Articles By Athlon Sports

Path: /nascar/danica-patrick-impresses-daytona-nascars-gen-6-does-not
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The Great American Race, for the first 180 laps, looked more like the Great American Parade. Cars ran single-file for much of the Daytona 500, content to ride in packs for fear that pulling out for a pass would leave them slower than the street cars the new Gen-6 models are supposed to resemble.

Just don’t expect Jimmie Johnson to complain. “Five-Time” saved his best for last, when the field bunched up inside the last 20 laps and the racing finally resembled some semblance of Sprint Cup competition. Out in front on the white-flag lap, he slammed on the gas pedal when cars wrecked behind him, easily outlasting teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win the second Daytona 500 of his one-day Hall of Fame career.

This day, however, will never come close to those lofty standards, a disappointment for NASCAR during a time where plenty of extra eyes were paying attention. Their missed opportunity leads off this week’s “Through The Gears,” bringing you up to speed on the storylines that simmer following the 55th running of the Daytona 500.

First Gear: The Gen-6 needs work at Daytona. Serious, serious work
Daytona is NASCAR’s Super Bowl; but Sunday, the challenge for fans was nothing more than staying awake. That’s problematic. NASCAR’s Gen-6 model, while expected to improve the competition on intermediate tracks, sterilized it on a plate track. Strategy and track position — the latter an ugly word that’s castrated competition elsewhere — made its way into the restrictor plate world most thought it could never touch again. Whether or not NASCAR should be using the plates as a form of parity is a separate discussion. The fact this package caused cars to run single-file, repeatedly, with only 19 lead changes in the first 172 laps (mostly during cautions, restarts and green-flag stops) is a fact not easily ignored.

Some of that, whether NASCAR likes it or not, can be attributed to the plate package it built for the Gen-6 chassis. Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin tweeted the single-file racing was “frustrating,” attributed to the weakness of the inside line. Meanwhile, winner Johnson had another take – that the drivers themselves, sick of wrecking out of so many Russian Roulette, keep-the-pack-together-like superglue races had grown tired of actually trying to compete until the end.

“When we’re running single-file, we’re just trying to get to the finish,” Johnson said. “We’ve all crashed so many times and have torn up so much stuff … I feel for NASCAR, they’re trying to create a very competitive car.”

There’s a point to be made here, along with Saturday’s carnage that left 28 fans injured and many drivers clearly shaken. After 25 years, no matter the rules, these drivers know the name of the game. Did you know there has not been a plate race without a yellow (or several) within the last 20 laps since Daytona’s July 2004 Pepsi 400? Some of the drivers today hadn’t earned their high school diploma when that happened. That means the same type of pattern has been repeated, over and over; no matter what you do, no matter where you are on the track, as long as you stay on the lead lap a caution will bunch up the field with 20 to go (or less). After that … the real racing starts.

Competitors are smart and they adapt. So NASCAR needs to come up with a way where there’s a clear reason to race hard, from start to finish even in the sport’s Super Bowl, otherwise, drivers will just do it when it counts. NASCAR also needs to take a hard look at Johnson’s other point, how side-drafting permanently disabled the inside line Sunday. By all accounts, drivers pulled out of line and got railroaded because the Gen-6 car is so sensitive to that method of manipulation. Perhaps adjusting the spoiler will help? If NASCAR does that, it’s believed some form of tandem drafting would be the result. But as the Nationwide race showed us — before all hell broke loose — some hybrid version of that format isn’t all bad.

What NASCAR can’t have, whether the drivers like it or not, is a parade the likes of which was seen on Sunday — especially when the fan base is used to the heart attack that is Daytona’s last 20 laps. They say people are enthused about a style of racing that closely matches the early 1990s? Check the ratings: 1990 and ’91 were the two lowest-rated 500s since the race received full-time coverage in 1979.


Second Gear: Danica is the real deal … sort of
OK, raise your hand if you thought Danica would be a flop. She wasn’t. In truth, Patrick’s day surpassed most peoples’ expectations, becoming the first woman to lead a lap in the Great American Race and following it up with the best ever finish (eighth).

More importantly, Patrick remained consistent, running in the top 10 for the duration in a performance that she described perfectly: “steady.” If not for making a rookie mistake, in failing to follow Earnhardt with one lap left, she may have been on the podium.

“I definitely was a little uncertain how I was going to be able to do it pass for the win),” she said. “I think Dale did a nice job and I think he taught me something.”

What she needs to learn — much quicker — is how to get off pit road. At tracks where she won’t make track position back, like the intermediates, those mistakes could destroy a solid run. I do expect more Danica-mania to develop now, as the momentum train heads to Phoenix, where she was in position for a top-15 performance last November before a late wreck.


Third Gear: Johnson sets another milestone … to the detriment of Earnhardt Jr.
Johnson, taking advantage of track position opportunities, ran a smart, clean race. That’s expected when crew chief Chad Knaus can take center stage. He successfully kept the No. 48 out of drafting practice, gambling that this race was about who could stay in line, use pit strategy to stay up front and then make a calculated move when it counted.

The victory gives Johnson a victory in his 400th career start. In a weird quirk, five others have accomplished the feat, including Hall of Famers Lee Petty, Richard Petty, David Pearson and Dale Earnhardt. As if Johnson needing another notch on a resume that may see him reach 100 career wins (he’s at 61 now) before his career is complete.

You can’t say the same for Earnhardt, runner-up in this race for the third time in the last four years. It’s a huge win for Hendrick Motorsports, which runs the 48 and 88 out of the same shop. But you’ve got to wonder if the restrictor plate drought, now at eight-plus years, has Earnhardt wondering when it’ll finally be his turn again.

“Running second over and over is great and all for our team,” Earnhardt said. “But it’s been too long. I would love (to win), even having to go through all that (media) hassle that Jimmie is about to go through this week. It’s worth it.”
 

Teaser:
<p> Through the Gears: Five things we learned in the Daytona 500</p>
Post date: Monday, February 25, 2013 - 15:17
Path: /college-football/ranking-secs-college-football-coaching-jobs-2013
Body:

We have ranked every college football program in the country, based on the attractiveness of the position from a coaching perspective. We considered many factors — tradition, facilities, location, money  — but in the end, we simply asked ourselves the following question: Where would we want to coach? Today we focus on the SEC.

(Note: Current or impending NCAA sanctions were not a factor in these rankings.)

Ranking the Coaching Jobs in the SEC for 2013

1. Florida

Pros: Location. Location. Location. Florida is a public university in a state that produces a tremendous amount of top-flight talent. Ben Hill Griffin Stadium offers one of the best atmospheres in college football, and the fan base is as rabid as there is in the nation.

Cons: Expectations are sky-high at a school that has won two national championships in the past four seasons. If you don’t win — and win big — things can turn ugly very quickly. Just ask Ron Zook.

Final Verdict: Florida presents one of the elite coaching opportunities in college football. You have everything at your disposal to compete for national championships on an annual basis. There is no excuse not to be good at Florida.


2. Alabama

Pros: Tradition. With the possible exception of Notre Dame, no school in the country has more tradition than Alabama. The Tide have won 23 SEC championships and (depending on who you ask) 15 national titles. The facilities are top-notch, the fans are passionate and the recruiting base is strong.

Cons: Coaching football at Alabama is arguably the most stressful job in collegiate athletics. It’s takes a certain kind of coach to deal with that type of scrutiny.

Final Verdict: Alabama is unquestionably one of the premier jobs in the nation. The coach who can deal with the demands of the job — like Nick Saban — will win at a very high level in Tuscaloosa.
 

3. Georgia

Pros: Georgia has tremendous tradition and is located in arguably the finest college town in America — Athens. The Peach State might not produce talent at the same rate as Florida, Texas or California, but metro Atlanta is always strong, and small towns such as Columbus, Valdosta and Warner Robins consistently produce elite talent.

Cons: There are really no negatives to be found at Georgia, other than the fact that you are competing in the very difficult SEC, and you have a fan base that demands you win at a high level.

Final Verdict: Georgia is a great situation, but you clearly have to have the right guy in place to win big. After Vince Dooley won the third of three straight SEC crowns in 1982, the Bulldogs went nearly two decades — and went through two more coaches — before their next league title, won by Mark Richt in 2002.
 

4. LSU

Pros: It’s become a bit of a cliché, but there really is nothing like being in Tiger Stadium on a Saturday night in the fall. That environment is one reason the Tigers are able to recruit so well. The other? The state of Louisiana is arguably the most underrated talent producer in the nation.

Cons: LSU has so much going for it, but why have so many coaches failed to win at a high level in Baton Rouge? From 1971 though 2000, the Tigers only won one outright SEC championship, in 1986 under Bill Arnsparger.

Final Verdict: It’s hard to find a reason why LSU would not be a desirable coaching position. Sure the competition is tough and the fans are demanding, but that comes with the territory. The school has won two national titles in the past 11 seasons.
 

5. Texas A&M

Pros: Texas A&M’s facilities are among the very best in the nation. Kyle Field is a bit on the old side and is set to undergo a renovation, but as far as the facilities for recruiting — football complex in the south end zone, the indoor practice facility — A&M has very few rivals. The recruiting base is among the best in the country, and the Aggies, the only SEC school in the state of Texas, should be able to battle the University of Texas for the best players in the state. 

Cons: Even with so much going for it, Texas A&M has had trouble sustaining success throughout its history.   

Final Verdict: Texas A&M is a very intriguing position. It has everything you would want in a job — great facilities, strong following, tremendous recruiting base — but the competition in the SEC West is fierce. If you win at A&M, you will have earned it.
 

6.  Auburn

Pros: Auburn and Georgia are the only two schools in the SEC with at least five winning conference seasons in each of the past four decades. Clearly, this program can be a consistent winner in the nation’s most difficult conference.

Cons: Auburn is a state school with a great following, but it will always be No. 2 in Alabama behind the Crimson Tide from Tuscaloosa.

Final Verdict: If your ego can handle being the second most important coach in the state, then Auburn can be a destination job. The school — with its fine tradition, strong facilities and outstanding recruiting base — has proven over time that it can compete on a national level. The Tigers, after all, won the BCS crown in 2010.
 

7. Tennessee

Pros: Who wouldn’t want to recruit to picturesque Neyland Stadium, with its 100,000-plus orange-clad zealots cheering on the Vols each week? And while Tennessee has struggled in recent years, the program enjoyed tremendous success in the not-too-distant past. From 1989-2001, the Vols went 80–20–1 in the SEC and claimed four league titles. During that span, they were ranked in the final top 10 of the AP poll seven times.

Cons: The Vols must recruit nationally because the state of Tennessee does not produce enough BCS conference players to stock the school’s roster. This is not a concern for UT’s chief SEC rivals Florida, Georgia, LSU, Auburn and Alabama.

Final Verdict: Tennessee is a great place to coach, but the Vols have slipped down the SEC food chain over the past decade. We now have Tennessee seventh on the list in the league.
 

8. South Carolina

Pros: South Carolina is home to arguably the most loyal fans in the nation. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Gamecock fans routinely filled 80,000-seat Williams Brice Stadium even though their team averaged only six wins per season. In addition, the facilities are great, and the recruiting base is strong.

Cons: Steve Spurrier has broken through in recent years, but South Carolina football has historically been one of the nation’s most underachieving programs.

Final Verdict: South Carolina has won 17 SEC games in the past three seasons — by far its best stretch since joining the league — but we’re still not ready to put this program on the same level as SEC royalty like Alabama, LSU, Georgia and Florida.  


9. Arkansas

Pros: Recently renovated Reynolds Razorback Stadium — with its 76,000 seats and 30x107-foot LED video screen — is one of the most underrated venues in the nation. Arkansas is the only BCS program in the state, giving the school an advantage in recruiting homegrown talent.

Cons: The Hogs have found it tough to win consistently since bolting the Southwest Conference for the SEC in the early 1990s. Arkansas is 85-89-2 in the SEC and has only once had back-to-back winning seasons in the league.

Final Verdict: Arkansas is quite similar to several of the non-elite coaching positions in the SEC. It’s a good job, but it’s not a destination job for a coach with national title aspirations.
 

10. Ole Miss

Pros: Historically, Mississippi produces as many Division I prospects per capita as any state in the nation. There is plenty of competition for these recruits (Mississippi State, Alabama, LSU, etc.), but a good coach will be able to keep the Rebels stocked with solid talent. Support for Rebel football is also very strong; the Rebs averaged 57,066 per game in 2012. Also, Ole Miss’ facilities have improved tremendously in the past five years.

Cons: You have to go back to the early 1960s to find a time in which Ole Miss was a major player in the SEC. The Rebels haven’t won a league title since 1963, and they are only team in the West (outside of SEC West newcomer Texas A&M) that has not played in an SEC Championship Game.

Final Verdict: Ole Miss has made the commitment to its football program, but it takes more than a commitment — and more than one top-10 recruiting class — to beat the elite SEC programs on a consistent basis. This job has great potential, but Ole Miss hasn’t “arrived” yet.
 

11. Missouri

Pros: Missouri has an underrated recruiting base. There is a solid crop of instate talent every year, and Mizzou does a decent job landing players from Texas and Illinois.

Cons: It’s been tough to win consistently at Missouri. Dating back to the days of the Big Eight, the Tigers have only had seven winning seasons in league play since 1983. The SEC East presents several huge challenges on an annual basis.

Final Verdict: Missouri is a good job — but not a great job. You can average eight wins per season and go to decent bowl games, but the Tigers aren’t much of a threat to contend for SEC titles.
 

12. Kentucky

Pros: Kentucky, after firing Joker Phillips, has made a commitment to football. The school has announced facilities upgrades, and the pay scale for the new staff is significantly higher. And while the state of Kentucky doesn’t produce many SEC-level players, Kentucky should be able to recruit nearby Ohio and still can dip into Georgia and Florida because of the school’s membership in the SEC.

Cons: Football, while important, will always be the No. 2 sport at Kentucky. And even though the school has some recruiting advantages — see above — it’s tough to win at a high level in the SEC when you can’t depend on stocking your roster with in-state talent.

Final Verdict: The level of competition in the SEC is better than ever. For example, Vanderbilt has climbed ahead of UK — for now — on the food chain. Mark Stoops is off to a great start, but it will difficult to win consistently at Kentucky.
 

13. Mississippi State

Pros: Mississippi State has shown an ability to field a competitive team on a semi-regular basis in the past two decades. The Bulldogs have had a winning overall record in 11 of the 22 seasons since the first wave of SEC expansion in 1991. That’s not great, but it’s better than most college football fans might expect. Support for Mississippi State football is at an all-time high; the Bulldogs averaged 55,648 (100.99 percent of capacity) at Davis Wade Stadium last season.

Cons: Recruiting top players to Starkville can be difficult. Not only does MSU have to battle Ole Miss for the best of the best in the state, but Alabama, Auburn and LSU are almost always in play for Mississippi’s top players.

Final Verdict: This is the toughest job in the SEC West — and maybe the entire league. Good coaches have shown the ability to remain relevant in the league, but it’s difficult to envision a scenario in which Mississippi State can win a division that includes Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn. 
 

14. Vanderbilt

Pros: Vanderbilt is an elite academic institution located in a great city. The school is spending more money than ever on athletics, from salaries for the coaching staff to the new indoor practice facility. While there is pressure to win at every school, expectations — even now after a nine-win season — will never be as great as other programs in the league. You aren’t going to get fired at Vanderbilt after one bad season.

Cons: Even with the recent upgrades, Vanderbilt trails the rest of the SEC in the facilities arms race. As the only private school in the SEC, the Commodores have the smallest fan base in the league — by far. Also, the academic requirements make recruiting that much more difficult for a staff that already has to overcome many hurdles. There is a reason that Vanderbilt went 29 years (from 1983 through 2011) without enjoying a single winning record in the SEC.

Final Verdict: James Franklin is proving that a recruit can have the best of both worlds — get a Vanderbilt education and win games in the nation’s best conference. Still, this is a very difficult job, maybe the toughest of any school in an AQ conference.


Related College Football Content

SEC Team Recruiting Rankings for 2013
Ranking the SEC's College Football-Basketball Coaching Tandems for 2013

College Football's Top 5 QBs on the Rise for 2013

College Football's Top 5 RBs on the Rise for 2013

College Football's Top 15 Impact JUCO Transfers for 2013

Grading College Football's New Head Coach Hires for 2013

Ranking the SEC Early Enrollees for 2013

Teaser:
<p> Ranking the SEC's College Football Coaching Jobs for 2013</p>
Post date: Monday, February 25, 2013 - 06:40
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR
Path: /nascar/daytona-500-start-time-tv-schedule-lineup-track-info
Body:
The Daytona 500 revs up today at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway for its 55th running. To help you prepare for the legendary NASCAR race, here's a look at everything (When does the race start? What's the starting lineup? Who's likely to win?) you need to know. 
 
Start Time: 1 p.m. ET today (Feb. 24)
 
Where: Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, Fla.
 
Watch: FOX; RaceView (Live Stream) 
 
Listen: Motor Racing Network

The 2013 Starting Lineup for the Daytona 500
 
1. Danica Patrick, No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
2. Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
3. Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
4. Kyle Busch, No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
5. Greg Biffle, No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford
6. Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
7. Juan Pablo Montoya, No. 42 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
8. Austin Dillon, No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
9. Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
10. Clint Bowyer, No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota
11. Kurt Busch, No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet
12. Matt Kenseth, No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
13. Tony Stewart, No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
14. Mark Martin, No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota
15. Brad Keselowski, No. 2 Penske Racing Ford
16. Paul Menard, No. 27 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
17. Casey Mears, No. 13 Germain Racing Ford
18. Jeff Burton, No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
19. Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
20. Jamie McMurray, No. 1 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
21. Joey Logano, No. 22 Penske Racing Ford
22. David Ragan, No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford
23. Bobby Labonte, No. 47 JTG Daugherty Motorsports Toyota
24. Marcos Ambrose, No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford
25. David Gilliland, No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford
26. Aric Almirola, No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford
27. Joe Nemechek, No. 87 Nemco-JRR Toyota
28. Ricky Stenhouse, No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford
29. Michael Waltrip, No. 26 Swan Racing Toyota
30. Dave Blaney, No. 7 Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevrolet
31. Scott Speed, No. 95 Leavine Family Racing Ford
32. Josh Wise, No. 35 Front Row Motorsports Ford
33. Trevor Bayne, No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford
34. Ryan Newman, No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
35. Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
36. Carl Edwards, No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford
37. Martin Truex Jr., No. 56 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota
38. Michael McDowell, No. 98 Phil Parsons Racing Ford
39. Terry Labonte, No. 32 FASLane Racing Ford
40. Regan Smith, No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet
41. J.J. Yeley, No. 36 Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevrolet
42. David Reutimann, No. 83 BK Racing Toyota
43. Travis Kvapil, No. 93 BK Racing Toyota
 
Failed to qualifying: Brian Keselowski, Mike Bliss
 

DAYTONA TRACK INFORMATION

Daytona International Speedway Race Stats

2013 Race Length: 500 miles/200 laps; 400 miles/160 laps

Track Qualifying Record: 210.364 mph (Bill Elliott, 1987)

Race Record: 500 - 177.602 mph (Buddy Baker, 1980); 400 - 173.473 mph (Bobby Allison, 1980)

 

Anonymous Crew Chief's Take on Daytona International Speedway:

“Whatever. It’s a superspeedway. Daytona used to be good when it had character and the cars had to handle. That made speedway racing a little bit of fun. You could take the frustration away from qualifying and actually had to go race and make the car drive good. It’s the hub of our sport; it’s where we start our season, and there is a ton of history there. And it’s a great place and a great racetrack, but now that it’s been repaved, it just doesn’t have any luster. That said, the January test sessions will be huge for everyone with the new bodies.”

 

Classic Daytona Moments:

Suffice it to say that, coming into the 2002 Daytona 500, Ward Burton wasn’t on many prognosticators’ short list of potential winners.

As it turned out, he didn’t let that stop him. Burton, an underdog driver competing for an underdog Bill Davis Racing organization, beat the odds and a star-studded field to capture the 44th annual Daytona 500, in the process scoring one of the biggest upsets in the history of The Great American Race.

Burton’s path to Victory Lane was hardly conventional, however, as the slow-talking Virginia native benefited from the oddest of circumstances to take over the top spot in the final laps.

Burton, who inherited the lead when NASCAR penalized leader Sterling Marlin for hopping out of his car under a red-flag period and attempting to repair damage to his front fender, held off fellow Virginian Elliott Sadler in a three-lap dash to the checkers.

Marlin, forced to restart at the tail end of the longest line, finished eighth and was denied a third victory in the most prestigious of all stock-car races.

 

Fantasy NASCAR Take on Daytona International Speedway:

Contenders

Matt Kenseth—Kenseth was a cool customer amid a firestorm at restrictor plate tracks in 2012. In addition to winning his Duel qualifying race and the Daytona 500, he was also strong in the summer’s 400-miler, leading 89 laps en route to a third-place finish.

Jeff Burton—The Richard Childress Racing driver outlasted the mid-race drama at Daytona in 2012, finishing fifth and second, respectively, in the season’s two points-paying races.

Kyle Busch—His showings in last year’s 500 (17th) and 400 (24th) weren’t all that impressive, but he averaged running positions of 14th and eighth, respectively, in the two races and provided sparks in the season-opening Shootout, driving a damaged race car to an exciting victory.

Sleeper

Jamie McMurray—The 2010 Daytona 500 winner ranked 16th out of 50 drivers on MotorsportsAnalytic.com’s plate track PEER rankings in 2012; however, in a season in which passing at Daytona came at a premium, McMurray registered 359 passes for positions within the top 15.

Runs on Seven Cylinders

Jimmie Johnson—Johnson suffered only three terminal crashes in 2012, and two of them came at Daytona. The five-time champion seems snakebitten on plate tracks as of late, but his equipment is always capable of excelling within the draft.


RELATED: NASCAR 2013: Camping World Truck Series Preview

 
 
Teaser:
<p> Daytona 500 Start Time, TV Schedule, Lineup, Track Info</p>
Post date: Sunday, February 24, 2013 - 08:45
Path: /nascar/nascar-2013-starting-lineup-daytona-500
Body:
The Daytona 500 revs up today at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway for its 55th running. The legendary NASCAR race airs today on Fox at 1 p.m. (ET).
 
 
The 2013 Starting Lineup for the Daytona 500
 
1. Danica Patrick, No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
2. Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
3. Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
4. Kyle Busch, No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
5. Greg Biffle, No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford
6. Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
7. Juan Pablo Montoya, No. 42 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
8. Austin Dillon, No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
9. Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
10. Clint Bowyer, No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota
11. Kurt Busch, No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet
12. Matt Kenseth, No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
13. Tony Stewart, No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
14. Mark Martin, No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota
15. Brad Keselowski, No. 2 Penske Racing Ford
16. Paul Menard, No. 27 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
17. Casey Mears, No. 13 Germain Racing Ford
18. Jeff Burton, No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
19. Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
20. Jamie McMurray, No. 1 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
21. Joey Logano, No. 22 Penske Racing Ford
22. David Ragan, No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford
23. Bobby Labonte, No. 47 JTG Daugherty Motorsports Toyota
24. Marcos Ambrose, No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford
25. David Gilliland, No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford
26. Aric Almirola, No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford
27. Joe Nemechek, No. 87 Nemco-JRR Toyota
28. Ricky Stenhouse, No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford
29. Michael Waltrip, No. 26 Swan Racing Toyota
30. Dave Blaney, No. 7 Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevrolet
31. Scott Speed, No. 95 Leavine Family Racing Ford
32. Josh Wise, No. 35 Front Row Motorsports Ford
33. Trevor Bayne, No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford
34. Ryan Newman, No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
35. Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
36. Carl Edwards, No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford
37. Martin Truex Jr., No. 56 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota
38. Michael McDowell, No. 98 Phil Parsons Racing Ford
39. Terry Labonte, No. 32 FASLane Racing Ford
40. Regan Smith, No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet
41. J.J. Yeley, No. 36 Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevrolet
42. David Reutimann, No. 83 BK Racing Toyota
43. Travis Kvapil, No. 93 BK Racing Toyota
 
Failed to qualifying: Brian Keselowski, Mike Bliss
 
Teaser:
<p> NASCAR 2013: Starting Lineup for the Daytona 500</p>
Post date: Sunday, February 24, 2013 - 08:24
All taxonomy terms: Monthly, News
Path: /monthly/why-can%E2%80%99t-ncaa-be-more-consistent-penalties-they-hand-out
Body:

Why can’t the NCAA be more consistent? It seems like there is no rhyme or reason to the penalties handed out.

— James B. Anderson, Apopka, Fla.
 
James, one of the biggest complaints about the NCAA is inconsistency in the enforcement process, with good reason. Some schools, players and coaches have the book thrown at them, while others seem to skate by. From an organizational standpoint, there’s not much the NCAA can do. The NCAA can only compel people who want to be involved — and want to stay involved — with college athletics to work with the enforcement process. This is the root of the inconsistencies: Unless former players and coaches or outside influences want to work with the NCAA or provide testimony in a legal setting, the NCAA is out of luck. If the NCAA can’t investigate a case, it can’t punish a school. It’s that simple. If there’s one spot where the NCAA has been consistent, however, it has been punishing those who lie to or mislead NCAA investigators. This has been the downfall for coaches (Bruce Pearl) and players (Dez Bryant). If NCAA penalties are going to be more consistent, something structurally will have to change.
— David Fox, Senior Editor
Teaser:
<p> Go on, ask us anything.</p>
Post date: Friday, February 22, 2013 - 14:49
All taxonomy terms: Monthly
Path: /monthly/will-ncaa-revisit-penalties-handed-down-penn-state-and-usc
Body:

 

With the NCAA’s recent admission about botching the investigation at Miami, is it possible that they will revisit the penalties handed down to Penn State and USC?
— Nick Harrison, Pittsburgh, Pa.
 
Nick, that’s a good question, but it’s highly unlikely the NCAA will revisit any of its past decisions, specifically the high-profile cases at USC and Penn State. The Miami case was unique; the NCAA specifically admitted to a “severe case of improper conduct” while investigating allegations of wrongdoing involving the school’s football and men’s basketball programs. There was no specific admission of improper investigative techniques at USC (though there is an ongoing lawsuit about the case), and there was no actual NCAA investigation at Penn State. The NCAA used the findings of the independent Freeh Report to determine the sanctions at Penn State. So while it’s likely there will be significant changes to the methodology employed by the NCAA in the future, there is no evidence to suggest the organization will retroactively change any of its previous decisions. 
— Mitchell Light, Managing Editor
Teaser:
<p> Will the NCAA revisit penalties handed down to Penn State and USC?</p>
Post date: Friday, February 22, 2013 - 14:43
Path: /nascar/daytona-international-speedway-track-information
Body:

Daytona International Speedway Race Stats

2013 Race Length: 500 miles/200 laps; 400 miles/160 laps

Track Qualifying Record: 210.364 mph (Bill Elliott, 1987)

Race Record: 500 - 177.602 mph (Buddy Baker, 1980); 400 - 173.473 mph (Bobby Allison, 1980)

 

Anonymous Crew Chief's Take on Daytona International Speedway:

“Whatever. It’s a superspeedway. Daytona used to be good when it had character and the cars had to handle. That made speedway racing a little bit of fun. You could take the frustration away from qualifying and actually had to go race and make the car drive good. It’s the hub of our sport; it’s where we start our season, and there is a ton of history there. And it’s a great place and a great racetrack, but now that it’s been repaved, it just doesn’t have any luster. That said, the January test sessions will be huge for everyone with the new bodies.”

 

Classic Daytona Moments:

Suffice it to say that, coming into the 2002 Daytona 500, Ward Burton wasn’t on many prognosticators’ short list of potential winners.

As it turned out, he didn’t let that stop him. Burton, an underdog driver competing for an underdog Bill Davis Racing organization, beat the odds and a star-studded field to capture the 44th annual Daytona 500, in the process scoring one of the biggest upsets in the history of The Great American Race.

Burton’s path to Victory Lane was hardly conventional, however, as the slow-talking Virginia native benefited from the oddest of circumstances to take over the top spot in the final laps.

Burton, who inherited the lead when NASCAR penalized leader Sterling Marlin for hopping out of his car under a red-flag period and attempting to repair damage to his front fender, held off fellow Virginian Elliott Sadler in a three-lap dash to the checkers.

Marlin, forced to restart at the tail end of the longest line, finished eighth and was denied a third victory in the most prestigious of all stock-car races.

 

Fantasy NASCAR Take on Daytona International Speedway:

Contenders

Matt Kenseth—Kenseth was a cool customer amid a firestorm at restrictor plate tracks in 2012. In addition to winning his Duel qualifying race and the Daytona 500, he was also strong in the summer’s 400-miler, leading 89 laps en route to a third-place finish.

Jeff Burton—The Richard Childress Racing driver outlasted the mid-race drama at Daytona in 2012, finishing fifth and second, respectively, in the season’s two points-paying races.

Kyle Busch—His showings in last year’s 500 (17th) and 400 (24th) weren’t all that impressive, but he averaged running positions of 14th and eighth, respectively, in the two races and provided sparks in the season-opening Shootout, driving a damaged race car to an exciting victory.

Sleeper

Jamie McMurray—The 2010 Daytona 500 winner ranked 16th out of 50 drivers on MotorsportsAnalytic.com’s plate track PEER rankings in 2012; however, in a season in which passing at Daytona came at a premium, McMurray registered 359 passes for positions within the top 15.

Runs on Seven Cylinders

Jimmie Johnson—Johnson suffered only three terminal crashes in 2012, and two of them came at Daytona. The five-time champion seems snakebitten on plate tracks as of late, but his equipment is always capable of excelling within the draft.


RELATED: NASCAR 2013: Camping World Truck Series Preview

 
 
Teaser:
<p> A NASCAR fan's guide to Daytona International Speedway</p>
Post date: Friday, February 22, 2013 - 10:30
Path: /nascar/harvick-favorite-danica-point-daytona-500
Body:

Sunday's Daytona 500, the 55th in the long, storied history of The Great American Race, officially has the field set. There are endless stories emanating from NASCAR's biggest event, but here are the five that will most impact Sunday's race.


No horsing around: Harvick is the favorite
There's just one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver batting 1.000 with trophies on the line in 2013: Kevin Harvick. Both of those trophies, of course, have come in the last week at Daytona where NASCAR's resident "lame duck" has scored impressive wins in the last Saturday's Sprint Unlimited and the first race of Thursday's Budweiser Duel at Daytona.

But statistics aren't the only thing supporting Harvick's case as the head-turning favorite before Sunday's race. Instead, it's the manner in which Harvick has taken control at the end of both races and held on with the grip of a vice.

In the Sprint Unlimited, Harvick first moved to the lead on lap 34 of the 75-lap, three-segment race. Just twice, and for two total laps, did the No. 29 not cross the start-finish as the designated leader. And when the heat turned up on the final lap, Harvick was able to play both lanes and make a bold, sweeping block of Greg Biffle on the backstretch of the money lap. He wasn't pressured again before the checkered flag.

Thursday was much the same in his 150-mile qualifying race, except Harvick was better. A savvy move exiting pit road pinned Trevor Bayne — the only other driver to lead Duel No. 1 — against the infield grass and then behind him as the two rushed through the gears to get up to speed. Bayne never recovered and eventually ended up in a crash while Harvick maintained his position. Even the restart wasn't a hassle for the No. 29, as Harvick managed the high then low line to keep competitors at bay and the Budweiser victory lane bath in sight.

Afterward, many of his competitors noted handling played a huge role in their ability to challenge. Harvick seemed almost incredulous at the thought.

"We never experienced any of that," Harvick said. "I think it's a matter of how you came down here with the balance of your race car."

Translation: the No. 29 is good. You can bet the field has taken notice.


Follow the leader
One factor playing into Harvick's hand as he has dominated so far is the apparent advantage held by the leader in the Gen-6 chassis when drivers form the long, snake-like lines of cars. Just seven different drivers led in the qualifying races Thursday, with just four of them leading for more than one lap.

"It's hard to pass the leader," Kyle Busch said after winning the second Duel race. "Just stay out front when you can get out front and you can run pretty good and just try to hold everybody off behind you."

That showed on the final lap of Busch's race when Kasey Kahne, with a push from Austin Dillon, edged under Matt Kenseth in second but couldn't punch past Busch. Kahne never even got alongside Busch.

"It's really tough to pass. When another car gets near your rear tire, it's like you threw the parachute out," Jimmie Johnson said.

Harvick and Jeff Gordon said Daytona now requires more planning to make a pass for position — not just finding someone to push like the recent years of tandem racing at restrictor plate tracks. The consequences can be dire.

"You've just got be precise in your moves," Harvick said. "If you get yourself in the wrong spot like we did at the beginning of the race in the middle, you just can't go anywhere. The only place you're going is backwards. It's hard to get yourself into the hole that you need when you make a mistake."

Gordon agreed, saying Daytona in 2013 feels like the Daytona of old.

"This is a real thinking race now. It comes down to the way it used to," Gordon said. "You get yourself in position. Everybody kind of rides, and thinks about what they have. You have to have your car handling pretty good, which is tough to do further back in traffic."

But Gordon, a three-time Daytona 500 winner, doesn't think passing the leader will be completely impossible come Sunday”

"You have got to have somebody go with you; you can't do it by yourself. But you can get a run, definitely. No doubt about it.”


Handling the unexpected
In order to get the kind of run Gordon is talking about, and to time it at the point where it'll put a driver in prime position to walk away with that coveted Harley J. Earl trophy, a driver has to first be in the position to make that move. In a 500-mile race, that's no easy feat.

No, the Daytona 500 isn't the same test of attrition that it once was. Parts last longer. Teams hit setups with more regularity. Drivers, typically, are smarter.

But 500 miles is still 500 miles — especially with a new car putting drivers more on the edge than they were with the stuck-to-the-track Car of Tomorrow chassis. Ryan Newman found that out during Wednesday's practice, and Denny Hamlin found it out late in the first qualifying race Thursday. Both suddenly lost control of race cars that weren't handling particularly poorly before they encountered a set of aerodynamic variables strong enough to send the car into a spin quicker than a blink of an eye. That will happen again Sunday and a driver (or drivers) in contention will pay the price.

It's a measure of the new car that has several, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., searching for answers in the two days of practice left before the 500.

"I didn't anticipate really the balance being a big deal because the car does have a good downforce package; we thought the balance would be pretty close," Earnhardt Jr. said. "(I) figured we would be fighting loose a little bit. We have to work on it."

Should drivers withstand that challenge, they'll have to be ready to execute flawless pit stops, too. Kyle Busch took the lead in the second qualifying race thanks to a call for no tires during his pit stop. Trevor Bayne lost his lead in the first race partially because he locked up his tires coming to pit road under green, necessitating a change. Busch wound up winning his qualifying race; Bayne wrecked.

"Pit crews are going to make a huge difference on Sunday," said Tony Stewart. "That's going to be the difference between which pack you come out in. You're going to have to have good stops to stay up there all day."

Like Gordon said, Sunday will feel more like Daytona of old. Carl Edwards, despite wrecking four times at Daytona, is looking forward to that.

"There will be groups of cars that separate themselves, some pit strategy and some guys that slide around and can't keep up," Edwards said. "I think it will make it a really dynamite, fun race."


Manufacturer parity
Not everyone will leave Daytona Sunday night using the words Edwards did, but you can bet one of NASCAR's three competing manufacturers will be celebrating well into the night.

For the first time since the 1990s, cars in the Sprint Cup Series actually resemble their showroom counterparts. It's been a concerted effort by NASCAR, after pressure from those manufacturers, to make those comparisons easier.

It also introduces the realistic potential of Chevrolet, Ford or Toyota having a slight advantage come race day thanks to their body design. NASCAR has worked to prevent the issues, but competitors are competitors, and competitors like to complain.

Just look at the starting lineup for Sunday's race: seven of the top-10 are Chevrolets. If the finishing order resembles that, Jack Roush's comments won't be far behind.
 

Teaser:
<p> Five things to watch for in the Daytona 500.</p>
Post date: Friday, February 22, 2013 - 09:57
Path: /college-football/ranking-big-12s-college-football-coaching-jobs-2013
Body:

We have ranked every college football program in the country, based on the attractiveness of the position from a coaching perspective. We considered many factors — tradition, facilities, location, money  — but in the end, we simply asked ourselves the following question: Where would we want to coach? Today we focus on the Big 12.

(Note: Current or impending NCAA sanctions were not a factor in these rankings.)

Ranking the Coaching Jobs in the Big 12 for 2013

1. Texas

Pros: Texas offers the complete package: Great school in a great town with great tradition. Also, it’s located in a state that treats high school football like a religion.

Cons: Texas has a ton going for it (see above), but the Longhorns are only 22–16 in the last three seasons. The program is not immune to losing. And while Texas is a recruiting power, there are three other AQ conference schools in the state, and virtually every other national power dips into Texas to recruit as well.

Final Verdict: It’s easier said than done — just ask David McWilliams and John Mackovic — but everything is in place to win big on a consistent basis at Texas.
 

2. Oklahoma

Pros: Oklahoma has been a dominant force in college football dating back to the late 1930s. The program has consistently been able to dip into Texas and steal more than its share of elite players on an annual basis. The Big 12, with no Nebraska and no conference title game, offers an easier path to a national championship for OU.

Cons: The state does not produce enough talent to stock the Sooners’ roster with the type of players needed to compete for championship. Recruiting at a high level out of state is a must.

Final Verdict: Not every coach has won big at Oklahoma — John Blake went 8–16 in three seasons (1996-98) — but it is clearly one of the marquee jobs in the nation. Winning a national championship is well within your reach.
 

3. Oklahoma State

Pros: T. Boone Pickens is a very wealthy man, and he’s a big fan of Oklahoma State football. As a result, the Cowboys boast some of the best facilities in the nation. And these facilities help the O-State coaches tap into a fertile recruiting ground in nearby Texas.

Cons: Since Oklahoma State joined the Big Eight in 1960, the Cowboys have finished ahead of Oklahoma five times. The school will always be the No. 2 program in the state.

Final Verdict: In a vacuum, Oklahoma State would be a wonderful place to coach, but if you have your sights set on competing for a national title on a regular basis, Stillwater might not be the place for you. There’s a reason the school has only won two conference titles since the mid-1950s.
 

4. West Virginia

Pros: West Virginia has an SEC feel to it. There are no pro sports to share the spotlight with in the Mountain State; the Mountaineers are the game in town.

Cons: West Virginia’s recruiting base isn’t as strong as many of its rivals in the Big 12. The state simply doesn’t produce many elite-level prospects.

Final Verdict: History tells us that West Virginia is a very good job. The school has won at least 10 games six times since 1988. But it’s not a job without its challenges. It’s a strange geographic fit in the Big 12, which presents some difficulties on the recruiting trail.  
 

5. TCU

Pros: TCU is located in the heart of the most fertile recruiting area in the country. The Horned Frogs have vastly improved their facilities over the past five years and now are a member of one of the nation’s top conferences.

Cons: TCU is now back in a power conference, but it’s still a small private school (8,000-plus undergrads) in league comprised mostly of massive state schools. The fan base will never be as large as many of its rivals.

Final Verdict: Perhaps no school other than Boise State has improved its national profile in the past 5-10 years as much as TCU. The school is back in a power conference after bouncing around for 16 years in the mid-major ranks (WAC to C-USA to MWC). This is not an elite job — TCU will always take a back seat to Texas, Texas A&M and even Texas Tech in its own state — but it’s a much better opportunity for a coach than it was 10 years ago.
 

6. Texas Tech

Pros: Texas Tech has proven it can win consistently. Prior to 2010, the Red Raiders had been .500 or better in league play — SWC and Big 12 — 22 times in the previous 25 seasons. The school has recently invested in the program with an $84 million renovation to Jones AT&T Stadium.

Cons: While the program has managed to remain competitive, winning titles has been very difficult in Lubbock. The school has not won an outright conference title since 1955, when it claimed its third straight Border Intercollegiate Athletic Association championship. Also, recruiting to Lubbock — the outpost of the Big 12 — can be a bit difficult.

Final Verdict: Texas Tech might be the fourth most attractive job in its own state, but it’s still a very good program that has proven it can’t remain relevant in the Big 12.
 

7. Baylor

Pros: Baylor’s recruiting base has always made it an intriguing job. There is more than enough talent in the state to stock a talented roster, even with Texas and Texas A&M grabbing most of the elite players. The school will open a new, 45,000-seat Stadium on Brazos River in 2014. It will be among the nicest facilities in the nation.

Cons: Baylor will always be down low on the food chain among the FBS schools in the state of Texas. As a small, private school, support will always be an issue. In 2012, on the heels of a 10-win season that produced a Heisman Trophy winner, Baylor only averaged 41,194 per game to rank last in the Big 12.

Final Analysis: Art Briles is proving that Baylor can compete in the Big 12. The Bears have won 25 games in the past three season — the best three-year stretch in school history. The new stadium and the university’s commitment to the program should allow Baylor to remain relevant if Briles ever bolts for greener pastures.
 

8. Kansas State

Pros: Kansas State has averaged 8.5 wins over the past 20 years and been ranked in the final AP poll 12 times over that span. Support for K-State football is very strong, especially when the team is winning.

Cons: Only one man has been able to win at Kansas State. This might be more of an indictment of Ron Prince than the program, but the Wildcats went a combined 9–15 in the Big 12 in the three seasons between Bill Snyder’s two tenures.

Final Analysis: It’s tough to evaluate this coaching position. There are seemingly a bunch of hurdles — poor recruiting base, remote location, lack of tradition prior to the 1990s — but Snyder has managed to win at a high level on a consistent basis. Can another coach succeed in Manhattan? We’ll find out soon enough.
 

9. Kansas

Pros: While it’s difficult to win at Kansas, it can be done. Glen Mason won 10 games in 1995, and Mark Mangino won 12 — and played in a BCS bowl — in 2007. The school has invested in facilities over the past decade. The weight room is top notch.

Cons: Crowds at Phog Allen Fieldhouse are arguably the best in college basketball, but support for Kansas football is not nearly as strong. Last season, the Jayhawks ranked 59th in the nation in attendance with 41,329 per game at Memorial Stadium. Also, KU is second on the food chain in a state that doesn’t produce many high-level recruits.

Final Analysis: Kansas is one of the toughest AQ conference jobs in the nation when you factor in the recruiting base, lukewarm support and the fact that no coach since the 1950s has enjoyed sustained success in Lawrence.
 

10. Iowa State

Pros: Cyclone fans sure love Iowa State football. Last season, the school averaged 55,274 fans per game (100.5 percent of capacity) at Jack Trice Stadium. Not bad for a school that has had one winning season since 2005.

Cons: The school is second on the food chain in a state that does not produce many FBS-caliber recruits. Dan McCarney enjoyed a nice run in the early 2000s, but it’s been very difficult to sustain success in Ames.

Final Analysis: Outside of the strong support for a passionate fan base — though that does carry significant weight — it’s difficult to find too many positives about the coaching position at Iowa State. There’s a reason the school has not won more than seven games in consecutive seasons since the late 1970s.

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Teaser:
<p> Ranking the Big 12's College Football Coaching Jobs for 2013</p>
Post date: Friday, February 22, 2013 - 06:45
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR, Monthly
Path: /nascar/nascar-how-stock-cars-have-changed-over-years
Body:

There has been very little that is "stock" on a NASCAR Sprint Cup stock car in well over 25 years. And its maturation from "race what you drove to the track" to modern-day engineering marvel is intriguing. To illustrate this, we creating this visual history of the evolution of the stock car.

THE EVOLUTION OF THE STOCK CAR

Content courtesy of NASCAR.

Teaser:
<p> The word "stock" doesn't mean what it used to</p>
Post date: Thursday, February 21, 2013 - 16:30
Path: /nascar/top-25-nascar-sprint-cup-drivers-2013
Body:

As the 2013 NASCAR season revs up this weekend at Daytona, Athlon Sports offers up our preseason Top 25 Sprint Cup Series driver rankings. Click on each driver's name for a detailed preview of what fans can expect in 2013. 

 
 
 
 
2. Kyle Busch
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
4. Clint Bowyer
 
 
 
 
5. Kasey Kahne
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
7. Matt Kenseth
 
 
 
 
8. Tony Stewart
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
10. Carl Edwards
 
 
 
 
11. Greg Biffle
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
14. Kurt Busch
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
16. Jeff Burton
 
 
 
 
17. Kevin Harvick
 
 
 
 
18. Joey Logano
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
21. Aric Almirola
22. Marcos Ambrose
23. Paul Menard
25. Danica Patrick
 
 
Teaser:
<p> Predicting the best drivers to hit the track this NASCAR season  </p>
Post date: Thursday, February 21, 2013 - 14:30
Path: /nascar/nascar-2013-preseason-top-10-nationwide-series-drivers
Body:

As the 2013 NASCAR Nationwide Series revs up, we look at the preseason favorites.

1. Brian Vickers
Vickers won the then-Busch Series championship in 2003 with Hendrick Motorsports and is back for more a decade later, on track to rebuild his career following part-time Cup success in Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 55. Facing plenty of challenges during his time up top — from health problems to an entire race organization shutting down around him — he returns older, wiser and much more experienced at age 29. Vickers will campaign Joe Gibbs Racing’s powerful No. 20 Toyota with funding from Dollar General. In the past five years, JGR has averaged 13.6 wins in the series as an organization, running in a different time zone from the rest of the field, so expect instant success here.
 
2. Elliott Sadler
Sadler moves from Richard Childress Racing to JGR for 2013, where he teams with Vickers. Bringing solid backing with longtime sponsor OneMain Financial, Sadler moves into JGR’s No. 11 machine, the 2012 Nationwide owner’s champion. And after runner-up performances himself in 2011 and ’12, he has the equipment to contend for the title again. But with two straight collapses down the stretch (including a self-induced wreck at Phoenix last November), is there mental toughness here to get over the hump?
 
3. Trevor Bayne
Illness and sponsorship woes have kept Bayne from contending full-time in any NASCAR series since his 2011 Daytona 500 shocker. But with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. moving to Sprint Cup, Bayne will get his shot with the same Roush Fenway team that’s won back-to-back titles. The pieces are in place, although for a driver who hasn’t run a grueling, nine-month schedule since being down for the count with Lyme disease, learning to balance his stamina will be crucial. 
 
4. Austin Dillon
With Elliott Sadler gone, Dillon will be the focus of RCR’s Nationwide efforts in 2013 after a two-win rookie debut with sponsor AdvoCare. The 2011 Camping World Truck Series champion is talented and knows how to run for a title — he finished third in the Nationwide standings last season — but he doesn’t have the experience of drivers ahead of him. Some spot starts in the Cup Series in preparation for a 2014 jump may take some of his focus away, as well as a downgrade in teammate information sharing (from Sadler to Brian Scott).
 
5. Regan Smith
Smith will run full time for JR Motorsports in 2013. The car, essentially a Hendrick offshoot, should mean A-plus equipment. But whether JRM has been lacking in the shop or in the driver’s seat, it’s not been on par with Gibbs and Roush in this series. With Smith, a winner in the Cup Series and in this ride in last season’s Homestead finale, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his ownership team can now use deductive reasoning to find the shortcomings. A potential negative is teammate Cole Whitt, who remains without sponsorship as of late December, meaning this team could run only one car full-time.
 
6. Sam Hornish Jr.
Hornish will return with Penske Racing for another run at the championship after missing out on the team’s No. 22 Cup ride. The biggest challenge for this team will be a switch from Dodge to Ford. Can it adjust quickly enough after a consistent but winless 2012? Veteran Ford crew chief Greg Erwin will undoubtedly help get this group up to speed, but Hornish — despite his open-wheel prowess — still seems a step behind in the stock car cockpit. After a strong audition at the sport’s top tier last season, he still needs to refocus here to get that second chance.
 
 
 
7. Michael Annett
Annett had his best Nationwide season to date in 2012, posting six top-5 finishes after going 0-for in his first 105 series starts. Such improvement was amazing considering that his Richard Petty Motorsports team came together just weeks before the start of the season. The team returns intact for 2013, but the biggest problem here remains RPM’s place in Ford’s pecking order; becoming the third, perhaps fourth, hand to feed makes a race win, let alone championship contention, a difficult assignment.
 
8. James Buescher/Justin Allgaier
Buescher won the 2012 Camping World Truck Series title for Turner Motorsports, and the team is considering campaigning him in Nationwide for 2013. Allgaier, the main driver for the organization the last two seasons, is still working on funding to return to his seat. One of them should be poised to be the leader here, and the pieces will be in place for at least a victory or two. Turner is the best of the non-Cup affiliated teams, although that's a handicap in a series where money is precious.
 
9. Parker Kligerman
Kligerman will man Kyle Busch Motorsports’ No. 77 Toyota in 2013 after a fifth-place finish in the Truck Series standings last year. The 22-year-old registered one win, eight top 5s and 15 top 10s in the 22-race slate. In its first season in the Nationwide Series last year, KBM fought mechanical issues with brothers Kurt and Kyle at the wheel. However, it built momentum as the year progressed, notching 12 top 10s in the final 13 races. Sponsorship will be an issue with this team, as Monster Energy will sponsor Kyle in his Joe Gibbs Racing Nationwide efforts. However, if given a full season, Kligerman could improve substantially on this ranking.
 
10. Brian Scott
Scott will move to the No. 2 car of Richard Childress Racing, replacing Elliott Sadler as teammate to Austin Dillon. Yes, it's the car that contended for the championship with Sadler, but Scott drove for JGR the last two seasons and finished eighth and ninth, respectively. No amount of money replaces driver talent, and until Scott proves he can win (0-for-109 thus far) he’ll be considered a work-in-progress.
 
—By Toni Montgomery
 
Teaser:
<p> As the series revs up, we look at the preseason favorites.</p>
Post date: Thursday, February 21, 2013 - 13:24
Path: /nascar/storylines-history-surround-nascars-daytona-500
Body:

The Daytona 500 is an event that transcends its own sport, much the same as the Super Bowl, the World Series or the Masters. Over the last 54 years, a lot of history has been made just off the beach (and just on it) on Daytona International Speedway's 2.5-miles of asphalt. The following is a look at the numbers, facts and figures of NASCAR's biggest race.


NASCAR’s Super Bowl Explosion
Winner’s Share In The First Daytona 500 (1959): $19,050 (Lee Petty)
Winner’s Share In Last Year’s Daytona 500 (2012): $1,588,887 (Matt Kenseth)
Full Purse, first Daytona 500 (59 starters): $67,760
Full Purse, 54th Daytona 500 (43 starters): $17,277,409
Last-place share in 1959: Ken Marriott, 59th place, $100
Last-place share in 2012: David Ragan 43rd place, $267,637
Average income, Middle-Class American: $41,560 per year
(Source: http://bber.unm.edu/econ/us-pci.htm) -- U.S. Dept. Of Commerce)


This 500 … Brought to You by the Number Six
The big buzzword you’ve hear throughout Speedweeks sounds more like an education initiative than a race car. But “Gen-6” is NASCAR’s biggest change this decade, a new chassis type rolling out in 2013 designed to win back fans through a sleeker, “stock” look that make the Ford Fusions, Chevy SS models, and Toyota Camrys more like what you’d see on the street.

“The collaborative efforts between the manufacturers, teams, and NASCAR has been unparalleled in my 34 years in the sport,” crowed Robin Pemberton last month on the Gen-6’s pending Daytona debut.

Translation? NASCAR learned from the dreadful Car of Tomorrow communication debacle, where even CEO Brian France admitted recently “we made some errors” in a model that was highly criticized. This time, they’ve kept everyone from your low-level crewman, to tire specialist, to car owner, to their top R&D engineers on the same page in developing a car they believe will come out competitive.


Tandem Drafting No More
It’s the Valentine Day’s breakup even Cupid is privately cheering. In January testing, “Gen-6” hated being paired up, with even the slightest two-car bumpdraft causing instability to the point it just won’t happen in the 500. Even plate expert Dale Earnhardt Jr. started a 12-car wreck in testing by trying to lightly push Marcos Ambrose in the turns. The Sprint Unlimited witnessed the same thing, as a six-car wreck decimated the field just 15 laps into the event.

“I’m anticipating handling is going to be a little bit more of a premium than what we’ve had in the past,” says Jeff Gordon, pointing to less downforce in the rear of the car. Others claim the new drafting package is similar to what NASCAR had a decade ago, where drivers laid back to “set up” their slingshot moves inside a large pack.


A Guaranteed Photo Finish?
Say what you will about restrictor plates, first bolted onto the cars in 1988 at Daytona as a safety measure to keep fans and drivers safe. But one thing you can’t argue is that horsepower-sucking piece of metal virtually guarantees “close” finishes. 24 of the last 25 Daytona 500s, since the inception of this “plate” era have produced a margin of victory equaling roughly two car lengths or less. Only Darrell Waltrip’s fuel-mileage gamble, in 1989, was the exception to the rule (Waltrip won by a “comfortable” 7.64 seconds over Ken Schrader). No other sports’ premier event has such a track record of razor-close endings.

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, February 21, 2013 - 12:55
Path: /college-football/ranking-pac-12s-college-football-coaching-jobs-2013
Body:

We have ranked every college football program in the country, based on the attractiveness of the position from a coaching perspective. We considered many factors — tradition, facilities, location, money  — but in the end, we simply asked ourselves the following question: Where would we want to coach? Today we focus on the Pac-12.

(Note: Current or impending NCAA sanctions were not a factor in these rankings.)

Ranking the Coaching Jobs in the Pac-12 for 2013

1. USC

Pros: The USC coaching staff has the ability to stock its roster with elite talent without ever having to jump on a plane. The program has a rich tradition, but it doesn’t live in the past; the Trojans were dominant in the 2000s, winning seven straight Pac-10 titles (2002-08) and two national championships.

Cons: USC is the top job in L.A., but the city does have another program with tremendous potential. It doesn’t take much of a dip to lose your status as the No. 1 program in your own town.   

Final Verdict: If you’re a West Coast guy, coaching the Trojans is as good as it gets. It’s the best job in the Pac-12 and you are in the most fertile recruiting area in the country.
 

2. Oregon

Pros: As long as Phil Knight and the University of Oregon remain in good graces, this program will be blessed with tremendous financial resources. The Nike founder and former Oregon track athlete has donated over $100 million to the school’s athletic department. In addition, the Ducks have a tremendous home field advantage at 54,00-seat Autzen Stadium, regarded as the most raucous atmosphere in the Pac-12.

Cons: Right now, it’s difficult to find many good reasons why the head coaching position at Oregon would not be attractive. The school does lack tradition, but the Ducks have averaged nine wins per season since 1994.

Final Verdict: Ten or 15 years ago, Oregon wouldn’t be nearly as high on this list, but Knight’s money, Mike Bellotti’s recruiting and Chip Kelly’s offensive wizardry transformed this program. It is now clearly one of the most-desirable positions in the country.
 

3. UCLA

Pros: UCLA shares the same built-in recruiting advantages as its cross-town rival USC. The 2000s were relatively lean, but UCLA won or shared three Pac-10 titles in the 1990s and four in the ‘80s.

Cons: Life can be tough when you are forced to share a city with one of the elite programs in the nation. And while the Rose Bowl is a beautiful place to play, the facility is 30 miles from campus.

Final Verdict: The Pac-12 is a very good league, but USC and Oregon are the only programs that have enjoyed sustained success in the past 15 years. The right coach can have this program in contention for conference titles on a consistent basis.


4. Washington

Pros: This is a proud program with great tradition. The Huskies won a national title in 1991 and claimed at least a share of five Pac-10 titles from 1990-2000. UW is in a great city (Seattle) and has an SEC-like following when things are going well.

Cons: The school has addressed the program’s only significant weakness — facilities — with the $250 million renovation to Husky Stadium. Washington’s in-state recruiting base is solid but lags signficantly behind the four California teams in the Pac-12.

Final Verdict: The past decade has proven that it can be difficult to win at Washington. But this is still a very good job. Is it a great job? Not anymore. But it is still a prestigious program that can attract elite talent. You can win at UW.
 

5. California

Pros: Cal is one of the premier public institutions in the nation located in a great area, giving the Bears a recruiting edge against most of the other schools in the Pac-12. The school is also located in the fertile recruiting area of Northern California. And the facilities, long time an issue at the school, have recently received a major upgrade.

Cons: Bears have had trouble winning consistently; they have two Pac-12 titles (none outright) since 1958.

Final Verdict: Cal is an intriguing job. There is a lot to like, but there are certain drawbacks. You can win in Berkeley, but the culture of the university will likely prevent the football program from ever reaching elite status.
 

6. Arizona State

Pros: The Sun Devils have made a significant investment in their facilities in recent years, with an indoor practice bubble and new weight and locker rooms. And recently, plans were announced to upgrade Sun Devil Stadium. Arizona State has won three Pac-12 titles in its 30-plus years in the league (1986, ’96 and ’07). Oh, we can’t forget about the weather.

Cons: While the school has experienced pockets of success (three league titles), the Devils have strung together back-to-back winning Pac-10 seasons only once since John Cooper bolted in 1987.

Final Verdict: Arizona State offers a pretty good situation for a school without a strong local recruiting base. The weather is great and the tradition is good enough. USC, Oregon and UCLA will always the top jobs in the league, but with the right coach in place, ASU can be a consistent force in the Pac-12.
 

7. Arizona

Pros: Arizona has never been a Pac-10 power, but the school has more than held its own for much of its 32 years in the league. The Wildcats had 11 winning Pac-10 seasons in a 13-year stretch from 1982-94. Good coaches have shown the ability to attract talent to Tucson.

Cons: Since 1994, Arizona has only had a winning Pac-12 record twice — 1998 and 2009.

Final Verdict: Being a good recruiter is obviously important at every school, but it is of paramount importance at Arizona. The school is without many of the built-in advantages (tradition, top facilities, etc.) that exist at some of the Pac-12 programs, so you have to convince players to come to Arizona for reasons other than the weather.
 

8. Stanford

Pros: Stanford offers the best combination of elite academics (top 5 in U.S. News & World Report) and big-time college football. The school’s outstanding reputation allows the staff to recruit nationally.

Cons: Until recently, sustained success had been tough to achieve on The Farm. From the late 1970s through the late 2000s, Stanford was unable to string together more than two straight wining seasons. The school’s strict academic standards — even for athletes — shrinks the recruiting pool considerably.

Final Verdict: Stanford is not for everybody, but it is a great job for a coach who embraces the school’s mission. The Cardinal struggled for much of the 2000s, but this is a program that has emerged as a national power in recent years.
 

9. Colorado

Pros: Colorado lacks the tradition of some of the Pac-12 powers, but this program has enjoyed strong pockets of success over the past 25 years. The Buffs won three Big Eight championships in a row from 1989-91 (along with a national title in ’90), and they won four Big 12 North titles in the 2000s. With the right coach in place, this is a school that will attract quality players.

Cons: The facilities at Colorado lag behind most BCS conference schools, and the school’s commitment to athletics has been questioned in recent years. The Buffaloes recently announced a $170 million facility upgrade proposal, which is a step in the right direction. Also, the CU fans can be fickle; Folsom Field (53,750) has rarely been filled to capacity over the past few seasons.

Final Analysis: Three different coaches have won 10 games in a season since 1990, so it’s possible to win big at Colorado. But until the school makes a significant commitment to the program — which it claims to be doing now — CU cannot be considered an elite job.


10. Oregon State

Pros: This is not longer the Oregon State of the 1970s, 80s and 90s. The program has proven it can be relevant in the Pac-12 for an extended period of time.

Cons: Oregon State is No. 2 program in a state that does not produce a high volume of Pac-12-quality players. The school has improved its facilities, but they pale in comparison to what the University of Oregon — funded by Nike — has to offer.

Final Verdict: This job is far more attractive now than it was in 1997, when Mike Riley began his first stint as the boss in Corvallis. But it’s a difficult job. Almost every school in the league has more going for it — from tradition to fan base to recruiting base — than Oregon State.
 

11. Utah

Pros: Prior to its move to the Pac-12, Utah had emerged as one of the few non-BCS conference teams that was able to compete on the national scene. The Utes have averaged 9.2 wins over the past 10 years, highlighted by two perfect seasons punctuated by BCS bowl wins. As a member of the Pac-12 South — along with USC and UCLA —  the Utes should enjoy success recruiting in Southern California.

Cons: Utah is a decent state for high school talent, but there aren’t nearly enough high-level players to stock the rosters both at Utah and BYU. 

Final Verdict: Utah had carved out a niche as one of the top non-BCS programs in the nation. The move to the Pac-12, however, changed the profile of the program. It’s uncertain if Utah can be a significant player in the Pac-12 on a consistent basis. It’s tough to envision this program being a more desirable destination than USC, UCLA and both of the Arizona schools.
 

12. Washington State

Pros: Only four schools have played in the Rose Bowl in the past 11 seasons. USC, Oregon, Stanford and … Washington State. That, along with the fact the Cougars won 10 games in three straight seasons (2001-03) proves that you can win games in Pullman.  

Cons: Pullman is the most remote outpost in the Pac-12. It can be difficult to attract prospects from California to play collegiately in Eastern Washington. The school has upgraded facilities in recent years, but it still lags behind most schools in the league on this front.

Final Verdict: Washington State’s biggest hurdle is its location. In a league that includes four teams in California, one in Phoenix, one in Seattle and one just outside Denver, it’s tough to remain relevant when your school is 280 miles from the nearest big city (Seattle).


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Teaser:
<p> Ranking the Pac-12's College Football Coaching Jobs for 2013</p>
Post date: Thursday, February 21, 2013 - 06:19
All taxonomy terms: Brad Keselowski, NASCAR
Path: /nascar/brad-keselowski-conversation-nascar-champion
Body:

How long can it take to complete a journey from rags to riches? For Brad Keselowski, it took six years. The driver spent the 2006 offseason mourning the pending bankruptcy of his family operation, and was forced to drive for a minor-league, suspect organization that was running junkyard equipment simply to make ends meet. How bad was it? The driver who this season added hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers mid-Daytona 500 didn’t even make the field for the February 2007 then-Busch Series event at the same track.

 
Now, Keselowski heads to the 2013 version of the Great American Race with a Sprint Cup title trophy and more money than most 28-year-olds could ever dream of. It’s a historic turnaround that won’t often be repeated in this sport, especially in modern times. But Keselowski, a man known for speaking his mind no matter the cost, has also never forgotten the values that got him there — he spent some of that title money bailing his parents out of debt. It’s a complex mix of private heart and public bravado that puts him in position to attract a whole new breed of fans into the sport as the reigning Sprint Cup champ.
 
How does he plan to do it? How has reaching the top changed him? And what motivates the bid for a repeat? Keselowski talked to Athlon Sports about all that and much more this December in between trips around the holiday party circuit. 
 
What has the offseason been like for you?
(Laughs) It hasn’t really existed yet. Still working my way through it.
 
Has being the champion sunk in yet? Or do you think it won’t sink in until reaching Daytona in February?
Probably the pinnacle of how it will sink in, in my eyes — and this is something I give NASCAR a lot of credit for — is when they stage your car in the first position in the garage all season long. I really like how NASCAR does that.
 
Have you been surprised at anything that’s happened so far? Have you been asked to do things you didn’t expect? Or has it been everything you’ve thought of?
No, no. It’s been pretty good. Nothing’s really stuck out, although I’ve had a lot of fun — I can tell you that. But no real surprises.
 
How many girls’ numbers have you gotten since Homestead?
(Laughs) Enough to be happy. 
 
The championship can give you one hell of a pickup line.
Yeah, no kidding. (Laughs) I got this trophy…
 
Humor aside, you’ve taken the responsibility of leading this sport very seriously. What’s the main goal you have off the track that you’re looking to accomplish with this championship tenure?
I want the sport to be stronger. Our futures are tied into this sport, all of ours. And in my eyes, I would like to see the sport grow or at least stop some of the decline that it’s seen. And I want to be instrumental in making that happen. I think it’s very, very possible.
 
So how do you think you can do that as champion?
I think it’s a work in progress. I don’t think it’s one thing. I think it’s a list of slow and steady improvements and updating the sport in different times.
 
There are critics, of course, in every sport. What do you say to people who say Jimmie Johnson lost this championship instead of you winning it?
I say that’s why we race four more years, and we’ll find out if that’s the case.
 
Is there an extra sense of pride here in that you left Hendrick Motorsports in 2009 because a full-time Cup ride was never guaranteed — and then you go to Penske, and over a three-year period build up an organization capable of beating them?
You know, that was a tough go, making those decisions. Certainly, it adds an element to everything that happened and the difficulty of success. It’s very sweet to win a championship, and you just add those things up. … I don’t feel like one championship is enough for me to really solidify that position of greatness in the sport. You need to win multiple championships, and that’s my goal.
 
OK. Well you’ve had a month to think about it; for this first one, what do you think the difference was in 2012?
I think we were really strong through the (whole) Chase. We obviously earned our way into it by winning two or three races beforehand, but in the Chase we were able to find another level, and that’s critical.
 
In talking to drivers throughout the garage, it becomes clear that you’ve gone from someone who was questioned to someone that, hey, they may disagree with what you say, but you are universally respected. That shift seemed to come during this title run. What, if anything, do you think caused that, and do you feel you’re behaving any differently from two, three years ago?
I’m thinking I’m winning more. There’s a bit of swagger that comes with that which others respect. Success breeds respect. 
 
So you don’t think, personality-wise, you’re any different than you were a couple of years ago?
I don’t think so. I’m sure other people would say that. But I don’t.
 
A couple of years ago we were talking about your move to Penske, and you said something that stuck with me: “I’m never going to change. I’m Brad, and this is who I am — like it or leave it.” Do you feel like you’ve adhered to that?
Well, I believe there are some slight adaptations you have to have from year to year, to continue to evolve to be the best you can. But the core of who I am hasn’t changed one bit.
 
Some people have come out and said your sister in particular has made a big difference in your life off the track as of late. How is your true “inner circle” different from two or three years ago, and what are the challenges of keeping it once you’ve enjoyed this type of success?
Well, you’re a product of the people you surround yourself by. That’s some of the most important life decisions you’ll make — whether it’s your personal relationships, marriage, etc. Your family or friends, or even co-workers. The people I’m around, they just keep getting stronger, we keep finding common ground to be the best we can. That’s part of why I’m where I’m at. Obviously, I don’t want to lose that, and I have no intention to do so. 
 
No extra protections once you’re famous?
No, you just have to learn the art of respect for saying, “No.”
 
Got some state of the sport questions for you. Clint Bowyer is still mad at Jeff Gordon — everyone seems surprised by that. What’s your take, and do we need more people mad at each other in this sport?
Anger is a difficult emotion. I think that you look at today’s society, and (people) relate very well to emotion. They like seeing that out of us as drivers, without a doubt. And that can be healthy. But I think there’s a way to show emotion that obviously can play out — I don’t want to use the word “responsibly” — but a little friendlier than what happened at Phoenix. 
 
But could one say we’ve lost the element of “rivalry” in the last couple of years? Or is it still around? 
No, I don’t feel that way. There’s rivalries out there, there always have been. I just think they’re a little more hidden than they’ve ever been. There actually might be more now than ever. 
 
OK, if they’re hidden, how do we un-hide them in a way that’s healthy?
It’s a difficult question, because you look at rivalries in the NFL, and it’s stuff that works very well for them, as well as other sports. It’s a difficult question, for sure. … I think right now the way the business platform is, the business model of racing, the sponsors really make it the hardest sell of all. 
 
Because you look at a sponsor, and when you create a rivalry, you have to understand what you’re doing is pitting two people against each other. So what happens next is the fan base goes against each other. So the next thing you hear from the fans and so forth, “I hate such and such driver because I’m a such and such fan.” And those messages, the angry messages are always the first messages to get through to people, whether it’s on Twitter or at the race. Those are always the first messages to get through, because boos are always louder than cheers. And I think those boos really scare off those sponsors or put that driver in a particularly bad position. When that happens, the way the business model of the sport is, that driver finds it hard to get a sponsor. And when you find it hard to get a sponsor, you know, you essentially have bankrupted your team and robbed yourself of your own competitiveness that you need to be relevant. 
 
So, I think the business model is very complicated for allowing rivalries.
 
I read with interest this offseason in a USA Today interview that “you felt like you were the last driver to slide through a door” where talent, not money moves you up. But if you’re technically the last person, does that mean the sport’s facing a serious problem, where money is the only way that gets you to the Cup Series? How do you make it stop? 
It’s collective across racing, that funded drivers are getting the majority of new positions that open up. And that’s what I would say, for at least a short time period, will be the case for all rides. The natural way for that to change would obviously be if elite talents come up and prove themselves. Guys like Ryan Blaney. But we (as Cup competitors) all have to run behind those guys (for them to succeed).
 
And not only that, but some doors have to open. You’re looking at a Cup field where the average age is in the 30s. Most of these drivers are in their prime. So, you look at the field, with the exception of three or four drivers, they’re not going anywhere for a long time period. That means there’s going to be very few rides open, very few seats to come open. And there’s not a crop of drivers that’s going to replace them.
 
That puts the sport in a very interesting position. And eventually, it’ll cycle back when that talent pool gets so depleted where, essentially, the seats will open up. But as it stands now, the talent pool doesn’t lend itself to that happening. 
 
Well, one could argue new rides could open up if we get new owners who want to race. The core group of owners is getting older — yours, Roger Penske, will be 76 years old in 2013. How much longer do you think he’ll do this, and do you worry he may one day step back? 
Yeah. I hope Roger does it forever, I think that’s his intentions. I would assume he’s mortal — although I’m not sure of that sometimes (laughs). I imagine he’ll be in it until he proves otherwise, as far as his mortality is concerned. 
 
But I think new owners are very important to the sport. It’s been very interesting to see owners leave the sport, because if you look at periods of time, NASCAR has made it a point to ensure there was a large owner pool from a standpoint of being able to protect the sport in case those owners were to bond together. And that’s slowly disappearing, which I find interesting. I think it’s in the best interest of the sport, purely from NASCAR’s standpoint, to add some owners back into it. To keep everyone honest, so to speak. I think NASCAR sees that, too, but it’s not an easy road to get some owners back in the sport. That’s something they have to work on.
Will the new qualifying rules opening it up to everyone help with that?
Yeah, I think qualifying was more of a perception matter. The perception of the fans was there was the potential for wrong drivers to get into a race. I would argue that has happened before, in the decade prior, but I would also argue in the last two to three years, that hasn’t really been an issue. But I can understand the fan perception — it is what it is.
 
Heading into next year, you’ve got a new teammate, new car, new manufacturer, and new engine package. Could you have made it any harder on yourself to repeat?
You’re asking the question, could I have made it any harder, and I answer back with, “Could I have made it any easier?” That’s the reality of it. I feel the exact opposite, because I think all of those will be an upgrade from our perspective. I know already that Ford is going to provide an elite car. It will probably be more competitive than what we had last year. I think, without a doubt, our teammate situation with Joey Logano will be improved. I think that whole team has changed internally with different people to be stronger. We’re all curious to see how that pays off. 
 
I think this new car will open up some doors; they’re less aero sensitive, and you’ll be able to pass a little more readily. That’s one of my stronger suits. So I think all of these matters are not to my detriment but in my favor.
 
For years, you’ve had to sit there and put the bull’s-eye on Jimmie Johnson. Now that you’ve got the bull’s-eye, does that change your perspective at all?
I don’t think I’m the bull’s-eye, for one. I don’t feel like that I’m the bull’s-eye at all. So it’s not fair for me to answer that question if I don’t feel that way. 
 
I would like to be the bull’s-eye one day. But I look at it as 12 to 1. 12 to 1. I told my guys at the Penske Racing Christmas Party — it’s very easy to lose motivation after becoming a champion. But I feel like you have something to prove (still) because everyone keeps telling you you’re the greatest.
 
Well, I’ll tell you, people aren’t telling me I’m the greatest. I read all these previews, and all this stuff that comes out as Vegas and they have us as 12-to-1 to win the championship. That’s not even in the top 5. So Vegas doesn’t even think we can be in the top 5 next year. I would say that means we’re not a bull’s-eye.
 
What’s it going to take for people to start believing in you?
I don’t know. It’s not something … I used to be very jaded about it earlier in my career. Now it gives me something to laugh about. Every step of the way, I’ve had people who don’t believe in me. It’s been fuel for the fire. It’s made us stronger. Now, it’s almost to a point where I relish it.
 
One last question. What’s the status on the tank? 
You know, I’ll be honest. I’m struggling. I’ve got a lot of people calling me, but I don’t trust any of them. I haven’t found what I want. I would put my progress bar at less than five percent. I thought it would be a lot easier than it is, I will tell you that. There are plenty of tanks out there, but nobody really wants to sell them. And the ones that do want to sell them just want to make a huge profit — I’m not going to let that happen.
 
—By Tom Bowles
 
This story first appeared in the 2013 Athlon Sports NASCAR Racing Preview Magazine.

Teaser:
<p> We talk to Brad Keselowski, the NASCAR champ, about his rags-to-riches journey to the top.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - 17:00
All taxonomy terms: Monthly
Path: /monthly/healthy-habits-2013
Body:


Want to learn more about getting heathly and staying active? Visit PHIT America, a year-round educational and advocacy campaign dedicated to creating A Movement for a Fit & Healthy America.


Teaser:
<p> Healthy Habits for 2013</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - 15:38
Path: /nascar/7-amazing-nascar-driver-stats-datytona-500
Body:

Daytona. For the casual fan, it’s the one time a year in which tuning in is a must, not an option. For the hardcore fans and industry veterans, it’s a spiritual revival. It suffices as the start of a new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season when teams have spotless records and sky-high optimism.

For some drivers, there’s red still left over from the previous season’s ledger that they’re eager to erase. For a few, there are trends they’d like to keep on keepin’ on. This week’s batch of numbers shows those trends. Some of the metrics used are from my home site, MotorsportsAnalytics.com, but you’re encouraged to read a quick glossary of the terms.

3 and 2.3  Matt Kenseth has scored three victories and earned a 2.3 average finish across his last six restrictor plate races.

Kenseth, long lauded as an intuitive racer, has transformed himself into something of a restrictor plate racing stalwart. The 2.3-place average finish in that timeframe — and that includes a fifth-place run in last Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited, his first outing for Joe Gibbs Racing — is easily the best among drivers in the Cup Series and his minuscule 1.6-position deviation for those six finishes indicates incredible consistency for races often dubbed “crapshoots.” His 7.853 PEER (Production in Equal Equipment Rating) on plate tracks is not only the highest among 50 drivers from the 2012 season, but also pure statistical absurdity. Kenseth is ridiculously good at this style of racing.

-1.050  Danica Patrick’s replacement-level PEER ranked last in the Cup Series in 2012. PEER measures the on-track production of a race car driver in an “all equipment even” scenario. For perspective, Ken Schrader, in a 13-race S&P effort, registered at 49th, with a -.250 PEER. That’s a large gap.

Danica Patrick became the first woman to win a pole in the history of the Cup Series last weekend and the fourth rookie to win the pole for the Daytona 500 (following Loy Allen, Mike Skinner and Jimmie Johnson). Cue pandemonium.

But let’s be real for a sec; we’re discussing a rookie driver who amassed a negative replacement-level PEER across 10 races last season (translation: beyond bad). At Daytona specifically, she competed in two races — her qualifying Duel race and the 500 — and crashed out of both. If you’re a Danica fan, enjoy the moment. Eat, drink and be merry, but also, be realistic. It’s feasible she’ll lead laps on Sunday, but pump the brakes on the delusion of Chase-making grandeur.

3  Jimmie Johnson has crashed out in each of the last three races at Daytona; last year’s Daytona 500 and Coke Zero 400 and this year’s Sprint Unlimited.

Johnson Tweeted about his frustration following Saturday night’s race. Come on, Five-Time. Every chance you’ve had to get some drafting practice in (i.e. January testing, practice last Friday), you didn’t even attempt to take advantage. You need it; that 47th-best -0.167 plate track PEER you earned last year won’t get better without putting in the work. 

Teaser:
<p> 7 Amazing NASCAR Driver Stats for the Daytona 500</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - 14:59
Path: /nascar/fantasy-nascar-preview-and-picks-daytona-500
Body:

The 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup season kicks off Feb. 24 with the Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. The Great American Race also marks the beginning of the fantasy NASCAR season for fans who are again met with the tough decision of choosing the best drivers to fill their fantasy line-up. To help guide you through the 2013 season, Athlon Sports will be offering up our best predictions for each race. And because Yahoo's Fantasy Auto Racing game is arguably the most popular, we'll be breaking down our picks according to their NASCAR driver classes—A-List, B-List, C-List.

So, without further ado, we give you our fantasy predictions for the 2013 Daytona 500, ranked according to each driver's likelihood of taking the checkered flag (or at least finishing toward the front):

A-List Drivers

1. Matt Kenseth — Kenseth finished in the top 3 in all four plate races last year and was strong in last weekend’s Sprint Unlimited.

2. Tony Stewart — Has second-highest driver rating (96.5) for points-paying races at Daytona in the last eight years.

3. Kevin Harvick — Started week strong, winning Sprint Unlimited but that race winner hasn’t won the Daytona 500 since 2000. With four top-10s in his last six Daytona starts, could Harvick end that drought for Sprint Unlimited winners?

4. Jeff Gordon — Has the most top-fives (12) among active drivers in the Daytona 500.

5. Denny Hamlin — Has never had a DNF in 14 career starts at Daytona but has had only 2 top-10s in those races.

6. Clint Bowyer — Does not have a top-10 finish in his last five Daytona starts, including two DNFs during that stretch.

7. Kasey Kahne — Has schizophrenic track record. Has not finished better than 25th in the last four Daytona 500s but in the July Daytona race he has three consecutive top-10s.

8. Brad Keselowski — Last July’s Daytona race was his first top-10 finish at the track in seven Cup starts.

9. Jimmie Johnson — Has one top-15 finish in his last nine Daytona starts and has failed to finish the last two races there.

 

B-List Drivers

1. Kyle Busch — He has the highest driver rating for points races in the last eight years at Daytona at 97.6, and has the highest percentage of laps run in the top 15 (72.4) during that time)

2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. — Among active drivers, he has the best average finish in Cup races at Daytona at 14.5 and has placed second in two of the last three Daytona 500s.

3. Jeff Burton — Only driver, other than Matt Kenseth, to score top-five finishes in both Daytona races last season.

4. Kurt Busch — Ranks third in laps led in points-paying races in the last eight years at Daytona behind only Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch.

5. Carl Edwards — Has six top-10s in his last seven Daytona starts.

6. Greg Biffle — Led 79 laps in the two Daytona races last year, second only to Matt Kenseth, who led 139 laps in those races.

7. Joey Logano — In his last three Cup races at Daytona, he’s finished third, ninth and fourth.

8. Mark Martin — Has an average finish of 12.0 in last four Daytona 500s.

9. Paul Menard — In his last four Cup races at Daytona, he’s finished ninth, eighth, sixth and 14th.

10. Martin Truex Jr. — He’s the only driver to have led at least one lap in each of the last four Cup races at Daytona. His reply via Twitter: “time to lead the last one.’’

11. Bobby Labonte — Has three top-15 finishes in his last four Daytona starts, including a fourth in the 2011 Daytona 500.

12. Aric Almirola — Has scored four top-20 finishes in his last five starts in restrictor-plate races.

13. Ryan Newman — Since winning the 2008 Daytona 500, he has one top-15 finish at Daytona, a fifth-place finish last July.

14. Juan Pablo Montoya — Did not finish better than 28th in any of the four restrictor-plate races last season.

15. Marcos Ambrose — Has an average finish of 24.1 in eight career Cup races at Daytona and has yet to lead a lap.

16. Jamie McMurray — Since winning 2010 Daytona 500, he’s not had a top-10 finish at the track in a Cup race.

 

C-List Drivers

1. Michael Waltrip — Was challenging for the lead at Talladega in most recent restrictor-plate race last fall before the big last-lap crash. Has three top-20 finishes in last five Daytona starts.

2. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 20th in last year’s Daytona 500, his first start in the race. Place second in July Nationwide race at Daytona last year.

3. Austin Dillon — Making his first Cup start at Daytona. Finished in the top five last year in both Nationwide races there.

4. Trevor Bayne — 2011 Daytona 500 winner has had one top-10 finish in seven restrictor-plate races since that momentous day.

5. Danica Patrick — Daytona 500 pole-sitter has an average finish of 16.4 in the previous five 500s. Last pole-sitter to win Daytona 500 was Dale Jarrett in 2000.

6. Terry Labonte — Has three top-20 finishes in last four Daytona starts.

7. David Ragan — Won the July Daytona race in 2011 but failed to finish either Daytona race last year, placing 26th and 43rd.

8. Joe Nemechek — Has finished inside the top 30 three times in his last 10 Daytona starts.

9. Casey Mears — Has finished in the top 25 in each of his past two Daytona starts.

10. Dave Blaney — Has never finished better than 14th in 24 races at Daytona.

11. Travis Kvapil — 16th-place finish at Daytona in July was his best finish at track in 12 career starts.

12. David Gilliland — Placed third in the 2011 Daytona 500. Has finished 16th, 23rd and 31st in the three Daytona races since.

13. Regan Smith — Since placing seventh in the 2011 Daytona 500, he’s finished 24th, 24th and 34th in his last three Daytona starts.

14. David Reutimann — Has not led a lap in 12 Daytona starts.

15. Mike Bliss — Last ran at Daytona in Cup in 2010. Did finish ninth that day in the July race.

16. Scott Speed — Last Daytona start was in 2010 in the July race where he finished 10th.

17. Michael McDowell — Has an average finish of 34.6 in five previous races at Daytona.

18. JJ Yeley — Has finished 40th and 43rd in his last two starts at Daytona.

19. Josh Wise — Did not run in last year’s Daytona 500 but in the other three restrictor-plate races last season, he finished 43rd, 38th and 42nd, completing a total of 57 laps.

—By Dustin Long


 

RELATED: NASCAR 2013: Camping World Truck Series Preview

 

Teaser:
<p> Predicting the best fantasy drivers at Daytona in 2013 so you don't have to.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - 14:20
Path: /nascar/nascar-2013-preseason-top-10-camping-world-truck-series-drivers
Body:

As the 2013 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series revs up, we look at the preseason favorites.

1. Ty Dillon (above left)

Without back-to-back tire failures late last the year, Dillon might have become the first rookie to win the series title, driving grandfather Richard Childress’ No. 3. Expect to see more of the same, following in brother Austin’s footsteps to a title in his sophomore season before moving on to the Nationwide Series in 2014.

2. Timothy Peters (above right)

Last season was the best Peters had posted in his career in the Truck Series, with career highs in wins (two), top 5s (10) and points finish (second). He’s paired with powerhouse Red Horse Racing and an intact crew, so there’s no doubt he’ll stay competitive. The organization will experience change, though, as Todd Bodine was released in the offseason in favor of John Wes Townley and his family’s Zaxby’s money. This move may not be as bad as one would think, as the wrecked equipment will cancel out while the money is a boon.

3. James Buescher

Winning back-to-back championships has proven impossible in the Truck Series thus far. However, with the amount of resources and the marked improvement Turner Motorsports showed throughout 2012, it’s hard to believe Buescher won’t be a factor — unless he jumps to the Nationwide Series instead.

4. Nelson Piquet Jr.

It’s hard to bet against anyone from Turner Motorsports after the numbers the organization put up in 2012 — seven victories spread among three different drivers. Piquet earned two, then ended the season with four straight top-10 finishes, a clear sign he’s developing championship consistency. Expect the third full-time season to be the charm here, especially if the Brazilian becomes Turner’s No. 1.

5. Joey Coulter

After grabbing his first career victory with Richard Childress Racing last year, Coulter looks to continue that success with Kyle Busch Motorsports. He hasn’t been the king of consistency, but the 22-year-old posted back-to-back third-place results to close 2012 and will bring that momentum along with him. 

6. Matt Crafton

Back with ThorSport Racing for a 12th year in the Truck Series, this veteran mainstay hopes to make a championship push after his No. 88 team struggled in the transition from Chevrolet to Toyota. After a rough start to 2012 (one top 10 in five races), he quietly recovered while setting a career high in laps led (125). 

7. Miguel Paludo

The Brazilian is returning to Turner Motorsports behind the wheel of the No. 32 Duroline Chevrolet, but perhaps what’s more important is that Jeff Hensley remains atop the pit box. Late in 2012, the duo began taking detailed notes of every practice and qualifying session in an effort to make the most of their setups. Improvement was slow but steady, as they closed with a fifth at Homestead in the season finale, leaving them optimistic about 2013.

8. Jeb Burton

Though he made only five 2012 starts, Burton (right) impressed with three top-13 finishes, including an eighth at Charlotte. That was enough to open eyes at Turner Motorsports, which now gives him resources to contend. With father Ward lending a guiding hand, this 20-year-old is poised to become another one of NASCAR’s next-generation stars.

9. Johnny Sauter

Coming off of his worst season, when he posted only nine top-10 finishes, Sauter looks to shake off the bad luck that plagued his ThorSport Racing No. 13 Toyota throughout 2012. While he’s been a championship threat in the past, winning four races the past two seasons, it’ll take more consistency for him to get solidly back in the hunt.

10. Ron Hornaday Jr.

After struggling in his first season away from Kevin Harvick, Inc., the organization that helped him win 25 races and two championships, Hornaday looks to utilize a merger with Joe Denette and NTS Motorsports to find his way back to Victory Lane. After career lows in top-5 results (two) and a 13th-place points showing, there’s nowhere to go but up. 

—By Beth Lunkenheimer


RELATED: NASCAR 2013: Camping World Truck Series Preview

 
Teaser:
<p> As the 2013 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series revs up, we look at the preseason favorites.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - 10:20
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR
Path: /nascar/nascar-2013-camping-world-truck-series-preview
Body:

Eldora. Eldora. Eldora.

This summer, those words will be chanted from NASCAR Nation far and wide as the Camping World Truck Series becomes the guinea pig for one of the sport’s most noble modern experiments: a return to dirt racing. On July 24, Tony Stewart’s short track bullring in Rossburg, Ohio, will be the site of the first major sanctioned NASCAR event on dirt since 1970. With a starting field of just 30 trucks, an entry list expected to be double that, and the added bonus of a Wednesday night showdown, it’s not hard to find this division’s biggest storyline entering 2013.

It also shouldn’t come as a surprise. Always known for a perfect mix of veterans and young drivers, this series has become the “chemistry test” as the sport looks to mold its long-term future. Last fall, NASCAR VP Steve O’Donnell suggested heat races could be introduced, along with additional short tracks by 2014, as the series looks to recapture the fan base by getting creative with the series that offers arguably NASCAR’s closest competition. Between the “old school” connection to Rockingham, whose 2012 Truck Series event was its first on the NASCAR schedule since 2004, to the “new school” of Mosport, Ontario, bringing trucks past the Canadian border for the first time in history this September (and on a road course, no less), full-time competitors will be faced with the most diverse set of challenges in the sport.

No statement of parity describes the Truck Series better than this little-known fact: In 18 years, there’s never been a repeat champ. Current titleholder James Buescher may not even get the chance, as it’s believed he’ll move up to the Nationwide Series. Even without Buescher, there’s plenty of talent on hand in a diverse set of title challengers (from rookie Jeb Burton to sophomore Ty Dillon to 12-year veteran Matt Crafton) in what’s bound to be a wide-open title chase. Younger drivers could find themselves a part of the fray, too — at least part-time — as new rules, announced late last season, allow drivers as young as 16 to compete on shorter tracks (1.1 miles or less) along with road courses.

Even the most competitive series comes with its share of concerns, though. Most events on the schedule haven’t changed, with only five races in the first three months. That means teams and fans alike will once again struggle to find momentum. As with the Nationwide Series, purse money is so low at some tracks ($6,000-plus for a finish in the 30s) that sponsorship becomes a necessity to survive.  

Still, with a healthy TV contract (FOX/SPEED has re-signed through 2022) and after another set of nailbiting finishes in 2012, this series should be thought of as healthier than its Nationwide counterpart. While the title race is undecided, one thing that can be counted on is that Trucks will once again put on the best show. Perhaps it’s race length; maybe it’s drivers looking to make an impression, trying to work their way up the ladder. It could be that truck chassis, less aerodynamic than their “car” counterparts, produce closer competition. Regardless of the cause, know that the Truck Series remains the sport’s hidden gem entering 2013.

Eldora’s about to find out.

—By Beth Lunkenheimer

2013 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Schedule

 

 
 
Teaser:
<p> A look at the season ahead for NASCAR's Truck Series</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - 09:20
Path: /college-football/ranking-big-easts-college-football-coaching-jobs-2013
Body:

We have ranked every college football program in the country, based on the attractiveness of the position from a coaching perspective. We considered many factors — tradition, facilities, location, money  — but in the end, we simply asked ourselves the following question: Where would we want to coach? Today we focus on the Big East.

(Note: Current or impending NCAA sanctions were not a factor in these rankings.)

Ranking the Coaching Jobs in the Big East for 2013

1. Louisville

Pros: Louisville has solid facilities and is in a good spot geographically to consistently attract top recruits. Kentucky is not a great talent producer, but Louisville can recruit Ohio and Illinois due to its proximity to those states and has always done a good job recruiting Florida. Also, the school “survived” the realignment wars, finding a home in the ACC beginning in 2014.

Cons: The school lacks football tradition and doesn’t have the fan base that most of the other schools have ranked in the top 50 of this list. When the Cards are good, they draw well. But in 2009, in the final season of the Steve Kragthrope era, they ranked 71st in the nation in attendance, averaging 32,540 per game.

Final Verdict: Like many of the schools in the Big East, Louisville is only as good as its coach. Bobby Petrino won big in his four years. Kragthorpe flopped in his three seasons. Charlie Strong has done well in his three seasons. With the right fit, Louisville competes for league titles.
 

2. Rutgers

Pros: Rutgers’ location affords the coaching staff the opportunity to stock its entire roster with local talent. The facilities have been upgraded in recent years, most notably the $102 million expansion to Rutgers Stadium. Also, being just over 30 miles from New York City — the media capital of the world — can’t hurt.

Cons: The school has almost no tradition; prior to the mid-2000s, the program was irrelevant. And while support for Rutgers football has grown in recent years, pro sports will always be No. 1 in the metropolitan area.

Final Verdict: Long considered the sleeping giant on the East Coast, Rutgers has emerged as a consistent winner in the Big East. Whether or not this is a true destination job is up for debate, but it’s clear that you can win a bunch of games and go to bowl games at Rutgers.
 

3. South Florida

Pros: South Florida has a tremendous local recruiting base and is a member of the conference with the least resistance to a BCS bowl (for now). The Bulls proved they can be a consistent winner in the FBS ranks, averaging 8.4 wins from 2006-10.

Cons: South Florida lacks tradition and does not have an on-campus stadium. The Bulls play their home games 15 miles from campus. And while the recruiting base is strong, South Florida will always have a tough time beating out the Big Three — Florida, Florida State and Miami — for top prospects.

Final Verdict: Many view South Florida as an emerging national power. The school does have a ton of potential, but it is difficult to get overly excited about a program that is the fourth-most relevant program in its own state — even if that state is Florida.
 

4. Cincinnati

Pros: Cincinnati is in a fertile recruiting area. Ohio produces a ton of talent, and the school is also relatively close to Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina.

Cons: Support isn’t great. The school won a share of its fourth Big East title in five years yet averaged only 29,138 fans per game to Nippert Stadium. Being stuck in the Big East for the foreseeable future.

Final Verdict: Cincinnati isn't perceived to be a top-flight program, but the school has been consistently strong in the BCS era. Since 2000, four different coaches have won at least seven games twice. That’s impressive.  
 

5. Houston

Pros: Location. Location. Location. Houston is an elite area for high school talent. And the school has decent tradition, having spent 20 years (1976-95) in the Southwest Conference. Starting in 2014, the Cougars will be playing in a new, on-campus stadium.

Cons: With Texas and Texas A&M relatively nearby — not to mention the NFL’s Houston Texans — University of Houston football will never be the No. 1 show in town.

Final Verdict: With a new stadium and great recruiting base, Houston has an opportunity to rise to the top of the reconfigured Big East. The school’s small fan base will always be an issue, but you can win a lot of games at this school. 
 

6. UCF

Pros: UCF is located in the heart of talent-rich Florida. Bright House Networks Stadium (capacity 45,323) opened in 2007 and is one of the nicest on-campus facilities in the nation.

Cons: UCF is still relatively new to the FBS ranks (1996) and has little brand recognition in the college football word. Attendance hasn’t been great, either. Last year, UCF ranked 68th in the nation with 34,608 fans per game.

Final Verdict: UCF will always have access to a ton of players, but it’s tough to envision this program taking too big of a leap forward in the next decade, even with the move to the Big East. 


7. Connecticut

Pros: The school has top-notch facilities and has proven that it can be relevant on the national landscape. The Huskies won eight games or more six times in an eight-year span, culminating with the trip to the Fiesta Bowl in 2010.

Cons: Recruiting at UConn has never been easy. Now, it’s become more difficult. The school’s chief rivals for prospects in the Northeast — Boston College, Syracuse and Rutgers — each found a home in a power conference. UConn did not.

Final Verdict: This can be a good job — there is solid support in state for the program — but the school is in a tough spot right now. The Big East is simply not where you want to be in college football heading into the mid 2010s.  
 

8. SMU

Pros: SMU’s greatest strength is its location, in the fertile Metroplex in North Texas. Yes, there is a ton of competition for the players, but there is more than enough talent to keep the Mustangs’ roster well-stocked.

Cons: Interest in SMU football is not high. The school averaged only 21,292 per game last year, which ranked 92nd in the nation. It’s tough to attract top-flight recruits to play in front of so many empty seats.

Final Verdict: SMU is similar to several schools making the move from Conference USA to the Big East. It’s in a great location but lacks the tradition and fan base to make too much of a dent on the national landscape.
 

9. Temple

Pros: Temple plays its home games at an NFL stadium and its on-campus facilities are top-notch. Being competitive in football is important to the school.

Cons: Temple lacks tradition and fan support. Philadelphia loves the Eagles, Phillies, Sixers, Flyers and college basketball. College football? Not so much.

Final Verdict: Al Golden did a tremendous job transforming Temple from arguably the worst program in the nation into a reputable team that won a total of 26 games from 2009-11. The school should be able to compete in the new-look Big East, but this is not a destination job.  
 

10. Memphis

Pros: The school has made a significant financial commitment to the football program in recent years — something that previously was not the case. (Just ask Tommy West). The city of Memphis is known more for basketball, but does a solid job producing FBS-level prospects.

Cons: Basketball is the No. 1 sport at Memphis — by a wide margin. The school has struggled to compete for years, with only four winning seasons since 1994.

Final Verdict: Memphis has an SEC recruiting base with Conference-USA support. Will that change as the school makes the move to the Big East? Not likely. You can win games at Memphis, but the football program will never reach the stature of Tiger basketball.


Related College Football Content

Big East Consensus Team Recruiting Rankings for 2013
Ranking the Big East's Coaching Tandems for 2013

College Football's Top 5 QBs on the Rise for 2013

College Football's Top 15 Impact JUCO Transfers for 2013

Teaser:
<p> Ranking the Big East's College Football Coaching Jobs for 2013</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 - 06:45
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR
Path: /nascar/ranking-best-teams-nascar-2013
Body:

As the 2013 NASCAR season prepares to get underway, Athlon Sports ranks the top teams to hit the track.

 
1. Hendrick Motorsports
 
An elephant is probably one of the few things Rick Hendrick doesn’t own. But for what the owner faces in 2013, you need look no further than the American version, otherwise known as the Republican Party.
 
Just like the presidential election, Hendrick endured a narrow loss in the championship fight with prized candidate Jimmie Johnson, who, like Mitt Romney, has been there, done that — successful many times over, but now a loser for a second straight cycle. So does HMS stick with the status quo, armed with the knowledge that without a broken rear gear (like Romney’s great swing-state disaster of Florida), Johnson may very well be your series champ? Hendrick had a hand in six straight Cup titles with Johnson and Tony Stewart, so at some point, the law of averages was going to catch up.
 
Or does the car owner think a “Republican revolution” on the inside is what’s needed? Other challengers to the throne are restless, including the Ron Paul of this group, Jeff Gordon, who’s been increasingly marginalized during J.J.’s prime. His time for a fifth title, and his patience, are running short. (See: the Clint Bowyer brawl that likely ended his ability to guest-host for “Live with Kelly & Michael.”) Kasey Kahne, the Marco Rubio of his organization, flexed some muscle last season and has time — at age 32 — plus a line of companies willing to shell out millions on his side. Heck, even Dale Earnhardt Jr., the sport’s most popular driver, can’t get big money anymore with multiple races open in late December. (It’s assumed they will be filled by Fortune 500 companies — Jeb Bush, a “supposed” early favorite for 2016, can relate.) Are we at a point with Earnhardt that, without a major change in attitude, laps led, or victory total, the men that make decisions (or in the Republicans’ case, millions of voters) are no longer willing to give this famous last name a second look?
 
All fair and good points, but the honest answer is that Hendrick Motorsports remains the most well-funded, successful and resourced team in the sport. One, if not more, of Rick’s boys will have a say in the 2013 championship. After all, the last time NASCAR changed race cars, in 2007, HMS was so far out front it was like he was given a copy of the rulebook six months in advance. Or maybe he was; after all, John Middlebrook sure came over for dinner a lot that offseason. 
 
Juuuust kidding.
 
 
2. Joe Gibbs Racing
What part hasn’t broken on a Joe Gibbs Racing car during the Chase? We don’t have the answer, but never fear — you’ll find out this September. When it comes to finding the “F” in DNF, JGR always saves the best for last, as spectacular failures derailed an otherwise strong 2012 for Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota. The problem for Hamlin, an expectant father in 2013, is the growing number of “Mark Martin” therapeutic tragedies on his résumé. They say you need to lose one before you can win one, but when you lose two, three, four, or more … then you start to believe it’ll never happen. 
 
To help get over the hump, Hamlin lobbied openly for former champ Matt Kenseth to earn Joey Logano’s former spot at the No. 20 Toyota. The tragicomedy is that through that process, he’s forgetting how easily this new hire can beat him. One other caveat: The soon-to-be 40-year-old Kenseth can’t fix a broken master switch — only the crew and head wrench can be held responsible. Kenseth’s veteran leadership should help with the chemistry, though, within an organization that hasn’t had a guiding hand since Tony Stewart left the team in 2008.
 
Notice how we haven’t mentioned Kyle Busch. J.D. Gibbs’ strategy appears to be somewhat similar, hoping that by holding a new contract up towards the ceiling, he can get Busch to jump higher, like a puppy dog learning new tricks in order to get the treat. He drove like a man possessed after missing the Chase, lending credence to the method. But know that there are plenty of opportunities elsewhere beyond 2013. Busch was burned by Hendrick for the cold, hard cash Dale Earnhardt Jr. brought in 2007 and knows that loyalty in this business is only a contract-by-contract proposition. That means that this team, more than any other, faces the widest range of possibilities: All three teams could make the Chase, all three could be chasing each other’s tails, or a few parts failures at the wrong times could lead to some internal explosions. 
 
And Kenseth was supposed to end this soap opera…
 
 
3. Penske Racing
Oddsmakers have already labeled Brad Keselowski as the underdog to win two straight titles. And that’s just fine with him. Filling the role of David is just how one of the sport’s most outspoken drivers likes to operate. Vegas has a right to be concerned, though, about the number of obstacles in the way: A switch from Dodge to Ford. Penske’s abandoning its own engine program for someone else’s. The fact only three drivers since 1990 have pulled the repeat (Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson). A new teammate, Joey Logano, who could be labeled at best a work in progress.
 
Perhaps the biggest question, though unspoken, is how much longer Mr. Penske wants to run around in circles, since he turns 76 in 2013. He’s quietly been affected by health issues — though none overly serious — in the recent past, and at some point, one has to wonder if there’s some sort of succession process in place. In some ways, he’s already stepped back, allowing Keselowski to leave his touch on the organization with important changes that clearly resulted in a championship. But the driver can’t do it all, as he’s already adding the role of “teacher” to his list in 2013 for Logano, a key cog as Shell/Pennzoil badly needs to start seeing some success. 
 
Keselowski possesses as much mental strength as anyone in the Cup Series garage, so it wouldn’t be surprising for him to will his way to another title. It’s just that the burden he has to carry in 2013 grows ever larger.
 
 
4. Stewart-Hass Racing
Most teams are spending the winter working on testing for 2013. Stewart-Haas Racing is busy working overtime in another department: building race cars. Not only does it need a third set for Danica Patrick’s full-time entry in the No. 10, but it’s also working on a fourth for when she’s done crashing that fleet. OK, so it may not be that bad, but it is the type of unrated content GoDaddy didn’t want released but becomes public knowledge weekly beginning with this year’s Daytona 500.
 
You know it’s a bad sign when people are predicting that a “best-case scenario” is simply finishing the race in one piece, right? Patrick’s push to the front will be hot and heavy, though, as the GoDaddy sponsorship will be up for renewal at season’s end. Money has been hard to come by for this organization of late, with Old Spice, Office Depot and the U.S. Army just some of the major backers jumping ship over the last two years. And that’s with Tony Stewart winning a championship! Reports are that Ryan Newman had to take a sizeable pay cut, forced back into that “other tax bracket” in order to stay employed. With patchwork deals on the No. 39, plus Kevin Harvick on the way in 2014, it’s easy to find the guy on the hot seat here.
 
That means that for Stewart, 2013 will be a real test of just how independent one car can be within a multi-car team. Brad Keselowski had that problem last year but still streaked to a title. Can Stewart, faced with Distraction Central and the monumental task of getting Eldora NASCAR ready, do the same?
 
 
5. Michael Waltrip Racing
From laughingstock to lovable to lauded, the transformation of this program is nothing short of amazing. Suddenly, fans know Martin Truex Jr. for more than an annoying commercial karaoke sequence. Sponsor 5-Hour Energy, after years of being more crumpled than an empty soda can when shown on television in the Nationwide Series, can trumpet the effects of its product through Clint Bowyer’s track and field Phoenix sprint. And then there’s the ageless Mark Martin, 54 in 2013, who can still whip a 27-year-old’s tail on the track.
 
But just like any organization that has made a worst-to-first-type ascension, the battle to shed the label of “one-year wonder” won’t be easy. The last time Truex won, Barack Obama had just started his first term — as the U.S. Senator from Illinois. Hendrick Motorsports, as payback for what Bowyer did to Gordon, let him finish second in the standings, through a parts failure at Homestead, to inherit the role of “runner-up jinx.” The last driver to finish in the top 5 in points, let alone contend for a championship the following year after winding up second? Matt Kenseth, in 2006-07. Ever since, teams have gone winless, missed Chases, flipped into the catchfence at Talladega … you know the deal.
 
Then there’s Martin, facing the inevitable transition from first-year success to second-year questions like, “When is someone else going to take over the driver’s seat?” We’ve heard this story play out before, back during the “Salute To You Tour V” days with Hendrick Motorsports, but this time there’s validity. What if super-sub Brian Vickers wins a championship with Joe Gibbs Racing in the Nationwide Series and has an offer from a rival Toyota Cup team? Or worse, a rival Chevy team? Could MWR really let a man who could serve it well for 10 years get away over someone at the tail end of his career? Such are the questions facing a suddenly stout team with championship aspirations.
 
 
6. Roush Racing
So let’s get this straight. The man who won the most races at Roush Fenway, Matt Kenseth, was allowed to walk. The one with the most expensive contract, Carl Edwards, hasn’t won since March 2011 and is paired with his third crew chief in seven months. The most successful driver left, Greg Biffle, is 43 and arguably less exciting than 400 miles in Fontana. And the newcomer, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., has all of five Cup Series starts to his credit.
 
All is not well in Roush-land, mirroring the decline of its co-ownership Boston Red Sox brethren. The questions for recovery are numerous, with the first being why its most veteran crew chief, Jimmy Fennig, is paired with Edwards when common sense says a rookie needs to be balanced by experience. Is RFR really that desperate to turn Cousin Carl’s performance around? And does former head wrench Bob Osborne have health-related issues or what?
 
In all seriousness, perhaps the biggest adjustment here in 2013 isn’t even Kenseth’s departure, the crew chief swaps or sponsorship issues (Stenhouse could use more). It’s that Ford now has a new kid on the block in Roger Penske after Roush spent the last three or four years as the manufacturer’s main squeeze. How will these two titans of motorsports co-exist in the same house? 
 
There are more questions than answers here. While history tells us that RFR never stays down for long, one must wonder if a turbulent year lies ahead.
 
 
7. Richard Childress Racing
Contrary to popular belief, the name on the marquee hasn’t changed to “Dillon Childress Racing.” But all signs point in that direction for 2014 and beyond, right? Owner Richard Childress, still dealing with the fact that Kevin Harvick will depart for Stewart-Haas Racing at season’s end, must right the ship after an underachieving 2012 with an eye on the suddenly foggy future.
 
RCR’s Cup Series lineup now consists of a “lame duck” in Harvick, a perplexingly underperforming Jeff Burton and daddy-supported Paul Menard. Down in Nationwide, a departing Elliott Sadler has been replaced by family-supported Brian Scott, teamed with grandson Austin Dillon, while a third car may serve as GoDaddy darling Danica Patrick’s ride in 8-to-10 races. In the Truck Series, younger grandson Ty Dillon continues his learning process while Joey Coulter leaves. Who pops in? Brendan Gaughan, known more for his father’s casinos than NASCAR success.
 
See where we’re going here? Outside funding, from family-supported drivers, helps RCR keep up with the ­Joneses, providing a place to race while eliminating the jealousy/threats that may result from a focus on the Dillon boys. Pretty smart, actually. 
 
Perhaps that’s why Harvick ran for the door — his problems with patience, combined with the difficulty of a “lame duck” status, make him unlikely to lead this team to success. Of the three drivers in Cup, Burton may have the best chance to make the Chase, handed “golden wrench” Luke Lambert, whose presence at the No. 31 car provides a spark. But when your top dog is a 45-year-old veteran, clearly past his prime … well, those Dillon boys can’t use that extra cash to conquer the minors and make it to the Cup level fast enough.
 
 
8. Earnhardt Ganassi Racing
Talk about the Odd Couple. In this corner, we have a former Daytona 500 winner who is as well liked by his peers on the track as he is personable off it. And in this corner, we have a former Indy 500 winner who continues to make waves on the track with fellow competitors and can be a bit frosty off it.
 
Such is life at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, where Goldilocks needs to show both Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya the NASCAR formula of racing “just right.” That’s something both have to relearn after running the entire schedule without a top-5 finish, virtually unheard of for a program with this kind of big-time sponsorship money (Target, McDonald’s).
 
What can make it better? Last year, Ganassi made sweeping personnel changes — though none in the driver lineup — and it made things worse. So what do you do if you’re not going to make any changes behind the wheel?
 
If you have an answer, write in, because then you could be working for Mr. Ganassi. That’s how bad the NASCAR side has gotten despite an open-wheel juggernaut on the other side of the shop that’s bound to continue for the rest of this decade.
 
 
9. Richard Petty Motorsports
It’s hard to believe it’s now been 20 years since Richard Petty last drove in the Cup Series. Turning 76 years old in 2013, NASCAR’s “King” continues to search for sustained success from the famed No. 43. Aric Almirola came close once last season, when a miracle Kansas performance was derailed by a few flat tires. Can the longtime prospect turn potential into reality? The answer may come with how much Ford, along with RPM investors, chooses to market Petty’s name rather than spend the money needed to land the company in Victory Lane. When your top driver, Marcos Ambrose, is threatening to leave the country and head back to Australia rather than re-sign, there’s a perception that the team can only go so far. When a manufacturer, in Dodge, sees the Petty name and still scoffs, then leaves the sport entirely, there’s an impression that funding is more limited than you think.
 
Something — a lucky break, a sponsor signing, expansion — has to happen here to get this train to leave the station.

 


 
Get all of your favorite racing stats, exclusive interviews and more in our 2013 Athlon Sports NASCAR Racing Preview Magazine, available at newsstands and online now. 

 

Teaser:
<p> Ranking the Best Teams in NASCAR for 2013</p>
Post date: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 - 19:26
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR
Path: /nascar/nascar-2013-nationwide-series-preview
Body:

Heading into 2013, the Nationwide Series hopes to continue building momentum without some of its signature stars. Despite losing perhaps its two most notable drivers, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Danica Patrick, to the Cup Series, a quality consolation prize for NASCAR’s second-tier division is the fact that there are new up-and-comers to market.
 
Prior to the 2011 season, the sanctioning body began requiring drivers to declare one series in which they would receive driver points. It was an effort to rein in the “Cupwhackers” from NASCAR’s top series who would drop down on Saturday to “practice” through domination. From 2005 through 2010, these moonlighters won most of the races and controlled the second series’ championship chase. 
 
Not anymore. Stenhouse Jr. won the title in 2011, with the new requirements in place, but 2012 was the season that truly saw a shift back towards series regulars. Without a single Cup driver running full-time, Stenhouse repeated the championship last year and would have done so without the new rules. More importantly, he and fellow regulars like Elliott Sadler, Austin Dillon and Justin Allgaier dominated the win column, capturing 13 victories among them. That’s the most for the full-time, Nationwide-only contingent in eight years. 
 
Without the lure of a championship and the sponsorship constraints that come with it, Cup drivers no longer overrun the series, although they still participate enough to allow NASCAR and the tracks to use their presence to promote races. Against what seemed like long odds, the Nationwide Series is getting a chance to build its own personality and stars, with ratings that held steady year-to-year despite NASCAR’s Nielsen decline in Cup.
 
Looking to 2013, the “new face” of this division is beginning to resemble the perfect mix of young and old. When Cup drivers held the majority of competitive seats, development drivers either ended up with lower-tier teams or nowhere at all. Now, drivers like Dillon, Regan Smith, Trevor Bayne and Brian Vickers find themselves as legitimate championship contenders. Others, like James Buescher, Parker Kligerman, Ryan Truex, Ryan Blaney, and Darrell Wallace Jr., have opportunities to build solid résumés in the sport. They’ll race alongside veterans like Sadler, Mike Wallace and Joe Nemechek in 2013, gaining quality experience that’ll teach the young drivers the ropes.
 
What’s encouraging is that drivers are willing to stay for longer than just one full season — and the owners are happy to keep them there. Stenhouse and Patrick just wrapped up three-year stints; Cup hopefuls Allgaier and Michael Annett are starting season five. Once again, these young talents, especially when linked to Cup owners, are spending a meaningful amount of time in the second-tier series before making the leap. And when they leave, like in the case of Stenhouse, the opportunities remain for talented replacements. Bayne will run for Roush Fenway in 2013, while Dillon’s ride will go to brother Ty when he moves up to the Cup Series in 2014.
 
But while the series may be headed in the right direction, plenty of obstacles remain. This season, 27 of the 33 NNS races will be run as companion events to the Cup Series. Only Iowa (two events), Road America and Mid-Ohio remain as venues where the “big boys” never run, with the other standalone races taking place at Cup intermediates Chicago and Kentucky.
 
Yes, companion events have benefits. They offer fans coming to the track the ability to get the most racing action out of the weekend, and the tracks can offer package deals in an effort to sell more tickets and get otherwise uninterested fans hooked on young Saturday stars. 
 
But six standalones are simply not enough for a series attempting valiantly to stand on its own. Racing “away from Cup” more would allow the series to further build its own identity and fan base. The races most fans seem to remember (and clamor for) are ones that were run at places like O’Reilly Raceway Park or South Boston — smaller, unique short tracks that provided the best action. For years, these venues were the home of what was then known as the Busch Series.
 
Since then, the conversation has centered on empty stands and switches to larger tracks, like Indianapolis Motor Speedway, that haven’t exactly attracted a larger audience. The Nationwide Series is now racing mostly at places built to seat Cup crowds. Realistically, the second series does not need to race exclusively at tracks that hold 70,000-plus fans when a sensible draw for an NNS event is less than half that number.
 
Of course, the key for an exclusive return to those quaint facilities is money. Renovations, including SAFER barriers, pit improvements and accommodations, on top of a $750,000 sanctioning fee, make staging events at smaller tracks more difficult in modern times. Perhaps NASCAR needs to take a more realistic look at the economics of attendance, ticket prices, purses, and sanctioning fees and adjust accordingly.
 
Economics remains a challenging subject for NASCAR. Purse reductions in the Nationwide Series continue to plague the smaller teams; so many of them start-and-parked in 2012 that the field size was reduced to 40 out of necessity. That will help the final payouts slightly, but the major-league expenses remain exorbitant for what is, at times, a league comparable to Triple-A baseball. The economy has still not recovered to the point that companies are clamoring to spend big bucks on team sponsorship in Cup, let alone the $6-$8 million that a top Nationwide team can command. NASCAR is fighting a two-pronged war, as attendance and ratings continue to decline, so controlling costs in its lower divisions has become a primary concern.
 
Still, the Nationwide Series offers a good option for companies looking to get exposure on a smaller budget. Cup teams have had to move to a new model of multiple primary sponsors, a strategy expected to trickle its way down. From a sponsorship standpoint, backing off the Cup drivers was a risk given their name value, but this shift in success back to the youngsters should get cash flowing again.
 
As a whole, though, the NASCAR Nationwide Series looks to be pointed in a positive direction for the future, and it’s primed for an amazing championship battle ahead. Anyone from Dillon to Sadler to Smith to Vickers could win the title. In the past, names like Kevin Harvick or Carl Edwards would dominate, and most fans could be better served falling asleep.
 
It may not show it in the stands quite yet, but that’s progress.
 
—By Toni Montgomery
 

 
Get all of your favorite racing stats, exclusive interviews and more in our 2013 Athlon Sports NASCAR Racing Preview Magazine, available at newsstands and online now. 

 

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<p> A look ahead at the exciting NASCAR season.</p>
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Newly crowned Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski admits that he’s caught himself admiring NASCAR’s next generation of racers.

“They’re almost as good as I am, if not better right now,” he says.

It’s not just one or two drivers catching his eye but several, ranging from teenagers to those in their early 20s. They’re winning races, capturing championships and setting records — taking advantage of opportunities previous classes did not receive.

When the economy tanked a few years ago, many teams ditched driver development programs or altered them drastically. It left young racers with few avenues to reach the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The result was a string of forgettable Sprint Cup Rookies of the Year — Stephen Leicht, Andy Lally and Kevin Conway — who combined for two top-20 finishes the past three years.

Today’s young drivers race toward the front in their divisions and show they deserve good rides. As Cup drivers age — one-third of this year’s 12-man Chase featured drivers 40 and older — these younger drivers are positioning themselves to be the sport’s future. 

“I’ve been in this sport long enough to see Lee Petty, Junior Johnson, that whole group of guys, Joe Weatherly, hand the torch over to Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, David Pearson,” car owner Richard Childress says. “Now you’ve got Jeff Gordon, (Kevin) Harvick, Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. This group is getting up (in age and) some day they’ll hand it over to the Stenhouses and hopefully the Dillons and Blaneys. We’ve got a great group of young talent coming up.”

This could be the dawn of a new era. With so many to choose from, here are seven young drivers to watch in the coming years along with evaluations from David Smith, editor-in-chief of Motorsports Analytics, a site that offers analysis and commentary on drivers in numerous series.

KYLE LARSON, 20, ELK GROVE, CALIF.

Jeff Gordon is among many watching the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion — who won the title in his first full year racing stock cars.

“He’s very talented,” says Gordon, who has texted Larson after races. “To be able to win the K&N East Series against the talent that is out there with as limited amount of experience as he has in a full-bodied stock car says a lot about his talents and skill.”

The 20-year-old Larson, whose background is in sprints and midget cars, scored a 10th-place finish at Kentucky in late June in his Camping World Truck Series debut. He followed it with two more top-10 finishes and was running in the top 5 at Homestead when an aggressive move late in the race led to a crash.

Larson, a development driver for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, has run more than 200 races in various series the past two years. That experience helped him transition to stock cars. 

“I’ve been racing open-wheelers, so many different types of open-wheel cars, I think it really helped me become versatile because I jump in different cars each and every night it seems like, so I can adapt pretty quickly,” Larson says.

He notes that Earnhardt Ganassi Racing is working on plans for his 2013 schedule. Expect to see him in more Truck races and also Nationwide events.

David Smith says: “Kyle has talent in spades. This year in K&N East he ranked second in Pro Series East PEER (4.500). Usually it’s a really big hurdle going from open wheel to stock car, but he made it look easy. He’s going to start a legacy of crossover kids (from open wheel) that are going to try what he did but just won’t be able to make that transition as quick. He’s got to learn to pace himself and be patient. He has what, theoretically, you can’t teach. He’s got the aggression, natural sense of any kind of race car. He just needs to learn the strategic part of how to go about winning these races in NASCAR.”

 

RYAN BLANEY, 19, HIGH POINT, N.C.

The son of Cup driver Dave Blaney grabbed attention by finishing seventh in his Nationwide debut at Richmond in April. The focus continued throughout the summer as he scored top-10 finishes in limited series appearances. His performance earned him a ride with Brad Keselowski’s Truck Series team beginning in August. 

Blaney rewarded Keselowski by winning at Iowa in September in his third career series start. Blaney also became the youngest driver to win a Truck Series race at age 18 years, eight months and 15 days — eclipsing Kyle Busch’s record (20 years, 18 days) set in 2005 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Dave Blaney admits he wasn’t surprised his son won so quickly.

“I haven’t been surprised at anything that kid has done since he was about 14,” Dave Blaney says. “It seems like, naturally, he can pick things up and just make good decisions. And that eventually helps him be in the hunt for race wins in every series he’s been in.”

Ryan Blaney will run select Nationwide races for Penske Racing in 2013 while also running in the Truck Series for Keselowski’s team.

David Smith says: “Blaney and (Kyle) Larson are the top two prospects. They haven’t fulfilled their destiny in the Nationwide and Truck levels yet, but they could. I would place Blaney ahead of Larson just for the fact that Larson is trying to learn what Blaney already knows. Blaney has the intuition to check out the landscape of the race, understand what his equipment offers him and makes the conscious decision to say, ‘OK, maybe I don’t have the car tonight, but here’s how I’m going to win this race.’ His affinity for patience has translated to the Nationwide Series — he had a Top 15 Efficiency of plus-6.9 percent which allowed him to average finishes better than his average running positions. Based on his PEER he was a fringe contender in both Nationwide (2.038, ranked 16th and higher than Penske Racing counterpart Sam Hornish) and Trucks (2.611, ranked ninth).”

 

JAMES BUESCHER, 22, PLANO, TEXAS

Few could say they had a better year in 2012 than this 22-year-old. He married in January, won the Daytona Nationwide race in February and won four Camping World Truck Series races en route to winning the championship for Turner Motorsports.

He is the second-youngest series champion in the series’ 18-year history, behind only Austin Dillon. 

“This year has been incredible for me,” Buescher said in the offseason. “Being the champion of the Truck Series definitely trumps winning a race at Daytona, but the race at Daytona is still pretty high up there. But it’s been a phenomenal year for my racing career and for my personal life. I just feel really blessed.”

All four of his Truck wins came at 1.5-mile speedways (Kansas, Kentucky, Chicago and Kentucky), and nearly three-quarters of the laps he led (505) were on 1.5-mile speedways.

Buescher also ran 20 Nationwide races, with one win and eight top-10 finishes. He’ll return to Turner Motorsports in 2013.

David Smith says: “The reigning Truck Series titlist was a bit of a one-trick pony in 2012, scoring all four of his wins on 1.5-mile soft intermediate tracks. While worse drivers have made careers out of being adept at one specific track, Buescher, who ranked sixth in the series in PEER (2.886), still has time to improve on short tracks and the 1.5-mile quad-oval facilities that are visited more frequently in the Cup Series.”

 

DYLAN KWASNIEWSKI, 17, LAS VEGAS, NEV.

He was the youngest winner in the K&N Pro Series West in 2011 and became its youngest champion last season at age 17.

This high school senior is articulate and engaging, traits that entice sponsors along with his success on the track.

He earned the West title by winning three races and scoring 12 top-5 finishes in 15 races, never finishing outside the top 10 in a series race. In fact, he’s registered only four finishes outside of the top 10 in the West Series in 28 starts. 

His success goes back to the time he was introduced to racing before he was five years old. 

“I just had a true passion for the sport,” Kwasniewski says. “I think my parents saw that there was something. We just furthered my career and then it grew into this.”

His next step is to compete in the K&N Pro Series East division in 2013 for Turner Motorsports.

David Smith says: “Kwasniewski’s rise to the top of NASCAR’s Pro Series West division was meteoric. In 2011, his rookie campaign, he earned a serviceable 1.667 PEER through the first half of the season. In the second half he registered a 3.929 PEER, foreshadowing even more improvement in 2012. Against fields littered with veteran drivers and owners, he won last year’s title with three wins, a 3.8 average finish and a series-best 5.233 PEER. The question you ask is whether he can he come East and do the same thing against a series that is a high competitive jump. I think he can do well, but I think that question does exist. It’s time to see what he can do in a series against kids that are just as good as he is. Can he outthink them? Can he outdrive them?”

 

AUSTIN DILLON, 22, LEWISVILLE, N.C.

The 22-year-old grandson of car owner Richard Childress will attempt to make this year’s Daytona 500. He has climbed NASCAR’s ranks quickly. Dillon was Rookie of the Year in the Truck Series in 2010 and won the series title the following year. He finished third in the points last season in the Nationwide Series, earning Rookie of the Year honors.

At Phoenix in November, he led the rookie meeting for Truck Series drivers.

“It’s pretty cool to go run a rookie meeting and only be 22 years old,” he says. “It’s kind of hard thinking you’re gaining respect from them because they’re the same age. It’s cool that they listened.”

He’ll run a full season of Nationwide again this year along with as many as seven Cup races, including the Daytona 500, for Childress. Dillon is expected to move full-time to Cup in 2014 and very well could bring the No. 3 with him, marking that number’s first return to Cup since Dale Earnhardt’s fatal crash in the 2001 Daytona 500.

David Smith says: “I was not a fan of him in the Truck Series just because that No. 3 team was very strong, very consistent, didn’t have many miscues or incorrect setups. This year in the Nationwide Series, now we’re starting to see what Austin has the potential to do. He’s a driver that doesn’t make a whole lot of mistakes. He earned a 2.879 PEER and two wins (both at Kentucky) in a season of staggering consistency that saw no accident-related exits from races. A second go-round of a full Nationwide slate should conjure visible improvement.”

 

TY DILLON, 20, LEWISVILLE, N.C.

Austin’s younger brother, Ty has shown he is as good as his big bro. Ty, 20, won Rookie of the Year honors in the Camping World Truck Series, finishing fourth in the points with one win and 17 top-10 finishes in 22 starts in 2012. He also ran in three Nationwide races, finishing in the top 10 in each of them, including a third-place result at Indianapolis.

“I couldn’t really ask for much more besides a championship in our rookie year,” he said after the season finale at Homestead.

Just like his brother, he’s followed a path set by grandfather Richard Childress that has put him in a position to succeed. He’ll run again in the Truck Series in 2013 with plans to participate in select Nationwide races and one Cup race before a planned move full-time to the Nationwide Series in 2014.

David Smith says: “I like Ty. He didn’t come away the champion, but Dillon had an impressive rookie season in the Truck Series. A strong showing in his maiden voyage at Martinsville and beating Kyle Busch to the finish line in a spectacular mano-a-mano battle at Atlanta were two of his more brilliant flashes. There’s room for improvement in 2013 — he ranked just 15th in Trucks PEER (2.023) and was an above-average crasher (seven times in 22 races).”

 

COREY LaJOIE, 21, CONCORD, N.C.

The son of two-time Nationwide Series champion Randy LaJoie finished second in the 2012 K&N Pro Series East Series despite not having the budget of some other teams. LaJoie won a series-high five races and had 10 top-five finishes in 14 events with his smooth driving style. His results improved greatly compared to 2011 — when he went winless and collected only four top-5 finishes — as he steered clear of trouble. 

The question with LaJoie is whether the 21-year-old can find the funding for a full-time ride in a division above the East Series. If so, keep an eye on him.

David Smith says: “There’s nothing to dislike about LaJoie. Outside of the car, he’s an endearingly outspoken, Chuck Taylor-wearing blue-collar kid. In the car, he demonstrates a savant-like ability to conserve tires, methodically stage passing opportunities and close races. He scored five Pro Series East victories in 2012 and his 4.607 PEER mark bettered Joey Logano’s vaunted East division production rating of 4.462 from 2007. He’s the only full-time guy that did it on a microscopic budget (in 2012), compared to what (Joe Gibbs Racing) had and like what Darrell Wallace Jr. had and what Hendrick (Motorsports) had with Chase Elliott. So what he did was incredible. All that he’s taught himself to do is going to translate to another level.”

—By Dustin Long and David Smith


About MotorsportsAnalytics.com

David Smith is the founder and editor-in-chief of Motorsports Analytics. Smith looks past racing stats like “Wins,” “Tops 5s,” and “Top 10s” to evaluate drivers by taking advanced statistical concepts that he created. His PEER stats (Production in Equal Equipment Rating) are weighted statistics that measure the on-track production of a driver in an “all-equipment-even” scenario (i.e., the best equipment receives the highest handicap). It is constructed using data from past performances.

4.000 and Above = Historic Performance — This driver is attempting to re-write the record books in this particular series. The higher the level of racing, the more rare a 4.000 PEER becomes.

3.999 to 3.000 = Serious Title Contender — This driver is exhibiting the ability to compete for a series championship while producing higher finishes than those with a Fringe Title Contender-level PEER.

2.999 to 2.000 = Fringe Title Contender — This driver is exhibiting the ability to compete for a series championship.

1.999 to 1.000 = Serviceable — This driver can be counted on for an occasional race win in this series.

0.999 and Below = Replacement Level — This driver’s production level in this series can be easily found elsewhere.

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<p> 7 Up-And-Coming Drivers Every NASCAR Fan Should Know</p>
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Brian Cashman called it a “perfect storm.” CC Sabathia said it was “embarrassing.” The New York tabloids weren’t as kind: "Dear Yankees, We don’t date losers! Signed New Yorkers" read the back of the New York Post.

Detroit’s sweep of the Yankees in the 2012 ALCS was a complete domination. The Tigers never trailed during the series, and their combined 19–6 run differential was an indication of New York’s incompetence. The Yankees batted a mere .157 in the series, and they struck out a whopping 36 times, or on one-third of their outs. At times, it appeared as if the New York hitters had never faced big-league pitching before.

“When you get into a short series, you say, ‘This is what we’re going to do,’” says Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones. “If you execute it, you win. If you don’t, and you make poor pitches, you won’t win.”

While many love to deliver swift boots to the collective posterior of the Yankees when they are laid low, their fan-tastic performance against the Tigers wasn’t so unusual in the context of the 2012 season. First off, Detroit pitchers ranked fifth among all MLB clubs in strikeouts. But more importantly, the ’12 season was historic throughout baseball for whiffing. 

Six major league clubs fanned at least 1,300 times last season. That’s three more clubs than the previous high for aggregate plate futility and one more than the total number from baseball’s beginning through the 2006 season. Another 12 teams struck out at least 1,200 times, four more than the previous record. In other words, a full 60 percent of teams whiffed 1,200 or more times last year, establishing a new high (or, if you prefer, low) for swing-and-miss futility. The Yankees’ fruitless pursuit of Tiger pitching was merely a high-profile example of the culture that has taken over major league baseball.

“There are definitely more ‘guess’ hitters in the game than there used to be,” Jones says. “You have guys looking for a certain pitch. If they don’t get it, they can look bad swinging.”

To give an idea of how profound this increase in useless at bats has become, consider that before 2001, no team had ever struck out 1,300 times in a single season. Before 1996, only one squad ever fanned 1,200 times. That distinction belongs to the 1968 Mets, who struck out 1,203 times. But they played 163 games that year, and after the season, Major League Baseball decided to lower the mound six inches. Back in 1978, the leader in strikeouts, Cincinnati, had only 899. Many of today’s teams have that many well before August is over. Contrast that with 1928, when the Yankees whiffed only 553 times in 154 games. 

There are plenty of reasons why K is becoming baseball’s favorite letter. Jones’ theory on hitters’ guessing makes perfect sense. So does the fact that pitchers’ velocities are increasing, as is the menagerie of “out” pitches they are learning at earlier levels of baseball. The growing specialization of staffs allows managers to create matchups that are to their teams’ advantages. And the amount of information available to teams about hitters’ tendencies allows them to create scouting reports and battle plans that are more effective. Just ask the Yankees about that. 

There’s one other, more philosophical cause at work, at least according to Padres’ hitting coach Phil Plantier. He cites what he refers to as “the live ball era” as having an impact on hitters as they grow into big-league players. That’s his euphemism for the steroid era, when homers rained down upon bleacher bums all over the game. As youngsters watched their pumped-up heroes cranking out 50 homers — and more — each season, they developed habits that might produce long balls but could also lead to high strikeout totals. For instance, in 1996, just two years after the MLB strike and the first season during which Mark McGwire hit more than 50 home runs (52), eight teams whiffed 1,100 times or more — an all-time high. From there, the strikeout totals have climbed steadily to 2012’s peak.

“The past generation of players just went through an unrealistic baseline expectation of hitters,” Plantier says. “If you look at trends of hitters prior to the ‘live ball’ era, it’s probably more indicative of where the game will go back. But it’s taking some time.”

Back in 1987, when Plantier reported to Elmira, N.Y., for his first minor league stint, he didn’t find an army of coaches ready to mold him on his first step to the majors. The club didn’t even have a weight room. 

“We had a manager, and he did everything,” Plantier says.

Today, teams have too much money invested in players to leave it all to one person. There are hitting coaches, strength coaches and pitching coaches at every stop along the developmental chain. Not everyone is going to make it to the big time, but teams aren’t taking any chances on missing a potential major leaguer. 

They also aren’t going about accumulating prospects the same way, especially on the mound. The process by which teams scout and ultimately select young pitchers has been altered since the days when Plantier was making his baseball journey.

“It all starts at the beginning,” he says. “Scouts are identifying athletes now as pitchers and have been for the last generation. Before, the majority of pitchers were non-athletes with good arms. Now, they’re getting better quality athletes on the mound.”

According to Plantier, the more athletic a pitcher is, the higher his ceiling might be. Now, no one can be certain whether Walter Johnson or Sandy Koufax would have fared well in the decathlon, but many of today’s pitchers are more accomplished athletically. They are also bigger and stronger. It’s become rare when a team spends a high draft choice — or in some cases any draft choices — on pitchers who aren’t at least 6'0". It’s hard to imagine someone like 5'11" Ron Guidry or 5'6" Bobby Shantz, who was once blown off the mound during a game, getting a second look today. When exposed to the intense training and instruction teams provide from rookie ball on up, they can develop into better pitchers — even if they don’t have the liveliest arms. 

“At the lower levels, organizations are developing pitchers better, and they are teaching them how to become strikeout pitchers,” Plantier says.

A lot of those strikeout pitchers are succeeding with fastballs that get into the 90s consistently. Brewers’ hitting coach Jerry Narron was once a special assignment scout for Texas, and he was with Josh Hamilton in 2009 when Hamilton did a rehab stint in the minors after surgery to repair an abdominal tear. He noticed right away the vast differences between the caliber of pitching at the Triple-A level and the majors, a big reason why many younger players struggle to make contact.

“It’s not only the starters but the relievers who throw hard,” Narron says. “Everybody out of the pen seems to throw in the mid-90s, and at the back end of the pen, they’re throwing in the upper 90s. The velocity across the board jumps off the page.”

Jones agrees. “It seems like every guy is throwing 95 now,” he says.

Narron says teams’ obsessions with pitch counts have contributed to rising strikeout totals as well — and not just because those hard-throwing relievers are ready to throw smoke and overpower pitchers in favorable lefty-lefty or righty-righty matchups.

“Starters can afford to be more assertive,” Narron says. “They’re only going to pitch five, six or seven innings.”

The amount of information available gives pitchers advantages, too. Most MLB clubs, including the Tigers, look at what hitters’ tendencies are in every possible count. They feed pitchers information that allows them to know who is looking for fastballs early, who is less likely to be more careful with two strikes, and of course, who struggles with breaking balls.

“When guys are aggressive early in the count, they are people you can exploit by going out of the strike zone,” Jones says. “We know how aggressive guys are late in the count and how aggressive they are with men on base.”

It’s not guaranteed that a pitcher armed with that information is going to be successful, but if he makes pitches according to the plan, it’s more likely he will have an advantage. Detroit pitcher Doug Fister is known for throwing strikes early and often — he walked only 37 batters in 161.2 innings last year. So, hitters will often go up in the first few innings of a game hoping to get something to hit right away. If they are aggressive and making outs, Fister stays with his original program. But if they are hitting him, he has to change.

“They’ve made their adjustments, so we have to adjust,” Jones says.

It’s just not fair, really. Those mean pitchers are bigger and throw faster than ever. They have all sorts of fancy information and knowledge about tendencies and hitters’ weaknesses. Lower the mound! Make it four strikes per out. 

The pitchers are better, but the hitters have a huge responsibility for the rising numbers. One All-Star starter who requested anonymity explains why it’s sometimes easy to pile up the strikeouts. “A lot of guys go up there looking for a certain pitch, and if they don’t get it, they pretty much give up the at-bat,” he says. 

According to Narron, some hitters consider a strikeout “just another out.” Of course, nobody scores from third with fewer than two outs on a K — barring a wild pitch, of course. You can’t move the runner from first to second when you fan. And hitting the ball, even if it’s right at a defender, forces him to make a play and could lead to an error. Narron sure doesn’t think that all outs are the same.

“I don’t believe that,” he says. “There’s a lot you can accomplish with two strikes on you. You want to get something out of an at-bat that’s more than just a zero. The only thing you might get out of a strikeout is pushing the pitcher to eight pitches. That’s okay.”

Hitting coaches speak constantly of having a “plan” or “approach” at the plate. That can apply to a team’s macro philosophy of being aggressive against certain pitchers and careful versus others, and it has micro applications based on various hitters’ strengths and weaknesses. It’s okay to swing at strikes early in the count, provided that’s the way to get after a pitcher. Hitters who just rip away at anything may get on base, but their ultimate success depends on being more opportunistic, especially when the count isn’t in their favor.

“The one thing I stress to hitters is that every at-bat is important,” Narron says. “You just can’t give anything away.” 

That philosophy doesn’t appeal to all hitters, especially power hitters. They believe the home run is the preferred outcome, even if dinger numbers are dropping all over baseball. Slapping a ball to the opposite field with two strikes isn’t as appealing as jacking one into the fourth deck, even if the risk associated with that approach is high. 

Plantier’s Padres were members of the 1,200-strikeout club last year, but he was much happier with his players’ performance at the plate during the season’s second half, once they approached at-bats differently and tried to be more productive each time up.

“We were as big a culprit as there was in the league,” he says of the Padres’ propensity to strike out. “But we started to have better at-bats and improved our contact rate. We made mechanical adjustments and also had better plans at the plate, according to what we needed at that moment in time.”

As 2013 dawns, pitchers have the advantage. They are throwing high-octane fuel at hitters who don’t necessarily care whether they strike out or not, so long as the possibility exists of the magic long ball that made their baseball ancestors stars. 

“You’ve got a lot of power guys who aren’t going to change their swings with two strikes,” Jones says. “They’re still trying to drive the ball to the gaps and over the fence.”

If they strike out, they strike out. For many, it’s not a problem. 

Until the League Championship Series. Then, it’s a problem.

—By Michael Bradley


 

Want more baseball? Check out Athlon Sports' 2013 Baseball Annual for the most complete preview available. Order your copy now! 

Teaser:
<p> Examining baseball's growing number of swing-and-miss hitters.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 - 08:30

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