass Kirby Smart or see Nick Saban. When it came time, I met with Austin’s parents and talked about the scouts and attention, and what to expect. He’s responded to it great. Austin’s one of the most humble kids I know.”

Grayson High School and the greater community of Gwinnett County are a fertile crescent for athletes in 2013. Nkemdiche’s recruitment became a national storyline for well over the standard year-long recruiting cycle. Originally a verbal commit to Clemson, Nkemdiche was courted by every major program in the country for his rare combination of size (6'5", and a “raw” 260 pounds before college conditioning) and speed. Unlike game-changing South Carolina defensive end and likely 2014 NFL Draft No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney, Nkemdiche was also a proficient running back for the Rams.

During a nationally televised press conference at Grayson on the morning of National Signing Day (Feb. 6), Nkemdiche chose to join his older brother Denzel at Ole Miss.

“It’s a relief that it’s over now, but I had fun in the process,” Robert Nkemdiche says. “Now it’s all about focusing on what’s ahead and proving myself.”

While both players are considered among the absolute best in their age group in their respective sports, their wooing has differed greatly. Nkemdiche and his family were largely in control of the recruiting process, selecting which schools the game-changing strong-side end would visit and consider.

Meadows, who is committed to play at Clemson, is at the mercy of MLB team needs and his landing spot is still unknown.

“I don’t really like getting caught up in all the evaluations. I just stick to playing baseball and keeping a level head. Different people might criticize me but that just makes me work harder,” Meadows says.

That has included working on his bat speed and his throwing. Meadows says that he’s worked extensively with coaches and his father, a former punter at Morehead State, on creating “comfort” throwing from the outfield.

“I’ve said to him, ‘Stay positive. Keep your nose clean and stay humble, and put God first.’ That’s what I go by,” Nkemdiche says.

Hixson credits the land-rush style settlement of the greater Loganville area in the last decade as well as a strong relationship between the area’s public schools and parks programs as the reasons why so many top-tier athletes are coming through the Rams’ various athletic programs. 

“The prospects we’ve had here create a chain for kids to come. They’ve brought more and more exposure and that helps the players following them,” Hixson says. “It’s been kind of cool to have the attention Austin has brought for other kids in the program. Certainly some burdens are expected, but they’ve been outweighed by the exposure he’s brought to his teammates.” 

One thing is for certain: Meadows and Nkemdiche are considered pinnacle prospects at their respective games, but there won’t be any Bo Jackson cross-sport action from either student. If there’s a downside of too many top-tier athletes in the same high school, it revealed itself when Meadows, once a running back at Grayson, had to attempt to block Nkemdiche in practice. “It was just one time in practice, I had to block down on him, thankfully, but he went right by.”

For his part Nkemdiche said he wouldn’t want to run against Meadow’s arm in the outfield. “I’d probably be out,” he admits.

by Steven Godfrey

Teaser:
<p> Classmates Austin Meadows and Robert Nkemdiche are Top Prospects</p>
Post date: Thursday, June 6, 2013 - 12:00
Path: /nascar/fantasy-nascar-picks-pocono-raceway
Body:

To help guide you through the 2013 Fantasy NASCAR season, Athlon Sports contributor Geoffrey Miller will be offering his best predictions for each race. And because Yahoo's Fantasy Auto Racing game is arguably the most popular, he’ll break down the picks according to its NASCAR driver classes — A-List, B-List, C-List. The main picks are designed to make optimal use of Yahoo!’s 9-start maximum rule over the course of the season. The “also consider” section ranks unmentioned driver strictly by expected result without consideration of start limitations.

NASCAR makes its first of two visits to Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania Sunday for the Party in the Poconos 400. With a race name like that, Clint Bowyer would appear to be the early favorite, right? Not so fast, says the following stringent analysis. Jump in, make your picks and, hopefully, make us look like we know what we’re talking about.


A-List (Choose two, start one)
Denny Hamlin
After blowing a tire at Dover and smacking the wall, Hamlin’s summer scramble to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup felt the pressure intensify just a bit more. Good thing he’s coming to Pocono, where in 14 starts he’s moved to second in Pocono wins among active drivers. Expect Hamlin to both start (average 5.6) and finish (average 10.7) up front Sunday — especially after the blemish on his Pocono resume handed down in July last year when he was caught in Jimmie Johnson’s late-race crash. In total, Hamlin has led right at one of every four laps that he’s run at Pocono. That’s stout.

Jeff Gordon
Gordon has plenty of glowing career statistics that aren’t so reflective of how well his No. 24 has performed in recent seasons. Such is the break of his astounding period from roughly 1995 to 2002. But stats enhanced long ago muddying the current waters isn’t the case for Gordon at Pocono. Three of Gordon’s last nine wins on the Sprint Cup tour have come at Pocono, and four of his last five starts have resulted in top-10 finishes. The five-race rate bests a career top-10 average at the 2.5-mile triangle of 70 percent.

Also consider: Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth
 

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy NASCAR tips for the Party in the Poconos 400 at Pocono Raceway.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, June 5, 2013 - 17:56
Path: /nascar/nascar-numbers-game-6-amazing-stats-pocono
Body:

Dover International Speedway, a high-banked one-mile concrete oval, and Pocono Raceway, a 2.5-mile asphalt triangle with three wildly different corners, are two tracks that shouldn’t warrant much comparison.

Tony Stewart, who slumped through the first third of this year’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season and broke out with a victory last week at Dover, hopes that the contrary is true. The manner in how he won last Sunday emulates a lot of his past success at Pocono, including his two most recent outings on the “Tricky Triangle.” If Stewart can translate what worked at one place into working at another, all of a sudden his flash-in-the-pan win last weekend (it wasn’t undeserved, but he’d be hard-pressed to duplicate the feat) becomes the ignition of a summer hot streak.

How big of a shock was last week’s win? How did he do it? And do his numbers suggest a second consecutive victory?

For PEER and other metrics with which you may be unfamiliar, I refer you to my glossary of terms on MotorsportsAnalytics.com.


41st  Prior to his win at Dover, Stewart ranked 41st out of 47 drivers in Production in Equal Equipment Rating (PEER) at the mile track.

In the five races leading up to the weekend, Stewart didn’t earn a finish at Dover better than 20th. Suffice to say, his win was a bit of a shock. Considering he averaged a 15th-place running position for the afternoon, the victory wasn’t one that seemed a foregone conclusion for those at home watching the race. One of the reasons that he pulled off the victory was because he dialed back the clock and found an element of his repertoire that made a younger Tony a Stock Car superstar.


54.05%  Stewart’s single-race pass efficiency at Dover was 54.05 percent, above his season-long efficiency of 48.44 percent.

The three-time champ’s minus-passing for the year (“minus” is anything below 50 percent) has hindered his plodding approach at success in most races this season. Passing is a large part of what makes Stewart a future Hall of Famer, and what allowed him to surge from 12th to first in the final 40 laps to secure his first win at Dover since 2000.

Stewart fans might take comfort in the fact that one of his best racetracks is next on the schedule.


5.500  Stewart ranks third in Cup Series PEER at Pocono with a 5.500 rating. He is the only driver that secured top-5 finishes in both races there last year.

2012 was the first season that saw Pocono’s new pavement put to use. Historically, Stewart doesn’t fare well on new surfaces or new tire combinations. Pocono was different. Similar to his run last week at Dover, Stewart improved on his average running position by 10 spots in the spring race (from 13th to third) and eight spots in the summer race (from 14th to fifth). Can he capitalize on superb passing and a plodding approach once again? If last year was any indication, it is possible. He earned a 59.38 percent pass efficiency on 256 encounters across both races there last season.


44.9%  Jimmie Johnson led 44.9 percent of last summer’s race at Pocono, but ultimately finished 14th.

If it wasn’t for a hurried rain-imminent finish that prompted Johnson and Greg Biffle to collide and take them out of the running for the win, it’s likely that the No. 48 team would have kept cruising.

In spite of that result, Johnson ranks fourth in Pocono-specific PEER with a 5.000 rating. A driver that probably should have two top-5 finishes on the new surface could right his perceived wrong from Dover — he was penalized for jumping the final restart — this weekend.
 

Teaser:
<p> David Smith crunches the numbers and finds the key NASCAR stats for the Party in the Poconos 400 at Pocono Raceway.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, June 4, 2013 - 22:39
Path: /nascar/will-nascar-dover-win-save-tony-stewarts-season
Body:

A quick look at the leaderboard, 140 laps through Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Dover gave you a clear indication of who would be winning this race … or so it seemed. Kyle Busch was first, Matt Kenseth was second and the rest of the field was on another planet. For a good hour that duo swapped the point while only a handful of drivers, between cautions, remained within 10 seconds of contact. Meanwhile, the trio of Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and Juan Pablo Montoya remained far back, dealing with various handling and track position issues that made a push for victory seem like a virtual impossibility.

Fast forward to the final 20 laps, perhaps the time you woke up from a mid-race nap once Busch and Kenseth’s pairs ice skating routine lulled you to sleep. The top 3, heading down the stretch, were none other than Montoya, Johnson and Stewart, until the No. 48 got a black flag for jumping the final restart. Suddenly, a heavyweight battle was at hand between the remaining duo, there was an on-track pass for the lead in the final five laps and one of the deepest slumps in the garage — Stewart’s 30-race winless streak — was torn to shreds at a track where he typically runs like a tow truck driver. For those who missed those hours in between thinking Busch and Kenseth were going to run away with it, three letters came to mind when looking at the final results sheet: W, T and F. (You can figure this one out.)

That’s a good thing for the sport, even though the quality of racing from NASCAR’s Gen-6 chassis left something to be desired at Dover. For if the drivers can’t battle side-by-side for position to captivate an audience, at least you want to create an aura of unpredictability — that the guys you see running up front on lap 200 aren’t going to be the ones there at the finish. So far this season, NASCAR’s last five winners (Harvick twice, David Ragan, Matt Kenseth and Stewart) have led an average of 11 laps during their respective trips to Victory Lane; to me, that means mission accomplished.

Now, if only we could get this Gen-6 running right everywhere, a problem Mr. Stewart still faces as we go up through the gears after the Monster Mile.


FIRST GEAR: What does this win do for Stewart?
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it’s clear even Stewart knows this surprise victory, stolen with what was probably a 10th-place car, won’t suddenly make his self-owned team a pack of title contenders. Indeed, on the same day he was sitting there celebrating, teammate Ryan Newman was in hiding, leaving without comment after blatantly dumping David Gilliland on-track, wrecking both drivers out of the event. Danica Patrick, by comparison, nearly took out the field twice within the first 25 laps before a series of unscheduled pit stops to fix handling problems that left her well off the pace and on a “test session” the rest of the day.

“Just making the Chase, that’s not good enough,” said the three-time champ, who put himself in “wild card” position with the victory. “I would rather miss the Chase and be in the process of building our program. I want to get this whole program turned around to where all three drivers are feeling like they have an opportunity to go out and have a good result.”

Smoke’s got the right attitude for his team, and — aside from a brief rebuke at a media member surrounding rumors about possible crew chief changes — left Sunday in a picture perfect frame of mind. Sunday’s race, in which crew chief Steve Addington used pit strategy to work Stewart up through the pack, could be a turning point for a duo who’s had their share of hard luck. The summertime is typically when Smoke catches fire anyways, with the lion’s share of his 48 career victories occurring after June 1. They’ve got Hendrick chassis and horsepower, (and know-how, as HMS has proved to have mastered the Gen-6 with Johnson atop the points) and the resources and quality of personnel are there to at least turn the No. 14 into a success story.

“I think, as an organization, we have a lot to be proud of,” Stewart continued. “It gives Ryan and Danica and I confidence as a driver (that a Stewart-Haas car won). It gives the three crew chiefs confidence that we are making forward progress.”

Keep in mind we’re also in early June. The last time Stewart won a title, in 2011, he stumbled through July and August, barely made the Chase field and looked like he was going to embarrass himself in the postseason. Instead, he left holding the hardware. It’s the mark of being one of the sport’s great drivers: you can never count him out.


SECOND GEAR: Johnson’s botched restart … and Knaus’ cryptic code.
The debate from Dover is whether Johnson jumped the final restart of the race. Check out the footage for yourself. It’s clear the No. 48, against NASCAR rules, made it to the finish line first, despite restarting second and then never gave the position back to Montoya. Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton claims it’s an open-and-shut case, a Grand Canyon-like divide from where the No. 48 team was on the issue.

“I was half-throttle for the whole frontstretch,” Johnson claimed. “And at some point, I gotta go. NASCAR has the judgment to decide if you jumped it or not. But I’m like, he’s (Montoya) is not even going. So I’m not sure if his car broke or if it was off power or he spun the tires … I don’t know. So I’m running half-throttle down the frontstretch waiting for him and he never comes. And then, we were called on it. So, a bummer way to lose a race.”

Johnson had some support from fellow drivers, coming up to him after the checker flag and expressing their displeasure. Chad Knaus also chimed in, via radio to make their position clear: “They (NASCAR) don’t want you to win this race. You know that.”

But the winner, Stewart (who in a sense is a de facto teammate of Johnson) had no issues with how Montoya brought the field down.

“I feel bad for Jimmie,” Stewart said. “He didn't deserve to be in a situation at the end, but at the same time, he knows what the rules are, and he knows that the leader has to cross the start/finish line first. Juan is smart enough to not let the second place guy take advantage of the restart, and that's what he did.”

Stewart said a possible solution to the controversy would be to widen the restart zone, allowing the leader more leeway in when they accelerate and lessening the advantage for second place so they don’t get out in front. But in this case, I think it’s a combination of Montoya’s savvy and a little cheerleading from Knaus that went to Johnson’s head. Check out this transmission I caught just before the final restart:

“You're a lot faster than Montoya, we’ve seen that ... he's just a pain in the ass to pass. Get out there and check the f**k out.”

Johnson, back to second after Montoya beat him off pit road, might have been a little overeager. And the Colombian, not used to being up front, might have spun the tires or even intentionally stayed slow once Johnson jumped knowing if the No. 48 never gave the position back, he’d be black-flagged and the race would play out in his favor. Either way, it’s no harm, no foul for the points leader; he’s got a 30-point edge, is solidly in the Chase and showed he had the car to beat for the return visit to Dover in the fall. I’d forgive, forget and chalk it up as a lesson learned.


THIRD GEAR: Toyota’s engine woes … How will the affect things going forward?
For the second time this season, Matt Kenseth was in position to win until the motor in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota went kaboom. Out before the race’s midpoint, after having dominated up front with Kyle Busch, he was soon joined in the garage by fellow top-5 runner Martin Truex Jr. of Michael Waltrip Racing. It was a rough day for the Camry powerplants, which have blown up at a rate nearly six times that of rivals Ford or Chevrolet.

“I mean I feel like JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) has three of the strongest teams in the garage,” Kenseth said. “It seems like we got the best cars out there — or equal to the best. But, you know you have to finish these things. Obviously, there’s been some issues in that department.”

The veteran’s done a great job at keeping his composure, the perfect role model for teammate Kyle Busch as they hurtle towards the Chase as top contenders. But the 11 percent failure rate for JGR this season has to be alarming. That’s roughly one out of every nine races, meaning in the postseason they’re guaranteed to give up 40 points to a blown engine. It’s a mulligan they can’t afford, especially against a Hendrick opponent known for ironclad equipment.

The problem Sunday was a valve-train issue, but at this point it’s irrelevant. What Toyota needs are solutions for these things, and they need them now.
 

Teaser:
<p> Reaction from Tony Stewart's unlikely win in NASCAR's FedEx 400 at Dover International Speedway.</p>
Post date: Monday, June 3, 2013 - 13:36
Path: /monthly/lance-armstrong-lost-his-tour-de-france-titles-does-second-place-person-now-get-titles
Body:

Ever since Lance Armstrong lost his Tour de France titles, I have been wondering if the people who came in second in those races were awarded the titles. 

— Irene Paul, Northfield, N.H.

That would be the simple solution, but the ubiquity of doping in cycling renders such a simple solution impossible. The sport’s governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), stripped Armstrong of his titles in late 2012 following the report from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) that implicated Armstrong (among many others) and chose not to award those titles to other riders. 

Teaser:
<p> <strong style="font-size: 18.18181800842285px;">Ever since Lance Armstrong lost his Tour de France titles, I have been wondering if the people who came in second in those races were awarded the titles.&nbsp;</strong></p>
Post date: Friday, May 31, 2013 - 12:14
All taxonomy terms: Ask Athlon, Monthly
Path: /monthly/how-would-jim-thorpe-compare-today%E2%80%99s-top-performers
Body:

How would legendary athlete Jim Thorpe compare to today’s top performers?

— James A. Clark, Ardmore, Okla.

It’s an age-old debate: How would athletes from past eras compare to today’s outsized, highly trained, mega-talented superstars? Could Babe Ruth hit a homer off Clayton Kershaw? Could Jim Brown crack 100 yards against the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens? Without a time machine, it’s impossible to know for sure, but in Thorpe’s case, his unparalleled versatility would indicate an ability to thrive in any era. Thorpe was a world-class track and field athlete who won gold medals in the pentathlon and decathlon at the 1912 Summer Olympics; he played football, basketball and baseball at the professional level; and he’s a member of both the Pro and College Football Halls of Fame. Give the 6'1", 202-pound Oklahoma native a few months in a modern weight room and at a 21st century training table, and he’d take his place alongside today’s greats. The best part of this is, you can never prove us wrong.

Teaser:
<p> <strong style="font-size: 18.18181800842285px;">How would legendary athlete Jim Thorpe compare to today’s top performers?</strong></p>
Post date: Friday, May 31, 2013 - 11:57
All taxonomy terms: LSU Tigers, SEC, Overtime, News
Path: /overtime/greatest-les-miles-gif-all-time
Body:

LSU Tigers and SEC fans alike have grown to know and love "LSU Freek." The message board legend has been building hiliarious and creative GIFs for years. 

However, he might have topped himself. The picture of Les Miles to the right surfaced on Thursday and it might be the greatest photo ever taken of the The Hat. Twitter fell out of its chair laughing when the LSU head football coach geared up to rappell off of a 24-story building in downtown Baton Rouge for charity (Over the Edge for Adoption).

Miles, to his credit, doesn't care what you think. And we should all be able to laugh at ourselves if it means helping someone else in need. So Miles certainly doesn't care what LSU Freek has to say either. But we do... and this is likely Mr. Freek's finest work to date: "Miles Impossible: Geauxst Protocal."

Miles appears to be channeling his inner Tom Cruise, and, with special assistance from Mike the Tiger, has saved the day once again as only Leslie Miles can: 


Related: Athlon Sports 2013 LSU Tigers Team Preview

Teaser:
<p> Greatest Les Miles GIF of All-Time</p>
Post date: Friday, May 31, 2013 - 11:35
All taxonomy terms: Monthly, News
Path: /monthly/what-does-nascar-do-money-fines-against-owners-and-drivers
Body:

What does NASCAR do with the money from the fines they levy against the owners and drivers?

— B. Linely, Morristown, Tenn.

Thankfully, it goes to a good cause and not back into the sport’s already deep pockets. Beginning in 2008, NASCAR mandated that all fines from competitors go to the NASCAR Foundation, which raises funds and increases volunteerism to support nonprofit charities and charitable causes with an emphasis placed on initiatives that affect children.

Of course, since owners and drivers are essentially making a charitable donation, it begs the question whether the money is tax-deductible. Or worse, if penalty checks — typically somewhere between $50,000 and $200,000 per major offense — are written directly to NASCAR, can the sanctioning body itself write off that money? It certainly makes one wonder.

Teaser:
<p> <span style="font-size: 18px;">What does NASCAR do with the money from the fines they levy against the owners and drivers?</span></p>
Post date: Friday, May 31, 2013 - 11:18
Path: /nascar/keselowski-stewart-look-rebound-dover
Body:

1. Crew chief returns to No. 2 as Brad Keselowski rides streak of poor finishes
Just a few hours before Brad Keselowski was slated to start the seventh race of the year at Texas Motor Speedway in his blue No. 2, all seemed to be fine. After a disappointing 23rd-place finish at Auto Club Speedway two races prior, Keselowski had rallied at Martinsville Speedway to score his fifth top 10 in the series first six races.

Then, as both he teammate Joey Logano's car rolled through pre-race inspection in Fort Worth, things started to fall apart. Both cars were required to make substantial changes in pre-race after NASCAR ruled a new rear suspension to be illegal. Keselowski rallied again to a Texas top 10 and a top 10 the next week at Kansas, but then bad luck started to bite.

Ultimately crew chief Paul Wolfe, his car chief and lead engineer were expelled from being at the track three total races (two points events) after an appeal for the Texas incident. Keselowski's finishes following the sixth-place Kansas run dropped considerably as he recorded results of 33rd, 15th, 32nd and 36th.

Wolfe and the rest of Penske's suspended crew make their triumphant — and sorely needed — return this weekend at Dover. Keselowski said after wrecking in last week's race at Charlotte that he hopes it's a good luck charm.

"I’m very proud of everyone that stepped up during the last three weeks," Keselowski said. "We’ve really improved our depth at Penske Racing, but now everyone can go back to their normal jobs. Hopefully that means we can get some of our mojo back.”

Keselowski, of course, is Dover's most recent winner thanks to Wolfe's fuel mileage gamble last fall. Otherwise, last year's champion has a best Dover finish of 12th in six Cup starts.


2. Kyle Busch thinking sweep of NASCAR triple-header weekend
All three of the top NASCAR national series — Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck — will be in action this weekend at Dover. That marks the first time all three series will compete in a three-day period at the same track since the season-openers for all at Daytona International Speedway in February.

It also marks the second opportunity of the season for Kyle Busch to aim for three race wins in one race weekend, as he'll pilot his self-owned No. 51 in Friday's truck series event, Joe Gibbs Racing's No. 54 on Saturday in the Nationwide 300-miler and JGR's No. 18 on Sunday in the Sprint Cup 400-miler.

Winning the triple certainly is not out of reach of Busch as he showed in 2010 at Dover. Then, a mechanical issue dropped him out late in the truck race after leading 174 of the scheduled 200 laps. He went on to win the next two races of the weekend. A few months later he finally became the first driver to pull off a three-race weekend sweep at NASCAR's other concrete track — Bristol Motor Speedway.

Busch's odds to finally get the clean sweep of Dover stand to be pretty good. In the Nationwide Series, Busch has won six of the 10 events this season. And in Sprint Cup, Busch returns to the track where he led more than 300 laps in last fall's race before getting beat in a fuel mileage finish.
 

Teaser:
<p> Geoffrey Miller highlights the five NASCAR storylines to watch in this weekend's FedEx 400 at Dover International Speedway.</p>
Post date: Friday, May 31, 2013 - 10:06
Path: /nascar/fantasy-nascar-picks-fedex-400-dover-international-speedway
Body:

To help guide you through the 2013 Fantasy NASCAR season, Athlon Sports contributor Geoffrey Miller will be offering his best predictions for each race. And because Yahoo's Fantasy Auto Racing game is arguably the most popular, he’ll break down the picks according to its NASCAR driver classes — A-List, B-List, C-List.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series makes its first visit to the other DIS — Dover International Speedway — this weekend for 400 miles around, as one driver calls it, “a one-mile roller coaster.” Delaware’s standard oval features corners lower than the banked straightaways, giving drivers the sensation that they “drop” into the turn and “climb” back up to the straights.

Choosing a fantasy lineup for Dover can sometimes be just as random as a card shuffle at the track’s backstretch casino thanks to the tight confines of the track occasionally producing massive multi-car accidents that wipe out a slew of contenders in one stroke. Still, we’ll take a stab.

Note: This fantasy preview is a bit different this week as we try a new format. Instead of ranking every driver at Dover, we’ll make it easier on you by telling you which drivers to call up and be ready to start for Sunday’s FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks.


A-List Drivers (choose two, start one)

Jimmie Johnson
With consideration for many players conserving starts for Johnson until later in the season when he inevitably gets hot, Dover is almost a no-brainer time to have Johnson in your lineup for race day. Consider this: in the last 16 Dover races going back eight seasons, Johnson is averaging 121 laps led per race.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver has averaged a finish of sixth in that period (his average career finish in all races is 11th) and has turned the fastest lap 878 times, which is good for nearly 400 more than the second-most fastest laps in that period by Carl Edwards. Oh, one other thing: Johnson’s seven career wins at Dover are three more than any active driver. Beyond the wins, he has four more top-5 finishes and nine more top-10 finishes.

Sure, you could bet he’ll have an off weekend at a track he dominates in the name of conserving the No. 48’s start until the fall. But is that really wise a week after Johnson wrecked by himself at Charlotte? If anyone is coming back with a vengeance, it’s Mr. Five Time.


Clint Bowyer
So you’ve used Johnson a few too many times to your liking this early in the year and you’re looking for a suitable replacement? If you haven’t overused Matt Kenseth to this point (I hope you’ve used Matt Kenseth plenty at this point), he’s your guy. But one driver who likely has plenty of starts remaining on your fantasy roster is Clint Bowyer.

Bowyer is riding a Dover streak of four straight races where he’s finished in the top 10 — moderately impressive considering the span included races with both Michael Waltrip Racing and Richard Childress Racing. Bowyer has led just 30 laps in those four starts, but those finishes and overall performances contributed to make him the third-best Dover driver among A-Listers during the last eight seasons.


Other picks:
Matt Kenseth (Average running position of eighth; 18 top 10s, 2 wins)
Jeff Gordon (Four career wins; 73 percent of laps in top 15 during last eight races)


B-List Drivers (choose four, start two)

Carl Edwards
Would you believe Carl Edwards was one spot away from making it four straight top-10 finishes last week? Quietly and steadily, Edwards and Roush-Fenway Racing seem to be making inroads on catching the dominance of Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing this year. Dover should continue the recent positive trend.

Edwards crashed in the spring Dover race a year ago and wound up 26th, marking his first finish of worse than 11th at the concrete oval since 2006. He was one win in that period and his fifth-place run last fall marked his eighth career top 5 at Dover. Only Johnson and Kenseth have a better Dover driver rating than Edwards in the last 16 Dover races.


Mark Martin
Thanks to his limited schedule, you’ll probably not run through all nine available starts for Mark Martin this season. That makes him an easy choice at Dover.

Last year, Martin had two top-15 finishes at the Monster Mile — including a third-place run in the fall that tied for his second-best finish of the 2012 season. Beyond that, Martin has been good at Dover both recently and throughout his career. In the last eight seasons, he has an average finish of 11th and has spent more than three-fourths of his laps in the top 15. He’s tied with Jeff Gordon for the second-most Dover wins among active drivers (4) and he hasn’t finished worse than 23rd there since 2002.


Kyle Busch
Last year Dover — land of local seafood restaurants featuring fresh catches from the nearby Atlantic Ocean — proved to be the Sea of Heartbreak (hat tip, Don Gibson!) for Kyle Busch. The No. 18 blew an engine in the spring race just past halfway as Joe Gibbs Racing cars are wont to do. Busch stormed back in the fall in his missed-Chase rage to lead 302 laps before a fuel mileage finish dropped him to 14th. It was a leave-the-track-without-comment kind of day for Kyle.

Even with those issues — and two other blown engines at Dover in his career — Busch’s numbers there make him a good bet Sunday. In his last 16 Dover starts, Busch has led the third-most laps of any active driver.


Greg Biffle
Biffle is another driver you’ve likely used sparingly this year, waiting for RFR to finally find fourth gear amid a mostly middling start. Remember, at his point one year ago Biffle held a 10-point lead in the series standings. Now, he’s 13th and 121 points back.

Dover has long been good to the Biff with a recent average finish of 9.6 and an average running position of 10th. His percentage of fastest in-race laps in that 16-race period is the highest among B-Listers. Though he has struggled some recently at the track where he’s won twice, Biffle is due to jumpstart his season after three finishes of 31st or worse in his last four races. That team is too good to continue a poor streak like that.


Other picks:
Ryan Newman (Three career Dover wins; second-best track for career average finish)
Kurt Busch (Surging team returns to site of Kurt’s last win)
Martin Truex Jr. (Site of lone career race win in 2007; two top 10s in 2012)


C-List (Choose two, start one)

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Undoubtedly, you’ve used Stenhouse plenty this season thanks to the lack of other consistent, quality talent in the C-List. He’s still the best pick for Dover among the group — and he’s likely better than almost half of the B-Listers. Stenhouse finished 12th in his lone Sprint Cup start at Dover, five spots ahead of his 17th-place start.

Regan Smith
At a place like Dover, Smith seems to be as good a bet as any in the C-List. He drives for James Finch’s team for the seventh time this year Sunday following his 17th-place run last weekend at Charlotte. No, that car hasn’t had noteworthy speed and, no, a top 20 isn’t guaranteed. But Smith has yet to come home worse than 25th in that car this season. Better yet, he’s finished nine of his 10 career Dover races.

Other picks:
David Reutimann (Average Dover finish is 20th)
David Ragan (Average Dover finish is 24th)


by Geoffrey Miller
Follow Geoffrey Miller on Twitter
@GeoffreyMiller
 

Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Picks for the FedEx 400 at Dover International Speedway.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 29, 2013 - 19:32
Path: /nascar/nascar-numbers-game-6-key-stats-dover
Body:

“The Monster Mile” isn’t just a title for the purposes of ticket sales. It is a fine summation of a truly unique racetrack that causes fits for the majority of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver roster twice a year.

Dover International Speedway is a one-mile, high-banked attention grabber of a facility with fast closing speeds and diminished reaction time. It also offers some of the greatest lore in modern day NASCAR.

Jimmie Johnson is supremely dominant; so dominant, in fact, that it’s said he can’t be beaten, unless fuel mileage becomes a factor. Denny Hamlin is admittedly awful, so bad that he had to consult a sports psychologist prior to last fall’s race just so that he wouldn’t be mentally defeated before ever making the trip to Delaware.

The numbers from recent seasons seemingly back the mythology. For Hamlin, it is a troublesome track. For Johnson and others, it’s a tremendous coliseum.

For PEER and other metrics with which you may be unfamiliar, I refer you to my glossary of terms on MotorsportsAnalytics.com.


5.958  Jimmie Johnson’s 5.958 PEER at Dover is the best in the Cup Series.

With four wins in the last eight races, Johnson is arguably better at Dover than any driver at any other track — Marcos Ambrose at Watkins Glen offers a valid opposition — and easily ranks as the series’ most productive racer. This stems not only from winning, but winning with gusto. His affinity for pacing the field on the Monster Mile is of legendary proportions.


65.6%  In his four victories at Dover during the CoT era, Johnson had an average laps led percentage of 65.6.

This means Johnson doesn’t just win. He dominates. That’s sort of his general modus operandi when it comes to Dover, considering he has led 52.5 percent of the total laps there dating back to the 2009 spring race. In that time frame he averaged a running position of third place or better. Dover delivers a hectic day to most drivers, so it figures that Johnson has dwindled his competition down to about one or two other drivers in races there the last few years. This is also evident in his passing numbers.


78  Johnson converted 39 pass encounters out of a comparatively low two-race total of 78 into green-flag passes during the 2012 races at Dover.

That 50 percent passing efficiency on a low number of encounters is a byproduct of running in the front of the field all day. That he was able to avoid “for-position” traffic for the majority of the races at Dover is fairly advantageous for a team looking to take care of its car and come away with a victory. Aside from lapped traffic, Johnson didn’t often find himself in harm’s way that much last season.


75.5%  Kyle Busch did his best Johnson impression at Dover in last fall’s race, leading 75.5 percent of the race’s total laps. He did not win.

Instead, a rare fuel mileage-predicated ending awarded the win to Brad Keselowski, but Busch demonstrated that he was perfectly able to do “Kyle Busch things” on the dicey one-mile oval. Taking into account how dominant he has been in 2013, Busch is a win threat this weekend despite his sixth-best Dover-specific production rating (3.042).


4.833  Tied for second in Dover PEER with a 4.833 rating is Matt Kenseth, who might serve as a potential spoiler for this weekend’s event.

It takes me aback that there are those that are surprised by Kenseth’s success behind the wheel of a Joe Gibbs Racing car early this season. Kenseth has always been a savvy driver from track to track, but now he is piloting equipment that offers a bigger “home run” threat, so to speak, compared to his former Roush Fenway Racing digs. It appears that JGR is benefiting from the Gen-6 more than a lot of the other heavyweight teams in the sport, so the always-reliable Kenseth is in a plum position to score wins at tracks on which he has always been a skilled producer. Dover is one such track.
 

Teaser:
<p> David Smith crunches the numbers and finds the key NASCAR stats for the FedEx 400 at Dover International Speedway.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 28, 2013 - 20:02
Path: /nascar/nascar-or-indycar-which-series-ruled-memorial-day-weekend
Body:

Fourteen leaders. 68 lead changes. A three-wide battle coming off a restart that decides the race. Read those two lines and you’re probably thinking, “typical NASCAR race at Talladega.”

Nope. Instead, those stats defined what could be the best Indianapolis 500 in a generation. As we look back at the Coca-Cola 600, it’s important to stop and recognize open-wheel’s glory day because the event was everything NASCAR was not. There was a sentimental winner, Tony Kanaan, whose post-race celebration from teams and crews became reminiscent of Dale Earnhardt’s Daytona 500 “monkey off his back” victory of 1998. There was passing paired with a sense of urgency — and not just on Lap 190 of 200 — but throughout the entire event. Cautions were scarce, resulting in the fastest average speed in history, yet they weren’t needed to define and/or add excitement to the race. Oh, and should I mention a car even crashed on pit road and IndyCar kept the race under green?

Let’s compare that with Sunday night’s Charlotte event, one that will forever be defined by a piece of nylon rope. That snapped camera cable, from a FOX setup overhead, injured 10 fans, stopped the race and damaged three cars, including top contender Kyle Busch. Of the race’s 11 cautions, six were debris related and a few were positioned well by hot dog wrappers to bunch up the field in order to heighten the race’s entertainment. In a race 100 miles longer than Indy’s 500, there were just 11 leaders, 24 lead changes and three drivers (Busch, Kasey Kahne and Matt Kenseth) led 338 of 400 laps.

Does that mean Indy was perfect? Far from it; the race ended under yellow, drafting made it impossible for a strong car to pull away and there’s still too much homogeneity between teams. NASCAR had strong moments, including a surprise winner of its own in Kevin Harvick. But while the ratings likely won’t show it, in terms of pure competition, Sunday was the first time I can remember where IndyCar, head-to-head with the racing rival that unseated it from “top dog” inside the U.S., turned around, wound up and punched stock cars back, smack in the face in a bid to regain supremacy.

That won’t do much … yet. But at some point, that’s going to resonate with viewers and NASCAR would do well to pay attention. Turnarounds start with little victories like these.

Back to Charlotte…


FIRST GEAR: Kevin Harvick stole himself a Chase bid
He’s led 33 laps all season, good enough for just 17th on the Sprint Cup charts. Among those drivers listed ahead of him: Juan Pablo Montoya, Mark Martin and Greg Biffle. But what none of those drivers have is a Cup win, let alone two. Harvick pulled another rabbit out of his hat on Sunday, the “Closer” playing it perfectly by taking two tires on the final caution while the leader, Kahne, stayed on track.

“It came down to a restart,” Harvick said bluntly, slotting in second after the stop and knowing clean air was all that was needed. “In the end, it was good enough to win the race.”

It’s also likely good enough to make the Chase. Now seventh in points, the No. 29 Richard Childress Racing team likely doesn’t have the speed to stay inside the top 10 long-term — not with Busch, Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski among those sitting behind them. Over the course of the 26-race regular season, though, those two victories will be more than enough to snag a “wild card” position and put the pressure on Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart and those who we know need the victories. It’s possible that those on the outside of the top 10 will have to come up with three wins to sneak into the postseason, which is not an easy feat with 14 races left.

As for Harvick’s unexpected victory? He survived; the epitome of what this race is all about. While problems befell the favorites, from the Busch brothers to Matt Kenseth to even a weakened Jimmie Johnson, the No. 29 car was put in position to win. As veteran Jeff Burton has slyly pointed out, that’s all you need. Sometimes, circumstances dictate the rest.


SECOND GEAR: The rope snap heard around the world
Until Sunday night, most people thought CamCAT was some sort of military DefCon mission or secret weapon you’d acquire in Call of Duty. Instead, it will forever stand for the camera whose ropes came toppling onto the track at Charlotte Motor Speedway, snapping into pieces on Lap 121 in an incident that sent three fans to the hospital, injured 10 and turned Kyle Busch’s front end, among others, into a mangled mess.

The technology, around since 2000, was being utilized by FOX for just the second time in NASCAR, following a successful Daytona 500 debut. One reason for its scarceness is the setup. It takes five days, including two cranes mounted on different sides of the track in Turns 1 and 4.

Three ropes make the camera tick, allowing it to slide above the track and deliver the type of breathtaking views fans love. But when one of those ropes broke, chaos broke loose and the snapping of the cable could have easily killed someone as debris kicked up everywhere. For the second time, NASCAR got lucky through a freak accident (see: February’s Nationwide race in Daytona) and was able to throw a red flag, clean up the mess and get fans treated (all have been released). It’s also to NASCAR’s credit that teams were allowed to fix cars torn apart by the cable. It’s one thing when a random event happens, like a hot dog wrapper or an overcooked engine that changes the course of a driver’s race. But when a TV crew broadcasting the event is involved in affecting the outcome through an equipment failure I think trying to reconstruct the race the way it was is perfectly reasonable.

Certainly, there’s some inconsistency within that, as Robby Gordon has lost a race in the past (Watkins Glen, early 2000s) through a TV malfunction. However, in this case NASCAR made the right call. And FOX is doing the right thing by suspending the camera going forward. The best thing to do here is chalk it up to “one of those freak things” and move on.


THIRD GEAR: Mark Martin’s rocky road
It’s been a long time since we’ve worried about the competitiveness of Mark Martin. But since late April, the now 54-year-old has done some things that make you scratch your head. At Richmond, he was involved in a heated incident with Kahne in which it looked like the veteran initiated contact. At Charlotte, it was another surprising mistake, as one of the sport’s cleanest drivers stuck his nose in the wrong place at wrong time, sparking a wreck that took out Chase contenders Jeff Gordon and Aric Almirola while hampering the nights of several others.

Suddenly, Martin’s year doesn’t look so rosy, with just one top-5 finish (third, Daytona) and zero laps led since February at Phoenix. A “lame duck” at Michael Waltrip Racing, you wonder if the impending departure will now begin to take its toll. After all, since leaving Roush, his sophomore campaigns at other teams, from DEI to Hendrick Motorsports, have always resulted in a downturn in performance. The big difference? None of them involved these types of uncharacteristic mistakes on the racetrack. Could this year finally be the one where Martin decides to call it quits?
 

Teaser:
<p> Reaction from NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 28, 2013 - 10:20
All taxonomy terms: Kurt Busch, NASCAR
Path: /nascar/can-kurt-busch-finally-get-it-together-coca-cola-600-charlotte
Body:
1. Can Kurt Busch finally put one together?
There's little doubt Kurt Busch had a solid car for last week's All-Star race. It may have been the best car he's driven since joining Furniture Row Racing late this season. Making things better for Busch, that's two consecutive weekends where FRR rolled out a No. 78 that was more competitive. (He won the pole at Darlington Raceway.)
 
Together, the stars seem to be aligning for Busch to start taking realistic swings at his first Cup win since being dropped by Penske Racing after the 2011 season. Charlotte Motor Speedway and the Coca-Cola 600 could be just the place.
 
Busch won his first 600 in 2010 in dominating fashion for Penske. That night, he started second and led 252 of 400 laps. A year later in 2011 Busch led only three laps but still finished fourth.
 
Thanks to FRR's increasingly tight alliance with Richard Childress Racing -- the No. 78 may well be a fourth RCR team -- Busch is getting faster cars and improved data. FRR is also allotting plenty of funds for the team to do significant testing.
 
Six hundred miles provide a lot of mistake possibilities for FRR's variably effective pit crews and even more time for Busch to get too hot under the collar to be an effective driver. But both have improved this season with races completed. The second race at Charlotte in a week provides a great barometer to see how far they've really come.
 
2. Teams roll out patriotic paint schemes for Memorial Day
With the Coca-Cola 600 traditionally falling on Memorial Day weekend, themes of patriotism and remembrance always play first fiddle at the track. Sometimes it's poorly executed -- look no further than the track's tag line proclaiming "Let Freedom Race" -- but mostly it's a cool tribute.
 
A higher number of teams than normal will roll out special paint schemes this weekend carrying those themes. All three Roush-Fenway Racing cars will use nearly identical graphics that will include various military vehicles and silhouettes of troops in Sunday night's race. Good luck trying to differentiate between those cars in wide shots Sunday night.
 
Brad Keselowski (pictured right), Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Landon Cassill, Ryan Newman, Mark Martin, Martin Truex Jr. and Dale Earnhardt Jr. will also sport cars featuring special patriotic graphics ranging from red, white and blue stars to camouflage. 
 
3. Late-race track position will be race's deciding factor
Ultimately, Sunday night's 600-miler won't be about who struts to the front at mile 100, 200 or any other number fewer than about 560 in the mileage count. 
 
It will be about the handful of cars near the front after the final caution flag. Look no further than last Saturday night’s All-Star race for proof.
 
Kasey Kahne won the race off pit road for the final 10 lap segment with teammate Jimmie Johnson not too far behind. A solid restart for Johnson got his No. 48 alongside Kahne and eventually to the lead. Meanwhile, Kyle and Kurt Busch -- each with a pair of wins in the first four segments -- couldn't come close to reasserting their dominance.
 
Johnson was good, sure, but clean air and track position was even better. Expect more of the same Sunday night. That's par for the course in this age of Sprint Cup racing on high-grip, high-speed tracks like Charlotte.
 
4. 600 has history of first-time winners
Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte and Matt Kenseth are all former Sprint Cup champions. They also share the distinction of winning the first race of their respective careers in NASCAR's longest event.
 
More recently, Jamie McMurray and Casey Mears scored their first Cup trophies in CMS' 600-miler.
 
Could we see a new chapter written for another first-time winner Sunday night? Preliminary favorites Johnson, Kenseth and Kahne would have a bone to pick with that expectation. Should it happen, however, look for the driver to be in a Ford. 
 
Rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr. made his first career start at Charlotte in 2011 and drove to an 11th-place finish. More recently, Stenhouse appeared to have last month's race at Kansas Speedway within grasp. A poorly timed caution derailed those hopes.
 
Quasi-teammate Aric Almirola (Stenhouse's Roush-Fenway Racing and Almirola's Richard Petty Racing share extensive chassis and technical information) might also be on deck to nab his first career Sprint Cup win. Almirola started on the Charlotte pole last year but led just three laps en route to a 16th-place finish.
 
Any first-time winner is looking at a stiff challenge Sunday night, but with the race's history we can't rule it out.
 
5. Has the Coca-Cola 600 lost some relevance?
Blame the Charlotte re-pave. Blame the new cars. Blame the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Or even blame the resurgence of the Indianapolis 500.
 
Whatever it is, it sure feels like the Coca-Cola 600 has lost some of its cachet in recent years. Perhaps that's an overreaction from last year's dull event won by Kahne. Or perhaps it’s just indicative of the truth.
 
For one, the race simply is no longer a true race of endurance. NASCAR Sprint Cup teams have built largely bulletproof race cars, and engines have become a pretty exacting science. Drivers are more in shape and better quality control means fewer broken parts. One hundred extra miles (67 more laps) on top of a 500-mile race just doesn't tax these teams beyond realistic capabilities.
 
There's no doubt, however, that the 600 has lost some level of importance because it's not part of a bonus series of races like it once was. The 600 used to be part of Winston's bonus program that ultimately awarded an extra $1 million bonus to any driver who could win three of four races, including the Daytona 500, the Talladega spring race, the 600 and Darlington's Southern 500. 
 
Combine that with the Chase for the Sprint Cup that ultimately reduced the importance of winning individual early season races in the name of winning the series championship, and the reduced emphasis starts to make sense.
 
I'll attend Sunday night's race in the stands for the 17th time in the last 18 years. It's a fun event, a good race and tradition I'll gladly keep. But I don't know how to fix the general feeling that the 600 isn't the race it once was. Here's to hoping the racing can somehow change that Sunday night.
 
Follow Geoffrey Miller on Twitter @GeoffreyMiller.
Teaser:
<p> Geoffrey Miller's Five Things to Watch at Charlotte's Coca-Cola 600</p>
Post date: Friday, May 24, 2013 - 13:25
Path: /nascar/indy-500-mario-and-marco-andretti-talk-history-and-heritage
Body:

There are few families whose names are more inextricably linked to the history, heritage and heartbreak of the Indianapolis 500 than the Andrettis. While the Unser Family has the record for most Indianapolis 500 victories with nine, the Andretti Family has encountered more adversity than success at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Mario Andretti’s Indy 500 career spanned from 1965-94, and he often delivered dominating performances only to drop out of the race with one mechanical failure or another. His 1969 win is the only time an Andretti has won the race.

Mario’s son, Michael, also dominated the race in his career (1984-2006), yet he never won the Indy 500. Michael has been a team owner since 2003, and two of his drivers have won the Indy 500 — the late Dan Wheldon in 2005 and Dario Franchitti in 2007.

Michael’s son, Marco, represents the current generation of Andrettis in IndyCar and nearly won the Indy 500 in his very first attempt in 2006, blowing past his father on a restart with five laps remaining. Marco was within a few hundred yards of the checkered flag before Sam Hornish Jr. raced past him to win in one of the most dramatic finishes in Indianapolis 500 history — the first time the race-winning pass was made on the final lap.

Mario represents the “Then” and Marco the “Now.” Before the green flag drops on this weekend's race, Athlon Sports had a chance to talk to both drivers about the Indianapolis 500 — then and now.

What is your first recollection of the Indianapolis 500?

Mario Andretti: I was still in Italy, and there was a movie, “To Please a Lady,” that starred Clark Gable and Barbara Stanwyck, but the title in Italy was “Indianapolis.” I was really curious. I had no idea what Indianapolis was and I went to see that movie. At that time I was 12 or 13. The next time I heard of Indianapolis was when driver Bill Vukovich was killed in 1955. In Italy, they publicized that. That is when I became aware of Indianapolis. That year’s 500 was just a few weeks before my family came to America. The race was on May 30 and we arrived in the United States on June 9.

Marco Andretti: It was the old Speedway Motel for me. That’s the first thing that sticks out because we spent a month there every year of my life back then so it was a second home for me. Playing on the ledge and listening to the cars go by and (announcer) Tom Carnegie on the PA saying, “It’s a new track record.” I was probably 3 or 4 years old then.

How has the Indianapolis 500 changed from when you started competing to today?

Mario: The only things that have changed are the cars and the technical side, and the interest factor is a little bit different now. It seems strange to see Indianapolis advertise for tickets when tickets used to be the most sacred thing there. Still, Indy remains Indy, and I’m thankful for that. … I think it is coming back to the glory days.

Marco: The biggest thing I have to commend them for is the safety with the SAFER Barriers. For a driver it makes us feel more secure. They aren’t exactly pillows, but it helps.

What remains the same about the Indianapolis 500 over time?

Mario: The fact everyone still considers it the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” The other part is the technical side and the driving. Nothing has changed there from the commitment of the drivers.

Marco: You still have to make the car last 500 miles. It is more of a sprint race now. You have to be on your game the whole time, and the whole field is on the lead lap at the end of the race.

All three generations of the Andrettis converged on the final five laps of the 2006 Indianapolis 500, but it all ended when Sam Hornish Jr. made the race-winning pass just a few hundred yards from the checkered flag. Did that one race encapsulate the Andrettis at the Indianapolis 500?

Mario: We’ve been so close so many times. Between Michael and myself we have dominated that race more times than four-time winners. Does that mean we have a bitter memory of it or feeling? No, it’s just the opposite. I think of nothing but positive thoughts as far as the Indianapolis 500 is concerned mainly because of how competitive I was every time I competed there.

Marco: I think so. We have been knocking on the door and leading a lot of laps and being competitive but falling short on that one important lap — the last one. That whole month we were asked what would happen if it came down to the two of us. It was literally a fairy tale ending, but there was a third party involved. Still, to this day I will never wrap my head around where Sam got that speed on the last lap. It was the fastest lap of the month on cold tires. It’s a little fishy to me.

How important is the Indianapolis 500 to the Andrettis?

Mario: Extremely. We have been striving to win that for a half a century. We only have one win to show for it. We are trying like hell to make it happen. I’m happy that Michael, after having so many disappointments after dominating that place and was denied even one victory, is enjoying some success as a winning team owner.

Marco: It’s my life. Even my grandfather said it would be a hell of a party if I were able to win that race. It’s the biggest sporting event in the world. We live our lives around that event.

What keeps the Indianapolis 500 as the greatest race in the world?

Mario: The best open-wheel racers not just in America but from around the world are there.

Marco: I think tradition. They keep a lot of the traditions the same, and that is why it is what it is. The fan base and the support we have for the number of fans that come is really unbelievable.

Mario, discuss your 1969 victory.

Mario: Midway through the 1969 race my engine started overheating like crazy. I started in the middle of the front row and ran up front all day and figured I wouldn’t finish. But we finished the race with the water temperature at 250 and the oil temperature at 280. Go figure. But it was a big weight off of my back when I won it because I felt how important it was to win that race by how you are judged career-wise even though that can be unfair. You are judged by that race.

Why is the Indianapolis 500 more than just a race?

Mario: It’s an event. Why is the Kentucky Derby more than just a horse race? Why is the Super Bowl more than just a football game? It’s the importance of it, and the whole world knows that race is happening. I don’t know any other motor race that is as popular today as Indy is worldwide. It’s the only race in my opinion that is as precious as winning the championship. If you ask any driver today which would you rather win — the championship or the Indy 500 — most every driver will say Indy.

Marco: It’s all the history that has happened there. To go back to 1911, that’s a long time. The history with our family alone is unreal there. We’ve had a lot of ups and downs. We’ve seen the glory there and how things can be terrible there. That in itself is what makes the history there and what makes it so important and gives you the goosebumps you feel when you drive into that place. It’s really what has happened there in the past and all the greatest race car drivers that ever lived competed there, and only a few of them get to say they are champions.

—By Bruce Martin

Teaser:
<p> Indy 500: Mario and Marco Andretti Talk History and Heritage</p>
Post date: Friday, May 24, 2013 - 12:15
Path: /nascar/fantasy-picks-coca-cola-600-charlotte-motor-speedway
Body:

The 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit runs the longest race of the year Sunday night in the Coca-Cola 600. To help guide you through the 2013 Fantasy NASCAR season, Athlon Sports contributor Geoffrey Miller will be offering his best predictions for each race. And because Yahoo's Fantasy Auto Racing game is arguably the most popular, he’ll break down the picks according to its NASCAR driver classes — A-List, B-List, C-List.

So, without further ado, Geoffrey’s fantasy predictions for Charlotte Motor Speedway ranked according to each driver's likelihood of taking the checkered flag — or at least finishing toward the front:

A-List
1. Jimmie Johnson
This is one of those “pick Jimmie or the field” weekends. A win Sunday gives him the most all-time at Charlotte in points races. In his past eight starts, he’s spent an astounding 86.4 percent of the total laps racing inside the top-15.
 
2. Kasey Kahne
The defending race winner is probably Johnson’s biggest challenge come Sunday based on his 1.5-mile track showings this year. He’s also won five times at CMS.
 
3. Matt Kenseth
Kenseth is forever connected to Charlotte, thanks to his first career Cup win there in 2000. Since then? Another win and six more top-5s. Oh, and he’s racing a real heater right now.
 
4. Brad Keselowski
Led 139 laps and finished 11th last fall at Charlotte before Bowyer won the fuel-mileage finish. Fifth in last year’s 600. Both were his best CMS in now seven starts.
 
5. Denny Hamlin
Hamlin has the best lead lap finish per race average in the series at Charlotte (80 percent) but still doesn’t have a win there. 
 
6. Jeff Gordon
Sunday marks the 20th anniversary of Gordon’s first career win at Charlotte. He’s totaled four more Charlotte wins since, but only one (2007) since Dale Jarrett had a mustache. 
 
7. Clint Bowyer
His team lost the setup as last week’s All-Star race roared on, which doesn’t equal face-value confidence for Bowyer to get his fifth Charlotte top-10 in 15 starts.
 
8. Kevin Harvick
En route to an 8th-place finish in the 600 last season, Harvick led just the sixth lap of his 24-start career at Charlotte. He’s hovering around 10th in races at the 1.5-milers this year.
 
9. Tony Stewart
Aside from this season’s consistently ill-handling No. 14, Stewart has just one top-10 at Charlotte since he struck out on his with Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009. 25th and 13th last year with nary a lap led.
 
 
B List
1. Greg Biffle
Biffle has led 50 or more laps in his last four Charlotte starts, and led 275 total laps last season before finishing fourth in both events. He’s at least a consistent start, and maybe in the running for a first Charlotte win.
 
2. Carl Edwards
Third-best average Charlotte finish in the series even with that crushing 2008 fall race where a flukey electrical issue basically took a championship from the No. 99. Three-straight Charlotte top-10s.
 
3. Kyle Busch
If you play Jeopardy! this week and the category is “11 Charlotte Wins,” you should answer with “Who is Kyle Busch?” If the category is “11 Charlottte Wins But None in Cup,” you should answer the same.
 
4. Aric Almirola
Last year’s 600 polesitter, Almirola is racing RPM chassis No. 848 that finished sixth at Kansas. Now would be a good time to remind you that the 600 has a history of finding first-time winners.
 
5. Joey Logano
He’s started a third of the races Johnson has at Charlotte, but Logano has the series’ best Charlotte average finish (10.1) among active drivers.
 
6. Kurt Busch
Really, really strong in the All-Star race. His 600 chances hinge on the pit crew and Busch not losing it when inevitably something doesn’t go quite right in the four-hour race.
 
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The Kannapolis, N.C., native still doesn’t have a Cup win at a track that is truly hometown for him, which seems a bit odd. Missed the fall race with his concussion last season, but finished sixth in the 600.
 
8. Mark Martin
The four-time Charlotte winner is looking for his 25th-career top-10 in his 57th start at the track.
 
9. Martin Truex Jr.
Truex has only led nine laps at Charlotte in his career, but he’s been one of the four best drivers on 1.5-mile tracks this season.
 
10. Jamie McMurray
Led every lap in the Sprint Showdown to get in the All-Star race at the track where he’s won twice. This race could be a measuring stick for Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing’s recent success.
 
11. Ryan Newman
If this fantasy stuff paid points for winning poles, Ryan Newman would be your guy. He has nine of them at Charlotte. Unfortunately, he’s driving for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2013 where top-10s feel like wins.
 
12. Jeff Burton
Back to the site of his last win (fall 2008), the three-time Charlotte winner is averaging worse than 20th on 1.5-mile tracks this season.
 
13. Paul Menard
A pair of top-10s at Las Vegas and Kansas could make Menard a contender for his second career Charlotte top-10 finish.
 
14. Juan Pablo Montoya
By average finish, Charlotte is Montoya’s second-worst track. He’s led five laps in 3,997 completed around the venerable speedway.
 
15. Bobby Labonte
The two-time Charlotte winner doesn’t have a finish better than 22nd there since the 2009 600.
 
16. Marcos Ambrose
Nailed down a pair of top-10s at Charlotte in 2011, but struggled to a best finish of 32nd there last season.
 
 
C-List
1. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Made his breakthrough Sprint Cup debut driving for an ill Trevor Bayne in 2011 with an 11th-place finish.
 
2. David Ragan
In his pre-race press release this week, Ragan said, “Half-way into the Coca-Cola 600, you’re 300 miles in.” Though his car may hold him back from a great finish, his math skills won’t.
 
3. Trevor Bayne
Back in the field this week and looking for his first lead-lap Charlotte finish in the Cup Series. Finished 18th at Texas earlier this year.
 
4. Casey Mears
Mears scored his only Sprint Cup win when his then-Hendrick No. 25 played the fuel mileage game masterfully in the 2007 race. Otherwise, Mears has just four lead lap Charlotte finishes in 19 starts.
 
5. David Gilliland
Holy shrimp! The driver of the Long John Silver’s car has a best finish of just 23rd in 13 career Charlotte starts.
 
6. Regan Smith
Blew an engine last fall while subbing for Earnhardt in the No. 88. Otherwise, his eighth-place finish in 2011 was one of Smith’s five top-20 finishes at Charlotte.
 
7. Danica Patrick
Five laps down a year ago at Charlotte, Patrick will probably break out the celebratory glass of milk if she’s on the lead lap at mile 600.
 
8. David Reutimann
He’ll try to end a two-race streak of DNFs due to crashes at the track where he first went to victory lane. 2009 seems like a decade ago for Reutimann, does it not?
 
9. Dave Blaney
It’d be more fun if Blaney entered the World of Outlaws race Friday night at the dirt track outside Charlotte’s Turn 4.
 
10. Josh Wise
He might beat Joe Nemechek in the 600-miler if only because Wise is training to compete in a full Iron Man event later this year. 
 
11. Travis Kvapil
Kvapil led 23 laps in his Charlotte debut in 2005, which remains his most interesting Charlotte stat.
 
12. Dave Blaney
It’d be more fun if Blaney entered the World of Outlaws race Friday night at the dirt track outside Charlotte’s Turn 4.
 
13. David Stremme
David Stremme’s never led a lap at Charlotte. Maybe he’ll break that streak with an oddly-timed caution this year.
 
14. Landon Cassill
Five Charlotte starts, no lead lap finishes.
 
15. Timmy Hill
Brings a five-race streak of finishes better than 40th and worse than 32nd to his first career 600.
 
Entered drivers on start-and-park watch:
Mike Bliss
Michael McDowell
Scott Speed
Brian Keselowski
 
Follow Geoffrey Miller on Twitter: @GeoffreyMiller
 
Teaser:
<p> Fantasy Picks for the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway</p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 22, 2013 - 12:15
Path: /nascar/nascar-numbers-game-7-key-stats-coca-cola-600
Body:

Jimmie Johnson stirred up the masses with his second straight Sprint All-Star Race win on Saturday. Johnson, historically dominant at Charlotte Motor Speedway, a track that was once referred to as “his house” when his car and the facility shared primary sponsor branding, now looms large as the driver to beat in this weekend’s Coca-Cola 600. At least that’s the narrative, as I understand it.

The truth is, the All-Star Race and the 600 don’t correlate. As we learned in this space last week, in 13 tries dating back to 2000, the winner of the All-Star Race has gone on to 600 glory just three times. One of those three was Johnson in 2003, but it shouldn’t have any bearing for two reasons.

First, the short-burst speeds that excelled last weekend won’t help in this Sunday’s 400-lap motorized marathon. The two races are practically different disciplines for drivers and teams.

Second, Johnson isn’t the Johnson of old. If Charlotte is his house, then quite a few squatters have thrown house parties unbeknownst to him. The difference from the old Johnson at Charlotte and the Johnson now is a matter of pavement.

Charlotte was repaved in 2006 after a botched diamond-grating job in 2005. A repaved track usually means that old setup and strategy notes are thrown out, because the tricks that used to work now do not. That is why Johnson is no longer the clear-cut class of the field. His average finish helps tell the story.


6.67  Johnson and the No. 48 team averaged a 6.67-place finish in nine races prior to the 2006 repaving project.

Five of those nine races resulted in victory for Johnson, who led 22 percent of the 3,882 total laps in that time frame. There was very little doubt as to who the car to beat was in the pre-repave era at CMS.

That quickly changed.


16.92  In the 12 races since the repave, Johnson and team have averaged a finish of 16.92.

Johnson does have a win to his credit (Oct. 2009) in the “new era” of Charlotte, but his sheer dominance is a distant memory. The No. 48 bunch has finished third or better in five of those 12 races, but the eclectic nature of his results — his 13.97 finish deviation in these races suggests his finishes ranged from good to bad to middle of the road — means he is no longer the consistent win threat he once was.

A few other drivers have made waves recently at Charlotte, including one driving alongside Johnson under the Hendrick Motorsports banner.
 

Teaser:
<p> David Smith crunches the numbers and finds the key NASCAR stats for the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 21, 2013 - 17:16
Path: /nascar/johnson-wins-nascar-all-star-race-danica-earnhardt-jr-disappoint
Body:

Say what you want about Jimmie Johnson. Critics have a long list of rebuttals for why he’s not the greatest driver of this era: Chad Knaus, superior equipment and more money through sponsor Lowe’s than his closest rivals. But it’s hard to argue the stats on paper. Johnson’s fourth win in the All-Star Race, a NASCAR record, launched him past teammate Jeff Gordon and the late Dale Earnhardt Sr.

With five Cup championships, 62 wins and another decade or so to add to that total, it’s time to give the man his due. Yes, he may be paired forever with a political correctness label that leaves him scorned by much of the fan base. Surely, Knaus and owner Rick Hendrick’s “New York Yankees” model of having the best of the best in all positions helps immensely. But someone still has to drive the car. Johnson had to hold off a hungry Kasey Kahne, side-by-side and initially charge forward from a starting spot of 20th place. That was no easy feat, a goal that could only be reached by a select few.

This All-Star Race was another reminder that, like it or not, Johnson is clearly in the “Greatest Driver of His Era” category. A decade from now, when all is said and done in his career, Saturday night will surely not be the only record he’ll leave behind.

Other gears to shift through after NASCAR’s greatest exhibition include…


FIRST GEAR: The All-Star Race Needs a retool
The All-Star Race has long been billed as one where sparks fly, rivalries ignite and drivers let it all hang out. So what have we gotten these last nine years during the Chase era? A total of one pass for the lead within the last five laps. There have been few, if any, incidents of close racing let alone contact between drivers that would spark fan interest. On Saturday night, Johnson needed two laps to fully dispose of Kahne before cruising to the checkers, part of a 90-lapper that had only one major incident (Mark Martin being spun out by Ricky Stenhouse Jr.). Not exactly the type of marketing the sport needs for an exhibition race, right?

Clearly it’s not all the driver’s faults. Charlotte has struggled as a racetrack since a 2005 “levigation” experiment gone awry, producing asphalt that’s left Goodyear in a pickle. In the first race run after the process, a 500-miler was nearly stopped as tires blew every 15-20 laps; in response, the tire company has acted more scared there than a five-year-old without a nightlight in his room. The rubber they produce, every time out, has been far too conservative, forcing the drivers to race the same, as little falloff (creating similar lap times) combined with high speeds make passing difficult at best.

With that in mind, Saturday night still felt like a missed opportunity from a garage that’s not too happy with each other right now. From Kasey Kahne-Kyle Busch to Denny Hamlin-Joey Logano, the list of drivers who feel they “owe” somebody for some past on-track issue is lengthy; Don King could have a field day with a Friday Night Boxing Special on HBO. So with a chance to take a “free shot,” all these drivers did … was nothing. Absolutely nothing but ride around, make laps and watch as the prohibitive favorite (Johnson) entering the event took control and pulled away. It was anticlimactic, paired with a staggering amount of empty seats and with a format based on best average finish for the final segment that left fans referring to an abacus. Add in a graphical mistake by SPEED that made it look like NASCAR was manipulating the rules for “Five-Time,” and the whole show took on the feel of a debacle.

Clearly, major changes for this race need to happen, and they need to happen now. Stick ‘n’ ball sports are struggling with All-Star formats too, but no one seems to need to go back to the drawing board more than NASCAR.


SECOND GEAR: Kurt Busch proving his worth
Furniture Row Racing, as a single-car team, has just one victory in its near-decade of NASCAR competition. Expect that to change soon. Kurt Busch is on a tear, winning the pole for the All-Star Race (as well as the pole at Darlington the week prior) and winning two of the first four segments of the race. Only a slow pit stop kept the No. 78 from Victory Lane, as Busch lost track position for the final 10 laps and was forced to settle for fifth.

In the past, that incident would cause the once-tempestuous driver to explode. Make no mistake, Busch has had his in-race moments in 2013, but Saturday night was another example of Busch keeping those mood swings in check. Yes, he let his frustration be known over the in-car radio, but the fury was nowhere near on par with past outbursts, and there certainly was no throwing the crew under the bus — instead, he was roundly complimentary.

No doubt, that belies a level of confidence the driver feels with this program, more heavily linked with Richard Childress Racing than ever before, as the big man himself considers potentially placing the driver in a top-tier ride in the RCR camp come 2014.

Still in the top 20 in points, Charlotte’s 600-miler presents one of several opportunities for this team to steal a win in the coming weeks (Michigan, Sonoma and Daytona are others that come to mind). With a “win or wreck” mentality, Busch is likely to run around 20th in points, which means he’s the biggest roadblock for Denny Hamlin should this team break out and reach Victory Lane multiple times.

The “wild card” race is about to ramp up.


THIRD GEAR: Ford’s failure
Brad Keselowski, blowing a transmission on the second lap, said it all for a Ford contingent that’s looking a step behind. Despite adding two cars to its roster this offseason through Penske Racing, Fords have only won twice this season in 11 starts (plus a 12th opportunity in the All-Star Race). For every feel-good story (Carl Edwards’ return to prominence, David Ragan’s Talladega miracle, Aric Almirola’s top-10 surge) there’s been a long list of tough ones. Greg Biffle has been maddeningly inconsistent, hitting the wall at Charlotte Saturday night and once again being a non-factor. Ditto Joey Logano, although his charg to a strong second behind Johnson in the closing laps of the All-Star Race was admirable. Marcos Ambrose was once again invisible and will need to rely on road course expertise to make the Chase.

With Hendrick and Gibbs clicking on all cylinders for Chevrolet and Toyota, respectively, there’s not one top team you can rely on across the board at Ford right now. They really need to take the two weeks while at home in Charlotte to study their notes, retool and get it together for NASCAR’s grueling summer stretch.
 

Teaser:
<p> Reaction from NASCAR's All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.</p>
Post date: Monday, May 20, 2013 - 14:57

Pages