Articles By Athlon Sports

All taxonomy terms: Kasey Kahne, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/kasey-kahne-2015-season-driver-preview
Body:

There’s an old adage in racing that says, “Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.” For Kasey Kahne, that motto perfectly sums up his most recent Sprint Cup campaign. Kahne was good, and he had fast cars, but the luck just wasn’t on his side. He failed to finish five races in 2014, all due to crash damage in which he was almost always an innocent victim.

 

That’s not to say this team didn’t make its own luck; the No. 5 group, even when at its best, never quite hit the standard Hendrick Motorsports is known for. Although Kahne squeezed into the Chase with an eleventh-hour win in Atlanta, he slogged through the postseason and never became a true contender.

 

But Kahne has several reasons to look forward to 2015. The driver received a real boost when his contract with Hendrick was extended through 2018, putting an end to speculation that young gun Chase Elliott, who won the 2014 Nationwide Series title, would supplant him after this season. The vote of confidence should take some pressure off Kahne and keep him focused on the task at hand.

 

That’s important, as the mild-mannered Kahne will have to lead his team through a major adjustment. Kenny Francis is out as crew chief, moving on within HMS and ending a nine-year pairing between the two. Of Kahne’s 17 career wins, 16 have come with Francis, leaving the future a bit of an unknown. In for Francis steps Keith Rodden, a former Hendrick engineer who returns to the organization after spending a year with Chip Ganassi Racing and driver Jamie McMurray. Rodden helped McMurray score seven top 5s and 13 top 10s, the driver’s best season totals since 2010. Rodden, used to working with a laid-back personality like Kahne, has the potential to be a perfect fit.

 

Athlon Sports’ 2015 Racing magazine delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2015 NASCAR coverage. Click here to order your copy today!

Kahne’s best tracks are the high-speed intermediates that make up the bulk of the schedule, and the speed and durability of his HMS equipment is a combination that’s proven. Kahne hasn’t had a single engine failure since March 2012, and that is a testament to the driver, who can handle a car with finesse.

 

Kahne has strong backing for 2015, with primary sponsors Farmers Insurance and Great Clips back on board along with Time Warner Cable and Pepsi. LiftMaster also signed on for three races this season, and it’s likely that team owner Rick Hendrick will cover any unsold races with his HendrickCars.com brand.

 

There’s another weapon in Kahne’s arsenal, and it’s a powerful one — his Hendrick teammates. Hendrick Motorsports is known for maintaining an open-book policy among its four teams, and Jeff Gordon, with whom Kahne shares a race shop, had the best team overall in 2014’s regular season. The teamwork within the organization, which also includes Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr., makes it easy for a driver to play catch-up. Kahne was top 5 in points as recently as 2012 with HMS, and his success on a particular Chase track in each round (Loudon, Charlotte, Phoenix) makes him a true dark horse.

 

Fantasy Stall

Rodden returns  Kahne’s team lost positions during green-flag pit cycles at a high rate. In ’13, then-crew chief Kenny Francis and engineer Keith Rodden gained Kahne 16 positions during such cycles. Without Rodden, who became Jamie McMurray’s crew chief, Francis cost Kahne 30 positions during cycles last year. In 2015, Rodden returns to replace Francis and should keep Kahne moving forward.

Best tracks  Kahne was still competitive on his signature tracks last year. He won at Atlanta, finished third at Kansas and led 22 percent of the All-Star Race at Charlotte.

Sleeper pick  Kahne’s best average finish per track type last year (9.0) was on road courses. Rodden’s car, with McMurray driving, won the pole and had the highest average running position at Sonoma.

 

No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet

Primary Sponsors: Farmers Insurance, Great Clips, Time Warner Cable, LiftMaster, Pepsi

Owner: Rick Hendrick

Crew Chief: Keith Rodden

Year With Current Team: 4th

Under Contract Through: 2018

Best Points Finish: 4th (2012)

Hometown: Enumclaw, Wash.

Born: April 10, 1980

 

Career Stats

Years StartsWinsTop 5sTop 10sPolesTitlesEarned
113961783146260$65,988,890

 

Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Teaser:
Kasey Kahne 2015 Season Driver Preview
Post date: Thursday, February 12, 2015 - 13:00
All taxonomy terms: Ryan Newman, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/ryan-newman-2015-season-driver-preview
Body:

There are two ways to view Ryan Newman’s 2014 season, and both paint a picture of what 2015 could look like as Newman enters his second year driving for Richard Childress Racing. Statistically, it will go down as his best season ever in terms of consistency. Posting a career-best points finish (runner-up), he was just one Kevin Harvick slip away from becoming the Sprint Cup champion. His average finish of 12.7 was also the best of his 13 full seasons as a Cup competitor, as were his impressive 31 lead-lap finishes in 36 starts.

 

On the other hand, Newman scored only five top-5 finishes; it would have been the worst total for a NASCAR champion since 1949, and it made his appearance in Homestead’s Final Four controversial. He didn’t win a race all season, the first time that’s happened in five years. Newman led just 41 laps all year, ranking just 22nd in Cup in that category, and he never scored a pole, ruining a penchant for qualifying that was once “Rocket Man’s” trademark.

 

That makes Newman’s season and his future with RCR hard to gauge. Can he become the Chase Cinderella in 2015, or will the reality of being a 10th- to 15th-place car most weeks come back to bite him? Most likely, it will be a little of both. As the veteran of this three-car operation, Newman shouldn’t see his consistency drop off too much. Newman’s not getting the top finishes, but he is finishing races and making the most of his equipment.

 

Once Newman is in the Chase, he’s shown that he knows exactly how to play the system (see: mind-numbing top-10 finishes). He doesn’t take the risks that other drivers take, limiting rewards, but when the risks caught up with much of the competition, Newman was home free.

 

Athlon Sports’ 2015 Racing magazine delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2015 NASCAR coverage. Click here to order your copy today!

Newman will benefit from stability. In 2014, he had to learn to work with a new crew and organization, but the learning curve is now behind him. Newman and underrated crew chief Luke Lambert can concentrate on taking the momentum of their runner-up finish and improving their formula. Newman has stable sponsorship from Caterpillar, Quicken Loans and WIX Filters, so there should be few distractions.

 

The last piece of the puzzle for Newman is equipment. What RCR lacks in speed within the engine department, it makes up for in durability; exactly one car failed to finish a race due to mechanical failure. The question is whether racing luck can shine with that amount of regularity on one organization once again. Newman also ruffled feathers in the Chase, roughing up Kyle Larson in Phoenix just to advance to the final round and knocking out potential champion Jeff Gordon. One race of bad feelings carrying over is all it takes, especially for a team with such a limited margin for error. 

 

If nothing changes over the winter, Newman and Co. will have to hope that lightning strikes twice. This team, despite having a great driver and crew chief, might not even win a race in 2015. But it has proven it can’t be overlooked, either, because top 10’ing them to death nearly worked in ’14.

 

Fantasy Stall

Speed on soft intermediates  Newman’s valiant effort in the season finale at Homestead resulted in his best finish of the season, but it wasn’t much of a surprise. At soft intermediate tracks — Homestead, Kansas, Kentucky and Chicagoland — he averaged a 7.4-place finish, his best average finish per track type of 2014.

A gainer at Talladega  RCR equipment is used to running near the front at Talladega, but Newman’s laid-back strategy also worked in 2014. In the two ’Dega races, Newman finished 23.8 and 11.4 spots better than his average running positions, respectively.

Consistency kills  Newman finished in the top 20 a series-high 32 times (88.89 percent of the season) in 2014. That might not mean much for fantasy owners, but the team’s point-padding ways should again put them in Chase contention.

 

No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet

Primary Sponsors: Caterpillar, Quicken Loans, WIX Filters

Owner: Richard Childress

Crew Chief: Luke Lambert

Year With Current Team: 2nd

Under Contract Through: 2016

Best Points Finish: 2nd (2014)

Hometown: South Bend, Ind.

Born: Dec. 8, 1977

 

Career Stats

Years StartsWinsTop 5sTop 10sPolesTitlesEarned
144761798200510$79,377,685

 

Car photo by Action Sports, Inc.; Newman photo courtesy of HHP/Harold Hinson

Teaser:
Ryan Newman 2015 Season Driver Preview
Post date: Thursday, February 12, 2015 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR, Overtime
Path: /overtime/35-funny-fantasy-nascar-team-names-2015
Body:

The 2015 NASCAR season is revving up for another wild year. That also means that it's time for a new fantasy NASCAR season, which begs the question: What do I name my team? To help you come up with the funniest, craziest, silliest name possible we put together our 35 favorites for the 2015 season. Here's our list, in no particular order of awesomeness.

 

Kurt Busch's Secret Assassin Girlfriend

 

Gordon’s Last Lap

 

In the Chase Elliott

 

Losing Makes My Dick Trickle


Balls to the Wall All the Time


Dog the Labonte Hunter

 

Shake & Bake

 

Well Kyle Be Damned


Bad News Mears


Flash Gordon


Gilliland’s Island


No Kahne No Gain


Stewart Your Engines


The Blue Lagano


2 Girls, 1 Sprint Cup


Me So Hornish


Mears for Fears


Marcos Polo


Team Motorboaters


Hello….Newman!


Shaking the Busch, Boss


Magic Johnson


Ambrose Before Ho


A Country Gal Kahne Survive


A Little on the High Side


The Need for Scott Speed

 

Blaney’s Got a Gun

 

The Big Keselowski


2 Lbs. in the Rear Got Her Loose


Green Eggs and Hamlin


Gas Holes


The Sum of All Mears


Team Skidmark

 

Go Left Young Man


Wise Johnsons Fear Burning Busch


UPS = Ugly Paint Scheme

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, February 12, 2015 - 10:31
All taxonomy terms: Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers, NBA
Path: /nba/magic-johnson-rips-lakers-ownership
Body:
In case you haven’t heard, the Los Angeles Lakers are bad. At 13-40, they’re headed for one of their worst bottom lines in franchise history.

 

Magic Johnson isn’t too thrilled about the decay of his former vehicle for glory, and he’s got a firm idea about who’s to blame: team heir Jim Buss, son to the late Jerry Buss.

 

"Jim is trying to do it himself and trying to prove to everybody that this was the right decision that [his] dad gave [him] the reins," Johnson said Tuesday on ESPN. "He's not consulting anybody that can help him achieve his goals and dreams to win an NBA championship.”

 

That includes general manager Mitch Kupchack, as Magic would have it. "If Jim would say, 'OK, Mitch. You run the show,' I think it would be a lot better for the Lakers, too. Mitch Kupchak knows what he's doing. He's great. He's smart. He's hard-working. He's at every practice. I think the fans would feel good [if he ran the team] as well.”

 

Magic even went so far as to say that if the Lakers strike out in free agency this summer, and fail to bring in a big name next to Kobe Bryant, that the Black Mamba should retire.

 

There are, of course, 24 million reasons that Kobe probably won’t do that.

 

But Johnson is right to wonder about the direction of the franchise. The team’s power structure is unclear in this current era, with the maligned Buss son and his sister Jeannie working in some sort of mysterious, and frankly ineffective, tandem with Kupchak.

 

The good news for the Lakers is that they’re the Lakers. Their brand is still one of the most powerful tools in sports, and the idea of being the star to resurrect their ship is going to appeal to an elite player later, even if it doesn’t now. This embarrassment isn’t built to last.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, February 12, 2015 - 10:18
All taxonomy terms: Clint Bowyer, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/clint-bowyer-2015-season-driver-preview
Body:

More than a year removed from “SpinGate” — NASCAR’s biggest controversy in a decade — Clint Bowyer and Michael Waltrip Racing continue to spiral downward in performance. Bowyer’s Toyota team has gone from a runner-up points result in 2012, his peak, to a career-worst 19th-place finish last year.

 

In fact, Bowyer’s 2014 cumulative results — no wins, five top 5s and 15 top 10s — were the worst he’s recorded in Sprint Cup since 2009.

 

The warning signs were prevalent as early as last spring. After the ”SpinGate” incident in the fall of 2013 cost the organization millions in sponsorship support, MWR decided to drop from three full-time teams to two. The company line was that streamlining operations was a positive. Instead it just put MWR at a greater disadvantage against the field, competing against four-car teams with twice the money and resources. “You never want to create a storm in any sport or for anybody — any of your peers, your friends, your family, anybody,” Bowyer said during NASCAR’s return to Richmond on September.

 

But what’s done is done. NAPA, the biggest MWR sponsor lost through the whole ordeal, is now throwing big money at HMS and Chase Elliott. Former teammate Martin Truex Jr. is gone, driving for the No. 78 team at Furniture Row Racing. Left behind are Brian Vickers and Bowyer, whose PR image slowly recovered — but not his on-track results. He went winless for a second straight season, led just 109 laps and posted five DNFs, a shocking number for a driver who once went two-plus years without one.

 

Athlon Sports’ 2015 Racing magazine delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2015 NASCAR coverage. Click here to order your copy today!

MWR remains a two-car team, staying the course with Bowyer and Vickers in the No. 55. They’ll start 2015 with a clean slate and decidedly less offseason strife to get in the way of research and development.

 

“We’ve got to figure out how to collectively get better with both cars,” Bowyer said in November. “We’ve got a lot of areas that we can improve on. It’s easy to point fingers on a lot of big areas, but in all honesty, in this sport and in this garage, it’s the little things that make up the difference.”

 

Those “little things” were what bit Bowyer at the worst possible moments. An ill-timed pit road mistake knocked him out of contention at Martinsville in the spring, costing him a win and an entry into the Chase. Then, a broken shifter ruined a strong run at Atlanta Motor Speedway, ending his hopes to make the postseason on points in early September.

 

Bowyer and MWR will welcome changes in the Sprint Cup rules packages that will level the playing field and give middle-tier programs a better opportunity to compete.

 

 “The best thing that I can see is a completely different animal,” says Bowyer. “It’s the light at the end of the tunnel, starting from scratch again (this) year with a new car and new rules and everything else.”

 

What Bowyer needs now is a win — something positive that will finally make him forget his recent struggles.

 

Fantasy Stall

A viable threat at Talladega  Bowyer can weave through restrictor plate  traffic with the best of them, evident from his two top-five finishes, after spot gains of 24.4 and 23.0 over his average running position in the two 2014 races.

Richmond favorite  A two-time winner at Richmond, Bowyer scored one of his best finishes of the 2014 season there, a third-place result, after averaging a season-best 3.6-place average running position. He finished third or better in three of the last five races at RIR. As long as he can avoid mechanical failure or scandalous team orders, he’s a threat for the win.

Bad luck or just plain bad  All of Bowyer’s awful luck or poor outings last season seemed to take place at the quad-oval tracks — Las Vegas, Texas, Charlotte and Atlanta — where he averaged a 26.2-place finish.

 

No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota

Primary Sponsors: 5-Hour Energy, Peak, AAA

Owner: Michael Waltrip/Rob Kauffman

Crew Chief: Brian Pattie

Year With Current Team: 4th

Under Contract Through: 2017

Best Points Finish: 2nd (2012)

Hometown: Emporia, Kan.

Born: May 30, 1979

 

Career Stats

Years StartsWinsTop 5sTop 10sPolesTitlesEarned
1032585615220$54,356,281

 

Car photo by Action Sports, Inc.; Bowyer photo courtesy of Michael Waltrip Racing

Teaser:
Clint Bowyer 2015 Season Driver Preview 2015 Season Driver Preview
Post date: Thursday, February 12, 2015 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: Houston Rockets, NBA
Path: /nba/charles-barkley-rockets-gm-daryl-morey-are-feuding
Body:
Charles Barkley’s always got a lot of words, and a lot of opinions, during TNT broadcasts.

 

Last night, Houston Rockets’ general manger Daryl Morey wasn't too thrilled with what Chuck was saying. Barkley laid into the Rockets’ defense during a telecast of Houston’s 127-118 victory over the Phoenix Suns, suggesting they were the worst defense in the NBA, or close to it. At the moment, Houston ranks seventh in defensive efficiency, despite 20 missed games from their anchor Dwight Howard. So Morey is more than entitled to get a little — pun intended — defensive:

 

Barkley, of course, was not without response in the post-game show. He fired back with many not-nice words, including:

 

-“Just because you’ve got good stats doesn’t mean you’re a good team defensively. They’re not a good defensive team.”

 

-“I’m not worried about Daryl Morey, he’s one of those idiots who believes in analytics… I’ve always believed analytics was crap, and you know I never mention the Rockets as legitimate contenders, because they’re not. And, listen, I wouldn’t know Daryl Morey if he walked in this room right now.”

 

-“Analytics don’t work at all. It’s just some crap that some people who are really smart made up to try to get into the game, because they have no talent. So smart guys wanted to fit in, so they made up a term called ‘analytics.’ Analytics don’t work… the NBA is about talent. All these guys who run these organizations, who talk about analytics, they’ve got one thing in common: They’re a bunch of guys who’ve never played the game, and they never got the girls in high school, and they just want to get in the game.”

 

Here’s the full video of Barkley’s manifesto against the game’s analyst. Let’s look forward to the continued war between calculators and gladiators:

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - 15:36
Path: /college-basketball/remembering-jerry-tarkanian-2011-athlon-interview
Body:

Former UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian spoke with Athlon Sports Monthly and CBSSports.com college basketball columnist Gary Parrish in an exclusive March 2011 interview, detailing his career, his thoughts on current coaches and his bouts with the NCAA.

 

Tarkanian died in Las Vegas on Wednesday, leaving one of the most compelling legacies in college athletics. He was 84. Tarkanian finished his career with the 1990 national championship, four Final Fours and 761 career wins. His feuds with the NCAA, including a Supreme Court case in 1988, were just as historic.

 

What follows is Tarkanian’s interview for Athlon Sports from 2011.

 

***

 

I was a teenager — a young teenager — living in the Central Time Zone in the late 1980s/early 1990s, which means I loved Guns N’ Roses, the Sega Genesis and staying up late to watch Jerry Tarkanian’s UNLV Runnin’ Rebels destroy overwhelmed opponents. They sprinted. They dunked. They made college basketball fun — and, yes, controversial. Every Final Four seemed to bring an investigation, which makes it tough to determine, even all these years later, whether Tarkanian is more proud of his success or bitter about the NCAA.

 

Here is what Tark had to say.

 

Athlon Sports: HBO Sports did a documentary on the peak of your career called “Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV” that recently debuted and is airing all month. I know you saw an advanced screening of the hour-long program at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas back in February. What did you think?

 

Jerry Tarkanian: The parts on me were really good. I just thought they went too easy on the NCAA. But that’s because I’m so bitter about them.

 

You are, clearly. I’ve talked to friends of yours about that. They’ve told you, at this point, to try to let it all go, haven’t they?

Yes, they have.

 

But letting it go is hard?

It’s very hard. You can’t believe what I went through with them.

 

You’re 80 years old and a college basketball icon. Your record as a head coach at the collegiate level was 729–201. You have a national championship. And yet that’s not what most people think about first when they think about you. The first thing that comes to mind for most people when the name Jerry Tarkanian is mentioned — if we’re playing word-association here — is your battles with the NCAA. So what you went through with them at least somewhat defines you and undeniably still hangs over you, which means what you went through with them is something you still deal with today.

Absolutely. I was investigated by the NCAA three different times — more times than anybody in the history of sports, probably. And every time, the NCAA itself said there were no major violations. No major violations. And yet I was hammered by the NCAA and by the media. Hammered. So it’s very hard to let it all go. Very hard. But I don’t want to talk about that anymore.

 

Then let’s talk about the Basketball Hall of Fame. By any measuring stick, your numbers suggest you should be in. Yes, you had NCAA issues. But, like you said, none of your programs — not Long Beach State, not UNLV, not Fresno State — was ever found to have committed major violations. People can debate what that means, and they do. But when you say you were never found to have committed major violations, that is a true statement. And yet you’re not in the Hall of Fame while Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun — a man whose program has committed major violations, a man whose program is currently on probation — is in the Basketball Hall of Fame. When I tell you that, does it bother you?

I’ve learned to move on from that.

 

College basketball today. How much of it do you still watch? 

I watch it all the time. All the time. Almost every night.

 

When you see coaches playing at a slow pace, does it drive you nuts? Not many teams score the way your teams used to score. 

I pretty much played a slowed-down game my first 11 or 12 years as a head coach. But then I went to a running game, and I loved it. It was fun because our guys played so hard and worked so hard, and we played an exciting brand of basketball. You know, there have been some really good teams that have come through — like the Michigan teams with Chris Webber and Jalen Rose. But I think we were better than most of those teams. We were so good defensively, and we just fit together so good. Our guys played so unselfishly. We led the nation in field goal percentage, and we were not a good shooting team. If you look at our players, Stacey Augmon was not a great shooter. Greg Anthony was not a great shooter. The only one who was a really good shooter was Anderson Hunt. But we still led the nation in field goal percentage.

 

You mentioned Greg Anthony, who is the most visible product from your great UNLV teams all these years later as a basketball analyst for CBS. Are you surprised he’s turned into what he’s turned into?

I knew Greg could do whatever he wanted to do. He was always very intelligent and very articulate. He was self-driven.

I must know, in your opinion, should Greg really have been fouled out of that classic game against Duke — the loss in the 1991 national semifinals that prevented you from being back-to-back national champions?

We went through the tape of that game, and three of his five fouls were phantom calls. He should’ve had two fouls in that game. I’ve never made excuses. But there’s no doubt that’s what happened.

 

What about Larry Johnson? He was the star of those great UNLV teams — the No. 1 pick of the 1991 NBA Draft. Do you still keep in touch with Larry?

I see Larry all the time. He’s here in (Las Vegas). He drove me to the UNLV game (against Wyoming at the end of February). I see Larry a lot.

 

Back on the subject of the NCAA. I know you despise the organization as it was and as it is. But let me ask you this: Is the NCAA fixable? Could the right person fix it?

Yeah, I think they probably could, and I do think they’ve made great progress since my battles. When I had my battles, they didn’t have any evidence of any kind, and they didn’t need any. They would just have notes that they took from an interview, but nobody even knew if the notes were accurate. They weren’t signed or anything. The investigator would just say, “I talked to this person, and this is what he told me.” Nobody ever signed a statement under oath. But the infractions committee would just say they were telling the truth. But I don’t even want to talk about them anymore. It just upsets me.

 

If you had to hire a coach to run your college basketball program, whom would you hire?

My favorite guy is Bobby Huggins. I love Mike Krzyzewski, too. And I’ve for years said Roy Williams is a great, great coach. And I love Bill Self right now. I love Bill.

 

I’ve seen you interact with most of those guys at the Final Four and other places, and I know they all think highly of you. They love being around you, listening to you tell stories. What’s it like to be so revered by current coaches? You are a legend to many of them.

It’s really nice. I have a radio show one night a week during basketball season, and I have every one of the top coaches on my show. I’ve had Self. I’ve had Krzyzewski. I’ve had Jay Wright. Every one of them, they come on.

 

John Calipari?

John comes on my show all the time, too. John and I are very good friends. I think he’s without a doubt the top recruiter, maybe ever. I’ve never seen a coach get as many great players as John gets every year. I like John.

 

As you know, he’s the guy most fans compare to you because he’s had his share of battles with the NCAA, too. Have you ever talked with John about that?

We’ve talked about that some. You know, he feels like the NCAA picked on him, too. But not to the extent they picked on me.

Teaser:
Remembering Jerry Tarkanian: The 2011 Athlon Interview
Post date: Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - 13:20
All taxonomy terms: Kurt Busch, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/kurt-busch-2015-season-driver-preview
Body:

Kurt Busch is a little like cracking open a fortune cookie — you never know what you’re going to find inside. The 2014 season was a wild roller-coaster ride for the driver who joined Stewart-Haas Racing after spending two seasons in relative exile with single-car teams following his release by Team Penske. When Busch was good in 2014, he was very good, as evidenced by his spring Martinsville win, where he outdrove Jimmie Johnson, owner of eight Martinsville grandfather clocks, in the closing laps for the victory. He posted top finishes at several of the sport’s toughest tracks, including Pocono, Daytona, Bristol and Watkins Glen.

 

But when Busch was bad, he was horrid. Collecting more finishes of 28th or worse than he had top 10s, Busch finished in the back 15 a dozen times. He failed to finish altogether six times, matching his number of top-5 finishes. His average finish was a lowly 18.9, and he’d have missed the Chase entirely if not for that Martinsville win. There was no one factor to pinpoint; there were mechanical failures, crashes, pit mistakes and sometimes simple bad luck. It wasn’t something that the team could easily fix.

 

But there’s also no good reason why Busch should be condemned to repeat last season’s struggles. He has all the resources a successful team needs and is an immensely talented driver when focused. With limited practice and no prior experience, Busch scored a top 10 in the Indianapolis 500. The man has long been capable of winning races, but, at some point, he needs to find a way to make his own luck.

 

Athlon Sports’ 2015 Racing magazine delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2015 NASCAR coverage. Click here to order your copy today!

In a surprise late-season move, SHR chose to swap crew chiefs between the teams of Busch and Danica Patrick, sending veteran Tony Gibson to Busch’s camp. Busch performed well in his limited time with Gibson, posting two top 10s in three races with his new crew chief at the helm. If the pairing continues to be successful, it could spur a turnaround for Busch, who has steady backing from Haas Automation, the multi-million-dollar business owned by team co-owner Gene Haas. Busch is a proven asset at SHR, and he has worked well with his three teammates despite early speculation that there were too many tempers to make a cohesive team.

 

There is, however, a cloud of uncertainty surrounding Busch. In November, he was accused of domestic violence by his ex-girlfriend, and the outcome of any legal proceedings could impact both the driver’s future with SHR and in the sport. NASCAR could elect to suspend Busch for one or more races, which would render him ineligible for the Chase, or the governing body could even force his release from SHR. Busch has burned enough bridges in his career that it could be difficult for him to find another top ride.

 

Provided Busch runs the entire season, there’s no reason he can’t win races and build championship-type consistency. Distractions appear to be a problem, though, and have made keeping his job — not winning a NASCAR title — the short-term priority.

 

Fantasy Stall

Don’t trust Martinsville  Busch’s lone win in 2014 came at Martinsville, but that was an apparent aberration considering his recent performances at the facility. Prior to his win, his most recent top-5 finish there had come in 2004.

Green-flag pit cycle improvement  Last year, Busch was saddled with rookie crew chief Daniel Knost, who cost Busch 41 positions during green-flag pit cycles at non-restrictor plate ovals. His new crew chief, Tony Gibson, cost Danica Patrick 15 such positions. It’s still a loss, but it’s better than what Busch previously had.

Not much of a leader  Unlike his brother Kyle, Busch doesn’t pad his laps-led tally. He has never, in his 15-year Cup Series career, led more than 1,000 laps in a season. He led 687 laps combined over the last three years.

 

No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet

Primary Sponsor: Haas Automation

Owner: Tony Stewart/Gene Haas

Crew Chief: Tony Gibson

Year With Current Team: 2nd

Under Contract Through: 2016

Best Points Finish: 1st (2004)

Hometown: Las Vegas, Nev.

Born: Aug. 4, 1978

 

Career Stats

Years StartsWinsTop 5sTop 10sPolesTitlesEarned
1550725106201161$83,600,562

 

Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Teaser:
Kurt Busch 2015 Season Driver Preview
Post date: Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - 13:00
All taxonomy terms: DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings, NBA
Path: /nba/sacramento-kings-set-hire-george-karl-head-coach
Body:

Barring some late-phase drama — which certainly wouldn’t be uncommon from these erratic Sacramento Kings — George Karl is set to return to the NBA, following the All-Star break.

 

ESPN’s Marc Stein and Chris Broussard, among other sources, report this development.

 

Karl will take over for Ty Corbin, who took over for Mike Malone. Karl will be the team’s third coach this season, and the fifth coach in the five years of über-talented center DeMarcus Cousins’ career. 

 

The deal in place between Karl, who has 1,131 wins over 27 years as a head coach, has been a rumored possibility since Malone was fired, but it picked up more steam last week when the Orlando Magic fired Jacque Vaughn. When the potential job market for Karl doubled, Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro — with whom Karl has experience from their time together with the Denver Nuggets — got to work.

 

Karl has coached a variety of styles, but has never led an offense with a centerpiece like Cousins. In his time the with Nuggets, Milwaukee Bucks, Seattle SuperSonics, Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, he has gained a reputation as an uptempo offensive guru who’s happy to boast rotations with an abundance of guards.

His fit with Cousins, thus, seems slightly dubious — but Karl’s style has also been a consequence of his personnel. It’ll be fascinating to see how he adjusts to the possibilities Cousins presents, and how he utilizes one of the more tantalizing talents in the league.

 

More important than anything for Sacramento, though, is that they empower Karl, as they failed to do with Malone or Corbin. Without continuity, stability, or sanity, this franchise isn’t going anywhere. While it remains to be seen what kind of fit Karl is with Cousins, Rudy Gay, Ben McLemore and the rest of the Kings core, the pieces do seem to be in place for some serious growth. Now the organization just needs to learn some patience, stand back, stop meddling, and let it happen.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - 11:40
All taxonomy terms: Jamie McMurray, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/jamie-mcmurray-2015-season-driver-preview
Body:

It would have been easy for Jamie McMurray to exit last season frustrated. Despite having a strong car early in many races, his No. 1 Chevrolet rarely finished where he felt it could. The team’s only winning outing came in the exhibition, non-points All-Star Race in May.

 

“When I look at some of the guys that made the Chase, I think we outran them in 95 percent of the races,” McMurray says. “They were able to be there at the end, whether it was good pit strategy or a (strong) restart. Whatever they did, they were just able to get a better finish.”

 

McMurray scored the 10th-best mid-race running position in the series (13.8). Leading a career-high 368 laps, he wound up 18th in the final standings but would have been 11th without the Chase, after a late-season surge that came far too late to make the playoff. That success has McMurray optimistic heading into 2015.

 

“I’ve been here long enough that I’ve seen the ups and downs,” McMurray says. “As far as our success last year, everything is pretty ‘scienced’ out. There’s a reason why we’ve done this, or a reason why we’ve not done that. It’s not just kind of a shoot-from-the-hip and see what happens.”

 

That knowledge and speed have McMurray, the Daytona 500 winner in 2010, confident that the No. 1 team can take the next step. Of the drivers who have run every season since the Chase’s inception in 2004, he remains the only full-timer not to make a single postseason field. “Speed-wise, I feel like we’re more than capable,” McMurray says. “It will just be about being a little more consistent.”

 

Athlon Sports’ 2015 Racing magazine delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2015 NASCAR coverage. Click here to order your copy today!

To do that, McMurray needs to learn how to close. It’s not just bad luck, like he had at the restrictor plate tracks in 2014. He scored zero top-10s at the plate races — his strongest tracks — often caught up in someone else’s mess. Many of his problems came late in events, like a Bristol race he dominated before a bad handling adjustment had him falling to eighth. Pit problems, flat tires, poor restarts — you name it, McMurray or his team knew how to foul it up in the final 100 laps. He ranked a disappointing 55th out of 73 drivers in NASCAR’s list of “Closers,” positions gained or lost in the last 10 percent of each race.

 

One aspect that won’t be the same for McMurray this season is the crew chief role. Keith Rodden returned to Hendrick Motorsports this year after just a single season on the job, jumping at the chance to return to HMS and run point for Kasey Kahne. (It’s notable that HMS now gives CGR engine support and information that have made them a de facto satellite operation.) McMurray’s team will now be led by Matt McCall, also a first-time crew chief who worked as lead engineer on Ryan Newman’s No. 31 last season.

 

“When things are going well at the end of the year, you don’t want it to end,” McMurray says. “You just never know how it’s going to start back off in February. But I probably feel better going into (this season) than I have in a while.”

 

No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

Primary Sponsors: McDonald’s, Cessna

Owner: Chip Ganassi

Crew Chief: Matt McCall

Year With Current Team: 6th

Under Contract Through: 2015

Best Points Finish: 11th (2004)

Hometown: Joplin, Mo.

Born: June 3, 1976

 

Career Stats

Years StartsWinsTop 5sTop 10sPolesTitlesEarned
13438752121110$59,970,520

 

Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Teaser:
Jamie McMurray 2015 Season Driver Preview
Post date: Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: Greg Biffle, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/greg-biffle-2015-season-driver-preview
Body:

Wheeling a car that feels comfortable and turns well is the goal of every driver. But that car also has to be fast. When a comfortable setup feels perfect, yet falls mid-pack or worse on the speed charts, the process to find speed becomes maddening. Welcome to Greg Biffle’s life at Roush Fenway Racing.

 

“It’s painfully obvious that we’ve been way off as an organization, not as a team,” Biffle says. “There’s a lot of times we go and look at the speed chart and our car is the fastest of the (RFR) group in 18th. That’s not worth ringing the bell on the back of the hauler.”

 

The reality of the struggle goes deeper than just a bad setup, Biffle says. Fundamental car design issues have RFR behind before they even get to the track.

 

“I’ve been telling the team guys,” Biff says, “and I’m convinced of this: NASCAR could cover every car at the track for five days — send everybody else home while we test. On the next weekend, we could go race and we would be better — don’t get me wrong — but we still wouldn’t be as fast as those top-5 cars.”

 

Ouch. What else is there to say?

 

There’s little hiding the fact that Biffle and the rest of RFR’s typically proud Ford operation woefully underperformed last season. Biffle made the Chase on points but was knocked out in Round 1 and was so uncompetitive that his No. 16 might as well have been invisible.

 

“It’s just not where we run as a company,” Biffle says. “We’re used to at least one of our cars being in the top 10, the top 5, leading laps every week. We never even led laps (last) year, really.”

 

Athlon Sports’ 2015 Racing magazine delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2015 NASCAR coverage. Click here to order your copy today!

That’s not entirely true, as Carl Edwards won twice and made the Round of 8 in the Chase. He’s no longer around for 2015, replaced by an inexperienced Trevor Bayne as the team starts rebuilding in multiple ways. For those who remain, trying to understand why the RFR Fords lack speed has become exasperating.

 

“Is it the drivers? It doesn’t look like it,” Biffle says. “Is it the crew chiefs? Is it the engine? Well, the Penske cars have the same engine and they aren’t missing. We aren’t breaking, not having any mechanical failures. What is it?”

 

At least the driver, who signed a multi-year contract extension in 2014 (joining up with new sponsor Ortho), is willing to stick around and find the answer, paired up with a fresh group of engineers. Leading the RFR newcomers for 2015 is Mark McArdle, the former technical head of Richard Childress Racing and Furniture Row. The industry veteran has a tough task ahead of him; according to Biffle, the team has tried every spring and shock combination on the car that RFR has used in the past 10 years. It’s produced little.

 

“We need to continue to try and figure out where our deficiency is,” Biffle says. “We know it’s aero. We know it’s maybe chassis. We know it could be some setup stuff. Are we going to fix it in three months? No. But, we’ve got to get it going the right direction.”

 

Finding that magic solution will take time. 

 

No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford

Primary Sponsors: Ortho, Cheez-It

Owner: Jack Roush/John Henry

Crew Chief: Matt Puccia

Year With Current Team: 13th 

Under Contract Through: 2017

Best Points Finish: 2nd (2005)

 Hometown: Vancouver, Wash.

Born: December 23, 1969

 

Career Stats

Years StartsWinsTop 5sTop 10sPolesTitlesEarned
134381988168120$69.445.013

 

Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Teaser:
Greg Biffle 2015 Season Driver Preview
Post date: Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: college baseball, Preseason, top 25, MLB
Path: /mlb/college-baseballs-preseason-top-25-2015
Body:
Spring training is just around the corner, but the college ranks get a jumpstart on MLB with their season getting underway on Friday. Defending College World Series champion Vanderbilt leads off Athlon Sports' preseason Top 25.
 

1. Vanderbilt (51–21, 17–13 SEC)

Do you like sequels? Well, this could be your year with the Commodores. The frontline pitching is a who’s who of future first-round MLB picks in righties Carson Fulmer (7–1, 1.98), Walker Buehler (12–2, 2.64) and Tyler Ferguson (8–4, 2.69). Sophomores Hayden Stone (4–0, 1.71) and John Kilichowski (0–0, 1.57) will head the bullpen corps. Seven returning starters include top hitters Bryan Reynolds (.338, 14 SBs) and Dansby Swanson (.333, 22 SBs).

 

2. TCU (48–18, 17–7 Big 12)

Despite losing World Series pitcher Brandon Finnegan — last seen doing some work for the Royals in the “other” World Series — the Frogs are well armed for another Omaha run. Preston Morrison (9–4, 1.32) and Tyler Alexander (10–3, 2.36) return to weekend duty and have flame-throwing Riley Ferrell (15 saves) to back them. Top hitter Garrett Crain (.324) joins solid infielders Keaton Jones (.265) and Derek Odell (.264). Also watch for incoming C Evan Skoug and Georgia Tech transfer Elliott Barzilli.

 

3. Virginia (53–16, 22–8 ACC)

Yep, those Wahoo sightings in Omaha will continue, especially with all three weekend starters back on the mound in Nathan Kirby (9–3, 2.06, 112 Ks), Brandon Waddell (10–3, 2.45) and Josh Sborz (6–4, 2.92). After losing flamethrowing closer Nick Howard, some bullpen re-tooling will be necessary, but the defense will be solid with 3B Kenny Towns (.278) and SS Daniel Pinero (.261). Offensively, top hitter John La Prise (.348) and Joe McCarthy (.301) wield lethal sticks.

 

4. Oklahoma State (48–18, 18–6 Big 12)

The Pokes have their guns up for a reason this year. The pitching staff returns 54 starts and a fleet of relievers, including Jon Perrin (8–5, 2.38), Blake Battenfield (4–0, 1.69) and Tyler Buffett (2–1, 2.95). If lefties Garrett Williams (4–1, 5.40) and Tyler Nurdin (4–3, 6.54) pitch to potential, look out. Offensively, C Gage Green (.310, 20 SBs) and SS Donnie Walton (.310) will lead a capable attack. Josh Holliday has built his alma mater into a national power in just a few short years.

 

5. North Carolina (35–27, 15–15 ACC)

Coach Mike Fox must be chomping at the bit to get 2015 started. Pitchers Trent Thornton (7–4, 2.73), Benton Moss (4–2, 3.62) and Zac Gallen (5–4, 4.64) combined for 46 starts a year ago. Not only that, but most of the bullpen returns as well. The offense needs a kick of adrenaline as Landon Lassiter (.305) and Wood Myers (.298) hope that Skye Bolt (.257) reverts to form.

 

6. South Carolina (44–18, 18–12 SEC)

Oh sure, some familiar names are gone — like Pankake, Greiner, English, Montgomery and Seddon. But seven pitchers with a sub-3.00 ERA and seven bats in the order return. Wil Crowe (8–3, 2.75) and Jack Wynkoop (7–6, 2.86) are solid weekend arms. 1B Kyle Martin (.336-5-36) is back despite getting drafted last summer and will join 2B Max Schrock (.299-5-20) and OF Connor Bright (.311) to wreak havoc.

 

7. UCLA (25–30–1, 12–18 Pac-12)

The Bruins are the Wall Street of college baseball — up, down and unpredictable. But they’ll have their entire weekend rotation back, led by junior James Kaprielian (7–6, 2.29) and All-America reliever David Berg (132 career apps, 36 saves), who turned down the Rangers as a 17th-round draft pick. Experienced stalwarts like OF Eric Filia and 3B Kevin Kramer return after missing all of last season.

 

8. Arizona State (33–24, 19–11 Pac-12)

Tracy Smith, the Indiana mastermind, comes to the desert and inherits a deep cupboard of talent. All three weekend starters are back on the mound, including lefty juniors Brett Lilek (4–5, 2.68) and Ryan Kellogg (8–3, 3.76), and fireballing bullpen stud Ryan Burr (3–3, 3.27, 12 saves) will back them. Last year’s youthful batting order has seven starters back.

 

9. Florida (40–23, 21–9 SEC)

Remember that outstanding freshman class from last year? Well, coach Kevin O’Sullivan has set their dials to “dominate” in 2015. Of the top 10 returning pitchers, six of them are sophomores, including ace Logan Shore (7–4, 2.16), A.J. Puk (5–2, 3.19) and relief specialist Kirby Snead (3–0, 2.40). Speedsters like CF Harrison Bader (.337, 13 SBs) and SS Richie Martin (.265, 18 SBs) are among seven returning fielders.

 

10. Louisville (50–17, 19–5 AAC)

Dan McDonnell’s troops have become Omaha veterans. He’ll have All-America candidates in Kyle Funkhouser (13–3, 1.94) and Anthony Kidston (9–1, 3.40) in the rotation, along with Josh Rogers (3–3, 3.63), who started in the postseason. Double-play combo Zach Lucas (.270) and Sutton Whiting (37 SBs) will team with OF Corey Ray (.325) to wreak havoc on the basepaths.

 

11. Houston (48–18, 14–9 AAC)

This is a dangerous team. A few roles need to be filled in the bullpen, but beyond that, all three weekend starters are back, led by All-America candidates Aaron Garza (9–5, 2.92) and Jake Lemoine (6–8, 2.87). Leadoff hitter Kyle Survance (.308, 31 SBs) is one of the most exciting players in the country and teams with Justin Montemayor (.298) for a good one-two offensive punch.

 

12. Texas Tech (45–21, 14–10 Big 12)

Tim Tadlock has something special brewing in the panhandle. His Raiders return their two wins leaders in LHPs Dylan Dusek (8–0, 1.94) and Cameron Smith (8–3, 2.79) and 11 of their 16 saves in the bullpen. Plus, Quinn Carpenter brings his mid-90s heat to campus. Tech features the best infield in the country with SS Tim Proudfoot (.309) and 2B Bryant Burleson (.272).

 

13. LSU (46–16–1, 17–11–1 SEC)

The Tigers lost their ace in Aaron Nola, but don’t shed too many tears for the boys on the Bayou — they still have All-Americans in SS Alex Bregman (.316-6-47) and OF Andrew Stevenson (.335), plus rising sophomore pitchers Jared Poché (9–3, 2.45), Parker Bugg (2–2, 2.75) and Alden Cartwright (1–1, 2.41). The No. 1-ranked recruiting class will keep the Tigers chugging along.

 

14. Rice (42–20, 23–7 C-USA)

It’s an ominous sign for opposing batters when Wayne Graham has a stocked staff. Junior lefties Blake Fox (12–0, 1.46) and Kevin McCanna (8–3, 2.69) will team with All-C-USA flinger Jordan Stephens (8–4, 2.43 in 2013), who missed nearly all of 2014. The offense loses four of the top five hitters, but seniors John Clay Reeves (.317) and Ford Stainback (.258) are experienced leaders.

 

15. Nebraska (41–21, 18–6 Big Ten)

Nothing makes a coach smile like experience. Darin Erstad has a senior-heavy team for 2015, including returning pitchers Chance Sinclair (9–1, 2.15), Kyle Kubat (5–2, 4.55) and Josh Roeder (12 saves) and top hitters Blake Headley (.323) and Tanner Lubach (.282). Also watch for a pair of dynamos in OF Ryan Boldt (.311) and SS Wes Edington, who missed 2014 with an injury.

 

16. Stanford (35–26, 16–14 Pac-12)

Try to look surprised, but the Cardinal will again feature numerous blue-ribbon hurlers. A full 100 percent of last year’s starts and 90 percent of their innings pitched from last year come back, led by sophomores Cal Quantrill (7–5, 2.68), Brett Hanewich (4–4, 3.17) and Chris Viall (2–3, 4.74), along with wins leader John Hochstatter (10–3, 3.36). Only three returning starters are behind them, but the No. 8-ranked incoming class will help.

 

17. Mississippi State (39–24, 18–12 SEC)

The Bulldogs hit a few bumps in the road a year ago but look like they’re back to contender status now. Buoying their hopes are returning senior starters Ross Mitchell (8–5, 2.53) and Trevor Fitts (5–3, 2.58), who have the potential to dominate on the mound. 1B Wes Rea (.245-5-41), OF Jake Vickerson (.264, 11 SBs) and Seth Heck (.299) all need to play to their potential for this team to excel.

 

18. Loyola Marymount (32–24, 17–10 WCC)

Yes it’s true — the hearts of the Lions will be big this year. The pitching staff got a few shots of adrenaline as third-round MLB draftee Trevor Megill returns, joining his incoming brother Tylor Megill to provide a pair of lively arms and big bodies. Friday ace Colin Welmon (10–2, 2.37) also returns. Freshmen All-Americans Austin Miller (.374, 25 SBs) and David Fletcher (.329, 17 SBs) were the top two hitters last year.

 

19. Ole Miss (48–21, 19–11 SEC)

Yes, there were some big losses to the roster, including every .300-plus hitter in the order and staff horse Chris Ellis. But Christian Trent (9–0, 2.05) and Sam Smith (5–4, 3.61) return to the rotation. Power-slugging Sikes Orvis (.294-14-53) will team with J.B. Woodman (.298, 10 SBs) and Errol Robinson (.294) to reload the offense. Watch for slick-fielding freshman Tate Blackman, a 20th-round Brewers draftee.

 

20. Cal State Fullerton (34–24, 14–10 Big West)

Hopefully the soap opera of 2014 is over. Obviously, without All-America aces Thomas Eshelman (8–3, 1.89) and Justin Garza (5–4, 3.22), the Titans don’t sniff the Top 25. They’ll have to lean heavily on the 10th-ranked recruiting class, which features five drafted players. Keep tabs on SS Tristan Hildebrandt, a 16th-round pick, and OF Scott Hurst, who led the Alaska League in batting (.429) as an incoming freshman.

 

21. Florida State (43–17, 21–9 ACC)

We don’t usually see the Seminoles this far down, but there was a small exodus from 2014. The offense still has All-American D.J. Stewart (.351-7-50) and mercurial Ben DeLuzio (.281, 16 SBs), but they are the only returnees hitting better than .268. Four-year guys like Mike Compton (7–3, 3.23), Billy Strode (2–1, 2.62) and Bryant Holtmann (5–1, 3.68) will be the building blocks of a retooled pitching staff.

 

22. Oregon State (45–14, 23–7 Pac-12)

The Beavers need to re-dam the stream and will rely heavily on a top-flight recruiting class that features five drafted players. Andrew Moore (6–5, 2.77) assumes the Friday role and will have Jake Thompson (3–2, 4.25) and Zack Reser (5–0, 1.71) behind him. There will be strength up the middle with CF Jeff Hendrix (.351), C Logan Ice (.250), 2B Caleb Hamilton and SS Trever Morrison.

 

23. Texas (46–21, 13–11 Big 12)

You may not see a better defensive team, as all five infielders return, led by SS C.J. Hinojosa (.298) and power-stick C Tres Barrera (.261-5-35). The mound is always a Longhorn strength, and getting Parker French (7–5, 2.41) back for his senior season was big. Also keep an eye on relief aces Travis Duke (2–1, 0.29) and Chad Hollingsworth (4–0, 1.15). The freshman class was ranked seventh nationally.

 

24. Maryland (40–23, 15–14 ACC)

The Terrapins make the move from the ACC to the Big Ten confident and loaded for another postseason run. Most of the arms corps returns, so losing ace Jake Stinnett won’t be hard to overcome. Mike Shawaryn (11–4) and saves ace Kevin Mooney (13 saves) lead a deep, experienced staff. Seven starters are back in the order, led by top bat Brandon Lowe (.348) and Jose Cuas (.279-5-42).

 

25. UC Santa Barbara (34–17–1, 12–12 Big West)

The Gauchos are still steaming over their NCAA at-large snub, despite finishing just one spot lower than Fullerton. Well, revenge starts with All-America hurlers Justin Jacome (8–2, 2.61) and saves ace Dillon Tate (12 saves, 1.45 ERA). Offensively, Robby Nesovic (.325) and speedsters Peter Maris (.272, 16 SBs) and Andrew Calica (.310, 10 SBs) should keep the pressure on.

 
 
—Written by Eric Sorenson for Athlon Sports. This is just one of the features that can be found in Athlon Sports' 2015 MLB Preview magazine, which is available on newsstands and online now. Starting with 22 unique covers to choose from, Athlon covers the diamond and circles the bases with enough in-depth preseason analysis, predictions and other information to satisfy fans of the national pastime from the Bronx to the Bay and everywhere in between. Order your copy now!
Teaser:
The 2015 college baseball season gets underway Friday. To prep readers, Athlon Sports looks at college baseball's preseason Top 25.
Post date: Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: Austin Dillon, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/austin-dillon-2015-season-driver-preview
Body:

Austin Dillon’s career began with a bang as he brought back the iconic No. 3 car in grand fashion, taking the pole for the Daytona 500. After he finished ninth at Daytona, expectations skyrocketed for a driver many thought would be Rookie of the Year.

 

The rest of Dillon’s 2014 season? That was spent crashing down to earth. He slumped to 20th in points, missed the Chase and was a distant second for top rookie honors to Kyle Larson, making Dillon one of the year’s massive disappointments.

 

In his defense, when you bring back a number once synonymous with Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt Sr., there’s going to be a certain pressure to perform. For Dillon, the learning curve is steeper than he faced in either the Camping World Truck or Nationwide series, where the 24-year-old won championships. The competition in Cup is both deeper and fiercer; RCR, at this level, is also a small step behind its main rivals in equipment.

 

But Dillon did a lot of things right last season that set him up to continue to grow in 2015. Perhaps most important, he finished every race, running more laps last season (10,488) than any driver except Jeff Gordon. Bringing the equipment home in one piece is not something every rookie has done, but Dillon was able to do so on a consistent basis, compiling maximum information in the process. That only gives Dillon an edge coming into the new season.

 

Athlon Sports’ 2015 Racing magazine delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2015 NASCAR coverage. Click here to order your copy today!

What does he need to do in 2015? The answer is easy enough — turn those top-15 performances, of which the rookie had several, into top-10 results worth writing about. He has all the tools in the box to get it done, starting with RCR equipment that’s some of the most durable in the sport. It’s true that to finish first, a driver must first finish, and Dillon has cars that can do that; RCR had a total of one mechanical failure last year among its three cars. Speed, once the strength of this organization, is now its problem. Earnhardt-Childress racing engines were several miles per hour slower than their counterparts, including former powerplant partner and new Hendrick satellite Chip Ganassi Racing.

 

Dillon has a lot going for him, though. He has a talented veteran crew chief in Gil Martin, who has almost 20 years of experience in NASCAR’s top division. Martin has 16 wins and six top-5 points finishes on his résumé. The team has some powerhouse sponsors in Dow Chemical, Cheerios and American Ethanol — paired with loyal, smaller backers like Realtree — which provide a strong base. Teammate Ryan Newman found a new level of speed for the organization, and that could easily be filtered down the line.

 

Overall, Dillon is a solid driver who should continue to develop in 2015. All signs point to slow and steady progress, requiring the patience most athletes don’t get these days. But when your owner is also your grandfather — and he pairs you with an iconic car — you’re going to get every opportunity to make this No. 3 return a success.

 

No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet  

Primary Sponsors: Dow, Cheerios, American Ethanol, Realtree
Owner: Richard Childress

Crew Chief: Gil Martin
Year With Current Team: 3rd

Under Contract Through: Lifetime
Best Points Finish: 20th (2014)

Hometown: Lewisville, N.C.
Born: April 27, 1990

 

Career Stats

YearsStartsWinsTop 5sTop 10sPolesTitlesEarned
24901410$7,112,800

 

Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Teaser:
Austin Dillon 2015 Season Driver Preview
Post date: Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/barack-obama-and-michael-jordan-might-have-some-beef
Body:
Two of the most influential American men of the last quarter century, Barack Obama and Michael Jordan, appear to have entered into a battle of egos.

 

It all started back in October, when Jordan called POTUS’s golfing skills into question during an interview with Ahmad Rashad. “I never said he wasn’t a great politician,” Jordan said, “I just said he was a s——- golfer.”

 

Obama was quick to fire back in a subsequent radio interview. ‘There is no doubt that Michael is a better golfer than I am,” he said.” Of course if I was playing twice a day for the last 15 years, then that might not be the case… He might want to spend more time thinking about the Bobcats — or the Hornets.”

 

Quite the bit of trash talk, Mr. President.

 

It now appears Michael was perhaps not to be outdone, though. As Deadspin notes, a recent New York Magazine profile of trusted Obama advisor David Axelrod reveals that Jordan signed a poster of himself for the president, and misspelled Obama’s first name as “Barrack.”

 

Either Jordan was tipsy, is a bad speller, or was trying to slight his man a little further — his “you still owe me dinner” line in the signature suggests it’s probably the latter reality.

 

This evokes the head games Jordan played with one of his all-time greatest victims: Bryon Russell, then of the Utah Jazz, whom M.J. hit his iconic final Chicago Bulls shot against, to seal his sixth NBA championship.

 

Jordan had previously belittled Russell by repeatedly referring him “Byron” in an interview. There are fewer forms of psychological warfare more effective than taking away a man’s very name — His Airness knows what he’s doing.

 

Who’s ready for the one-on-one game between Jordan and his president, on the White House lawn?

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, February 10, 2015 - 16:18
All taxonomy terms: AJ Allmendinger, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/aj-allmendinger-2015-season-driver-preview
Body:

Telling AJ Allmendinger that things happen for a reason used to get under his skin. The phrase irked him for its simplicity, as he felt there was always more to the story.

 

The last few years changed his mind.

 

Allmendinger lost a full-time seat with Penske Racing in the middle of the 2012 season when he failed a NASCAR drug test for taking Adderall without a prescription — a situation he says was a one-time mistake and not a long-term problem. The subsequent suspension and fallout dropped Allmendinger from the high point of his career to rock bottom. The path back to respectability seemed long. “I knew at that point that I had to make some changes,” Allmendinger says. “If (NASCAR) was ever going to happen again, I wanted it to happen the right way.”

 

In 2014, it happened the right way, and with a surge no one expected. After riding a part-time gig in 2013, Allmendinger took over full-time in the seat of JTG-Daugherty Racing’s No. 47, driving for a one-car team doing its best to throw punches at NASCAR’s behemoths. The organization had struggled before Allmendinger’s arrival, earning only four top-10 finishes in the last three seasons with veteran Bobby Labonte. Allmendinger had some struggles — he drove to just the 25th-best average running position of all full-time drivers — but he got the job done in his last, best chance to earn a spot in NASCAR’s postseason. Besting road course king Marcos Ambrose, Allmendinger earned his first career Cup victory at Watkins Glen in August.

 

Athlon Sports’ 2015 Racing magazine delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2015 NASCAR coverage. Click here to order your copy today!

Thanks to the new championship format, Allmendinger’s regular-season win earned the No. 47 car an unexpected Chase berth.

 

“I love that underdog role. I love the small team,” he says. “We’ve got to go out there and work harder just to compete. It has happened for a reason. I have found a home. I wouldn’t change anything.”

 

The Chase opportunity didn’t reinvent the No. 47 team — it was out after the first round — but it represented progress. RCR chassis and engine support, new in 2014, paid dividends, along with crew chief Brian Burns. Both are back. Allmendinger, who was signed to a long-term extension with his primary sponsors Clorox and Kimberly-Clark, understands he has a foundation to build from now.

 

“It’s baby steps,” he says. “It’s great to win a race, but I still look at us in general and know that we were about a 20th-place team. I want to get to be a 15th-place team. I want to get to be a top-10 team. We can get better every weekend, get more competitive.”

 

Allmendinger includes himself in the discussion of what needs to improve; he’s still inconsistent on the track and learning how to lead a one-car team off it. He knows that this year will still require heavy lifting and some good fortune to earn a second consecutive postseason appearance. “We have a long way to go,” he says. “But we know that if we can go out there and hit our best, we can win any given race.”

 

No. 47 JTG-Daugherty Racing Chevrolet

Primary Sponsors: Kimberly-Clark Products, Clorox

Owner: Tad & Jodi Geschickter/Brad Daugherty

Crew Chief: Brian Burns

Year With Current Team: 3rd

Under Contract Through: 2016

Best Points Finish: 13th (2014)

Hometown: Los Gatos, Calif.

Born: Dec. 16, 1981

 

Career Stats

YearsStartsWinsTop 5sTop 10sPolesTitlesEarned
9227173520$27,806,820

 

Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Teaser:
2015 driver profile for AJ Allmendinger on the NASCR Sprint Cup circuit.
Post date: Tuesday, February 10, 2015 - 14:00
All taxonomy terms: Martin Truex Jr., NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/martin-truex-jr-2015-season-driver-preview
Body:

Martin Truex Jr. is eager to start 2015 strong and continue the late-season momentum that salvaged an otherwise awful start driving Furniture Row Racing’s No. 78 Chevrolet. “Racing is never harder than when you’re not running good — just everything about it gets magnified,” Truex says. “The relationships get damaged, the confidence gets damaged, and everybody’s in a bad mood. It’s a constant downward spiral, and until you can stop that and turn it around, it’s hard to gain momentum.”

 

It’s a story Truex lived firsthand during his maiden voyage with this single-car program, his best option after the 2013 Michael Waltrip Racing Richmond debacle resulted in the contraction of MWR from three cars to only two. The cloud seemed to hang over Truex and his new team well into 2014. Right away, Truex blew an engine in the Daytona 500 and showed few signs of positive results until late in the 36-race schedule. The team lacked confidence and struggled to jell, leading a total of one lap all season.

 

After Truex missed the Chase by well over 100 points — and suffered through a personal nightmare of his longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex being diagnosed with stage III ovarian cancer — many wondered whether he would even stick around to complete his two-year deal.

 

Fortunately for both sides, a no-pressure Chase allowed Truex the opportunity to use the postseason races as a testing ground for 2015. Five top-15 finishes in the first five postseason races reminded both sides what this team is capable of; after all, other programs running Richard Childress Racing chassis, like AJ Allmendinger and JTG-Daugherty Racing, won races and ran competitively all season long.

 

Athlon Sports’ 2015 Racing magazine delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2015 NASCAR coverage. Click here to order your copy today!

In a surprising move, crew chief Todd Berrier was ousted in early December. Race engineer Cole Pearn earned a promotion, his first crew chief job, as the team hopes a “new school” approach will be the perfect match for NASCAR’s new rules. Hopes are high that the new pairing won’t miss a beat. Pearn, a former RCR employee, should strengthen the ties between the team and its engine and chassis provider.

 

A tire test at California in the fall instilled hope in Truex after the team tested the new aerodynamic package, one that decreased the height of the rear spoiler and featured other adjustments that added more front turning ability to the car.

 

Now, Truex must turn to 2015 with an optimistic yet cautious approach in the second and final year of his contract. “Realistically, you can’t expect to go from where we were and be the top title contender,” Truex says. “In the last third of 2014, we were consistently a top-15, close to top-10 car. If we can come out of the box doing that and then continue to improve, I would be happy with that.”

 

If that doesn’t occur, expect Truex to become one of the sport’s top free agents. Both he and FRR deserve better than the driver’s career-worst 24th-place ranking from a year ago.

 

No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet

Primary Sponsor: Furniture Row

Owner: Barney Visser

Crew Chief: Cole Pearn

Year With Current Team: 2nd

Under Contract Through: 2015

Best Points Finish: 11th (2007, ’12)

Hometown: Mayetta, N.J.

Born: June 29, 1980

 

Career Stats

YearsStartsWinsTop 5sTop 10sPolesTitlesEarned
113332329570$47,445,541

 

Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Teaser:
2015 driver profile for Martin Truex Jr. on the NASCR Sprint Cup circuit.
Post date: Tuesday, February 10, 2015 - 13:00
All taxonomy terms: Paul Menard, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/paul-menard-2015-season-driver-preview
Body:

A little food for thought: Paul Menard is coming off what could be considered his best career Sprint Cup season. He had career-bests in both top 5s (5) and top 10s (13), and while his points position was his lowest since 2010, the average finish was among the best of his career. 

 

Menard isn’t going to win Richard Childress a Cup title, but what he will do in 2015 is what he has done for the last several years — give the team some strong finishes and bring good information to the table that can be used to help the organization move forward. Menard has the tendency to be a little streaky — he can reel off a string of top 10s followed by several mid-pack finishes — and overall, that’s not going to be championship material. Unlike his teammate Ryan Newman, Menard isn’t consistently strong enough to make a title run out of a season that doesn’t include a win.

 

That’s not to say Menard couldn’t have an outside chance at the Chase; however, it’s likely that he’ll need to win to do it, and the odds aren’t in his favor with just one Cup win to his name. He can be a threat at some tracks — 10 of his 13 top-10 finishes last season came at tracks 1.5 miles or longer — but it’s more likely that he’ll be more of a top-15 threat than a top-10 one. And with the field as stacked as it is, that’s not likely to make the cut.

 

Athlon Sports’ 2015 Racing magazine delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2015 NASCAR coverage. Click here to order your copy today!

In Menard’s favor are solid equipment and sponsorship. While RCR might be a step behind the biggest teams, it is still among the sport’s elite, and Menard has equipment that matches his talent — not something every driver enjoys. He’s in a stable position in part because of his family-owned sponsorship, but he’s not merely riding the coattails of his family legacy. Because of that stability, Menard doesn’t have to look over his shoulder to see if a youngster with money is waiting in the wings, and he’s a solid enough performer that he’s an asset to RCR because of the information he can bring to the table.

 

His crew chief is a question mark for 2015. Justin Alexander took over head wrench duties after Slugger Labbe was promoted within the RCR organization. Alexander certainly has the credentials to be a successful crew chief, and Menard did post a top-5 finish during Alexander’s five-race test run in 2014, but this duo hasn’t been together long enough to be properly evaluated. Technology, more than ever, makes an impact

these days, and Alexander’s experience could move the needle.

 

Overall, expect 2015 to be a solid season for Menard, who has proven to be a steady driver. The biggest factor against him is probably the depth of competition in Sprint Cup right now. He’s capable of solid finishes, but so are many others, and that makes it unlikely that he will enjoy a season that exceeds expectations. He’ll put together some good runs, keep his cars in one piece and bring his team information it can use. All good things for a mid-tier driver like Menard.

 

No. 27 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet

Primary Sponsor: Menards

Owner: Richard Childress

Crew Chief: Justin Alexander

Year With Current Team: 5th

Under Contract Through: 2016

Best Points Finish: 16th (2012)

Hometown: Eau Claire, Wis.

Born: Aug. 21, 1980

 

Career Stats

YearsStartsWinsTop 5sTop 10sPolesTitlesEarned
112911154710$34,181,518

 

Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Teaser:
2015 driver profile for Paul Menard on the NASCR Sprint Cup circuit.
Post date: Tuesday, February 10, 2015 - 12:15
All taxonomy terms: New York Knicks, NBA
Path: /nba/knicks-owner-james-dolan-sends-nasty-e-mail-fan
Body:

James Dolan is not the best — everybody knows that. The New York Knicks’ owner has a reputation for meddling and spreading dysfunction throughout his organization;  even new team president Phil Jackson is not safe from his wrath.


Weeks ago, it came out that Dolan reportedly lowballed potential coaching candidate Steve Kerr — now thriving with the Golden State Warriors — because Kerr did too much prying research into the Knicks’ infrastructure. This sin caused an old-school fan to lose his cool, and e-mail Dolan his piece of mind. Via Deadspin:


Subject: I have been a knicks fan since 1952


At one stage I thought that you did a wonderful thing when you acquired EVERYTHING from your dad. However, since then it has been ALL DOWN HILL. Your working with Isaiah Thomas & everything else regarding the Knicks. Bringing on Phil Jackson was a positive beginning, but lowballing Steve Kerr was a DISGRACE to the knicks. The bottom line is that you merely continued to interfere with the franchise.


As a knicks fan for in excess of 60 years, I am utterly embarrassed by your dealings with the Knicks. Sell them so their fans can at least look forward to growing them in a positive direction Obviously, money IS NOT THE ONLY THING. You have done a lot of utterly STUPID business things with the franchise. Please NO MORE.


Fans are emotional, so this letter comes as no surprise. The catch here is Dolan’s shockingly petty response:


On Fri, Jan 23, 2015 at 8:15 PM, James Dolan <[email protected]> wrote:


Mr Bierman
You are a sad person. Why would anybody write such a hateful letter. I am.just guessing but ill bet your life is a mess and you are a hateful mess. What have you done that anyone would consider positive or nice. I am betting nothing. In fact ill bet you are negative force in everyone who comes in contact with you. You most likely have made your family miserable. Alcoholic maybe. I just celebrated my 21 year anniversary of sobriety. You should try it. Maybe it will help you become a person that folks would like to have around. In the mean while start rooting.for the Nets because the Knicks dont want you.


Respectfully
James Dolan


If you’re not sick of laughing at Dolan after that, just take a listen to his comically corny blues band, JD and the Straight Shot:

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

 

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, February 10, 2015 - 10:14
All taxonomy terms: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/2015-nascar-driver-profile-ricky-stenhouse-jr
Body:

The statistics say Ricky Stenhouse Jr. endured a 2014 season that didn’t mesh with the lofty expectations that came with his move full-time to Sprint Cup racing after a pair of Nationwide Series titles in 2011 and ’12. The temptation is to call last year his sophomore slump. But Stenhouse didn’t perform below his ability. Rather, he was just another Roush driver who struggled to find competitive speed in a season in which the three-driver team rarely found any.

 

“We all drive different, have different setups and crew chiefs, but we’re all complaining about the same thing,” Stenhouse says of RFR in 2014. “At least we know there’s a problem there somewhere that we’ve got to get out.”

 

For Stenhouse, those handling issues translated to a season with just one top-5 result, five top-10 finishes and an average finish of 22.4 — a drop of 3.5 positions per race from 2013, his first full season in Cup racing.

 

It was a clear disappointment, especially when Stenhouse was gift-wrapped his All-Star crew chief from past Nationwide success (Mike Kelley). It provided the 27-year-old with sage learning moments, ones he’ll have to use in order to stay employed beyond 2015.

 

“I need to make sure I don’t ask the crew chief or engineers to fix my car in a way that I know they probably can’t,” Stenhouse says. “Taking a 12th-place and trying to finish fifth with it is tough to do in the middle of a race. We need to work on it a little bit at a time instead of trying to make big adjustments. I think that threw us off a bit (in 2014).”

 

Athlon Sports’ 2015 Racing magazine delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2015 NASCAR coverage. Click here to order your copy today!

Driver No. 17 also enters this season with a keen sense of what he has to do to improve the car more quickly each weekend. In 2014, Stenhouse started studying the at-track performance data of his Ford counterparts more closely. The homework, while not providing instant success, changed his driving style.

 

 “I like to drive in the corner hard, use the brake and then jump right back into the gas,” Stenhouse says. “But last year I found a lot of race tracks where you change it up and kind of roll into the corner and get back to the gas, you go faster.”

 

That’s a good thing, as 2015 comes with the mantra “no excuses.” His best friend Trevor Bayne is now a teammate, and the duo now has reasonable Cup experience. They, along with veteran Greg Biffle, had input on offseason personnel shuffles to boost the team. It’s not the playoffs or bust for Stenhouse … but it’s close.

 

Jumping from 27th in points to Chase contention is a bit unrealistic. That leaves Stenhouse optimistic that a Chase-berthing win is in reach — ideally during one of two Bristol Motor Speedway stops, where he finished a career-best second last spring. A short track win for Stenhouse would earn him a spot in the Chase and end his pursuit for a first career victory.

 

“I think there’s no reason we can’t win a race in 2015,” Stenhouse said. “I really want to get that marked off our list.”

 

No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford

Primary Sponsors: Fastenal, Zest, Fifth Third Bank, NOS, Ford, Ecopower

Owners: Jack Roush/John Henry

Crew Chief: Mike Kelley

Year With Current Team: 3rd

Under Contract Through: 2015

Best Points Finish: 19th (2013)

Hometown: Olive Branch, Miss.

Born: Oct. 2, 1987

 

Career Stats

YearsStartsWinsTop 5sTop 10sPolesTitlesEarned
47602810$11,343,905

 

Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Teaser:
2015 driver profile for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on the NASCR Sprint Cup circuit.
Post date: Monday, February 9, 2015 - 16:35
All taxonomy terms: Aric Almirola, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/2015-nascar-driver-profile-aric-almirola
Body:

Entering his fourth full season at Richard Petty Motorsports, Aric Almirola is a believer that a low level of offseason turbulence — a rarity for the organization — is reason to believe that his team can keep moving forward in 2015.

 

A Chase for the Sprint Cup contender for the first time last year, Almirola enters this season with the same crew chief (Trent Owens), the same core group of team members, a steady sponsor situation and a race team on substantially better financial footing.

 

“Everything being kind of status quo on that side is really good,” Almirola says.

 

RPM certainly hopes so, as its owners have opted to invest heavily in improving the program. The team moved into a larger race shop this offseason and started hanging the bodies on its cars, a step toward independence from fellow Ford team and technical partner Roush Fenway Racing.

 

“We’ll still work with (RFR) on the technical and engineering side,” Almirola says. “We’ll still share information, share wind tunnel time, all of those things. But we’re going to be putting the bodies on race cars in the way we think it should be done.”

 

The move in-house should have a positive impact on Almirola’s season, as RPM won’t have identical cars to those raced at RFR. It’s a solution that makes sense when considering RFR’s frustrating season-long 2014 slump.

 

Athlon Sports’ 2015 Racing magazine delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2015 NASCAR coverage. Click here to order your copy today!

However, striking out on its own is a long-term process for a team that still has distinct disadvantages. Just a two-car program, RPM is third on the Ford food chain, with financials that pale in comparison to both RFR and Penske, even with the increased support. Almirola must deal with a new teammate, Sam Hornish Jr., who’s had limited success on the Cup level.

 

Most important, Almirola — despite making the Chase — still has much to prove. He scored the fewest points in the 16-driver field, as mechanical failure at Chicagoland ended his title hopes in September. He earned just two top-5 finishes in 36 starts; believe it or not, that’s a career year for Almirola.

 

It’s a safe bet that his No. 43 team will need to score another win — like the unexpected one at Daytona last July in the rain-shortened summer race — to earn another Chase spot. Almirola is most confident that it could happen at a place where RPM can bridge the equipment gap, like a short track. Kansas, where the driver led a career-best 69 laps a few years back before suffering tire trouble, is another strength. It’s a running theme for the program — bad racing luck creeps up too often to kill consistency.

 

“We’ve had a lot of moments of brightness. We’ve had many weekends where we’ve run up front in the top 5, the top 10,” Almirola says. “But we just haven’t done that on a consistent basis.”

 

That means Almirola will likely pick and choose his opportunities to go for broke. If he hits, he’ll make the Chase. If he misses? Well, at least his team has a long-term plan for success; we’ll see if a midpack points finish has it staying the course.

 

No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford

Primary Sponsors: Smithfield Foods, STP, Fresh From Florida

Owners: Richard Petty/Andy Murstein/Doug Bergeron

Crew Chief: Trent Owens

Year With Current Team: 4th

Under Contract Through: 2016

Best Points Finish: 16th (2014)

Hometown: Tampa, Fla.

Born: March 14, 1984

 

Career Stats

YearsStartsWinsTop 5sTop 10sPolesTitlesEarned
7143151910$19,633,191

 

Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Teaser:
2015 driver profile for Aric Almirola on the NASCR Sprint Cup circuit.
Post date: Monday, February 9, 2015 - 16:32
All taxonomy terms: Brian Vickers, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/2015-nascar-driver-profile-brian-vickers
Body:

Brian Vickers became one of NASCAR’s feel-good stories of the 2013 season. He played the role of the comeback kid, the former young gun with a Nationwide Series title and Hendrick Motorsports on his résumé who overcame a near-fatal blood clot to return to the track. A 2013 win at New Hampshire put Vickers in MWR’s No. 55 Toyota full-time last season and carried with it some veteran expectations.

 

Vickers had the experience to become a Chase contender again. The problem was, his return to competition coincided with MWR’s return to the basement.

 

The first Toyota program, which had once DNQ’d for 22 of 36 races with one of Waltrip’s cars in 2007, had fought hard to build up into a Chase-level outfit. But then, teammate Clint Bowyer intentionally spun his car, resulting in the infamous “SpinGate” scandal in the fall of 2013 that saw MWR trying to fix the final results of a race. The team’s downward slide seemed almost instantaneous from there.

 

The results were what you’d expect after that type of doomsday scenario. Vickers earned just one top-5 result away from the restrictor plate tracks of Daytona and Talladega and led just 53 laps for the entire season. He finished a disappointing 22nd in the standings.

 

“Not having the third team changed a lot,” Vickers says of last season. “Having that one extra resource is nice. I wish we still had that. But we tried to make it work. The two teams still worked well together.”

 

Both Vickers and Bowyer failed to win a race or qualify for the Chase. The disappointing finishes were a result of what Vickers felt were missed opportunities. “We had a lot of races where we didn’t reach our potential because something happened — a blown tire, an engine, whatever it may be — and that’s what hurt us,” he says. “But I think we learned from it.”

 

Athlon Sports’ 2015 Racing magazine delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2015 NASCAR coverage. Click here to order your copy today!

The poor season notwithstanding, Vickers knows time can be a major asset to any team — especially one that’s had time to recover from a traumatic period like MWR’s previous offseason.

 

Vickers, however, now needs his own time to heal. He announced mid-December that he was forced to undergo heart surgery a second time, a necessity after his body rejected the 2010 attempt to plug a hole in his heart. The recovery will force him to miss an unspecified number of races. Depending on how long he’s out, Vickers may not even earn the medical exemption necessary in order to qualify for the Chase. (Drivers must attempt every regular season race to be eligible).

 

When Vickers returns to the No. 55, he’ll find consistency both in the pit box and on the fenders. Engineer-turned-crew chief Billy Scott returns for his second full season, while Aaron’s will again provide the majority of sponsorship funding. But MWR still has quite the hill to climb, and another health issue for their driver doesn’t help. With Vickers’ contract up at the end of 2015, this pending free agent is facing an uncertain future both with his team and in the sport.

 

Vickers, however, now needs his own time to heal. He announced mid-December that he was forced to undergo heart surgery a second time, a necessity after his body rejected the 2010 attempt to plug a hole in his heart. The recovery will force him to miss an unspecified number of races. Depending on how long he’s out, Vickers may not even earn the medical exemption necessary in order to qualify for the Chase. (Drivers must attempt every regular season race to be eligible).

 

When Vickers returns to the No. 55, he’ll find consistency both in the pit box and on the fenders. Engineer-turned-crew chief Billy Scott returns for his second full season, while Aaron’s will again provide the majority of sponsorship funding. But MWR still has quite the hill to climb, and another health issue for their driver doesn’t help. With Vickers’ contract up at the end of 2015, this pending free agent is facing an uncertain future both with his team and in the sport.

 

Vickers, however, now needs his own time to heal. He announced mid-December that he was forced to undergo heart surgery a second time, a necessity after his body rejected the 2010 attempt to plug a hole in his heart. The recovery will force him to miss an unspecified number of races. Depending on how long he’s out, Vickers may not even earn the medical exemption necessary in order to qualify for the Chase. (Drivers must attempt every regular season race to be eligible).

 

When Vickers returns to the No. 55, he’ll find consistency both in the pit box and on the fenders. Engineer-turned-crew chief Billy Scott returns for his second full season, while Aaron’s will again provide the majority of sponsorship funding. But MWR still has quite the hill to climb, and another health issue for their driver doesn’t help. With Vickers’ contract up at the end of 2015, this pending free agent is facing an uncertain future both with his team and in the sport.

 

No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota

Primary Sponsor: Aaron’s

Owner: Michael Waltrip/Rob Kauffman

Crew Chief: Billy Scott

Year With Current Team: 4th

Under Contract Through: 2015

Best Points Finish: 12th (2009)

Hometown: Thomasville, N.C.

Born: Oct. 24, 1983

 

Career Stats

YearsStartsWinsTop 5sTop 10sPolesTitlesEarned
1231632977120$38,266,887

 

Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Teaser:
2015 driver profile for Brian Vickers on the NASCR Sprint Cup circuit.
Post date: Monday, February 9, 2015 - 16:30
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/ranking-nba%E2%80%99s-title-contenders
Body:

10. Oklahoma City Thunder

Don’t count the Thunder out just yet. Even though they’re two spots out of the Western Conference playoffs at the moment, it would take just one signature winning streak to close their current two-game gap. And once Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook — the most talented duo in the whole game — are in the postseason, anything is possible.

 

9. Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers were climbing these rankings until Blake Griffin was taken out of action with an elbow infection that will require surgery and keep him out indefinitely. The L.A. depth chart is shallow behind Blake, so keeping things afloat will be a tremendous challenge. But if they can stay in the playoffs without their big man, then they’ll still have one of the best starting units around if he returns to action in the spring.

 

8. Chicago Bulls

The Bulls have been struck by a winter malaise that’s not common in the Tom Thibodeau era. And with starting forward Mike Dunleavy out and Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah still on the mend from injuries, Chicago has been hard to gauge. But we’ve seen them grab enough statement wins to know they’re still in this conversation.

 

7. San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs haven’t blown anyone away yet this season, but they’re also the consummate peak-when-it-matters squad. The dominance they showed in last year’s championship run evoked some of the best teams in NBA history, and if they can return to something resembling that scary form, they could become the favorites to take it all home once again.

 

6. Portland Trail Blazers

Through hell and the high water of injury troubles, the Blazers have improved by developing their bench into a unit much more effective than it was last year. Meyers Leonard and C.J. McCollum have become weapons as the Portland starting five continues to get better together, and the team’s defense has been surprisingly efficient. Now that they’re healthy again, we’ll see just how potent they can be.

 

5. Houston Rockets

James Harden might not win the MVP — Steph Curry’s eminent likability makes him the favorite in a media narrative sense, even if The Beard has put his team on his shoulders more than any other star this season. If Harden and Co. can continue to chug along with their defense-first attack, though, they’ll get Dwight Howard back in time for April and be a team who nobody wants to face.

 

4. Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks, by way of inertia, have proved themselves as contenders. No 42-10 team has ever not has serious potential to win the NBA Finals, and Atlanta’s newness to this realm shouldn’t disqualify them. Plus, as the Spurs showed us last year, no amount of star power is an appropriate match for a team that amasses into something much greater than the sum of its parts.

 

3. Cleveland Cavaliers

Ah, so, finally — the Cavs are who we thought they were. Winners of 13 of their last 14, they’ve begun to integrate Kevin Love into their offense in big ways, and their defense has been on a huge uptick ever since Timofey Mozgov came to town. It was fun to watch the Cleveland empire burn before it started, but now it looks like they’re building their throne quite effectively.

 

2. Memphis Grizzlies

Memphis’ grind-it-out style is moving in the opposite direction of the rest of the league. A spread-out, three-point-loving style has become the mark for most good teams, but the Grizzlies defy that trend by being so good at a slow, half-court style that they make you play it, too. It remains to be seen whether anyone has the antidote to this terrific, nostalgic molasses.

 

1. Golden State Warriors

The Warriors have simply been more impressive than any other team. Often ranking No. 1 on both offense and defense, they’ve even gone through their spectacular season without consistent health from multi-skilled center Andrew Bogut. Golden State can beat you in so many ways — they’re not just the jump-shooters many claim them to be — and they look poised to unleash their full arsenal this spring.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, February 9, 2015 - 13:41
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/nba-remembers-dean-smith-1931-2015
Body:
Dean Smith, the legendary coach who spent more than four decades bringing up some of the finest to ever play the game, has passed away at the age of 83, after a trying battle with dementia.

 

From 1961 to 1997, Smith was the head coach of the University of North Carolina Tar Heels. His lengthy list of accolades includes 11 Final Four appearances, two national titles, four National Coach of the Year designations, and an Olympic gold medal won in 1976. He trained many notable NBA players, including Vince Carter, Rasheed Wallace, Sam Perkins, Jerry Stackhouse, J.R. Reid, Kenny Smith, Brad Daugherty, James Worthy, and of course Michael Jordan. Jordan released the following statement, Sunday, in memory of Smith:

 

“Other than my parents, no one had a bigger influence on my life than Coach Smith. He was more than a coach — he was my mentor, my teacher, my second father. Coach was always there for me whenever I needed him and I loved him for it. In teaching me the game of basketball, he taught me about life. My heart goes out to Linnea and their kids. We’ve lost a great man who had an incredible impact on his players, his staff and the entire UNC family.”

 

Stackhouse sent out this tweet, and explained in an XM radio interview how Smith would even assist him with financial management.

 

Worthy kept it short and sweet:

 

And Worthy’s fellow Los Angeles Lakers trustee, general manager Mitch Kupchak, sent out the following:

 

“Coach Smith was one of the most influential people in my life, and his passing brings me great sadness. However, he was a great man and someone I loved and respected greatly, and I celebrate the fact that I knew him and had him in my life for as long as I did. His influence on my life didn’t end when I left Chapel Hill, as he was a trusted and valuable advisor to me when I became a player, then an executive in the NBA. He had a hugely positive impact on the lives of hundreds of young men who were lucky enough to call him Coach, and I was blessed to be among them.”

 

Rest in peace.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, February 9, 2015 - 10:24
All taxonomy terms: Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers, NBA
Path: /nba/chris-paul-criticizes-rookie-woman-referee
Body:
Thursday night was a bad one for the Los Angeles Clippers. They lost 105-94 to LeBron James and the surging Cleveland Cavaliers — winners of 12 straight — but the final score was a lot closer than most of the game. L.A. was down by more than thirty for parts of the second half.

 

On top of the bad loss was a worse media gaffe by their point guard and leader, Chris Paul. Paul took to criticizing rookie female referee Lauren Holtkamp after the game. He wasn’t too pleased with a technical foul call in the third quarter.

 

"I think we have to show better composure, but at the same time some of [the technical fouls] were ridiculous," Paul told reporters. "The tech that I get right there was ridiculous. I don't care what nobody says, I don't care what she says; that's terrible. There's no way that can be a tech. We try to get the ball out fast every time down the court, and when we did that, she said, 'Uh-uh.' I said, 'Why, uh-uh?' And she gave me a tech. That's ridiculous. If that's the case, this might not be for her.”

 

Poor choice of words, CP3. While criticizing a rookie referee is hardly taboo, and while the “her” in “this might not be for her” is technically correct, many are going to read this as sexist.

 

Personally? Paul doesn’t strike me as the politically incorrect type; just a guy who got beat badly by one of his close friends — LeBron — on national TV, and was thus liable to say all kinds of dumb nonsense in his post-game frustration. He was throwing a bit of a hissyfit at the wrong time. That’s the peril of having a job where they throw microphones into your face right after you take a shower.

 

In any event, it’s a bad look for Paul, his team, and for the league, and it should surprise no one when he inevitably gets fined for his words.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, February 6, 2015 - 16:08
All taxonomy terms: Orlando Magic, NBA
Path: /nba/orlando-magic-have-fired-head-coach-jacque-vaughn
Body:

Add body No. 2 to the dispatched head coaches of the 2014-15 NBA season. Jacque Vaughn joined the previously fired Mike Malone in the unemployment line yesterday, when the Orlando Magic excused him as their man.

 

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports — who broke the news — reports that assistant coach James Borrego is expected to fill in as the interim leader for now, while rumors that Scott Skiles could step into the job on a permanent basis have been alive for at least a week. Skiles is a former Magic point guard and head coach for the Phoenix Suns, Chicago Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks. ESPN’s Chris Broussard is the one to connect him to the job opening, while Wojnarowski has also floated his name.

 

Vaughn, a 39-year-old who played point guard for five different NBA teams from 1997 to 2009, had just a .269 winning percentage over three-and-a-half years of leading Orlando. The Magic didn’t have high expectations for any of his teams; they handed Vaughn the keys at an obviously transitional moment, when Dwight Howard and Stan Van Gundy had been traded and fired, respectively, in the summer of 2012.

 

But there has been little-to-no improvement in central Florida, and the team’s front office clearly became convinced that Vaughn wasn’t the right man to get the most out of a young roster featuring Nikola Vucevic, Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton.

 

Is Skiles the man to right the ship for them? Who knows. The fiery coach has had success in turning teams around, but he also tends to grate on his players over time. He’s gotten all of his squads to the playoffs, while he’s also had ugly mid-season exits from every coaching job he’s had.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

 

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, February 6, 2015 - 10:20

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