Articles By Athlon Sports
Freshmen have led teams to national championships. They’ve won National Player of the Year honors and Defensive Player of the Year honors. Even more rookies have gone on to be top picks in the NBA Draft.
Kentucky’s Anthony Davis did all those things in a single season in Lexington. That's why he tops our list of the greatest freshman seasons.
Here are Athlon Sports’ picks for the top 10 greatest freshman seasons:
1. Anthony Davis, Kentucky 2011-12
Stats: 14.2 points, 10.4 rebounds
His case for top freshman: Davis didn’t simply have one of the best freshman seasons in college basketball history -- he had one of the best seasons of any player. If there was an award to be won or honor to receive, Davis earned it. He was the consensus national player of the year, a unanimous All-American, the national defensive player of the year and the Final Four Most Outstanding Player. After leading Kentucky to its eighth national title and first championship since 1998, Davis was the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft. The only other players to win the Naismith Award, the Final Four MOP and then be selected first overall in the draft all the in the same season were Kansas’ Danny Manning and. UCLA’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. With a 7-foot-four wingspan, Davis was a defensive force, setting an NCAA freshman record and Kentucky record with 186 blocks.
2. Kevin Durant, Texas 2006-07
Stats: 25.8 points, 11.1 rebounds
His case for top freshman: In the first season impacted by the NBA’s rule to require draftees to be a year removed from high school, Durant showed what a new breed of precocious freshmen could do in college. He swept the National Player of the Year awards and remains the only freshman to do so. In his only college season, Durant was the only player in the country to finish in the top 10 in scoring and rebounding – he finished fourth in both. Despite Durant’s prolific season, his play didn’t translate to postseason success. Texas lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to USC, led by another freshman, O.J. Mayo. The Longhorns also couldn’t solve Kansas, who won the Big 12 regular season title and defeated the Longhorns in the Big 12 Tournament final in overtime. Durant was the second pick in the 2007 NBA Draft behind the oft-injured one-and-done Greg Oden.
3. Carmelo Anthony, Syracuse 2002-03
Stats: 22.2 points, 10 rebounds
His case for top freshman: Some freshman-led teams have come close, but Anthony became the first rookie since Pervis Ellison in 1986 (Louisville) to lead his team to a national title. Anthony was a second-team All-American in his only college season, but none were better in the NCAA Tournament. Anthony was the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, helping Jim Boeheim to his first national championship. In the final against Kansas, Anthony scored 20 points with 10 rebounds and seven assists. A game earlier in the national semifinal against Texas, Anthony had 33 points and 14 rebounds. His elite play led Syracuse to a title, but it wasn’t limited to March. During the regular season, Anthony finished with 22 double-doubles, the most for a freshman since Virginia’s Ralph Sampson in 1980.
4. Chris Jackson, LSU 1988-89
Stats: 30.2 points, 2.5 rebounds
His case for top freshman: Jackson, who later changed his name to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, turned in one of the all-time best freshman seasons nearly two decades before it became commonplace for first-year players to rewrite record books. Jackson averaged 30.2 points per game, which remains a Division I freshman record. It also remains the seventh-highest scoring average in SEC history. Since Jackson’s freshman season, only two SEC players have topped 25 points per game in a season – Jackson as a sophomore, and LSU’s Shaquille O’Neal in 1991-92. Jackson finished the season as a consensus All-American, but the Tigers lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to UTEP.
5. Wayman Tisdale, Oklahoma 1982-83
Stats: 24.5 points, 10.3 rebounds
His case for top freshman: Tisdale was the forefather to the great freshmen of the 2000s. It’s fitting, then, his name is on the National Freshman of the Year award. In 1983, Tisdale was the first freshman to be a first-team All-American while also earning Big Eight Player of the Year honors. He accomplished both feats again as a sophomore and a junior.
6. Kevin Love, UCLA 2007-08
Stats: 17.5 points, 10.6 rebounds
His case for top freshman: During better times for Ben Howland at UCLA, the coach relied primarily on veterans. Love was the exception during the Bruins’ run of Final Fours. Love led UCLA in scoring and rebounding in the Bruins’ last of three consecutive appearances in the national semifinal. He also finished the season with 23 double-doubles; Michael Beasley is the only other freshman to amass more. Love was a consensus All-American and the Pac-10 Player of the Year, one of only two freshmen to earn the honor.
7. Michael Beasley, Kansas State 2007-08
Stats: 26.2 points, 12.4 rebounds
His case for top freshman: Like Durant’s college career, some of his Big 12 records didn’t last long. A year after Durant lit up the Big 12, Beasley did the same a year later. Beasley set a Big 12 single-season record by averaging 26.2 points per game, breaking Durant’s record of 25.8. Beasley finished with 13 30-point games, the most for any Big 12 player in a season (Durant had 11). Beasley’s 28 double-doubles also remains a national freshman record. Unlike Durant, Beasley didn’t pick up any National Player of the Year awards – that hardware in 2008 went to North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough. Like Durant and Texas, Beasley and Kansas State failed to get out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, losing to Wisconsin in the second round.
8. Jared Sullinger, Ohio State 2010-11
Stats: 17.2 points, 10.2 rebounds
His case for top freshman: Ohio State has had more success with star freshmen in recent years than any other Big Ten team. Sullinger may have been the best of a group that includes Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. Unlike Oden, Conley and big men B.J. Mullens and Kosta Koufos, Sullinger elected to stay for his sophomore season. As a freshman, Sullinger was a consensus All-American and the Big Ten’s first National Freshman of the Year since Michigan’s Chris Webber in 1992. Though Ohio State spent the entire season ranked in the top four, Sullinger and the Buckeyes finished their season in the Sweet 16 with a loss to Kentucky.
9. Derrick Rose, Memphis 2007-08
Stats: 14.9 points, 4.7 assists, 4.5 rebounds
His case for top freshman: Hard to believe as it is, Rose wasn’t the most decorated player on his own team as a freshman. That distinction went to All-American and Conference USA Player of the Year Chris Douglas-Roberts. Rose belongs on this list, though, as the point guard of a team that played for a national title before falling 75-68 in overtime to Kansas. Rose averaged 20.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game in the NCAA Tournament, but his missed free throws late in regulation of the title game sealed Memphis’ fate. Months later, Rose was the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft.
10. John Wall, Kentucky 2009-10
Stats: 16.6 points, 6.5 assists, 4.3 rebounds
His case for top freshman: John Calipari started at Kentucky the same way he finished his time at Memphis – with an elite one-and-done point guard. Wall followed in the footsteps of Rose and Tyreke Evans at Memphis and preceded Brandon Knight and Marquis Teague at Kentucky. In leading Kentucky to a 35-3 season, Wall was the National Freshman of the Year and the Associated Press and coaches’ pick for SEC Player of the Year (Oddly enough, teammate DeMarcus Cousins was the coaches’ pick for SEC Freshman of the Year). Wall was blocked for most National Player of the Year awards by Ohio State’s Evan Turner, but Wall did earn the Adolph Rupp Trophy. Go figure.
Honorable mention: Greg Oden, Ohio State 2006-07
Stats: 15.7 points, 9.6 rebounds
His case for top freshman: For a least a year, Oden vs. Durant was a heated debate. Durant was the consensus Player of the Year, but Oden and fellow freshman Mike Conley Jr. helped Ohio State reach the national championship game. Oden ended up going first in the NBA Draft, but it was the last time he’d have the edge over Durant, who became an NBA superstar while Oden’s pro career has been derailed by injuries. As a college player, Oden holds the distinction of being the only freshman to win National Defensive Player of the Year honors by averaging 9.6 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game.
Whether it's turnover in Toronto, sophomore superstars, or Dodger dollars, there's no shortage of storylines coming this 2013 baseball season. To get you up to speed before opening day, here's a look at everything you need to know.
1. Oh, Canada!
We could probably fill this story with 15 things to watch about the Toronto Blue Jays alone. This team begs for attention, from so many angles, and we know that at least one country will be watching closely. Rival executives have long believed that Canada’s only baseball team, backed by the Rogers Communications fortune, was a sleeping giant. Now, the Blue Jays are wide awake, with emerging young talent (Brett Lawrie), steady veterans (Mark Buehrle), power hitters (Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion) and speedsters (Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio). The Jays could have as many as three aces around Buehrle, who was part of the bounty that general manager Alex Anthopoulos extracted from the Miami Marlins in a November blockbuster. Brandon Morrow has some of the best stuff in the league, Josh Johnson is a former ERA champion, and R.A. Dickey just won the National League Cy Young Award for the Mets. The bullpen is loaded with power arms. The folksy and fiery John Gibbons is back as manager after four years away. And — oh, by the way — the revamped lineup includes Melky Cabrera, who gained a measure of infamy last season when he flunked a steroids test shortly after winning the MVP award at the All-Star Game. The San Francisco Giants refused to activate Cabrera during the postseason, yet won it all in his absence. Cabrera, who cashed in with the Jays for two years and $16 million, would be worth watching wherever he went, to see if he’s anything more than a league-average player without the juice. Here, though, he’s just one storyline on a team that seems poised to take advantage of an AL East that, for the first time in two decades, could be theirs for the taking.
2. Sophomore Stars
Every now and then, the Rookie of the Year Award winners seem destined to have a significant impact on the future of the game. Think Albert Pujols and Ichiro Suzuki in 2001, Eddie Murray and Andre Dawson in 1977, or Tom Seaver and Rod Carew in 1967. It’s been only one season, of course, but Mike Trout and Bryce Harper already have that look. Trout was the runner-up to Miguel Cabrera as the AL Most Valuable Player, putting together the best all-around season of any player in the majors, factoring in speed (an MLB-high 49 steals), power (30 homers) and his nightly highlights on defense. And he just turned 21 in August. Harper is even younger, playing his entire season before turning 20, and while his skills are not quite as advanced as Trout’s, he posted one of the best age-19 seasons in baseball history, batting .270 with 22 homers, 59 runs batted in and 18 steals, while also playing strong defense and showing exceptional instincts. Both players approach the game with passion and relentless drive, and possess such a diverse set of skills that they do something memorable every night. We never know what’s coming next from this pair, and we sure can’t wait to find out.
3. New Dimensions
The ballpark that gave up the fewest home runs last season was AT&T Park, whose tenants, the San Francisco Giants, won the World Series. Yet building a winning team in an extreme pitcher’s park has been much more challenging for the teams in the 28th- and 29th-ranked parks for home runs. The San Diego Padres (Petco Park, 28th) and the Seattle Mariners (Safeco Field, 29th) have not won much lately, and they decided after the season to move in their fences. In San Diego, the power alleys will be reduced by 12 feet in left field and nine feet in right. Another part of the right field wall will come in by 11 feet. In Seattle, the left field walls will be pulled in, in various spots, from four to 17 feet, with a four-foot reduction for much of right field. “We have been an outlier in terms of the difficulty hitting in our ballpark,” Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik says. “What we really want to be is a fair ballpark for pitchers and hitters. That’s the biggest thing.” Neither the Padres nor the Mariners (whose retractable roof does not enclose the ballpark) can do much about the cool and heavy local air, which can depress the flight of a ball. But at least their hitters won’t be as frustrated as before. Now, of course, the teams need to find hitters talented enough to take advantage. That could be a much bigger challenge.
4. Dodger Dollars
It’s been quite a debut for the new owners of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who last May paid $2.15 billion for a team emerging from bankruptcy with a payroll just over $100 million. Now the payroll is doubled, Dodger Stadium is being renovated, and the team is stuffed with TV stars. That’s no coincidence, since the Dodgers’ spending has everything to do with a lavish new deal for their cable rights. The Yankees showed the value of must-see players (who also win) on the wildly successful YES Network in New York. The Dodgers haven’t grabbed a playoff spot since 2009, so it will be fascinating to see if all their imports can come together and lead them back. Stan Kasten, the team president, promised that it would take more than dollars to win. “I always say smart beats rich,” he said. “The Yankees got as good as they are because they’re both smart and rich. We’re working on it.” All of the newcomers, even Zack Greinke, must prove the Dodgers smart for believing that their best days are in front of them, not behind them. If it turns out that the Dodgers paid Greinke for his Royals success, Carl Crawford for his Rays success and Hanley Ramirez for his Marlins success (and so on), this could turn into a big-budget Hollywood flop.
5. Hamilton’s New Home
It was time for Josh Hamilton to leave the Texas Rangers. After five seasons in which he led them to their first two World Series, the fans had turned on him, and the team made a tepid offer to bring him back. Even so, the Rangers served Hamilton well in his time there, creating an environment in which he could manage his complicated life and thrive. A hefty contract (five years, $125 million), new teammates and a ballpark that is less hitter-friendly bring challenges that Hamilton, a recovering addict, must navigate now that he’s with the Los Angeles Angels. “I have a past history of making mistakes with drugs and alcohol, drinking twice in seven years, which is not good for me,” Hamilton said after signing. “They’re going to help me with my support system to put things in place that I had with the Rangers.” If Hamilton stays clean, he will add another dangerous bat to a glittering lineup that last year added Albert Pujols from St. Louis. Splashy annual signings do not guarantee success, and the Angels are starting to look like their 1980s teams, put together largely by poaching stars like Rod Carew, Reggie Jackson and Fred Lynn from other teams. But if Hamilton makes a smooth transition, the Angels could power their way to the World Series for the first time in more than a decade.
6. Oriole Luck
The 2013 Baltimore Orioles will be a fascinating case study in luck. All last season, as they clawed to their first playoff berth in 15 years, they battled the perception that their success was a freakish product of extraordinary good fortune. Never mind that the Orioles won 93 games — their success in one-run games made them a prime candidate for a major regression, or so the thinking went. The 2012 Orioles were 29–9 in one-run games, the best winning percentage in such games for any team in the modern era. It would seem to be unsustainable, but the Orioles believe that their power (214 homers, ranking second in MLB) and dominant bullpen (3.00 ERA, ranking fifth) give them a distinct edge in close games. They lost one power hitter this winter, Mark Reynolds, but bring back four others who hit at least 22 home runs. They’ll also have a healthy Nick Markakis and will get to see heralded third baseman Manny Machado, 20, for a full season. And, of course, they retain manager Buck Showalter, the master in-game strategist, who has turned around every team he has managed but still seeks postseason glory.
7. New League for the Astros
The Houston Astros’ 51-year run as a mediocre National League franchise is over. They won a single pennant, in 2005, and were probably best known for the now-outdated innovations of artificial turf and the domed stadium. They ended their NL existence with the two worst seasons in club history, losing 106 games in 2011 and 107 last year. It’s a good time to start over, and the Astros are all about new beginnings. They move to the AL West this season, bringing a rookie manager, new uniforms and a largely anonymous and ever-shifting roster. General manager Jeff Luhnow cleaned house in his first year on the job, and former Nationals coach Bo Porter gets his first chance to lead a team. He doesn’t appear to have much talent to work with, though chances are he will find a gem or two in the massive haul of players Luhnow has acquired in trades, waiver claims and Rule 5 draft picks. Given the size of their market, their new cable revenue, and their annual high draft position, the Astros could be a power in a few years. But that time is not now, and a new batch of opponents may not be enough to bring fans back to Minute Maid Park. The Astros’ presence could boost the win totals of the A’s, the Rangers and the Angels, making it possible for both AL wild cards to come from the West Division.
8. Davey’s Farewell
Tony La Russa retired as a champion with the Cardinals in 2011, and now Washington’s Davey Johnson will try to do the same. Johnson, 70, has declared this to be his final season as a manager, after stops with the Mets, Reds, Orioles, Dodgers and, after more than a decade out of the dugout, the Nationals. He guided the Nats to their first playoff appearance last season, earning the National League Manager of the Year award but losing to St. Louis in a five-game division series. The Nationals were one strike from victory but still lost, the reverse of Johnson’s greatest moment as a manager, when his Mets came within a strike of losing the 1986 World Series, only to stage a furious Game 6 comeback against Boston. That remains Johnson’s only championship team, but he has a chance for another with the Nationals, who led the majors in wins last season (98) and added the durable veteran Dan Haren to the league’s best rotation. Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals’ ace, will have no innings restrictions this year, and Denard Span, the speedy new center fielder, adds another element to the offense. Johnson, brash as ever, welcomes the expectations for his young team. “World Series or bust, that’s probably the slogan this year,” he says. “But I’m comfortable with that.”
Six players were suspended 50 games last season for violating baseball’s steroids policy, the most since 2007. The last three to be caught — former San Francisco Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera, Oakland Athletics pitcher Bartolo Colon and San Diego Padres catcher Yasmani Grandal — tested positive for testosterone. So did the Milwaukee Brewers’ Ryan Braun, in Oct. 2011, before his suspension was overturned last spring. It seems to be no coincidence that some players believe they can successfully avoid the testers when it comes to testosterone, and Michael Weiner, the executive director of the players’ union, called it a troubling trend. He vowed in the offseason to “make sure that our deterrent on testosterone is as strong as it can be,” adding that talks were underway to improve the detection of the drug. The sagas of Braun and Cabrera, especially, were major stories in 2012, and the issue bears watching again this season — for the players caught using testosterone, or (one hopes) for the reduction in positive tests.
10. Padded Hats
Twice in the final two months of last season, a pitcher was struck in the head by a line drive. Brandon
McCarthy, then of the Athletics, suffered a skull fracture, brain contusion and epidural hemorrhage in September. The Tigers’ Doug Fister, pitching in the World Series, stayed in the game with no apparent side effects. There is no way to entirely remove the possibility of a batted ball striking a pitcher who does not have time to react, and as McCarthy and Fister showed, the effects of such a blow can vary widely. But baseball deserves credit for trying to reduce the risk. In December, ESPN reported that MLB had examined caps with interior padding and planned to send them to some pitchers for suggestions. Baseball was said to be working with six different companies on prototypes and was hoping to have samples available for pitchers to wear in spring training. Of course, that doesn’t mean pitchers will like them. The caps must be vigorously tested, and beyond that, they must be unobtrusive, since pitching depends so much on precise, repetitive movements. Baseball could try the caps on minor leaguers — the lab rats of the game — before requiring them in the big leagues. But if there’s a way to keep pitchers safer without disrupting their routines, baseball is obligated to consider it. Here’s hoping the prototypes meet with approval and help prevent a tragedy.
11. Kris Medlen
It’s rare to hear old-timers rave so enthusiastically about newcomers. But the Braves’ Kris Medlen was just that impressive late last season. “I would have liked to have played with Kris Medlen, because I do think he has a communication with a force in pitching that most of us can’t talk to,” Braves announcer Don Sutton, the Hall of Fame pitcher, said in September. “It’s an awareness, it’s a sixth sense.” Don’t blame Sutton for hyperbole; Medlen, at the time, was in the middle of an unprecedented roll. The righthander set a major league record by reeling off 23 consecutive starts in which his team won, a streak that began in 2010, stretched through Tommy John surgery and lasted through the end of the 2012 regular season. Medlen’s luck ran out in the wild card game, which he lost despite pitching well, but it will be fascinating to see if he can carry the full-season load as the Braves’ next ace, at age 27. Short and stocky — 5'10", 190 pounds — he does not look the part of a dominant starter. But that’s what he was, with a turbo changeup that helped him post a WHIP of 0.913. Had he thrown enough innings to qualify, that figure would have led both leagues. Not just last year, either — but in each of the last eight seasons.
12. Will Anyone Show Up in Miami?
The Marlins bet big on 2012, and when everything went wrong, owner Jeffrey Loria gave up. There’s no other way to say it. The grand vision of a high-payroll team managed by Ozzie Guillen was given just one season to succeed, before the front office went into the franchise’s default mode and slashed the payroll. The champions of 1997 and 2003 were gutted, piece by piece, and so it is again. Fans in South Florida were already skeptical of Loria, who had promised things would change if only the taxpayers would build him a stadium. Now that he has it, and has slid back so quickly into a major rebuild, the sense of betrayal is greater than ever. Attendance — which reached only 12th in the league last year — seems certain to sink back to last, where it was each season from 2006 through 2011. Loria, of course, should be used to intimate gatherings at his ballparks. He also presided over the final years of the Montreal Expos, and he seems determined to once again turn a nice profit as a welfare case while driving another franchise into oblivion.
13. Royal Contenders
When Darryl Motley caught Andy Van Slyke’s fly ball to win Game 7 of the 1985 World Series for the Royals, a young Dayton Moore was there, watching from a hillside along I-70 as his favorite team reached the pinnacle. Moore, who was 18 then, could not have known that the Royals would never return — not even to the playoffs, let alone the World Series — for at least 27 years. As general manager of the Royals, it’s Moore’s job to get Kansas City back to being a contender, and as he approaches his seventh year there, the time is now. The Royals won only 72 games last year, their 17th losing season in the last 18. But Moore has positioned them to contend now, acquiring four starting pitchers since the 2012 All-Star break — Jeremy Guthrie, Ervin Santana, James Shields and Wade Davis. The last two came from Tampa Bay in a controversial December trade that cost the Royals the Minor League Player of the Year, outfielder Wil Myers, and three other prospects. The hope is that homegrown young players like Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas will blossom this season, while homegrown veterans who have signed long-term deals, like Billy Butler and Alex Gordon, continue to do their thing. It’s a risky bet, because young, cost-efficient players like Myers are the lifeblood of a small-market franchise. But the Royals are tired of losing, and Shields sees parallels to his former team. “They definitely remind me of our ’07 season going into our ’08 season, in the Rays’ organization,” Shields says. “I think there’s a good possibility we can step in that direction.” The Royals will be overjoyed if that happens; the Rays won the pennant in 2008 and have contended ever since.
14. Bert to the Desert
If you’ve seen “Baseball Tonight” on ESPN (and since you’re reading this magazine, we’ll assume you have), you know Steve Berthiaume, the host who skillfully combines irreverence with insight. Now he’s the play-by-play man for the Arizona Diamondbacks, giving real baseball lovers another reason to stay up late for those telecasts out West. It’s a treat to hear Vin Scully call the Dodgers and Dick Enberg behind the Padres’ microphone, two old pros still going strong whose familiar sound takes us back through the decades. Berthiaume is just a rookie in this role, with little play-by-play experience, but we’re willing to bet that he’s a rising star whose deep appreciation of the game will make him a fixture on our televisions for a generation. The Diamondbacks might not be the most interesting team in the National League West, but Berthiaume will make them worth watching.
15. Three Injured Yanks
Few players have had as much impact on baseball in the last decade and a half as Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Alex Rodriguez, and each has undergone major surgery since his last game. Jeter’s season ended in the dirt near second base in Game 1 of the ALCS, when he broke his ankle stretching for a ground ball. Rivera’s ended in May, on the warning track in Kansas City, when he tore his right ACL chasing a fly ball in batting practice. Rodriguez learned after the season that he needed surgery on his left hip. Jeter and Rivera are scheduled to be recovered in time for Opening Day, while Rodriguez is likely out until June. How will Jeter, already limited in range, handle another year in the field at shortstop? How will Rivera, at age 43, respond to the longest break from pitching in his career? And will the rapidly deteriorating Rodriguez be able to summon any of his past greatness, or is he destined to be an albatross for the Yankees in the final five years — yes, five years — of his contract? No athlete, no matter how successful, is guaranteed a fairy-tale ending. And few will be scrutinized as closely as these Yankees.
—by Tyler Kepner
This weekend provides a rare off day on the jam-packed NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule, but that doesn’t mean analysis will stop. After five races, there is a litany of story-telling statistics in a series that continues to one-up itself, to the delight of news desks everywhere.
Secondary to all the controversial opinions, fighting and crashing, the most popular driver in the sport is the one sitting atop the NASCAR mountain. Dale Earnhardt Jr. leads the point standings, which, as you will read below, is well deserved.
4.4 and 2.3 Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his No. 88 team lead full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competitors in average finish (4.4) and finish deviation (2.3).
What does this mean? Earnhardt is the most consistent driver in the series right now — a zero deviation would mean the same finish over and over — while bringing home tremendous results. Junior Nation should be rejoicing, because that isn’t just the sort of thing that gets a driver to the Chase; what Earnhardt and his Steve Letarte-led race team are doing are habits of potential champions.
+54.2% Earnhardt’s finishes are an increase of 54.2 percent over his average running position with 10 percent of a race to go.
That plus-54.2 percent position retainment difference is another habit of a title contender. That increase is worth about 26 positions — think of that as 26 extra points — earned in the waning laps of each race. On fresh tires, Earnhardt navigated through a firestorm of activity last Sunday at Auto Club Speedway, driving from 13th to second in the final 20 laps for his most lucrative home-stretch run of the season.
100% Four teams in the Cup Series have finished in the top half of fields in all five races for a relevance percentage of 100.
“Relevance” is finishing in the top half of fields (21st or better in the Cup Series). This is important because hitting the 80 percent mark through the 26-race regular season all but lands a team one of the 10 automatic Chase spots. Of the four driver-team combinations currently with perfect relevance percentages, two of them aren’t surprises (Earnhardt and the No. 88 team and Greg Biffle with his No. 16 team) and two sort of are (Paul Menard and the No. 27 team and rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and the new-look No. 17 team). It is no coincidence that all four teams are currently inside the top 12 of the point standings at this juncture.
41 The No. 16 team with Greg Biffle has gone 41 races without registering a DNF (Did Not Finish, a status frequently used in NASCAR box scores to indicate why a driver finished so poorly).
In today’s NASCAR, with Chase implications attached to every position gained or lost, consistency matters. That starts with finishing races, which is something Biffle and crew chief Matt Puccia have done in their sleep over the last year. Their most recent DNF was an engine failure in the 2011 season finale at Homestead, so credit the Roush Yates engine department for holding strong behind one of Ford’s best entries. Biffle himself deserves a tip of the cap for being able to avoid accidents well enough to go 76 races without an accident-related DNF.
For 15 years, Fontana has played the role of weird aunt in the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule. You know the one. It’s who you have to suck it up and speak with every reunion even though the hug creeps you out, she believes aliens live on the street corner and “didn’t you just do the cutest thing you don’t remember when you were four.” Extended conversation makes you sleepy … or suicidal.
That, in a nutshell, is what watching every race scheduled at this two-mile oval has been like. (The fact Jimmie Johnson, criticized for his cookie-cutter personality on camera, is the all-time winner here speaks volumes.) But Sunday, in the midst of NCAA basketball’s showcase weekend, stock cars created a miracle all their own. For perhaps the first time in an L.A. market dominated by movie stars, an unscripted Hollywood race car finish became the talk of the town. Suddenly, a track that lost one of its two dates on the schedule becomes — dare I say it? — a “must see event” in 2014, one that puts someone like Tom Cruise back in attendance and not just some “D” level star from a movie you never heard of dropping the green flag.
If NASCAR’s Gen-6 car can make the weird aunt normal and relevant in the midst of another sport’s heyday, then the potential is there for sustained success. Let’s go “Through the Gears” on how it got to this point …
FIRST GEAR: NASCAR rivalries make or break this sport.
Denny Hamlin. Joey Logano. A finish so impressive, we need to watch it again. For a first-timer, that ending is exciting enough. But anyone who watches a lick of NASCAR racing will tell you their heart was pounding, regardless of who they root for, long before the white flag. Knowing the two went at it at Bristol, sparking a soap opera week of light shoving, Twitter tantrums and unaccepted apologies, the last 10 minutes came paired with a strong sense of anticipation. You just knew something was going to happen, with drama down the stretch providing that “hook” which takes a fan’s interest another level.
The spark of those rivalries (what drives that other March Madness) is what had been missing from NASCAR in recent years. Sure, we’ve had Brad Keselowski, the reigning champ and his “I don’t get no respect!” routine, but his main adversary (Johnson) won’t even turn on the jets to respond until September. The sport needed an ending with this type of spark, a reminder its A-list stars won’t always “go through the motions” when they’re sitting with a good points day in the spring.
As for where we go from here? Clearly, Logano has been listening to everyone from Keselowski to the media who say he needs to stand up for himself. But while any wreck can turn tragic, there’s a major difference between speeds at Bristol or Martinsville and Fontana, where 200-plus mph is not uncommon. Sure, Penske Racing’s newbie was doing all it took, fighting for victory just like he should. But there was a point, in the midst of Turns 3 and 4, where the game changed and Logano made a choice. Hamlin, on the top line, had fresher tires and the angle off the turn — and was in position to take the checkers (or finish second to Kyle Busch). At that point, Logano could have backed off; a wreck did neither one any good. But he didn’t, causing the incident and the comments afterwards make it sound like the action was clearly intentional. “Now we’re even,” he said on the radio before following up with a “that’s what he gets” to a crowd of reporters while Hamlin was being loaded up in an ambulance.
Yes, I know we have to remember the guy is only 22 years old. Unfortunately, after three-plus years in the Cup Series and paired with one of the sport’s most prestigious owners, Logano doesn’t get the luxury of being immature. What would have happened there if Hamlin was seriously hurt … or worse? (He was kept overnight, for hospitalization complaining of back pain.) Nationwide Series driver Michael Annett is out for 6-8 weeks after being injured at these types of speeds; you can’t just “assume” the cars will be safe.
I see a classic case of overreaction here. A young driver reeling from comments he’s too passive and feeling he needs to make up for it immediately in one full swoop. Problem is, it doesn’t work like that. Earning respect is a gradual thing, and judging by Tony Stewart’s comments after the checkered flag — championed by many peers on Twitter — Logano just isn’t quite there.
“It’s time he learns a lesson,” Stewart said. “He’s run his mouth long enough … he’s nothing but a little rich kid that’s never had to work in his life. He’s going to learn what us working guys who had to work our way up (know about)how it works.”
SECOND GEAR: Smoke is blowing Smoke, well, everywhere.
Those comments from Stewart, a three-time champ, came 10 minutes after an interview peppered with enough profanity to spice up anyone’s Sunday. Somewhere in between the bleeps was a simple message for Logano: I’m going to tear you in two.
But the car owner, more than anything, is just frustrated. As we spoke about last week, his slow start is even slower than usual and a block by Logano on the final restart robbed the No. 14 car of its momentum. That left him drifting outside the top 20, on a day where a top-5 result could have kept him from digging a deeper hole. Now he sits 22nd in the point standings, 37 markers behind 10th-place Hamlin and with some tracks ahead (Martinsville, Texas) where he’s not a surefire favorite.
With that said, seeing the Stewart of old, the rogue entertainer who once got fined regularly for “telling it like it is,” was a refreshing sight to see — even if his thought process was irrational. I seem to remember a Chase wreck at Talladega last fall caused in part by a Stewart block. Wasn’t Logano doing the same thing, making a whatever-it-takes move to win the race? It’s hard to be disrespectful on a restart that late in a race when you’re running for first place.
Sometimes a coach inherits a bad team or steps into a program where the university simply does not invest in basketball. In some cases, through recruiting, Xs and Os and inspiration, that coach can turn a bad team into a good or even great one.
The guys on this list are not those coaches. Here are the 20 worst coaching tenures in the six major conference since the NCAA Tournament expanded in 1985.
WORST COACHING TENURES IN MAJOR CONFERENCES SINCE 1984-85
1. Dave Bliss, Baylor
Record: 61-57, 19-45 Big 12
Before his undoing at Baylor, Bliss took three teams to the NCAA Tournament (Oklahoma, SMU and New Mexico), but his downfall at Baylor remains one of college athletics biggest disgraces. One player, Carlton Dotson, pleaded guilty to murdering teammate Patrick Dennehy in 2003, and Bliss' actions in the aftermath did not help an already tragic situation. Bliss was found to have paid part of Dennehy’s tuition and that of another player (both NCAA violations), and then asked an assistant and players to lie to investigators about the payment, saying Dennehy had been dealing drugs. That, among other NCAA and recruiting violations put Baylor under harsh sanctions through 2010. On the court, Baylor had one winning season and never finished better than 6-10 in the Big 12.
2. Bob Wade, Maryland
Record: 36-50, 7-35 ACC
Wade took over after the drug-related death of All-American Len Bias, who had just been drafted second overall by the Boston Celtics. With an academic scandal at the end of coach Lefty Driesell’s tenure as well, Wade did not take over in College Park under ideal circumstance when he was hired from the high school ranks from Baltimore Dunbar. After three seasons, including two where Maryland went 0-16 and 1-14 in the ACC, Wade resigned amid his own allegations of NCAA violations. He was replaced by Gary Williams, who resuscitated the program and won 461 games with the Terps.
3. Bob Staak, Wake Forest
Record: 45-69, 8-48 ACC
Staak took over for Paul Tacy, who had reached the postseason in five consecutive years (three pre-expansion NCAAs, two NITs) before Staak arrived. The former Xavier coach and Connecticut player went 8-21 and winless in the ACC in his first season and never won more than three conference games during his four years at Wake. He resigned amid an NCAA inquiry into recruiting violations and was replaced by Dave Odom, who would lead the Demon Deacons to their most successful era in the 1990s and early 2000s.
4. Bill Foster, Northwestern
Record: 54-141, 13-113 Big Ten
The only program from a major conference not to have reached the NCAA Tournament, Northwestern has had its share of futile coaching tenures. Foster’s, though, was the worst. The Wildcats finished in last place in six of his seven seasons, went 2-16 in the Big Ten five times and winless once. His successor, the late Ricky Byrdsong, reached the NIT in his first season with Northwestern. And interesting footnote: Foster also preceded Mike Krzyzewski at Duke.
5. Paul Graham, Washington State
Record: 31-79, 9-63 Pac-10
The Cougars aren’t known for their basketball success, but before Graham, Washington State built a solid program under Kelvin Sampson and reached the NIT under Kevin Eastman. After Graham, Dick Bennett and son Tony Bennett built Washington State into an NCAA Tournament team. A rash of play departures also didn’t help Graham’s short-lived tenure at Wazzu.
6. Jeff Bzdelik, Wake Forest
Record: 34-60, 11-39 ACC
Bzdelik has coached in the NBA and took Air Force to the NCAA Tournament in 2006, so it’s a mystery why Bzdelik has had such meager results at a program that has been a consistent power in the ACC. The Demon Deacons have had their share of player departures, due to transfers and off-court issues, so those are possible reasons. That said, Bzdelik had more ACC wins in his third season (six) than he did in his first two combined (five).
7. Sidney Lowe, NC State
Record: 86-78, 25-55 ACC
Hopes were high that Lowe, a former NC State player and longtime NBA assistant, would help the Wolfpack take the next step after an unspectacular run under Herb Sendek. As NC State learned, things weren’t so bad under Sendek, who reached the NCAA Tournament in each of his last five seasons in Raleigh. Lowe recruited well, but the results didn’t come on the court as NC State never won more than six ACC games in a season and finished ninth or lower each year. Successor Mark Gottfried, however, took advantage of the influx of talent under Lowe with a Sweet 16 appearance in his first season.
8. Melvin Watkins, Texas A&M
Record: 60-112, 21-75 Big 12
Watkins’ predecessor, Tony Barone, also was a candidate for this list, which says something about the Aggies’ basketball program in the ‘90s. Watkins, though, capped his tenure in College Station with a winless Big 12 season and a 7-21 overall record. The Aggies won 10 or fewer games three times in his six seasons. If there was a silver lining, Watkins did bring Acie Law and Antoine Wright to Texas A&M. Under Law and Gillispie, Texas A&M reached the NIT in 2005 and the Sweet 16 in 2007.
9. Brian Mahoney, St. John’s
Record: 56-58, 29-43 Big East
After the departure of the program’s most successful coach, St. John’s promoted assistant Brian Mahoney to replace Lou Carnesecca, but Mahoney turned out to be the first coach in a line of four who weren’t able to restore St. John’s to the glory days. Mahoney reached the NCAA Tournament in his first season, but reached only one NIT in the three seasons thereafter. Mahoney went 17-37 in the Big East.
10. Matt Doherty, North Carolina
Record: 53-43, 23-25 ACC
Doherty played for Dean Smith at North Carolina and was a teammate of Michael Jordan’s. Those were better days for the Tar Heels. Doherty went 26-7 and 13-3 in the ACC in his first season taking over for Bill Guthridge, but he went 27-36 and 10-22 in conference the following two seasons. During his short-lived tenure, Doherty clashed with Guthridge and Smith by replacing longtime assistants and ran off players with his abrasive style. In North Carolina’s second attempt to pursue Roy Williams, the Tar Heels landed him to replace Doherty in 2003. With some of Doherty’s recruits, Williams won a national title in 2005.
11. Eddie Payne, Oregon State
Record: 50-90, 20-70 Pac-10
Since the retirement of Ralph Miller in 1989 until the hire of current coach Craig Robinson, none of the coaches in Corvallis had distinguished tenures. Payne’s best season was 7-11 in the Pac-10, but the Beavers went 3-15 in conference or worse in three of his five seasons.
12. Billy Gillispie, Kentucky
Record: 40-27, 20-12 SEC
Hopes were high for Texas A&M’s Gillispie he took over for Tubby Smith, a national title coach who never wowed the Kentucky fan base. A first-round loss in the NCAA Tournament to Marquette followed by an NIT ended his tenure in Lexington after only two seasons.
13. Larry Shyatt, Clemson
Record: 70-84, 20-60 ACC
Shyatt took over after a successful run under Rick Barnes and was replaced by Oliver Purnell, who remade the Tigers into a postseason contender. In between, Shyatt had only two winning seasons and never finished better than 5-11 in the ACC.
14. Jerry Wainwright, DePaul
Record: 59-80, 20-51 Big East
DePaul clearly was not ready to be competitive in the Big East and had long since fallen behind in recruiting the Chicago area. An Illinois native, Wainwright couldn’t help matters. He was fired midway through the 2009-10 season amid a stretch in which DePaul went 1-35 in Big East games.
15. Fred Hill, Rutgers
Record: 47-77, 13-57 Big East
Like Jerry Wainwright and DePaul, Rutgers hoped Hill’s local ties would help revive a moribund Big East program. Hill signed McDonald's All-American Mike Rosario (who later transferred to Florida), but he never won more than five Big East games in four losing seasons at Rutgers. Hill caused further problems for his program when he got into a shouting match with the Pittsburgh baseball coach after a game between the two schools (Hill’s father is the Rutgers baseball coach). Hill disobeyed his athletic director by attending later games in the series, a development that played a role in his ouster.
16. Jeff Bzdelik, Colorado
Record: 36-58, 10-38 Big 12
Bzdelik makes his second appearance on the list. Again, he won at Air Force and coached in the NBA, but he couldn’t manage a winning season at Colorado. Successor Tad Boyle, meanwhile, took over to lead the Buffaloes to back-to-back postseason appearances.
17. Todd Lickliter, Iowa
Record: 38-57, 15-39
Perhaps a cautionary sign for Brad Stevens that the grass isn’t always greener. Lickliter left Butler after a Sweet 16 appearance for a failed tenure with the Hawkeyes. Iowa was a postseason regular under four coaches since the late ‘70s, but the Hawkeyes finished eighth or lower in the Big Ten each season under Lickliter.
18. Ricky Stokes, Virginia Tech
Record: 29-55, 10-38 Big East
The above record does not include Stokes’ first season when the Hokies were a member of the Atlantic 10, which was also his only winning season (16-15) in Blacksburg. Virginia Tech was already struggling before joining the Big East as a basketball member in 2000, so the Hokies’ first three seasons in the league were no big surprise.
19. Jay John, Oregon State
Record: 72-97, 28-69 Pac-10
Again, Oregon State has never been an easy basketball job since and hasn't been a consistent winner since the '80s. John led Oregon State to its first postseason appearance in 15 years when the Beavers went to the NIT in 2005. But four years later he also laid the groundwork for a 6-25 season in which the Beavers went winless in Pac-10 play. John did not finish that season, however, as he was fired after 18 games.
20. Darrin Horn, South Carolina
Record: 60-63, 23-41 SEC
In his first season, Horn led South Carolina to its first SEC winning record in 11 years, but it was downhill from there. The Gamecocks' overall and conference record declined in each of Horn’s final three seasons, bottoming out at 10-21 overall and 2-14 in the SEC last season.
1. Strong start, but when does Dale Earnhardt Jr. win?
Depending on how you judge these things, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is off to the most impressive start to a NASCAR Sprint Cup season in his career. The claim comes with Earnhardt, now second in the point standings, putting together his best average finish (5.0) after four races since he started full-time in 2000.
Or, you could say that it's just been a really consistent start for NASCAR's top-billed man that rivals the start he worked in 2004. That season, he won the Daytona 500 and the season's fourth race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in a start only derailed by a miserable day at Las Vegas in the season's third race.
Each, of course, has their merits. But only one — the incredibly consistent current campaign — matters now. It also begs the question we've asked of Earnhardt plenty in the last half decade: when he is going to win?
A trip to Auto Club Speedway for Earnhardt may provide that answer. It's a track that he both welcomes as a driver's venue and one where he's shown moderate past success. It doesn't hurt that four of the last nine races have been won by Hendrick Motorsports.
"You can run the bottom; you can run on the apron; you can run on the top. It’s a very fun racetrack to drive," Earnhardt said. "And so I’ve got a good attitude about it. I think Steve (Letarte, crew chief) is going to give me a good car. We ran good last year because Steve gave me a good car.”
Earnhardt was scored third last year when rain ended the race on lap 129, good for his fourth top 5 at ACS in 20 career starts.
"There are opportunities to pass when you run a guy down, you can change the line you’re running and get some clean air on your car," Earnhardt said. "You feel confident that if you do the right thing and drive the car well, that you can make a pass. I love that about that racetrack."
2. Toyota still waiting on the checkers to blow their way.
Another Sprint Cup entity hoping to break in to the win column Sunday is a bit larger than even Earnhardt. Toyota, winners of the last nine Nationwide Series races contested at ACS, has yet to find Victory Lane in a Sprint Cup car at the southern California speedway that stands closest to the Torrence, Calif.-based Toyota Racing Development facility where all TRD engines and other parts are manufactured for Toyota teams.
To do so Sunday, they'll have to break a five-race streak of wins held by the Chevrolet camp in NASCAR's top division. Helping the cause will be the addition of Matt Kenseth to the Toyota fold. The former Roush Fenway Racing Ford driver has three wins in Fontana. Kenseth, already a winner at Las Vegas two weeks ago, appeared on pace to grab another before Jeff Gordon's flat tire forced his exit at Bristol last week.
Kenseth will be pushed by his teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing. Denny Hamlin was running second last year until an ill-advised pit stop as rain closed in on the track dropped him back in the pack to finish 11th. Kyle Busch was also plenty strong a year ago at ACS, leading 80 of 129 completed laps before taking second to Tony Stewart.
“We’ve had really fast race cars everywhere we’ve gone so far. Fontana is another place where I’ve always fared well over the years, and I’m hoping we can finally get that victory we’ve been looking for this weekend," Busch said.
From eight United States presidents to Mark Zuckerberg, no Harvard student ever watched the Crimson win an NCAA Tournament game until Thursday.
Harvard scored the biggest upset of the first day of the 2013 NCAA Tournament by defeating Mountain West regular season and tournament champion New Mexico 68-62.
As Belmont, Bucknell and South Dakota State were trendy upset picks entering the Tourney, a young Harvard team flew under the radar to defeat the 29-6 Lobos. Harvard, which had an NCAA Tournament drought from 1947-2011, rarely trailed in its first NCAA Tournament victory, turning a Final Four contender into the first major upset victim of the season.
In other key developments from the NCAA Tournament on Thursday:
After Harvard, limited upsets.
Belmont, Bucknell, Davidson and South Dakota State all looked like teams primed for key NCAA wins. But other than Davidson, all lost by significant margins Thursday. Butler was overwhelmed by Arizona’s talent advantage, Butler neutralized Bucknell’s Mike Muscala, and Michigan’s supporting cast of Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III more than made up for the stalemate between Trey Burke and Nate Wolters. Marquette needed late-game heroics to defeat Davidson, so score four for the big teams.
Pac-12 acquits itself
Remember when 12-5 upsets used to be a big deal? Not when two of those teams finished in the top four of the Pac-12. Cal and Oregon answered for their lackluster seeding by defeating No. 5 seeds in the first round. Oregon made easy work of Oklahoma State while Cal defeated a UNLV team that struggled to find its offense for most of the game.
Routs for VCU, Syracuse
VCU’s 88-42 win over Akron wasn’t a shock, given the Zips’ limitations with a suspended starting point guard and two key players recovering from the flu. VCU’s 46-point win was the largest in NCAA Tournament history by a team seeded No. 3 or lower for a few hours before No. 4 Syracuse defeated Montana 81-34.
The 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit heads back out west for the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. To help guide you through the 2013 Fantasy NASCAR season, Athlon Sports contributor Dustin Long will be offering his best predictions for each race. And because Yahoo's Fantasy Auto Racing game is arguably the most popular, he’ll break down the picks according to its NASCAR driver classes — A-List, B-List, C-List.
So, without further ado, Dustin's fantasy predictions for Auto Club — or California, if you prefer — ranked according to each driver's likelihood of taking the checkered flag — or at least finishing toward the front:
1. Jimmie Johnson
Why would you take anyone else this week? He has 10 consecutive top-10 finishes at Auto Club Speedway (average finish of 3.3 during that stretch) and has led laps in each of those races. He had an average finish of 3.0 in the first three races of the season and was headed for another top 10 before a blown tire sent him into the wall late at Bristol last week.
2. Matt Kenseth
He’s why you might want to pick someone else. Kenseth won at Las Vegas two weeks ago in the first test of the new car at a track where horsepower and aerodynamics matter (just like Auto Club Speedway). He had a teammate finish in the top five at Vegas, showing the strength of Joe Gibbs Racing on the big tracks. He’s also led more miles (323) than any other driver this season.
3. Brad Keselowski
Then again, there’s this guy. Keselowski has not finished worse than fourth in any of the first four races this season, collecting a bevy of points for those who put him on their team. He’s also led laps in each race this year.
4. Kasey Kahne
Finished second at Las Vegas and then won at Bristol. Has shown speed this season and that’s a good sign for Auto Club where he’s finished 14th, ninth and fourth in his last three starts.
5. Kevin Harvick
Has five consecutive top-10 finishes at this track, including a win in 2011 when he passed Johnson on the last lap.
6. Tony Stewart
Rallied late to finish 11th at Las Vegas after his car was awful in the first half of the race. Never had a chance at Bristol with a flat tire that sent him into the wall early. Needs a strong race this weekend and he’s coming to the right track. He’s won two of the last three at Auto Club.
7. Clint Bowyer
Both top-10 finishes this season have come at tracks one mile or less. Although he finished 27th at Las Vegas, his teammates placed eighth and 14th, showing that Michael Waltrip Racing could have some success at Auto Club.
8. Denny Hamlin
The center of controversy the past two weeks (NASCAR fine, Joey Logano dust-up), Auto Club has presented mixed results. He won the pole last year but has finished outside the top 10 in three of his last four races there.
9. Jeff Gordon
Was the only Hendrick driver who struggled at Las Vegas two weeks ago. Was never a factor, finishing 25th. Misfortune struck at Bristol, blowing a tire and crashing while leading. Needs a strong run or risks falling further behind the leaders in the points, but he’s finished 18th or worse in three of his last four starts in Fontana.
1. Kyle Busch
Finished fourth at Las Vegas and led 27 laps, showing the strength of a team with a new car in its first race at a big track. Also has been good at Auto Club Speedway, finishing in the top three the past two years there. Overall, he has six top-five finishes in 15 career starts.
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Has finished in the top 10 in each of the first four races of the season for the first time in his career, rewarding those who have put him on their team. Placed seventh at Las Vegas but knew they were a little off compared to the leaders. Will he close the gap this week? He finished third in Fontana last year.
3. Carl Edwards
Finished fifth at Las Vegas and now comes to a track where he’s placed in the top 5 in seven of his 15 career starts, one of the best marks among active drivers.
4. Martin Truex Jr.
Placed eighth at Las Vegas two weeks ago. Has finished in the top 10 in 10 of the last 11 races at non-restrictor-plate tracks of 1.5-miles and larger since last season.
5. Mark Martin
Back after taking Bristol off. Started third last year and finished 12th at Auto Club.
6. Ryan Newman
Has finished seventh or better in his last three starts in Fontana. When he’s made it to the finish he’s placed in the top 10 this season, but that’s happened only twice. In the other two races he was eliminated because of an accident or a blown engine.
7. Joey Logano
Certainly ran better than he finished at Bristol. He thought he was better than his 12th-place finish at Las Vegas but a pit road speeding penalty hurt him there. Can he avoid trouble and show where he can finish?
8. Kurt Busch
His fourth-place finish at Bristol last week was only the fourth top-five finish for Furniture Row Racing in 203 career starts. Busch has four top 10s in his last six starts at Auto Club Speedway, including a ninth-place finish in last year’s rain-shortened event with the underfunded Phoenix Racing team.
9. Greg Biffle
Auto Club Speedway has not been the best place for him. Although he finished sixth last year, he has placed outside the top 10 in eight of the last 12 races there.
10. Paul Menard
This marks the fourth consecutive year he’s been in the top 10 in points after four races — the only driver to accomplish that feat. Was 10th at Las Vegas, but Auto Club has not been as good to him. He’s never finished in the top 10 in 10 starts at the 2-mile oval.
11. Aric Almirola
Placed 16th at Las Vegas two weeks ago. He and Richard Petty Motorsports have shown greater success on the bigger tracks, going back to the end of last season.
12. Marcos Ambrose
Has finished between 18th and 22nd in each of his four starts this season.
13. Jeff Burton
Has one top-10 finish in his last seven starts at Auto Club Speedway. Has finished on the lead lap only once this year, placing 10th at Phoenix.
14. Jamie McMurray
His 10th-place finish at Bristol last week was his first top 10 in the last 26 races, dating back to last year. Has not finished in the top 10 in his last 11 starts at Auto Club Speedway.
15. Juan Pablo Montoya
Has not had a top-10 finish in his last 25 starts, dating back to an eighth-place finish at Michigan in June.
16. Bobby Labonte
Has finished better than 20th only twice in his last 15 starts at Auto Club Speedway.
“Humdrum” is a word typically used to describe the racing action at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. The two-mile Michigan clone was originally designed — it has received some touch-up work since being completed in 1997 — to be optimal for IndyCar-style race cars. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race might not offer much in terms of outright excitement, but there are some meaningful story lines hidden within a four-race sample size of advanced metrics.
Several driver and teams need a good outing — two of them are mentioned below — to right a wrong or two from earlier races this season. The hottest driver in the sport typically leaves California under a deluge of disappointment. As usual, if we focus on the stories behind the numbers, the overall game becomes far more intriguing.
7.000 After four races, Brad Keselowski has the highest Production in Equal Equipment Rating (PEER) — a measure of a driver’s on-track production in an “all equipment even” scenario — in the Cup Series with a 7.000 rating.
The last time the No. 2 Penske Racing entry was this good, it was 1993, Rusty Wallace was the driver and the car was probably running on traction control. Keselowski’s bunch is a little more buttoned up, allowing him to capitalize on driving for the most consistent-finishing team in the Cup Series (a finish deviation of 0.6; a zero deviation is perfectly consistent). Keselowski has earned pairs of fourths and thirds to comprise his 3.5-place average finish, two of which were on tracks at which he has previously been a mundane producer (Phoenix and Las Vegas). Even more amazing is that the team has finished higher than its average running positions — 18th at Daytona, seventh at Phoenix, fifth at Las Vegas and ninth at Bristol — in each race. The team is frighteningly strong, but the ever-improving driver is earning his keep.
-1.188 Keselowski ranks 48th out of 49 drivers in PEER at Auto Club Speedway after averaging a finish of 22.8 in his only four Cup Series starts at the facility.
So yes, a driver off to a tremendous start to the season comes up against racetrack that has historically been a buzz killer for him. Something is sure to change on Sunday.
15.4 The start to Kasey Kahne’s 2013 season is 15.4 positions better than his first four-race effort last year.
To think that Kahne has essentially cut his average finish after four races in half is pretty nutty, though, when he was averaging a 29.8-place result following Bristol last year, it too was unfathomable for the consistently strong producer. To be fair, his win last Sunday and his second-place outing at Las Vegas are carrying his current 14.5-place average and his 16.5 finish deviation is the fourth-least consistent in the series. Kahne’s start to the season isn’t as explosive as Keselowski’s jump out of the starting blocks, but it is a foundation on which to build and can allow Kahne and his crew to focus more comfortably on Chase preparation rather than digging out of a hole created by spinning its tires at the start of a new year.
The 75th NCAA Tournament will be played in 2013. Athlon Sports celebrates the 75th edition of March Madness with 75 facts about the Tourney over the years:
The first NCAA Tournament in 19391 was overshadowed by the NIT at the time. The first Tournament included eight teams with Oregon defeating Ohio State 46-33 in the final in Evanston, Ill.2 Dr. James Naismith, who wrote basketball’s original 13 rules, was in attendance.3
A moneymaker now for the NCAA, the first Tourney operated at a $2,531 loss.4
City College of New York, which would see its program fall apart after revelations of point shaving and altered academic records for recruits, became the only team to win the NCAA Tournament and NIT in the same season in 1950.5 Teams were limited to one postseason tournament by 1953.6
The NCAA’s first national television broadcast contract was signed in 1963 to air the championship game for $140,000 on the creatively named Sports Network.7 The latest television contract to broadcast every game was signed with CBS and Turner Broadcasting for $10.8 billion for 14 years.8
The highest-rated NCAA Tournament game was the championship game showdown between Michigan State’s Magic Johnson and Indiana State’s Larry Bird in 1979, gaining a 24.1 rating.9
The most-watched game in terms of actual television sets was Duke’s second consecutive NCAA title in 1992 when the Blue Devils defeated Michigan and the Fab Five. The game reached more than 20.9 million homes.10
The term “final four” was coined in 1975 by the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Ed Chay.11 The NCAA capitalized the Final Four three years later.12
The NCAA registered a trademark for the term March Madness in 2001.13 The NCAA also registered a trademark for Big Dance in 2000.14
UCLA owns the most NCAA championships with 11,15 followed by Kentucky (eight16), Indiana and North Carolina (five each17). The Tar Heels have the most Final Four appearances with 18.18
BYU has made the most NCAA Tournament appearances without a Final Four (2719).
Schools who won titles under another name: Oklahoma State (as Oklahoma A&M in 1945-46 20) and UTEP (as Texas Western in 1966 21).
Great nicknames for championship teams: The Fabulous Five (1948 Kentucky22), The Fiddlin’ Five (1958 Kentucky 23), Danny and the Miracles (1988 Kansas24).
Great nicknames for national runners-up: Rupp’s Runts (1966 Kentucky25), Phi Slama Jama (1983-84 Houston26) and The Fab Five (1992-93 Michigan27).
Notable expansions in NCAA Tournament history: The Tournament started with eight teams in 193928 and expanded to 1629 in 1951. In 1975, the Tournament permitted conferences to send more than one team to the field when the event expanded to 32 teams.30 Further expansions included 48 teams in 198031, 52 teams in 198332, 64 teams in 198533 and 68 teams in 2011.34
The lowest-seeded team to win a title was Rollie Massimino’s Villanova Wildcats in 1985 in the first season after the field was expanded to 64.35 Every title winner since 1998 has been seeded third or higher.36
A No. 16 seed has never defeated a No. 1 seed.37
A No. 15 seed had not defeated a No. 2 seed from 2002-11 before two No. 15 seeds won on the same day in 2012 (Norfolk State over Missouri,38 Lehigh over Duke39). Four other No. 15 seeds have upset No. 2 seeds: Richmond over Syracuse in 199140, Santa Clara over Arizona in 199341, Coppin State over South Carolina in 199742 and Hampton over Iowa State in 2001.43
UCLA’s John Wooden holds the records for the most national championships (10)44, Final Four appearances (12)45, consecutive Final Four appearances (nine).46
The only major Final Four-related coaching record Wooden doesn’t hold is winning percentage, held by Indiana’s Branch McCracken with a 4-0 record in 1940 and ‘53.47 Wooden is second with a winning percentage of 87.5 (21-3).48
McCracken is also the youngest coach to win a title at 31 years old, nine months and 21 days old in 1940.49 Recently retired Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun became the oldest coach to win a title in 2011 at 68 years, 10 months and 22 days.50
Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim will make his 30th NCAA Tournament appearance this season, extending his own record.51
Only two coaches have taken three teams to the Final Four. They both won national titles at Kentucky, and they’re now in-state rivals: Rick Pitino52 (Providence, Kentucky, Louisville) and John Calipari53 (UMass, Memphis, Kentucky).
This season, Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger will be the first coach to take five teams to the NCAA Tournament when his current team makes the field. He’s also made appearances with Kansas State, Florida, Illinois and UNLV.54
Two coaches have won national titles as both a coach and a player: Bob Knight55 and Dean Smith.56
Two coaches won a national title in their final collegiate games: Wooden (1975)57, Marquette’s Al McGuire (1977).58 Larry Brown was on this list, winning a title with Kansas in 1988, but he returned to the college game this season at SMU.59
Larry Brown is the only coach to win both an NCAA title and an NBA title.60
Duke’s Christian Laettner has scored more points than anyone in the history of the NCAA Tournament with 407 points from 1989-92.61
Five players have won NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player honors multiple times and non since 1973: UCLA’s Bill Walton in 1972-73,62 UCLA’s Lew Alcindor in 1967-69,63 Ohio State’s Jerry Lucas in 1960-61,64 including once when his team was a national runner-up, Kentucky’s Alex Groza in 1948-49,65 and Oklahoma A&M’s Bob Kurland 1945-46.66
NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Players have included four freshmen (Kentucky’s Anthony Davis in 2012,67 Syracuse’s Carmelo Anthony in 2003,68 Louisville’s Pervis Ellison in 198669 and Utah’s Arnie Ferrin in 194470) and one junior college transfer (Indiana’s Keith Smart in 198771)
The University of Dayton Arena, home to the opening round since 2001 and the First Four, has hosted more NCAA Tournament games than any other arena at 91.72
Kansas City’s Municipal Auditorium still holds the record for most national championship games with nine from 1940-64.73 Kansas City, where the NCAA was formerly headquartered, has hosted the most Final Fours with 10 from 1940-88.74
North Carolina has hosted more NCAA Tournament games than any other state (23375).
There’s nothing about a rough start to the NASCAR season a short track can’t fix. During a thrilling weekend in Bristol, the sport had a near-photo finish in Saturday’s Nationwide race (remember this name: Kyle Larson) and several thrilling moments during Sunday’s big show. After plenty of criticism — from a driver’s $25,000 fine to fans railing about Daytona’s single-file 500 — it’s hard to find anyone complaining about the action in Thunder Valley. But honestly, when’s the last time fans left a short track feeling they threw their hard-earned money down the toilet?
It certainly wasn’t last spring at Martinsville, when the Clint Bowyer – Jeff Gordon feud officially began. Or last fall at Richmond, where Gordon’s epic charge to second knocked Kyle Busch out of the Chase. My point? These three speedways, even in the worst of times, make fans flock to them faster than this Sunday’s two-mile tedium, otherwise known as Auto Club Speedway ever will.
With all that said …
FIRST GEAR: Bristol’s back. So why is the attendance still awful?
The number of empty seats at Bristol, one year after Bruton Smith’s latest reconfiguration recommended by the fans themselves, was an eye-opener. A track which once sold out for 55 consecutive Cup races, from 1982-2009, had chasms full of unsold tickets noticeable both at the track and on television. (NASCAR no longer releases official attendance). Considering Bristol has over 160,000 seats, even 50 percent capacity is more than a sellout at Martinsville, Darlington or other facilities which don’t even have that much room in the stands. But it’s also highly disturbing considering its “crown jewel” reputation as one of the sport’s must-see events.
It’s a shame, considering Sunday offered the perfect mix of Bristol’s magic elixir: unpredictability. 110 laps before the finish, leader Jeff Gordon blew a tire and took out himself and second-place Matt Kenseth, changing the complexion of the race. The personal fireworks were also there, in the form of a budding rivalry between Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano (see below). Record speeds combined with a healthy 17 lead changes mixed side-by-side action with the on-track rubbing still needed at times to get by other competitors.
Two theories abound here. One: fans, skeptical of the sport and the Gen-6 car chose to stay home, sending a message that both drivers and track need to be worthy of their cash. (The night race, in August and closer to NASCAR’s Chase, draws better.) But the more likely scenario surrounds a disturbing amount of price gouging still prevalent within the region. Lodging that typically would be $100 or less a night during a typical weekend went for four-, five-, even six-times that.
No amount of ticket price discount can fix that hit to a blue-collar fan’s wallet. That’s especially true considering the track’s location, so close to many other fine facilities. If you’re a fan from Charleston, S.C., for example, why spend $1,000 on lodging, plus mileage when you’ve got Talladega, Atlanta and Charlotte within a similar driving distance — for half the price.
The economy always makes an argument here; in smaller markets, the races are the only major event hitting the region, meaning hotels have to maximize profits in order to survive. But the TriCities unemployment rate, along with job creation, has generally been stronger than the national average. Add in Smith’s billions and there’s no excuse to get this problem fixed, even though he’s powerful enough (see: getting the state of Kentucky to custom build roads for his speedway in Sparta).
Looks like its time for Smith to flex some muscle again. Otherwise, it’ll be years (if ever) before his most prized possession fills up to capacity.
SECOND GEAR: Hendrick’s third wheel pushing for first-rate attention
Kasey Kahne’s Bristol success, while continuing a sizzling 2013 start, was a bit of a shock. Even after Sunday, his highest career average finish at any short track is Richmond, with a mediocre 18.0. That’s also the location of his last win at an oval this small, scoring his first Cup victory there in May 2005 before bookending his victory total with a 1.7-second, cruise-control performance down the stretch on Sunday.
“This is a big race for me,” he said Sunday after scooting ahead of Brad Keselowski on the final restart. “Bristol’s one of those tracks that as a driver, you really feel like you need to win at. It’s a big confidence builder.”
So is his habit of qualifying up front — a 3.5-place average start leads all drivers, along with 223 laps led in 2013. But most importantly, he’s not digging the type of 2012 hole that expended almost all this team’s energy simply to make last year’s Chase. Instead, he’s showcasing the type of versatility (second at Las Vegas, first at Bristol, one of the favorites at Daytona before wrecking out) that one needs to take home a title in this sport.
To do it, Kahne would have to leapfrog Johnson within the organization, a feat once thought impossible. But keep in mind, head wrench Kenny Francis — not from the Hendrick mold — can step outside the box of Chad Knaus. Those at HMS were impressed with the ideas he brought to the table in ’12 and many credit them for the organization’s resurgence. Francis, working out of a different shop, won’t have to play nice as consistently this fall and has the better pit crew, Johnson’s Achilles Heel, in each of the last two seasons.
Will it happen? I’ll still believe it when I see it. But four races in, Kahne has started making a case.
1. How's the arm feeling, Smoke?
It's been nearly seven months since Tony Stewart took to the NASCAR pitching mound. The three-time champion removed the frown from track magnate Bruton Smith's face by hurling his helmet at Matt Kenseth's car after they crashed battling for the lead last August at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Stewart hit his target—Kenseth's windshield—perfectly. He gestured angrily to the crowd. The fans roared.
The "night race" was back.
Bristol had been a huge source of complaints among fans since its soul was resurfaced in 2007. Between the March and August races that season, Smith and his staff approved the first major change to NASCAR's most famous high-banks since it went concrete in 1992. The deteriorating surface would be replaced and the track's iconic banks changed to progressive banking in a bid to foster more side-by-side passing.
What a dud.
From 2003 to the spring 2007 race, Bristol was sold-out and rocking for every NASCAR visit. Fans got what they wanted: an average of 13 cautions a race due to crashes. The new concrete surface dropped that number significantly, as multiple lanes of racing opened up and the move-or-get-moved mentality of making up ground at the east Tennessee bullring disappeared."
Crashing, of course, isn't the point of racing. But at Bristol, it's what people on the waiting list of a track that seated more than 160,000 wanted to see. By 2010, the waiting list had disappeared and Bristol Motor Speedway was facing a crisis. There were empty seats and the fans weren't happy—even if the drivers loved the racing better than ever.
So Smith, after another un-Bristol race in the spring of last season, set out to make things right. He ground the track and made the groove tighter. He promised a better show.
Stewart, and 11 of 13 cautions for crashes, gave the fans what they wanted. Even Danica Patrick, irritated after being wrecked herself, made a gesture to a passing driver in anger. By the end, Denny Hamlin had held off charges by Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon all while completing a Bristol race that felt Bristol of old.
Will that hold up Sunday? For the sake of Bruton Smith, the engineers he hired to "fix" Bristol and the fans still longing for a tell-my-coworker-about-Monday sort of race in 2013, let's hope it does.
2. Hamlin doesn't plead guilty, but gives up NASCAR fight
The biggest news heading into a NASCAR weekend again is Denny Hamlin and his dispute with NASCAR. It was a week ago Thursday that NASCAR rocked the media center with news that Hamlin was docked $25,000 for completely unmemorable comments he made at Phoenix about his initial reaction to NASCAR's new car.
Hamlin swiftly built a following of grassroots support as he vowed to fight to not pay the penalty.
That all changed Thursday when Hamlin and NASCAR released near simultaneous statements saying that Hamlin was dropping the appeal, yet still not paying the fine. He actually will, though, as NASCAR will simply remove $25,000 from the next check Joe Gibbs Racing receives for competing.
Hamlin decided against the appeal in fear of negative attention it would bring to his team and sponsors. It's a disappointing move because it seems many fans had galvanized alongside Hamlin in rebellion of one NASCAR's poorer decisions as a sanctioning body in a long while. Now, NASCAR has won.
Of course, they probably would have anyway.
3. Upsets not exclusive to college basketball in March
Bristol, thanks to its lesser dependance on aerodynamics and overall car design, presents an opportunity not normally found for drivers and teams who wouldn't typically be seen as contenders. No, it's not easy to beat the top-flight Sprint Cup teams and drivers at any track. But Bristol's close quarters and all-day track position struggle presents opportunities for smaller teams or drivers racing limited schedules.
This weekend, keep your eye on two drivers: Brian Vickers and A.J. Allmendinger.
The former Red Bull teammates are both trying to work their way back to full-time Sprint Cup level competition and will be in part-time rides Sunday. Vickers posted a pair of top-5 finishes for Michael Waltrip Racing in the No. 55 last season at Bristol, and Allmendinger drove the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet to an 11th-place finish on the Phoenix "shorter" track two weeks ago.
4. Point standings aren't a concern…yet
Any team that struggles in the first three races of the season undoubtedly feels some angst to get a strong finish and improve their standing in the point rankings. Until that good run comes, the creeping doubt can only do more damage to a team's morale.
For teams still struggling this season, there's comfort in knowing that last year's champion Brad Keselowski didn't get off to the most impressive start himself. Heading to Bristol for the fourth race of 2012, Keselowski was 22nd in points, 60 out of first.
It's been a much better start for the defending champion this year, but others with Chase hopes like Ryan Newman (31st, -79 points) and Martin Truex Jr. (22nd, -65) are mired deep in the standings. Another some unexpected struggle this season has been for Kurt Busch in his ride with Furniture Row Racing. That team, essentially a satellite operation of Richard Childress Racing, is 29th and 72 points out of first.
Each driver still has 33 events to sort things out, of course.
5. Figuring out "Go Time" during Bristol's 500 laps
Five hundred laps at Bristol can almost become an out of body experience for drivers. The laps—nearly four per minute—leave them pressed against the right side of the seat. Roughly one-eighth of a lap is spent not turning the wheel. It's all about hitting turning and braking points, keeping a consistent line. Lap after lap, after lap, after lap.
And that's just before the first pit stop.
A race at Bristol, despite it's 500-circuit distance, is the second-shortest scheduled oval race of the season. Figuring when to be ready to fight for the lead can sometimes take drivers by surprise. Inevitably, most races at Bristol feature at least one long green flag run in which a car that isn't handling nearly perfectly could get lapped quickly.
Kurt Busch has five career wins at Bristol. With 75 miles to go, Busch wants to be in ready to fight for another win.
“To contend for the win you want to be in position by Lap 350,” said Busch. “That is definitely the ‘Go Time’ at Bristol."
Advanced statistics from NASCAR back him up. In the 18 races in Bristol since August 2004, the eventual race winner has been no worse than fourth on lap 350.
See if that streak continues on Sunday.
THE BRISTOL ETC.: Among active drivers, three have a series-leading five wins at Bristol. Jeff Gordon has five, joined by brothers Kurt and Kyle Busch. The last win by any of those three was Kyle's spring win in 2011. Jeff Gordon, meanwhile, hasn't won at Bristol in over 10 years… Mark Martin leads active drivers with nine poles at Bristol… Ryan Newman's 14.908-second lap at Bristol in 2003 set the Sprint Cup Series track record, but it's much slower than a 12.742-second lap turned by Brian Gerster at the half-mile in a winged sprint car in 2011… 14 drivers have finished each the last 10 Bristol races, but only Dale Earnhardt Jr. has finished on the lead lap of at least nine of those events… 80 percent of Bristol Sprint Cup races have been won by a driver starting in the top-10.
by Geoffrey Miller
Follow Geoffrey on Twitter: @GeoffreyMiller
With the 2013 NCAA Tournament kicking off next week, it's time for college basketball fans to start filling out their March Madness brackets. For those playing online, it also means coming up with a humorous or ridiculously over-the-top name to go along with their ill-fated picks. With that in mind, we pulled together some of our favorites.
When I Think About You I Touch Bill Self
Could it be ... CREIGHTON?
The boys of summer are back in action and with them come the history and tradition of those before them. Names like Gehrig, Ford, Jackson and Schmidt echo through the stadiums of Major League Baseball, each a founder, each a legend in their own right. But sometimes, even the marks of legends are made to be broken. Here are 10 records that could be broken in 2013, allowing for a new generation of names to join those before them.
All-time runs and doubles record for the New York Yankees
Current Holder: Babe Ruth (runs), Lou Gehrig (doubles)
On Deck: Derek Jeter
Jeter may not be the player he once was, but there’s no doubt he’s one of the greatest to ever step on a major-league diamond. For proof of this, look no further than the shortstop’s presence in the Yankees’ record books. Already the all-time leader in games played, hits and stolen bases, Jeter has a chance to add two more to his resume this season. Jeter needs just 92 runs to pass Hall of Famers and baseball legends Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth for the top spot in Yankee history. Even more impressive, the Yankees’ runs scored record would move Jeter into the top 10 all-time in baseball history. Even though Jeter could be slowed in his return from the broken ankle he sustained in the playoffs last season, he’s scored fewer than 92 runs just three times in 17 full seasons in pinstripes.
Another all-time Yankee mark a little closer on the horizon for Jeter is the doubles record. Lou Gehrig is the current franchise leader with 534 career doubles, which also places him 34th on the all-time list in baseball history. The man known as “The Iron Horse” amassed 5,060 total bases in his Hall of Fame career, which ranks him 17th all-time. The legend dipped below 31 doubles just twice during his time as the Yankees’ first baseman. Jeter needs just 11 more two-baggers to surpass Gehrig’s total, a mark he should surpass before the All-Star break, provided he’s healthy.
All-time strikeouts record for New York Yankees pitchers
Current Holder: Whitey Ford
On Deck: Andy Pettitte
Pinstripe legend Edward “Whitey” Ford spent 16 years in the majors, starting and ending his career with the Yankees. By the time he retired in 1967, a total 1,956 batters had made the humbling walk back to the dugout after striking out. The 46-year-old record could have had a chance to stand even longer had Ford not taken two years off to serve in the Korean War after his rookie season.
Like Ford, Andy Pettitte has been a crafty pitcher throughout his career. Entering his 18th season in the majors and 15th with the Yankees, Pettitte needs just 65 more punch outs to be claim the franchise’s all-time strikeout mark. Considering he was able to notch 69 strikeouts in just 12 games last season, this is one record ready to be broken. Depending on his health, Pettitte could also surpass Ford for the games started record. If he can make 31 starts this season, that record will also be his for the taking. Ford made 438 starts in his Hall of Fame career.
All-time WHIP mark in MLB history
Current Holder: Addie Joss
On Deck: Mariano Rivera
If you’re scratching your head on this one, that’s okay. Addie Joss was a pitcher for the Cleveland Bronchos (another way of spelling Broncos) from 1902 until 1910. During that span, he was among the greatest pitchers in the American League, never posting an ERA higher than 2.77 or a WHIP of more than 1.11. If you’re still scratching your head, WHIP is a relatively new stat that has gained in popularity with the introduction and adoption of sabermetrics that adds the number of walks and hits allowed by a pitcher and divide the total by innings pitched. Joss’ career WHIP of 0.9678 has stood for more than 100 years, but one final solid season from Mariano Rivera could change this.
Last season, which was cut short after he tore his ACL in May, Rivera posted his worst WHIP since 2007, and even then it was a microscopic 0.960. From 2008-11, Rivera’s WHIP was 0.905 or lower. In theory, if Rivera can simply repeat 2012’s performance in the category, he should move past Joss in the history books, providing today’s fan with a name they know. Another all-time list that Rivera should continue to climb this season is total games pitched. Should Rivera make another 60 appearances in 2013, which is about his average for a full season, the surefire future Hall of Famer will pass current Cooperstown members Hoyt Wilhelm and Dennis Eckersley for fourth place on the all-time games pitched list.
All-time hits and doubles record for the Philadelphia Phillies
Current Holders: Mike Schmidt (hits), Ed Delahanty (doubles)
On Deck: Jimmy Rollins
Mike Schmidt, the and three-time NL MVP and 12-time All-Star racked up 2,234 hits over his 18-year Hall of Fame career with the Phillies. The third basemen impressively totaled less than 129 hits in a season just five times. Schmidt is no doubt the greatest player to don a Phillies uniform, but Jimmy Rollins could grab the franchise hits record from him this season. Rollins needs 211 hits for the mark, which might be a stretch given he’s averaged 155 over the last two seasons. That said, Rollins did post 212 hits in 2007, a year in which he amassed 716 at-bats. On the other hand, the Phillies’ all-time doubles record is considerably closer, as Rollins needs just 22 more to surpass Hall of Famer “Big” Ed Delahanty’s total of 442.
All-time home run and total bases records for the Chicago White Sox
Current Holder: Frank Thomas
On Deck: Paul Konerko
It’s hard to believe it’s only been five seasons since Frank Thomas last swung the bat. The two-time AL MVP and four-time Silver Slugger somehow never led the league in home runs, but he did leave his mark with the White Sox. During his 16 years with the team, Thomas cleared the fence 448 times and amassed 3,949 total bases. Both records could be broken this season.
Paul Konerko needs only 34 more home runs to pass Thomas on the White Sox all-time list. Though he hasn’t topped that number since 2010, he’s still managed to bash 57 dingers over the past two seasons combined. That includes 26 in 2012, despite having the second-fewest at-bats since the 2004 season. If he can stay in the lineup, there’s no reason the White Sox won’t be crowning a new home run king in 2013. Konerko also needs just 172 total bases to pass Thomas in that category as well.
All-time double plays turned as left fielder record in MLB history
Current Holder: Bibb Falk
On Deck: Alfonso Soriano
Falk spent his first nine seasons with the Chicago White Sox before finishing his 12-year career with the Cleveland Indians from 1929-31. While he never held any batting titles, Falk was known for his defense. The left fielder turned a record nine double plays in 1927 and led American League players at the position in games played four times. That extra time on the field culminated with a record 34 double plays turned from left field.
Alfonso Soriano is better known for his bat, but his arm has been a source of pain for base runners. Soriano has posted 28 of his own double plays from left field and needs just seven more to take the all-time record from Falk. The 14-year veteran turned six last season and nine in 2006, so the numbers he needs for the record could be there if he gets the opportunity this season.
All-time strikeouts by a batter record in MLB history
Current Holder: Reggie Jackson
On Deck: Jim Thome
Jackson might have been known for turning it on during the postseason, one of the reasons why he will forever be known as “Mr. October,” but among his many accolades, this one is often forgotten. In Jackson’s 21-season career, the slugger posted 11 campaigns with more strikeouts than hits. His worst season came in 1968, his second year as a professional. Jackson amassed 171 strikeouts compared to 138 hits. Still, the combination of speed, power and playoff prowess more than made up for his 2,597 career strikeouts.
He has yet to sign on with a team for the upcoming season, but Jim Thome still believes he can help a club should they call. The veteran is reportedly staying in top condition with the hope he hasn’t swung at his last pitch. If he does get the call, it won’t take long for him to be crowned baseball’s all-time leader in strikeouts by a hitter. If he whiffs just 50 more times, the “honor” will be all his. Given his recent ratios, Thome will need around 150 at-bats to claim this throne. If Thome doesn’t play this season, both Alex Rodriguez and Adam Dunn are less than 600 strikeouts away from passing Jackson for the top spot on the list. After notching 222 punch outs in 2012 alone, Dunn appears to be the leader in the clubhouse over Rodriguez, whose season debut will be delayed as he recovers from offseason hip surgery.
Other Franchise Records That Could Be Broken in 2013...
All-time saves record for the Cleveland Indians
Current Holder: Bob Wickman
On Deck: Chris Perez
Like many closers, Bob Wickman started his career in 1992 with the New York Yankees as a starting pitcher. He made the transition to closer for the Milwaukee Brewers in 1997, recording 25 saves. It wasn’t until 2001 that Wickman solidified his job as closer for the Cleveland, one which he would keep until 2006. Though he hovered around the 30-save mark for most of his career, his best season with the Indians came in 2005 when he recorded a career-high 45 saves. His franchise total of 139 saves has been the benchmark since 2006.
Right-hander Chris Perez will be looking to surpass Wickman in just his fourth season as the Indians’ closer. Powered by back-to-back seasons of 36 or more saves, Perez is just 41 shy of breaking Wickman’s record, which would be a career-best for him. A shoulder strain currently has his Opening Day prospects in limbo, but with the offseason acquisitions of Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, Drew Stubbs and Mark Reynolds, Perez could see the most save opportunities of his career in 2013.
All-Time Stolen Base record for the Texas Rangers
Current Holder: Elliot “Bump” Wills
On Deck: Ian Kinsler
From 1977-82, second baseman Bump Wills was among the top ten American League base-stealers in all but one season. For the Rangers, Wills stole less than 28 bases just once in his five-year tenure. Though Wills still holds the teams’ single-season record with 52 swipes in 1978, his career record of 161 stolen bases is in jeopardy of being broken this season.
Current second baseman Ian Kinsler needs just five more steals to become the Rangers’ all-time thief. Kinsler has already posted five seasons with at least 21 steals, even if it will take him a little more than seven seasons to unseat Wills. It may not matter, however, since teammate Elvis Andrus isn’t too far behind with 123 stolen bases in just four seasons. Andrus, who had a season-best 37 stolen bases in 2011, is probably the bigger threat to Wills’ franchise single-season record of 52 as well.
All-Time saves record for the Milwaukee Brewers
Current Holder: Dan Plesac
On Deck: John Axford
It’s hard to believe, but Dan Plesac recorded at least one save in all but two of his 18 seasons as a pitcher. The three-time All-Star started his career with the Brewers in 1986, sticking with the team until after the 1992 season. Out of 178 save opportunities, Plesac was able to seal the deal 133 times, a franchise record which has stood for 20 years.
As good as Plesac was at converting opportunities, John Axford has been better. Out of 120 opportunities, Axford has shut the door 106 times. His success rate has him just 28 saves away from Plesac’s record, all with just three full seasons as the Brewers’ closer under his belt. Considering Axford totaled 35 saves last year, this should be a record broken and piled on for years to come.
All-time wins and strikeouts record for the Colorado Rockies
Current Holders: Aaron Cook (wins), Ubaldo Jimenez (strikeouts)
On Deck: Jeff Francis
The Rockies have been around for just 20 seasons and haven’t exactly developed a reputation for pitching, so it shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise that the franchise leader in wins is just 72. That total belongs to Aaron Cook, who accumulated these over nine seasons with the Rockies. He has started more than 30 games just twice in his entire career, both of those seasons coming in Colorado. His peak came during the 2008-09 seasons, which saw Cook post a combined 27-15 record. Current Rockies pitcher Jeff Francis needs just 12 more wins this season to surpass Cook in the franchise record books. The problem is that since injuring his shoulder in 2009, Francis hasn’t been the same pitcher. He’s only averaged around five innings per start, an issue that has kept him out of action for all of 2009 and from winning six or fewer games his last four seasons. However, a new manager (Walt Weiss) and a pitching coach (Bo McLaughlan) who believe in Francis could help put this record within reach. He did win a total of 44 games from 2005-07 after all.
Francis also is just 95 strikeouts shy of breaking Ubaldo Jimenez’s club record of 773. Jimenez, who was shipped to Cleveland at the trade deadline in 2011, was in many ways the anti-Cook, posting three-straight seasons of 30-plus starts from 2008-10. Though he only was with the team for less than five full seasons, it was still all the time Jimenez needed to set the current club record for strikeouts. Francis should be able to surpass Jimenez in the category, as he’s posted five seasons with 91 or more punch outs. From 2005-07, Francis averaged nearly 137 strikeouts for the Rockies.
All-time home runs record for the Tampa Bay Rays
Current Holder: Carlos Pena
On Deck: Evan Longoria
The Tampa Bay franchise has only been in existence for 15 seasons, so the current home run leader is Carlos Pena with 163. He collected those in five seasons, including a career-high 46 in 2007. Third baseman Evan Longoria will be looking to take the lead from Pena in his sixth season in Tampa Bay. “Longo” needs 34 home runs to surpass Pena, but it’s his health and not his skill that will likely be the determining factor if this is the season he accomplishes the feat. Longoria has played just 207 total games the last two seasons, but did manage to hit 48 bombs during that period. Whether it’s this season or early in 2014, the franchise home run mark will eventually be Longoria’s, and considering he’s signed through 2023, there’s a good chance it will remain his when his career in Tampa Bay is over.
—By Adrian Mojica
The 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit rolls on to one of its most anticipated stops of spring for the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. To help guide you through the 2013 Fantasy NASCAR season, Athlon Sports contributor Dustin Long will be offering his best predictions for each race. And because Yahoo's Fantasy Auto Racing game is arguably the most popular, he’ll break down the picks according to its NASCAR driver classes — A-List, B-List, C-List.
So, without further ado, Dustin's fantasy predictions for Bristol, ranked according to each driver's likelihood of taking the checkered flag — or at least finishing toward the front:
1. Jimmie Johnson
Hottest driver on the circuit. Johnson has an average running position of 4.2, best in the season’s first three races, and has the best average finishing position (3.0) in the series. Also, he has four consecutive top 10s at Bristol, most among active drivers.
2. Brad Keselowski
Not too far behind Johnson in the fast start category (average finish of 3.7) and heads to a track in Bristol where he’s won two of the last three races.
3. Matt Kenseth
Has led a series-high 128 laps this season with 86 of those coming in the Daytona 500. His 25th-place finish in the Bristol night race in August broke a string of six consecutive top-10 finishes there. He’s led in each of the last three Bristol races.
4. Denny Hamlin
Won the Bristol night race in August, leading 70 laps. Has two top-10 finishes in his last three starts there.
5. Kasey Kahne
Has best average start this season (4.0) on the circuit. Has three top-10 finishes in last five races at Bristol and led 42 laps there in the night race.
6. Clint Bowyer
Scored a pair of top-10 finishes last year at Bristol. Best finish so far this season is a sixth at Phoenix.
7. Jeff Gordon
Has been passed 44 more times under green than he’s passed this season and has an average start of 5.7 but average finish of 18.0 in 2013. Has not a had a top-10 finish in the spring Bristol race in the past three years.
8. Tony Stewart
Has not finished better than 14th in his last five Bristol races. Seems to be typical Tony where he starts the season slow (his best finish so far is an eighth at Phoenix).
9. Kevin Harvick
Harvick has an average running position of 16.6 in the first three races of this season. Has one top-10 finish in last eight races at Bristol.
Anthlon Bell is so close. The freshman guard from Arkansas is just one letter off from being the all-time captain of the Athlon Sports College Basketball All-Name Team. We’ll list him here anyway for the top basketball names for the 2012-13 season. Some you’ll recognize. Some will show up in your bracket. Some are buried on a roster in at one of nearly 350 Division I schools.
Here are the highlights of the 2012-13 All-Name Team
ALL-NAME ALL STARS
Athlon Sports wants to honor all-around contributes to the All-Name team. Not only do these players have outstanding names, they’re outstanding players. Their performance on the court makes them household All-Names, in essence.
Nnanna Egwu, Illinois
The sophomore with four Ns in his first name is a starter for Illinois, averaging 6.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.
Majok Majok, Ball State
The Sudanese-born forward gets bonus points for nearly averaging a double-double (10.7 points, 9.9 rebounds) to go with his double name.
Spencer Dinwiddie, Colorado
Giggle at the name, if you must. Pac-12 fans learned not to as Dinwiddie averages 15.4 points per game.
Cleanthony Early, Wichita State
The junior college transfer was an instant boost for the Shockers, averaging 13.6 points and 5.1 rebounds per game.
Vander Blue, Marquette
One of two Vanders playing this season (see: Vander Joaquin at Hawaii), Vander Blue emerged from a big recruit to a star junior at 14.4 points per game.
Cleveland Melvin, DePaul
Hello, Cleveland. A fantastic player who has averaged 16.1 points and 6.5 rebounds won’t play in the postseason at lowly DePaul.
ALL-NAME STARTING FIVES
Some teams have so many great names, we can’t highlight just one or two. Here are starting fives of unique names at six schools.
Jared Drew (ed. note: Not related to Bryce, Scott or Homer, but name and hometown in Indianapolis makes it seem that way on paper.)
Ya Ya Anderson, Radford
Bak Bak, Cal
Leek Leek, Campbell
Shayok Shayok, Bradley
Deng Deng, Long Beach State
Mo Alie-Cox, VCU
McWisdom Badejo, Florida A&M
Marcellus Barksdale, IUPUI
Staats Battle, NC State
Beau Beech, North Florida
Deuce Bello, Baylor
Alex Biggerstaff, UNC Asheville
Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson
Jayson Cheesman, Southern Utah
Rob Chubb, Auburn
Bobby Capobianco, Valparaiso
BaeBae Daniels, North Florida
Indiana Faithfull, Wofford
Grandy Glaze, Saint Louis
Dusty Hannahs, Texas Tech
Keegan Hornbuckle, UCSB
Charlon Kloof, St. Bonaventure
Gregoryhson Magee, South Alabama
Gee McGhee, Chattanooga
Four McGlynn, Towson
Ferg Myrick, New Hampshire
Johnny O’Bryant III, LSU
Onochie Oche, Southeastern Louisiana
Peter Pappageorge, Long Beach State
Bubu Palo, Iowa State
Dalton Pepper, Temple
Chad Posthumus, Morehead State
Dakota Slaughter, Alabama
Hippolyte Tsafack, Memphis
Drake U’u, Cal Poly
Parker U’u, Hartford
Daddy Ugbede, Drake
Hooper Vint, UTEP
De’End Parker, San Francisco
Bristol Motor Speedway received a re-tooling of sorts following last spring’s race, so there will be a bevy of unknowns this weekend when the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series takes to the high-banked half-mile oval.
What is known is that three races are in the books and two of the usual suspects, Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski, are running on all cylinders as others — and you’ll read of one below — are experiencing early-season struggles. We also know what we were able to learn from the Bristol race last August, an exciting caution flag-fueled event that paid dividends to those that had the ability to either move through the field or retain track position.
3.7 and 0.6 Brad Keselowski is averaging a 3.7-place finish, grouped with a strong 0.6 finish deviation.
Holy Keselowski! The Penske Racing No. 2 team is really, really good right now. The act of them being good isn’t a shock; the extent of their goodness is what is amazing. Through three races, the championship-winning entry from 2012 has amassed a 3.7-place average finish. How legitimate is that? Their 0.6 finish deviation — and mind you, zero is perfectly consistent — tells us the team isn’t wavering much from that average. Keselowski and team are both staggeringly fast and pinpoint consistent. If the champs want to repeat, they’re off to a blazing start.
-42.1 percent Jeff Gordon and team can’t hold onto positions late in races, suggested by their negative-42.1 percent position retainment difference.
What is going on with the No. 24? Averaging a 12.7-place running position at the 10 percent-to-go mark, a precipitous drop occurs in the final stages of races, in which they average an 18th-place finish. Gordon and crew chief Alan Gustafson were more balanced position retainers last year, with a plus-3.4 percent difference. Races like last weekend at Las Vegas, in which they dropped from 21st to a finish of 25th in the final 27 laps, can’t be tolerated for a team hoping to land a Chase spot.
17.0 Thanks to a 17.0-place average finish, Paul Menard is the highest ranked Richard Childress Racing driver in the Cup Series standings.
Who would have thought? It’s true. After three races, Menard and team are the lead dogs in the RCR yard, ranking 12th in Cup Series standings; however, that’s probably not something that will last. Both Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton crashed out of Daytona, while Menard’s team has finished in the top half of the field in all three events. Harvick’s No. 29 team doesn’t often leave races on the table, evident by the team’s 88-plus Relevance percentage (read: percentage of races in a season finished in the top half of fields) in each of the last three years.
From the NCAA conference touranments to Selection Sunday to the Championship game, here are the key dates for 2013 March Madness:
Conference championship games
Saturday, March 9: Atlantic Sun, Ohio Valley
Sunday, March 10: Big South, Missouri Valley
Monday, March 11: Colonial, MAAC, Southern, West Coast
Tuesday, March 12: Horizon, Summit, Sun Belt
Wednesday, March 13: Northeast, Patriot
Saturday, March 16: America East, Big 12, Big East, Big Sky, Big West, Conference USA, MAC, MEAC, Mountain West, Pac-12, Southland, SWAC, WAC
Sunday, March 17: Atlantic 10, ACC, Big Ten, SEC
Tuesday, March 19 and Wednesday, 20
Round of 64 and 32
Thursday, March 21 and Saturday, March 23:
Auburn Hills, Mich.
Salt Lake City
Friday, March 22 and Sunday, March 24:
Sweet 16 and Elite Eight
Thursday, March 28 and Saturday, March 30
East Regional: Washington, D.C.
West Regional: Los Angeles
Friday, March 29 and Sunday, March 31
Midwest Regional: Indianapolis
South Regional: Arlington, Texas
Final Four and National Championship Game
Saturday, April 6 and Monday, April 8
If Matt Kenseth were a betting man, he’d have bought a Play 4 ticket on the way out of Las Vegas.
The numbers? 3-3-3-3.
Kenseth, in the third race of the 2013 season, became career Sprint Cup driver number three to win a race on his birthday (joining Cale Yarborough and Kyle Busch). The new, third member of the Joe Gibbs Racing stable also has more career victories in Vegas (along with Auto Club Speedway) than any other track on the circuit: Three.
Too bad Richard Childress isn’t willing to part with that number, huh? To me, the number could also apply to something else we’re getting a sense of: the list of early title favorites. Has Kenseth snuck into that picture? Let’s find out while going “Through the Gears” after a weekend out in Sin City…
FIRST GEAR: The title is shaping up to be a Johnson-Keselowski affair
One driver was third, the other sixth. Neither was a factor for the win late at Vegas although they combined to lead a total of 78 laps. But a quick look at the first three races shows that Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski, the same two men who battled down the stretch for the 2012 Cup Series title, are in cruise control up front.
Leading the points is the No. 48 team, with top-10 starting spots in every event, an average finish of 3.0 and a Daytona 500 trophy on the shelf. Crew chief Chad Knaus, who was lauded for being ahead of the curve with NASCAR’s Car of Tomorrow chassis, was expected to do the same with the Gen-6. That’s what you expect from the best mechanic in the sport, and to his credit, Knaus has delivered.
Sitting five points behind Hendrick’s top team is Keselowski, who has battled through far more adversity but still has the same number of top-10 results (three-for-three). Considering the offseason changeover (new manufacturer, new teammate, new engines) the speed and versatility Penske Racing’s top team has shown is just as impressive. It’s driver’s confidence as reigning champ is palpable, retaining his outspoken nature while continuing a role as an emerging leader within the sport. While Denny Hamlin’s “slap on the wrist” from NASCAR caused him to be a bit off on Sunday, finishing 15th, Keselowski has had no such detours after his talking-to at Daytona. That’s what separates the good from the great: an ability to tune out distractions and fight through the pressure.
The Gen-6 car was supposed to provide a big opportunity for the other teams to catch up to this duo. But the standings three races in aren’t an indictment on those changes; instead, it’s a showcase of how this rivalry is elevating both drivers to remain head and shoulders above everyone else. Too bad we have to wait until the Chase in September for them to push down on the accelerator for good.
SECOND GEAR: Meanwhile, Kenseth and Joe Gibbs Racing sit as sleepers
No question, anyone with a brain and a pulse expected Kenseth to outpace Joey Logano in Joe Gibbs’ No. 20 Toyota. But even the most optimistic of souls has to raise an eyebrow on what this new combination is doing. Three races in, Kenseth is one-half way towards the total number of victories that car has had in the past four years. His 128 laps led, a NASCAR best, is well on its way to eclipsing Logano’s four-year total of 337 in a matter of several weeks. If not for a faulty engine in the waning laps of the Daytona 500 this team could be out in front of everyone — a point that’s not been lost on its pilot.
“All three races we had a car, if everything would have went right, that we could have won,” he said Sunday night. “And it feels pretty awesome to have this win here.”
Kenseth’s emotions during and after Sunday’s victory made it clear he’s a man on a mission to prove the choice to leave Roush Fenway was the right one. Crew chief Jason Ratcliff has worked out well; his pit strategy of a fuel-only stop was the winning call.
So can JGR catch the top two? The beauty of it is that there is six months left in the regular season to fine-tune on intermediates. But unlike Kenseth, the rest of the stable has to stop shooting itself in the foot. Case in point: Kyle Busch’s speeding penalty, which knocked him out of the top spot at Vegas and threatened to derail his day. Denny Hamlin, for all the fan support he has surrounding the Gen-6 criticism, caused a huge distraction by reacting emotionally to the situation. Add in the motor problems and that’s why this Toyota trio remains a step below for the time being. But the speed is there.
As baseball's spring training continues in Florida and Arizona, Athlon Sports offers its thoughts on all the offseason movement. Here are the worst offseason free agent signings in Major League Baseball for 2013:
Want more baseball? Check out Athlon Sports' 2013 Baseball Annual for the most complete preview available. Order your copy now!
Five storylines for the Kobalt Tools 500 in Las Vegas
1. Hamlin draws NASCAR’s (thin-skinned) ire
NASCAR suddenly, quickly and, well, mistakenly landed a $25,000 shot to Denny Hamlin's wallet on Thursday as Sprint Cup teams set up shop in Las Vegas. And no: this wasn't a case of Brian France cleaning Hamlin's clock at a swanky blackjack table.
Hamlin is expected to pay up for doing, allegedly, at least $25,000 in damage to NASCAR's apparently fragile image for answering a completely legitimate question at Phoenix International Raceway about NASCAR's new race car. Hamlin's most grievous offense can be found in the following span of sentences:
“I don't want to be the pessimist, but it did not race as good as our generation five cars. This is more like what the generation five was at the beginning.”
Athlon Sports regrets posting such serious and offensive comments.
That was exactly Hamlin’s reaction Thursday during a break from testing and later in the night when he released a statement on Twitter. NASCAR never contacted Hamlin before the fine was issued, even though it came later than usual. Hamlin has vowed to appeal the fine and voiced even greater concern for the message it sends.
“I feel as if today NASCAR lost one of its biggest supporters vocally of where our sport is headed,” Hamlin wrote in a tweet, conscious of his 2010 “secret” fine for saying things that also crossed NASCAR. “So in the end there are no winners.”
Hamlin said the statement was “taken out of context” and that the fine isn't about money. Instead it’s about his ability to give an honest and fair assessment to reasonable questions.
“Since being fined in 2010 I have been a lot more careful about what I say to media and I felt this past weekend felt completely in my rights to give an assessment of the question asked,” Hamlin wrote.
2. Testing, testing, 1… 2… 3…
Beyond the Hamlin episode, teams got down to work earlier than usual on Thursday, as NASCAR opened the track in Las Vegas to a full day of testing.
It wasn't the first time NASCAR's new Gen-6 car has been on a 1.5-mile intermediate track, but Thursday was the first day Sprint Cup drivers got to toss the new car design around Las Vegas Motor Speedway. NASCAR opened the track a day early for two sessions of car fitness tests that, unlike a typical race weekend practice session, allowed the use of data and telemetry recording devices.
Greg Biffle's lap of 189.427 mph late in the second of two sessions put his No. 16 Ford atop the speed charts — a familiar place for Roush Fenway Racing at LVMS. Kasey Kahne set the track record a season ago in Sin City at 190.456 mph.
“It doesn’t matter how long you have practice or how much testing you have, there will be cars on the track until NASCAR throws the red and black flag,” Martin Truex Jr. said. “And even after all of that, we will always think, ‘Darn, if we only had two or three more laps.’ We are always striving for perfection so there is never enough time in my opinion to get ready for Sunday’s race.”
Indeed, many teams placed focus on race setups to start the second weekend of the early-season West Coast swing for NASCAR. Nine of the top-10 drivers in the second session’s speed charts posted their fastest lap in either the second-to-last or last run of the day, likely with qualifying setups installed.
The last major test on 1.5-mile tracks for most teams came at Charlotte Motor Speedway in January. Snow postponed part of that test conducted in extremely cold conditions — a stark contrast from Thursday’s sunny and mild weather in Las Vegas.
As will be pointed out ad nauseam on FOX this weekend, Las Vegas is the home to gambling, betting, taking chances and all sorts of other illicit activities. So if you want to dial a cliché, cue up NASCAR’s Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday. To honor this yearly tradition, the Vegas odds makers have beaten everybody to the punch and are already taking bets on who will win the race this Sunday.
Below is how things are shaping up according to the LVH Superbook. If you happen to be going this weekend or have buddy at a bachelor party on site (or still have access to some clandestine off-shore gambling sites) here are the top-10 drivers who stand a shot at making you some cash. Assuming nobody’s right front tire blows out.
JIMMIE JOHNSON 5-1
So far in 2013, Johnson has finished first and second — and he was whining about the latter result — so you know he’s going to be loaded for bear. The Hendrick camp always comes correct when there’s a new car, plus his sponsor is on the walls this weekend. Remember when Charlotte was Lowe’s Motor Speedway and he’d win everything in sight? This could be the second coming of this for JJ and company this weekend at a track where they’ve won four times in only 11 starts.
KYLE BUSCH 8-1
It has been an inauspicious start to 2013 for Kyle Busch, who blew an engine at Daytona and cracked the nose at Phoenix. He dominated the Nationwide race last Saturday in his Monster Energy car, but the odds makers are only concerned about what happens on Sunday. Las Vegas is Busch’s hometown, so it is the one track on the circuit where he won’t be showered with the kind of boos that are typically reserved for third world dictators once they’ve passed. Yah, hear that Hugo?! As high as Rowdy is on the list, he may find a rough go of it this weekend. Kyle does have a pair of poles and a win here back in 2009, but his last three finishes have been 23rd, 38th and 15th.
BRAD KESELOWSKI 8-1
Brad Keselowski is making great strides to project the persona of a Sprint Cup champion. His brutal honesty has gotten him in some hot water with NASCAR, but I seem to remember The Intimidator making a few pointed comments here and there that ended up helping the sport, as well. In 2013, Keselowski has had to work with a new car, a new manufacturer, his fourth teammate in two years and a new engine shop. No matter – a pair of fourth-place finishes have been the result, with Daytona being a constant battle with garbage bag bodywork. The Keselowski/Paul Wolfe combo have once again put this team on their collective back. You saw his championship interview at Homestead, so you know he likes to party. The Blue Deuce will be ready for Vegas.
MATT KENSETH 8-1
Matt Kenseth has shown muscle early in his move from Roush Fenway Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing. Two races in, and the No. 20 is running as it did in the Tony Stewart days. Kenseth had what may have been the strongest car in Daytona (at least the strongest car left) before it fell out with engine failure. He was near the front most of the day in Phoenix, as well. He and crew chief Jason Ratcliff are still working to get on the same page as far as adjustments and late-race decisions, but that is part of a process that takes time to perfect. Kenseth has won twice at LVMS, but back in the, uh, Generation 4 cars, though he did win a pole as recently as 2011. The understated Kenseth has made his bones in recent years on superspeedways, but he’s still a 1.5-miler at heart.
The 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup season rolls on to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the Kobalt Tools 500. To help guide you through the 2013 Fantasy NASCAR season, Athlon Sports contributor Dustin Long will be offering up his best predictions for each race. And because Yahoo's Fantasy Auto Racing game is arguably the most popular, he’ll break down the picks according to its NASCAR driver classes—A-List, B-List, C-List.
So, without further ado, Dustin's fantasy predictions for Las Vegas, ranked according to each driver's likelihood of taking the checkered flag (or at least finishing toward the front):
Won last year’s race after finishing second there the year before. Has led 290 of 534 laps (54.3 percent) run in the last two races at Las Vegas.
2. Jimmie Johnson
Has the highest driver rating (110.9) in the last eight races at Las Vegas. Also has the highest average finish of 9.4 during that span. Has a victory and a runner-up finish in last five starts but placed 16th or worse in the other three starts in that stretch.
3. Clint Bowyer
Has finished eight or better in three of the last four Las Vegas races. Also has qualified in the top four in three of the last four races on 1.5-mile tracks (same size as Las Vegas).
4. Jeff Gordon
Has run a series-high 84 percent of his laps in the top 15 in the last eight races at Las Vegas. Also has led the most laps (370) during that time, among current drivers.
5. Kevin Harvick
Has two top-five finishes in his last five Las Vegas races and has led 15 laps during that stretch.
6. Kasey Kahne
Has three poles in Vegas, including last year, but only finished 19th in the race.
7. Matt Kenseth
Won the pole in Vegas in 2011, but has one top-10 finish in last five starts here.
8. Denny Hamlin
Has never started better than 16th at Las Vegas. Has one top-10 in his last four starts there, a seventh in 2011. Has never led a lap in a Cup car at Vegas.
9. Brad Keselowski
Has never finished better than 26th in four career starts at Las Vegas. Best starting position in that time is a 13th in 2009. Also has led only one lap there.
The world of advanced statistics can be intimidating for the casual baseball fan. The acronyms can be confusing. The numbers lack meaning. Fans understand a .300 batting average or a 2.50 ERA or 50 saves. More esoteric are the meanings behind numbers like a .900 OPS, a 3.00 FIP or 10 wins above replacement. Once you understand the logic behind the statistics, it’s easy to see why they’re helpful in understanding the game. Here’s a guide to some of the most commonly used advanced metrics, and why they’re useful.
What: Wins Above Replacement, a catch-all metric designed to quantify a player’s overall contribution to his team’s win total. The statistic measures offense, defense and baserunning for position players. There are two prominent versions: One from FanGraphs.com, the other from Baseball-Reference.com. Each uses a separate formula.
Why: Let’s get this out of the way. Few sabermetrically inclined writers view WAR as the end-all, be-all of statistics. It’s used as the start to a conversation, not the end of it. WAR operates as a tool to add up all the disparate things a player does on the field. It also adds value based on the defensive spectrum, recognizing that positions like center field and shortstop are more difficult to play than first base or a corner outfield spot.
Example: The reason Mike Trout finished 2012 with 10 WAR, according to Fangraphs, and Miguel Cabrera finished with 7.1 WAR, is simple. Trout plays much better defense. He runs the bases much better. And their offense was also comparable, considering that Trout plays his home games in an extreme pitchers’ park, while Cabrera plays in a more neutral park.
What: This statistic is a very simple way to measure a batter’s offensive output. It stands for On-Base Plus Slugging Percentage, and it means what it says. You add up a player’s OBP and his slugging.
Why: Because there are more effective ways to measure a player’s offensive output than just batting average. OPS paints a rudimentary picture of a player’s season: How often did he get on base? How many bases did he accumulate with each at-bat?
Example: Jose Reyes led the National League in 2011 with a .337 batting average. Ryan Braun finished second with a .332 batting average. Yet Braun was the far more accomplished hitter that season. His OPS was .994, the best in the National League and third-best in baseball. Reyes’ OPS was .877, the 26th-best in baseball.
What: Weighted On-Base Average attempts to add some nuance to OPS further, as a way to calculate a player’s overall offensive value. The numbers read like batting average: A .400 mark is considered excellent. A .300 mark is considered poor.
Why: OPS treats on-base percentage and slugging percentage as equals. They are not. Getting on base is considered a bit more valuable. wOBA reflects that. It takes the basic picture created by OPS and refines the number, placing added emphasis on the game’s most critical skill: Getting on base.
Example: Joey Votto may be the premier on-base machine in baseball. Since 2010, only Miguel Cabrera rates higher in wOBA (.428 to .425). Cabrera also has a 1.025 OPS to Votto’s .998 OPS. Votto makes up the difference with a .434 OBP, compared to Cabrera’s .420.
What: Batting Average on Balls in Play records just that: How often a player gets credited with a hit when he puts the ball in play.
Why: Because there’s so much luck involved once a batter makes contact. He can sting a liner right at an outfielder. Or he can bloop a broken-bat double. During the course of the season, BABIP helps measure how much a player is affected by luck or defense. The average mark settles in around .300, with higher marks expected for speed-base players.
Example: In 2008, Nick Swisher muddled through the weakest season of his career. He hit 24 homers, but still finished with a middling .743 OPS. Yet during the next four seasons, his OPS jumped back to an average of .850. The best explanation for his trying 2008 year resides in his .249 BABIP, a mark more than 50 points below his career average (.303). Once his luck evened back out, Swisher went back to being a solid corner outfielder.
What: ISO measures true power. To calculate this, subtract a player’s batting average from his slugging percentage. A .200 ISO is considered very strong.
Why: This is a simple way to measure a player’s ability to accumulate extra-base hits. Sometimes slugging percentage can be deceiving. ISO helps provide more information about the batter’s season: Is the slugging percentage a result of good BABIP luck (and a high batting average) or a series of extra-base hits?
Example: Since 2010, Jose Bautista leads all of baseball with a freakish .322 ISO. To put that in context: Babe Ruth’s ISO was .348. So even though Bautista batted just .271 during that time period, with a mediocre .256 BABIP, when he made contact, he did serious damage.
What: Ultimate Zone Rating is probably the most popular defensive metric. The methodology is difficult to explain, but in essence, the statistic measures how many runs a defender prevents (or allows) based on range, ability to avoid errors, arm and ability to turn double plays.
Why: There’s so much information available about offense — and comparatively so little about defense. UZR is a start. These numbers can be fickle, especially in a small sample size. But with several years of data, you get a sense of how a player handles his position.
Example: From 2009-11, David Wright was one of the worst third basemen in the majors. He allowed about 10 runs more than the average defender. But an offseason adjustment in the winter of 2012 — a new emphasis on positioning his feet and using his whole body when throwing across the diamond — led to a remarkable change. In 2012, he was worth 15.4 more runs in the field than the average defender.
What: Fielding Independent Pitching measures ERA by removing batted-ball luck from the equation. In other words, pitchers are judged on the three things they specifically can control: Strikeouts, walks and home runs.
Why: This statistic can help predict future success — or future struggles — with a bit more nuance than ERA. In general, it is believed a pitcher cannot control what happens once a hitter makes contact. There’s so much variance involved, as we explained with BABIP. The defense might be terrible. The pitcher’s luck might be poor. FIP measures performance if all things were considered equal.
Example: James Shields had terrible luck in 2010, despite a solid 3.67 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His BABIP against was a career-high .344 and more homer-prone than ever. So while his ERA was 5.18, his FIP was a more reasonable 4.24. In the past two seasons, as his luck evened out and his strikeout-to-walk ratio remained about the same, Shields’ ERA slipped back down to a cumulative 3.15.
What: SIERA takes FIP one step further. It stands for Skill-Interactive ERA, and it adds some batted-ball results into the equation. SIERA rewards pitchers for ground balls and pop-ups (because those are tougher to turn into extra-base hits).
Why: Pitching is not simple. FIP treats it as such — which is useful for predicting what might happen in the coming years. SIERA tries to crack through the complexity of the craft by measuring batted-ball results.
Example: Cliff Lee leads the majors in SIERA from 2010-12 with a 2.93 mark. He hits all the checkmarks: He strikes out a ton of batters (24.1 percent of the hitters he faces). He doesn’t walk anyone (3.4 percent). He gets a good deal of grounders (44.4 percent) and infield pop-ups (11 percent).
—By Andy McCullough
Want more baseball? Check out Athlon Sports' 2013 Baseball Annual for the most complete preview available. Order your copy now!
The Gen-6 car for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, after a two-race introduction, appears to be a work in progress. Passing last weekend at Phoenix International Raceway was at an all-time low for its current configuration (1,213 green-flag passes, down from 1,995 in the 2012 race) and pit stop speed decided the race for a driver who hadn’t seen Victory Lane in almost two calendar years.
This weekend’s race at speedy intermediate Las Vegas Motor Speedway is expected to provide a jump in on-track excitement. While I can’t possibly guarantee a more enticing product, there are some intriguing story lines within the numbers this week that should pique your interest and they involve a bevy of fan-favorite drivers. So that’s some excitement there, right?
12.8 and 84.29 percent During the Carl Edwards 70-race winless streak, the No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing team averaged a 12.8-place showing and finished in the top half of fields 84.29 percent of the time.
Those numbers aren’t awful. Despite not winning, Edwards and team were, for most intents and purposes, admirable across that two-year winless stretch. The perceived slump is just that; any team in the Cup Series would welcome the finishing average and that high of a relevance mark (finishes in the top half of fields encapsulates a team’s ability to avoid mistakes). The No. 99 team was never a downtrodden unit. It just didn’t win for an extended period of time. The last place Edwards won at prior to Phoenix? Funny you should ask …
6.750 With two Vegas wins in the last five races, Edwards leads the series in track-specific PEER (Production in Equal Equipment Rating) during that time frame.
The most recent winner in the Cup Series just happens to be a stud on the Vegas 1.5-mile quad-oval track. His performance has been feast with a little bit of famine; outside of his two victories at LVMS in the CoT era, he has finished fifth (last year), 12th and 17th. His winning past doesn’t make him a lock for the victory this weekend, but with the recent headlines, he’ll be one of a handful of drivers in the spotlight.