Articles By Athlon Sports

Path: /mlb/albert-pujols-new-10-year-deal-angels-good-cardinals-fans-take
Body:

DALLAS, Texas — Let me start with this disclaimer: I am a St. Louis Cardinals fan. There I said it. It’s out there. The walls in my office are decked out with newspaper front pages of the Cardinals’ World Series victories and all things Redbird red. As I write this, a banner hangs over my shoulder with the St. Louis Cardinals logo and the 10 dates of their World Series titles (I haven’t taken it to a seamstress yet to get 2011 added. I need to put that on my to-do list.)

I bleed St. Louis Cardinals red.

That said, I am one of the few St. Louis Cardinals fans who is not in mourning after the news that Albert Pujols — the face of our franchise since 2001 — signed a 10-year, $254 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels. The deal is free of deferred money and also has milestone incentives that could fill Pujols’ pockets with as much as $280 million when his contract expires at the age of 41.

I am OK with Pujols trading in Cardinal red for Angel rouge because, well, I think Los Angeles and their general manager Jerry DiPoto made a mistake giving a player at the age of 31 a 10-year contract.

This deal screams quick payoff, long-term stress for the Angels.

The signing of Pujols will give the Halos an automatic boost. The phones will ring off the hook this off-season to purchase season tickets. Pujols No. 5 jersey sales will soar like a rollercoaster at nearby Disneyland. The Angels are now the automatic favorite to win the AL West in 2012, and be considered strong contenders to be in the World Series. The Angels just became the sexiest ticket in the fickle sports market of L.A.

L.A. just traded in Dodger blue for Angel red.

That’s the forecast for life with Pujols for the foreseeable future in 2012, 2013 and maybe a few more years.

What you have to wonder is how will the Angels-Pujols relationship look like in 2018 and beyond? Will Angels’ fans be singing a chorus of “Hallelujah!” when Pujols’ numbers at the plate drop when he hits age 37 and the aches and pains of a long career begin to take their toll? Will they see benefit in paying Pujols’ his big check in the years that his plate appearance dwindle due to nagging injuries, even if there is the DH position that could help him stay healthy at the end of his career? Pujols’ 2011 numbers of .299 BA, 37 HRs, 99 RBIs were the lowest of his career, let’s not forget.

Like a failed marriage, this relationship could end up in a nasty divorce. As the years play out, the Angels could turn into the old guy at the baseball club, wishing they could be in the hunt for the next young superstar, but instead having to go home and sit on the couch with their old, aching and nagging wife, err, I mean franchise centerpiece.

The Cardinals’ offer of 10 years, $220 million also made bad business sense, and this is coming from a man who has a replica World Series championship trophy that his wife made for him after the Cardinals’ most recent World Series title this year to go along with my costume for our work Halloween party. I went to the party as “a World Series champion.”

If the Cardinals would have signed Pujols to their 10-year deal I would have been more upset than I am about Pujols leaving “our team” to go to the Angels.

To have been saddled with paying Pujols $22 million a year in the final years of that deal would have been a major hurdle in fielding a competitive team in the future. The Cardinals would have had more than $40 million per year dedicated to two players, Pujols and Holliday, and both of them would have been playing into the mid to late 30s.

Would I have liked to have seen Pujols sign with St. Louis and “be a Cardinal for life?” Absolutely. There is something about baseball, more than any other sport, that makes its fans yearn for the “good ol’ days,” and root for their team through rose-colored glasses.

We yearn for our 21st century heroes to stay with their teams like Stan Musial did in the 1950s — but let’s not forget Stan Musial never had a chance to test the free agent waters.

For many Cardinal fans it is tough to imagine life without No. 5 at first base, batting third and putting up consistent numbers year after year after year.

It is tough to take out the images of Pujols helping the Cardinals win World Series titles in 2006 and 2011. It’s hard to accept the fact that Pujols will end his career in something other than Cardinal Red.

But, let’s remember, that was the past. This deal was about the future.

This generation, my generation, wanted our own Stan Musial. We wanted to tell our kids about the great No. 5, El Hombre, Albert Pujols, who played his entire career with the birds on the bat logo and loved playing in front of “the greatest fans in baseball.” We wanted to watch, along with Pujols, as they erected a statue of No. 5 next to Stan Musial outside Busch Stadium.

Sure, there could still be a statue of Pujols outside Busch Stadium some day. He deserves one, but it should never be as big as Stan the Man.

No one should ever wear No. 5 again in Cardinal red. Pujols’ jersey number will be retired next to other Cardinal greats, as it should be, once his career is over.

But those celebrations and ceremonies will not be the same. They never are.

Pujols had a chance to cement his legacy in St. Louis as El Hombre for the 21st century generation.

Now, it just goes to prove, that were will only be one “man” who will always be a testament to what it means to be a Cardinal.

And that man goes by the name Stan.

Rick Rogers is a freelance sports writer for Athlon Sports based in Frisco, Texas.
 

Teaser:
<p> Cardinals fans should feel pretty good that their team dodged a financial bullet</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 8, 2011 - 19:33
All taxonomy terms: Funny, hu on first, News
Path: /news/no-really-hus-first
Body:

If only Abbott and Costello were alive to see Japanese baseball. Then their classic routine would be more of a play-by-play than a series of puns.

Teaser:
<p> You probably thought that old Abbott and Costello routine was a joke</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 8, 2011 - 17:50
Path: /news/dottie-sandusky-wife-jerry-says-she-believes-hes-innocent
Body:

Dottie Sandusky, the wife of Jerry Sandusky has broken her silence for the first time since the the allegations of sexual abuse were levied against her husband. It seems the trigger for her to step forward was her implication of negligence in the most recent accusations.

One of the two new victims who testified to a grand jury said that he was kept in the basement of the Sandusky's house and that he cried for help while Jerry was sexually abusing him and Dottie never came to his aid. He makes it clear that Dottie was home during this incident, but in her statement she denies it.

Her complete statement is below:


I want to thank our children, our family, our extended family of former Second Mile participants, and all our friends for standing by us through these difficult times. Jerry and I want to express our sorrow for all the hurt that has come to those who have supported us and our beloved Penn State and State College Communities.

I have been shocked and dismayed by the allegations made against Jerry, particularly the most recent one that a now young man has said he was kept in our basement during visits and screamed for help as Jerry assaulted him while I was in our home and didn't respond to his cries for help.

As the mother of six children, I have been devastated by these accusations. I am also angry about these false accusations that such a terrible incident ever occurred in my home. No child who ever visited our home was ever forced to stay in our basement and fed there. All the kids who visited us ate with us and our kids and other guests when they were at our home. Our children, our extended family and friends know how much Jerry and I love kids and have always tried to help and care for them. We would never do anything to hurt them. I am so sad anyone would make such a terrible accusation which is absolutely untrue. We don't know why these young men have made these false accusations, but we want everyone to know they are untrue.

I continue to believe in Jerry's innocence and all the good things he has done. Jerry's many success stories with his Second Mile kids and positive memories of those kids keep me going. I am asking everyone to please be reasonable and open-minded until both sides of this case are heard, and Jerry has the opportunity to prove his innocence.

I would like to thank all those individuals who continue to support Jerry and hope they will continue to support us through the conclusion of this very sad time in our lives.

--Dottie Sandusky

 

via statecollege.com

Teaser:
<p> The wife of the accused Penn State Coach Jerry Sandusky says she thinks he's innocent</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 8, 2011 - 16:28
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy football rankings, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /columns/winning-game-plan/fantasy-football-wide-receiver-rankings-week-14
Body:

We rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any Website can give you. Click here for all of our fantasy football rankings each week.

These rankings are our suggestions, but of course as always: You are responsible for setting your own lineup.

2011 NFL Week 14 — Wide Receiver Rankings

Quarterbacks
Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Kickers
Defense/Special Teams

Athlon Sports Week 14 Waiver Wire

Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system:

OFFENSIVE SCORING
All touchdowns are 6 points
1 point for 25 yards passing
1 point for 10 yards rushing/receiving
Receptions are .5 points
Interceptions/fumbles are minus-2 points

Rk Player Team OPPONENT
1 Calvin Johnson DET vs. MIN
2 Greg Jennings GB vs. OAK
3 Steve Smith CAR vs. ATL
4 Wes Welker NE at WAS
5 Hakeem Nicks NYG at DAL
6 Mike Wallace PIT vs. CLE (Thursday)
7 Roddy White ATL at CAR
8 Larry Fitzgerald ARI vs. SF
9 Vincent Jackson SD vs. BUF
10 Dez Bryant DAL vs. NYG
11 Brandon Marshall MIA vs. PHI
12 Jordy Nelson GB vs. OAK
13 Percy Harvin MIN at DET
14 Marques Colston NO at TEN
15 A.J. Green CIN vs. HOU
16 Steve Johnson BUF at SD
17 Anquan Boldin BAL vs. IND
18 Jeremy Maclin PHI at MIA
19 Victor Cruz NYG at DAL
20 Laurent Robinson DAL vs. NYG
21 Brandon Lloyd STL at SEA
22 Antonio Brown PIT vs. CLE (Thursday)
23 Michael Crabtree SF at ARI
24 Mike Williams TB at JAC
25 Santonio Holmes NYJ vs. KC
26 Julio Jones ATL at CAR
27 Miles Austin DAL vs. NYG
28 Dwayne Bowe KC at NYJ
29 Santana Moss WAS vs. NE
30 DeSean Jackson PHI at MIA
31 Deion Branch NE at WAS
32 Malcom Floyd SD vs. BUF
33 Lance Moore NO at TEN
34 Eric Decker DEN vs. CHI
35 Plaxico Burress NYJ vs. KC
36 Nate Washington TEN vs. NO
37 Pierre Garcon IND at BAL
38 Torrey Smith BAL vs. IND
39 Nate Burleson DET vs. MIN
40 Damian Williams TEN vs. NO
41 Johnny Knox CHI at DEN
42 Jabar Gaffney WAS vs. NE
43 Darrius Heyward-Bey OAK at GB
44 Reggie Wayne IND at BAL
45 Greg Little CLE at PIT (Thursday)
46 David Nelson BUF at SD
47 Golden Tate SEA vs. STL
48 Jerome Simpson CIN vs. HOU
49 Demaryius Thomas DEN vs. CHI
50 Titus Young DET vs. MIN
51 Davone Bess MIA vs. PHI
52 Vincent Brown SD vs. BUF
53 Kevin Walter HOU at CIN
54 Mario Manningham NYG at DAL
55 Doug Baldwin SEA vs. STL
56 Earl Bennett CHI at DEN
57 Arrelious Benn TB at JAC
58 James Jones GB vs. OAK
59 Early Doucet ARI vs. SF
60 Harry Douglas ATL at CAR
61 Legedu Naane CAR vs. ATL
62 Jacoby Jones HOU at CIN
63 Steve Breaston KC at NYJ
64 Riley Cooper PHI at MIA

Teaser:
<br />
Post date: Thursday, December 8, 2011 - 15:09
Path: /news/albert-pujols-angel
Body:

Albert Pujols has signed a 10-year $250 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, ESPN's Buster Olney is reporting.

This qualifies as a huge surprise as just yesterday his flirtation with the Miami Marlins ended and it seemed like he was going to stick with the St. Louis Cardinals. Everyone assumed he was talking to other teams to teach the Cards a lesson for not making him feel as wanted as he had hoped earlier this year. But there was an assumption that he was always going to go back to St. Louis because that's where his legacy was, and that's one of the best baseball cities in America.

But this giant deal feels a lot like A-Rod's crazy deal with Texas. When Pujols is 42-years-old, he will be making 26 million dollars a year. And while all the buzz and hype his signing creates right now, this will be a distant memory in the year 2021 and the word "albatross" will be thrown around a lot.

The only saving grace is that the last few years of his contract, when he will be putting up Josh Willingham type numbers, he will be creating a little buzz because he should be approaching the home run record and a few other big numbers like 3,000 hits etc.

But the the problem is, this is so far above what other teams were rumored to be offering him. The Caridnals were rumored to have pushed it up to $22 million a year. The Angels paid an extra $27 million over the contract.

But at the end of the day, the Cardinals may have dodged a bullet. They come out of this looking like the good guys. They tried. They gave it their all, but Pujols is now the LeBron who left the town that had embreaced him for the first half of his career. And now, St. Louis can go after more pitching or maybe even someone like Prince Fielder, who is a poor man's (and a cheaper version) of Albert Pujols.

 

Teaser:
<p> The Cardinals slugger and best player in the league signed with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 8, 2011 - 10:24
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy football rankings, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /columns/winning-game-plan/fantasy-football-rankings-week-14
Body:

We rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any Website can give you. Click here for all of our fantasy football rankings each week.

These rankings are our suggestions, but of course as always: You are responsible for setting your own lineup.

2011 NFL Week 14 Fantasy Football Rankings

Quarterbacks
Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Kickers
Defense/Special Teams

Athlon Sports Week 14 Waiver Wire

Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system:

OFFENSIVE SCORING
All touchdowns are 6 points
1 point for 25 yards passing
1 point for 10 yards rushing/receiving
Receptions are .5 points
Interceptions/fumbles are minus-2 points

DEFENSIVE SCORING
0 points allowed = 12 points
1-6 points allowed = 10 points
7-13 points allowed = 8 pts
14-20 points allowed = 6 points
21-27 points allowed = 2 pts
28+ points allowed = 0 points
Safeties = 2 points
Fumbles recovered = 2 points
Interceptions = 2 points
Sacks = 1 point
Defensive/Special Teams TDs = 6 points

KICKER SCORING
PATs = 1 point
39 yards and under = 3 points
40-49 yards = 4 points
50-59 yards = 5 points
60+ yards = 6 points

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports ranks all the positions to help you set your fantasy line up</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 8, 2011 - 06:08
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy football rankings, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /columns/winning-game-plan/fantasy-football-defensespecial-teams-rankings-week-14
Body:

We rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any Website can give you. Click here for all of our fantasy football rankings each week.

These rankings are our suggestions, but of course as always: You are responsible for setting your own lineup.

2011 NFL Week 14 — Defense/Special Teams Rankings

Quarterbacks
Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Kickers
Defense/Special Teams

Athlon Sports Week 14 Waiver Wire

Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system:

0 points allowed = 12 points
1-6 points allowed = 10 points
7-13 points allowed = 8 pts
14-20 points allowed = 6 points
21-27 points allowed = 2 pts
28+ points allowed = 0 points
Safeties = 2 points
Fumbles recovered = 2 points
Interceptions = 2 points
Sacks = 1 point
Defensive/Special Teams TDs = 6 points

Rk Player OPPONENT
1 Pittsburgh Steelers vs. CLE (Thursday)
2 Baltimore Ravens vs. IND
3 San Francisco 49ers at ARI
4 New York Jets vs. KC
5 Seattle Seahawks vs. STL
6 Houston Texans at CIN
7 Chicago Bears at DEN
8 Denver Broncos vs. CHI
9 Green Bay Packers vs. OAK
10 Atlanta Falcons at CAR
11 Dallas Cowboys vs. NYG
12 Miami Dolphins vs. PHI
13 Cincinnati Bengals vs. HOU
14 Detroit Lions vs.MIN
15 Philadelphia Eagles at MIA
16 St. Louis Rams at SEA

Teaser:
<br />
Post date: Wednesday, December 7, 2011 - 16:26
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy football rankings, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /columns/winning-game-plan/fantasy-football-kicker-rankings-week-14
Body:

We rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any Website can give you. Click here for all of our fantasy football rankings each week.

These rankings are our suggestions, but of course as always: You are responsible for setting your own lineup.

2011 NFL Week 14 — Kicker Rankings

Quarterbacks
Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Kickers
Defense/Special Teams

Athlon Sports Week 14 Waiver Wire

Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system:

PATs = 1 point
39 yards and under = 3 points
40-49 yards = 4 points
50-59 yards = 5 points
60+ yards = 6 points

Rk Player Team OPPONENT
1 David Akers SF at ARI
2 Dan Bailey DAL vs. NYG
3 John Kasay NO at TEN
4 Sebastian Janikowski OAK at GB
5 Billy Cundiff BAL vs. IND
6 Stephen Gostkowski NE at WAS
7 Mason Crosby GB vs. OAK
8 Robbie Gould CHI at DEN
9 Jason Hanson DET vs. MIN
10 Nick Novak SD vs. BUF
11 Neil Rackers HOU at CIN
12 Matt Bryant ATL at CAR
13 Rob Bironas TEN vs. NO
14 Connor Barth TB at JAC
15 Mike Nugent CIN vs. HOU
16 Matt Prater DEN vs. CHI

Teaser:
<br />
Post date: Wednesday, December 7, 2011 - 16:25
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy football rankings, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /columns/winning-game-plan/fantasy-football-tight-end-rankings-week-14
Body:

We rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any Website can give you. Click here for all of our fantasy football rankings each week.

These rankings are our suggestions, but of course as always: You are responsible for setting your own lineup.

2011 NFL Week 14 — Tight End Rankings

Quarterbacks
Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Kickers
Defense/Special Teams

Athlon Sports Week 14 Waiver Wire

Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system:

OFFENSIVE SCORING
All touchdowns are 6 points
1 point for 25 yards passing
1 point for 10 yards rushing/receiving
Receptions are .5 points
Interceptions/fumbles are minus-2 points

Rk Player Team OPPONENT
1 Rob Gronkowski NE at WAS
2 Jimmy Graham NO at TEN
3 Antonio Gates SD vs. BUF
4 Jason Witten DAL vs. NYG
5 Jermichael Finley GB vs. OAK
6 Tony Gonzalez ATL at CAR
7 Aaron Hernandez NE at WAS
8 Brent Celek PHI at MIA
9 Vernon Davis SF at ARI
10 Kellen Winslow TB at JAC
11 Brandon Pettigrew DET vs. MIN
12 Jermaine Gresham CIN vs. HOU
13 Dustin Keller NYJ vs. KC
14 Jake Ballard NYG at DAL
15 Greg Olsen CAR vs. ATL
16 Owen Daniels HOU at CIN
17 Ed Dickson BAL vs. IND
18 Heath Miller PIT vs. CLE (Thursday)
19 Scott Chandler BUF at SD
20 Anthony Fasano MIA vs. PHI
21 Jared Cook TEN vs. NO
22 Jacob Tamme IND at BAL
23 Benjamin Watson CLE at PIT (Thursday)
24 Visanthe Shiancoe MIN at DET
25 Marcedes Lewis JAC vs. TB
26 Daniel Fells DEN vs. CHI

Teaser:
<br />
Post date: Wednesday, December 7, 2011 - 16:19
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy football rankings, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /columns/winning-game-plan/fantasy-football-running-back-rankings-week-14
Body:

We rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any Website can give you. Click here for all of our fantasy football rankings each week.

These rankings are our suggestions, but of course as always: You are responsible for setting your own lineup.

2011 NFL Week 14 — Running Back Rankings

Quarterbacks
Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Kickers
Defense/Special Teams

Athlon Sports Week 14 Waiver Wire

Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system:

OFFENSIVE SCORING
All touchdowns are 6 points
1 point for 25 yards passing
1 point for 10 yards rushing/receiving
Receptions are .5 points
Interceptions/fumbles are minus-2 points

Rk Player Team OPPONENT
1 Ray Rice BAL vs. IND
2 Maurice Jones-Drew JAC vs. TB
3 Arian Foster HOU at CIN
4 LeSean McCoy PHI at MIA
5 Marshawn Lynch SEA vs. STL
6 Chris Johnson TEN vs. NO
7 Michael Turner ATL at CAR
8 Ryan Mathews SD vs. BUF
9 Frank Gore SF at ARI
10 Rashard Mendenhall PIT vs. CLE (Thursday)
11 Michael Bush OAK at GB
12 DeMarco Murray DAL vs. NYG
13 Willis McGahee DEN vs. CHI
14 Reggie Bush MIA vs. PHI
15 Steven Jackson STL at SEA
16 Roy Helu WAS vs. NE
17 Darren Sproles NO at TEN
18 Shonn Greene NYJ vs. KC
19 C.J. Spiller BUF at SD
20 Ahmad Bradshaw NYG at DAL
21 LeGarrette Blount TB at JAC
22 BenJarvus Green-Ellis NE at WAS
23 Beanie Wells ARI vs. SF
24 Jonathan Stewart CAR vs. ATL
25 Cedric Benson CIN vs. HOU
26 Marion Barber CHI at DEN
27 Maurice Morris DET vs. MIN
28 Toby Gerhart MIN at DET
29 Mark Ingram NO at TEN
30 Donald Brown IND at BAL
31 Mike Tolbert SD vs. BUF
32 Ryan Grant GB vs. OAK
33 Peyton Hillis CLE at PIT (Thursday)
34 Ben Tate HOU at CIN
35 Brandon Jacobs NYG at DAL
36 Pierre Thomas NO at TEN
37 DeAngelo Williams CAR vs. ATL
38 Daniel Thomas MIA vs. PHI
39 Ricky Williams BAL vs. IND
40 Dexter McCluster KC at NYJ
41 Felix Jones DAL vs. NYG
42 Danny Woodhead NE at WAS
43 Montario Hardesty CLE at PIT (Thursday)
44 Joseph Addai IND at BAL
45 Thomas Jones KC at NYJ
46 Kendall Hunter SF at ARI
47 D.J. Ware NYG at DAL
48 Delone Carter IND at BAL

Teaser:
<br />
Post date: Wednesday, December 7, 2011 - 16:15
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy football rankings, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /columns/winning-game-plan/fantasy-football-quarterback-rankings-week-14
Body:

We rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any Website can give you. Click here for all of our fantasy football rankings each week.

These rankings are our suggestions, but of course as always: You are responsible for setting your own lineup.

2011 NFL Week 14 — Quarterback Rankings

Quarterbacks
Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Kickers
Defense/Special Teams

Athlon Sports Week 14 Waiver Wire

Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system:

OFFENSIVE SCORING
All touchdowns are 6 points
1 point for 25 yards passing
1 point for 10 yards rushing/receiving
Receptions are .5 points
Interceptions/fumbles are minus-2 points

Rk Player Team OPPONENT
1 Aaron Rodgers GB vs. OAK
2 Drew Brees NO at TEN
3 Cam Newton CAR vs. ATL
4 Tom Brady NE at WAS
5 Matthew Stafford DET vs. MIN
6 Eli Manning NYG at DAL
7 Tony Romo DAL vs. NYG
8 Matt Ryan ATL at CAR
9 Michael Vick PHI at MIA
10 Ben Roethlisberger PIT vs. CLE (Thursday)
11 Tim Tebow DEN vs. CHI
12 Philip Rivers SD vs. BUF
13 Carson Palmer OAK at GB
14 Joe Flacco BAL vs. IND
15 Ryan Fitzpatrick BUF at SD
16 Rex Grossman WAS vs. NE
17 Mark Sanchez NYJ vs. KC
18 Alex Smith SF at ARI
19 Matt Moore MIA vs. PHI
20 Matt Hasselbeck TEN vs. NO
21 Josh Freeman TB at JAC
22 Andy Dalton CIN vs. HOU
23 Tarvaris Jackson SEA vs. STL
24 Christian Ponder MIN at DET
25 T.J. Yates HOU at CIN
26 Kevin Kolb ARI vs. SF

Teaser:
<br />
Post date: Wednesday, December 7, 2011 - 16:12
All taxonomy terms: cheerleading mom, Overtime
Path: /overtime/winner-insane-cheerleading-mother-year-video
Body:

I used to think that insane cheerleading moms were a mostly an urban legend. But I think I'm wrong after seeing this classic example of a mom who is trying to live out her cheerleading fantasies by being overly critical of her daughter's attempt to get through a rah-rah routine.

Without trying to look at this video too logically, does the mom think that unleashing primal screams at her daughter's (I hope she at least has a little offspring stake in this) cheer team is helping? My guess is no, and my other guess is that her daughter is going to grow up to marry a guy who has a tear drop tattoo on his face and wears wifebeater's to Thanksgiving dinner.

Just a guess, though.

Teaser:
<p> Screaming at your daughter's cheer team is really helping</p>
Post date: Wednesday, December 7, 2011 - 15:15
Path: /news/jerry-sandusky-arrested-new-sex-abuse-charges
Body:

Jerry Sandusky has been taken from his home in handcuffs again. The former Penn State Nittany Lions assistant coach was arrested today after new allegations of sexual abuse surfaced.

A grand just questioned two new accusers (victims 9 and 10) who claimed that they were molested by Sandusky in 1997 and 2004. The following information is not for the light of heart.

According to Victim 9 in the grand jury report:

"I took it at first that he was just a nice guy, like he went to church every weekend, his kids would come over every once in a while and stuff. And after a while, like, he got used to me and stuff and started getting further and further, wanting -- to touchy feely." He further stated that, in the beginning, Sandusky started out with hugging, rubbing and cuddling and tickling. These contacts, initially viewed by the victim as simple acts of affection, escalated to sexual assaults. Victim 9 was 11 or 12 years old when the sexual assaults took place.

Victim 9 testified that Sandusky's wife never came into the basement when he visited and often slept over. Sandusky had "barely any" contact with her.

The victim also testified that Sandusky forced him to perform oral sex on numerous occasions. Sandusky also attempted to engage in anal penetration of Victim 9 on at least 16 occasions and at times did penetrate him. Victim 9 testified that he screamed for help on one occasion, knowing that Sandusky's wife was upstairs, but no one ever came to help him.

According to Victim 10:

Victim 10 has testified that at one point during a wrestling session with Sandusky, Jerry pulled down his gym shorts and performed oral sex on the boy.

According to the report, Sandusky told both boys that he loved them and bought gifts for both and asked each of them to keep everything a secret.

Sandusky's lawyer could not be reached for comment, but it appears that this will be the way things go for Sandusky until he is taken to trial.

An the question that no one is asking is where is Joe Paterno in all of this? Sandusky has spoken twice (and looked the worse for it), but Joe Paterno's silence is deafening. I understand it's tricky to talk about an ongoing investigation, but shouldn't Joe Pa at least give some sort of statement insinuating what he knew. Otherwise, everyone will think the worst.

Read the full second grand jury report here.

Teaser:
<p> The former Penn State assistant coach has been arrested again.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, December 7, 2011 - 14:11
All taxonomy terms: Andrew Luck, Golden Arm, Golden Arm award, News
Path: /news/andrew-luck-takes-phone-call-accepting-johnny-unitas-golden-arm-award
Body:

Andrew Luck, winner of the 2011 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm award, took the phone call directly from Johnny Unitas' son, John Unitas Jr., when he was told of his honor.

And luckily for us, the Golden Arm Foundation recorded the phone call between John Jr and Andrew Luck, when Luck is informed that he has won the prestigious honor. It's interesting because you can hear how humbled the Stanford quarterback is to hear he won the award, which is given to the nation's top quarterback who exemplifies character as well as scholastic and athletic achievement.

To see video of Andrew taking the call from Johnny Unitas' son, John Jr., click here.

Teaser:
<p> This is a phone call very few football players receive</p>
Post date: Wednesday, December 7, 2011 - 12:49
All taxonomy terms: Harry Morgan, MASH, News
Path: /news/harry-morgan-actor-who-played-col-sherman-potter-mash-dies-96
Body:

Harry Morgan, the actor who played Col. Sherman T. Potter on the long-running hit TV series M*A*S*H has died at the age of 96. Morgan had played his famous Potter character from 1975 to 1983.

Morgan, who had won an Emmy for his role on M*A*S*H in 1980 for best supporting actor in a comedy series, had played many roles in TV and film, and was an avid football player in high school in Muskegon, Michigan.

But beyond acting, horses were his primary love. His horse, Sophia, even had a role in the final episode of M*A*S*H and Morgan tended to quarter horses on his ranch in Santa Rosa, California.

He achieved some notoriety for his role in Dragnet, but nothing came close to the popularity of his character on M*A*S*H.

He is survived by his second wife, four sons and eight grandchildren. Cause of death at this time is unknown.

Here are a few of Morgan's most famous quotes as Col. Potter:

Just remember, there's a right way and a wrong way to do everything and the wrong way is to keep trying to make everybody else do it the right way. ~Colonel Potter

It's too big a world to be in competition with everyone. The only person who I have to be better than is myself. ~Colonel Potter

Sometimes I think it should be a rule of war that you have to see somebody up close and get to know him before you can shoot him. ~Colonel Potter

Frank Burns: I'm as good a doctor as the next man.
Col. Potter: Provided the next man is Lou Costello.

"This is happy hour. Angry hour starts at ten."
--Harry Morgan as Sherman T. Potter

You have to give Winchester a credit. He is bright, educated, and an A-1 surgeon, and with all that he still found a room to be a total jerk. -- Potter

It's 3 'blessed' a.m.! Even roosters are comatose! -- Potter

It always amazes me how a baby can take a normal adult and turn him into a babbling idiot. -- Potter

You'll have to excuse these two, they are themselves today. -- Potter

You blow another kiss, Pierce, and those lips will never walk again. -- Potter

Pierce, are you deaf? I'm giving your hijinks the heave-ho, post-haste! I'm the boss here! I can do that! -- Potter

You know sometimes I think there should be a rule of war saying you have to see someone up close and get to know 'em before it's ok to shoot 'em. -- Potter

Listen, it's too big a world to be in competition with everyone. The only person who I have to be better than is myself. And in your case, that's tough enough. -- Potter to Hawkeye

Teaser:
<p> The popular M*A*S*H and Dragnet actor has died at 96</p>
Post date: Wednesday, December 7, 2011 - 12:10
Path: /news/jet-powered-rocket-boots-are-reality-video
Body:

I don't know how to explain this new piece of equipment from Sea-Doo called the Flyboard Zapata. On the surface, it looks like jet propelled boots that use water to let you fly through the air like the Green Goblin from the Spider Man movies.

I'm not sure how much these cost, but I'm pretty sure they're more money than what most bank accounts can afford, but holy crap these things look awesome.

I'm guess it would take a while to figure out how these to use these things like the inventor. My main concern is that I would just start to get the hang of them, and as I started to fly out of the water, I would lose control and send myself headlong into a pile of rocks. Which would turn this awesome Christmas gift into a sad, bloody funeral gift.

If anyone wants to buy us these water powered jet rocket boots, please feel free. We'll pay for our own funeral costs.

Teaser:
<p> The jet powered boots are the coolest gift this millenia</p>
Post date: Wednesday, December 7, 2011 - 11:45
Path: /overtime/what-albert-pujols-would-look-cubs-or-marlins-jersey
Body:

Albert Pujols is dominating the MLB hot stove headlines right now. One of the greatest players in baseball history (who has never tested positive for steroids) is now a free agent and is testing the waters to haul in a giant payday. Reports have surfaced that the Miami Marlins, St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs have offered Pujols a 10-year deal.

While pundits discuss whether it's prudent to give a 31-year-old baseball player a $200 million, 10-year contract, we'd rather just see what he'd look like in one of his new jerseys.

But while we're on the subject, do we think it makes sense? From a financial perspective, no. Pujols does bring much greater value than what his stats are worth. What he brings to his new (or old) team in terms of marketing buzz, promotion and overall interest can't be quantified. But if you look at A-Rod's numbers since he signed his contract extension in 2008, his AVG has gone from .303 to .284, and he's gone from averaging 43 homers a year to 28. Father time will catch up on Pujols and one big thing about marketing buzz is that it's quick to go away.

If the Marlins sign Pujols today they will get a huge boost in interest in the team. They'll sell a ton of tickets and luxury boxes. But what happens in five years, when wear and tear hits Pujols and he goes from his big numbers to something more pedestrian and similar to A-Rod's. 

Pujols in Miami will be old hat by then, and people will care as much for that team as they did when they were the Florida Marlins. And let's face it, Pujols is one nagging injury away from making this a terrible financial investment.

But having said that, let's see what he'd look like in his new jerseys anyway:

Albert Pujols as a Miami Marlin:

Albert Pujols as a Chicago Cub:

Since you probably already know what he looks like in a Cardinals jersey, we'll refrain from posting that photo.

Teaser:
<p> The Cardinals slugger is going to land somewhere soon, here's a few different possibilities</p>
Post date: Wednesday, December 7, 2011 - 10:43
All taxonomy terms: Denver Broncos, Florida Gators, Tim Tebow, NFL
Path: /nfl/tim-tebow-talks-about-his-nfl-hopes-and-dreams-and-winning-heisman
Body:

This interview with Tim Tebow appeared in Athlon's 2009 college football annual.

Some players live up to the recruiting hype. Others don’t. Then there is Tim Tebow, who has exceeded even the loftiest dreams of the Gator Nation. It was a big deal when he committed to Florida in 2006. How has it worked out? One Heisman, two national championships, two SEC titles. The face of college football gave Athlon Sports some time to discuss his Ole Miss speech, losing Dan Mullen and the chances Florida has to repeat.

How different were your emotions after winning a Heisman Trophy in 2007 compared to winning a national championship last season?
Tim Tebow: The Heisman was unbelievable and very exciting. The emotions of winning that award — it was a great honor. But winning the national championship was totally different. For me, it was much more special. The Heisman is a team award and everything, but you win the national championship with the guys you work with every day all year and the coaches you care about. The Heisman doesn’t compare.

How about the difference between winning the national title as a backup — and you were a very important backup to Chris Leak in 2006 — and as a starter?
Tim Tebow: It was definitely more special last year than it was in 2006. With everything we went through and the loss to Ole Miss, to come back and win it was something. And it was my junior year and it was more my team.

Who is the best player in the SEC not playing for Florida?
Tim Tebow: That’s a good one. I’d probably say Eric Berry of Tennessee. He’s a really good player, very instinctive. He’s very physical and he’s just a playmaker. He does things that you can’t teach.

How many times have you seen the video of the famous speech you gave after the loss to Ole Miss?
Tim Tebow: Quite a few. When I go to these places where I speak, they like to show an introduction and they always have that speech as part of it. That, and me yelling. I look at those videos of me yelling during a game and I look kind of mean.

What’s the biggest misconception about Tim Tebow?
Tim Tebow: Wow. That’s an interesting question. Maybe it’s that, when people meet me in person, they are surprised that I’m not more intense. They see me on the field and they think I’m going to be the same intense guy I am on the field. They think I’m going to be screaming or something and not be friendly. I’ve had people say to me, “I thought you’d be a lot more intense.” So that’s probably it, that some people are expecting something else.

Are you aware of what some writers and broadcasters have referred to as the “Tebow backlash” — that your popularity has grown so large it may cause some people to resent you? Some people believe that’s why you didn’t win a second Heisman last year despite getting the most first-place votes.
Tim Tebow: I’ve heard about that, heard some analysts talking about it. I’m not going to worry about that. I’m going to be who I am. I’m going to be the best person I can be, the best leader I can be and the best player I can be. I’m not going to worry about what I can’t control. People can say what they want and I don’t like it if they do. I’d rather they get to know me as a person.

What’s your favorite college stadium to play in besides The Swamp?
Tim Tebow: LSU. Baton Rouge. That’s a very exciting place for me to play. I’m looking forward to playing there this year.

Which team is Florida’s biggest rival?
Tim Tebow: You can’t ask me that (laughing). I think it’s different depending on who you are, when you grew up following the Gators. If you are like my dad, old-time Gator, it’s Georgia. No question. If you are younger, a mid-’90s kind of person, it’s probably Florida State. And Tennessee is definitely up there. They’re all big games. That’s one thing that’s special about Florida, all the rivalries we have.

Speaking of Tennessee, what was your reaction to some of the things said by their new coach Lane Kiffin during the offseason? He went after your coach and some other coaches in the SEC.
Tim Tebow: He did a good job at Southern Cal. He’ll work hard to do the best he can at Tennessee. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to play against him.

That’s very politically correct.
Thank you.

What was your reaction to wide receiver Percy Harvin leaving a year early for the NFL and linebacker Brandon Spikes deciding to join you to return for another year?
Tim Tebow: I think it was the right decision for both of them. They both thought long and hard about it. They were in different situations. It was really two different scenarios. They were both looking for different things. I think Percy made the right decision for him and Brandon made the right decision for him.

What do you think when you see and hear so many people — whether it be on TV, talk radio or on the web — talk about your NFL future and whether or not your skills will translate to the next level?
Tim Tebow: Some are nice, some are not nice. I’m going to work very hard to succeed at the next level. It has been my goal since I was six years old, to play quarterback in the NFL. I’m going to work very hard at it, but right now my goal is to be the best leader I can be for the University of Florida.

So it hasn’t been your goal since you were six to play fullback in the NFL?
Tim Tebow: It hasn’t.

How did losing offensive coordinator Dan Mullen, who worked so closely with you the last three seasons, affect you personally?
Tim Tebow: We’re going to miss him but we still stay in touch. We talked just the other day. He had a baby. Well, he didn’t have it. But they were excited about that. I’m very excited for him. I’ll keep in touch with him. But I’m also excited about our new quarterbacks coach, Scot Loeffler.

The 2007 Florida team struggled a year after winning a national title, going 9–4 and losing to Georgia. What’s different about this team that now has to defend a national title?
Tim Tebow: This year’s team is so much more mature than that team in 2007. That team lost a lot of the leaders and the players and the charisma from the national championship team. That team lost so much. We’ve got a lot of those guys back this time around. The leaders, the charismatic guys who were the glue a year ago, almost all of them are back. And this team is not satisfied just winning a national title. We want to be a dynasty, create a special legacy and make a real impact on college football.

If you weren’t playing football at Florida, what would you be playing?
Tim Tebow: Baseball. I would pitch and maybe play first base and the outfield. I like hitting.
 

Teaser:
<p> It was Tim Tebow's dream to play quarterback in the NFL before he became a Bronco</p>
Post date: Wednesday, December 7, 2011 - 10:25
All taxonomy terms: Denver Broncos, eyeblack, Funny, Tim Tebow, Overtime
Path: /overtime/tim-tebows-new-gloating-eye-black
Body:

Tim Tebow's eyeblack has been one of his trademarks since his days at the University of Florida. Usually reserved for a Bible verse he wanted to get out to the masses, his eyeblack became a billboard that hearkened back to the days of Jim McMahon's headbands.

Now that Tim's gone through a heavy dose of hatred from the media over his time under center with the Broncos--and come out of it with a 6-1 record--it's time Tim was able to enjoy his success and talk a little smack with his eyeblack. 

After pulling out 4th quarter wins each and every week, we think Tim has earned a little right to gloat over everyone who doubted him. Sure, he's unconventional, but his win over the Vikings proved that he can win a game with his arm (OK, Minnesota's secondary was not that great) instead of his legs. So here's a few ideas for Tim's new eyeblack.


1. Circumcising Defenses


2. One Interception, No Contraceptions


3. Virgin (Playoff) Birth


4. F U Elway

5. Completions R 4 Mormons



6. 6-1 Bitch

7. John Fox is a Big Cox

We'll see if Tim takes any of our advice when the Broncos take the field against the Bears this Sunday. C'mon Tim, you've earned it. Live a little.

Teaser:
<p> Tim Tebow has a right to gloat over his success. And what better place to do it than on his eyeblack</p>
Post date: Tuesday, December 6, 2011 - 13:20
All taxonomy terms: Chip Kelly, Dr. Pepper, Oregon Ducks, News
Path: /news/oregons-chip-kelly-real-good-time-parody-video
Body:

Oregon's Chip Kelly is apparently a really big Dr. Pepper and UPS fan. Or at least he's a fan of whoever will be paying him as is clear from this big plug he gave to Dr. Pepper and UPS during his impromptu press conference after the PAC-12 title game.

And of course leave it up to the Internet to make this awesome video combining Chip Kelly, Dr. Pepper and Pitbull's "Let's Have A Real Good Time" commercial.

Oh, Internet, is there anything you can't do? 

But seriously, Dr. Pepper is pretty good. And UPS DOES get all of our Christmas presents to their destinations on time. So is it really that bad that he gave those two sponsors shout-outs?

via kegsneggsblog

Teaser:
<p> Chip Kelly is having a real good time with Dr. Pepper and UPS</p>
Post date: Tuesday, December 6, 2011 - 08:21
Path: /college-football/stanfords-andrew-luck-wins-golden-arm-award
Body:

Andrew Luck can add another achievement to his already stellar resume as Stanford's star quarterback won the 2011 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm award, which is given to the nation's top quarterback who exemplifies character as well as scholastic and athletic achievement.

“Andrew personifies everything that my father stood for. He is not simply an outstanding quarterback, but an outstanding individual, a leader both on and off the field,” says John C. Unitas, Jr. President of The Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Educational Foundation.

Luck passed for 3,170 yards and 35 touchdowns for a 167.5 passer rating in leading fourth ranked Stanford to an 11-1 record.

In addition to his on-field achievements, Luck also posted a 3.48 grade point average and was also named to the PAC-12's All-Academic team.

Other finalists for the 2011 Golden Arm Award were: Robert Griffin, III, Baylor; Landry Jones, Oklahoma; Kellen Moore, Boise State; and Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State.

Unitas notes, “Andrew joins a long line of quarterbacks who embody the characteristics that made Johnny Unitas an enduring legend, including many who have gone on to illustrious careers in the NFL.” Former winners include Colt McCoy (Texas, 2009), Matt Ryan (Boston College, 2007), Brady Quinn (Notre Dame, 2006), Matt Leinart (USC, 2005), Eli Manning (Ole Miss, 2003), Carson Palmer (USC, 2002), Peyton Manning (Tennessee, 1997), and Rodney Peete (USC, 1988).

Candidates for the Golden Arm Award must be completing their college eligibility or be a fourth-year junior, on schedule to graduate with his class. Candidates are judged upon character, citizenship, scholastic achievement, leadership qualities, and athletic accomplishments.

Proceeds from the Golden Arm Award help to support the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Educational Foundation. The Foundation provides financial assistance to underprivileged and deserving young scholar-athletes throughout Maryland and Kentucky.

The namesake of the Golden Arm Award has a storied history. Johnny Unitas was an 18-year veteran of the NFL, who played his collegiate career at the University of Louisville before joining the Baltimore Colts in 1958. His career passing figures include 2,830 pass completions for 40,239 yards, 290 touchdowns and one that may stand forever – throwing a touchdown pass in 47 consecutive games.


 

Teaser:
<p> Andrew Luck can add another achievement to his already stellar resume as Stanford's star quarterback&nbsp;won the 2011 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm award, which is given to the nation's top quarterback who exemplifies character as well as scholastic and athletic achievement.</p>
Post date: Monday, December 5, 2011 - 16:22
All taxonomy terms: 2011, Danica Patrick, nascar archive, NASCAR
Path: /nascar/danica-year-2-learning-curve
Body:

In celebration of Athlon Sports' upcoming 10th annual Racing magazine, we've dug into the archives to uncover some of the most memorable features, profiles and Q&As that have graced our pages. Visit the site daily for more retrospective looks at NASCAR throughout the decade.

Article originally published in 2011 Athlon Sports Racing annual

— by Bryan Davis Keith

Moments after taking his record sixth ARCA Series victory at Daytona International Speedway, race winner Bobby Gerhart walked all but unmolested from Victory Lane while a throng of reporters — the likes of which even Dale Earnhardt Jr. seldom sees — swarmed around the evening’s sixth-place finisher.

After all, Danica Patrick had just made her stock car racing debut.

The following week, IndyCar’s hottest driver stepped up to the NASCAR level at Daytona, a week ahead of schedule. Prior to the green flag dropping, ESPN’s pre-race coverage was dripping with images of fans buying No. 7 merchandise from a bright green GoDaddy.com hauler. On pit road, there wasn’t even room to walk. The crowd was so thick that Mike Boeschinger, crew chief for Joe Nemechek’s No. 87 team, reminded his crew during the pace laps to “realize we’re going to have the Danica masses (on pit road), so remember to be professional dealing with them as we work.”

Danica-mania had come to stock car racing.

Danica-mania had come to NASCAR.

Following the conclusion of the 2010 season, there is little question that Patrick’s first foray into NASCAR had every bit as big of an impact off the track as anyone expected. Souvenir sales were sky high; she outsold both champion Jimmie Johnson and bad boy Kyle Busch in her first NASCAR month. Her debut in ARCA competition at Daytona resulted in the single highest-rated series event SPEED Channel had ever broadcast, even exceeding the numbers surrounding Juan Pablo Montoya’s 2006 stock car debut. NASCAR’s Nationwide Series opener followed suit with final numbers so powerful they set an all-time series record, beating roughly half of this year’s Sprint Cup Chase events in the Nielsen Ratings. And GoDaddy.com’s exposure during Nationwide Series telecasts throughout the season rivaled even that generated by Mark Martin’s GoDaddy.com entry at the Sprint Cup level.

From a marketing and branding standpoint, 2010 was a certain success. But as for on-track performance, for Patrick’s development and ability to transition from open-wheel to stock cars, both fans and critics alike were left with as many questions as answers in what could easily be described as a roller coaster of a rookie season.

There were some definite high points. Patrick was running solidly in the top 15 with less than 10 laps to go in Fontana’s fall race before late-race contact with James Buescher sent her machine hard into the backstretch wall, relegating what would have been at worst a career-first lead lap result to a 30th-place finish. And there was a season-finale performance at Homestead that was by far Patrick’s best showing in NASCAR, a top-5 qualifying effort parlayed into a 19th-place result, on the lead lap with a car that improved throughout the day.

But the low points seemed to dominate a year in which speed proved elusive. For all the hype and TV coverage that Patrick’s Daytona debut in a Nationwide car produced, the No. 7 was about as uncompetitive as a JR Motorsports entry had ever been in a restrictor plate race, with Danica nearly losing the draft, battling the underfunded rides of Danny Efland and Josh Wise before falling victim to the “big one” scarcely halfway through the event. Then, there was a nasty wreck at Las Vegas between Patrick and Michael McDowell’s already damaged racecar. McDowell took responsibility for the incident, though it’s also worth noting that he had committed to running the bottom line, protocol for damaged cars making laps off the pace, while Danica jammed him down from the top. Regardless of fault, the incident was avoidable, and the resulting crash cost her over 100 laps of valuable seat time.

And then, there was Dover in September. Despite turning over 100 laps and scoring a top-10 finish in the K&N Pro Series East race at the same track the day prior, Patrick’s inexperience as a stock car driver was never more evident than on the banks of the Monster Mile. The Saturday morning during qualifying, Patrick timed in 42nd of the 48 cars that showed up, proceeding after her slow lap to throw a tantrum over the radio ... because she couldn’t find her way to the garage entrance. Despite numerous instructions from crew chief Tony Eury Jr., Patrick eventually parked her car on pit road, where it sat until the JR Motorsports crew came to direct her.

The race itself didn’t go any better. Already three laps down by lap 71, Patrick cut a right front tire and pounded the Turn 4 wall, limping to a 35th-place finish in perhaps her worst performance of a 2010 season that included three DNFs in 13 starts.

Speaking before the media at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Patrick noted: “It’s been an up and down year. It’s been a character-building year, a humbling year. I did know coming into this season that it was going to be the hardest year I have ever had.

“Still, nothing can really prepare you for the hardest year you have ever had. It sucks at times. It’s still challenging. But I’ve learned a lot.”

Patrick’s “educational” analysis is not without merit. It took her five races to finally crack the top 25 in a NASCAR event, a feat she accomplished in four of her last five starts. Comparing her first five starts to her last five, Patrick’s average finishing position improved by eight spots, from 31.2 to 23.2. Even more important, Patrick made dramatic progress at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana upon her return visit in the fall (ACS was the one track that Patrick made two Nationwide Series starts on). Whereas in February, she finished three laps down while at times running laps 10 miles an hour off the leader’s pace, September’s event saw the No. 7 car a fixture on the lead lap and a top-15 car for most of the day.

Patrick’s performance that fall Saturday also caught a big-time eye, that of Mark Martin. A Cup veteran with ties to JR Motorsports through the Hendrick Motorsports camp, Martin went a long way to further Patrick’s education throughout the back half of 2010. After she wrecked out of the Dover race, Martin visited Patrick in her hauler while the No. 7 team worked on the damaged car, chatting for nearly an hour about setups, use of practice time and other elements of stock car racing that Patrick is still trying to familiarize herself with.

A few weeks later, following Patrick’s performance at Fontana, Martin spent two hours shaking down her Nationwide CoT machine in a test session at Charlotte Motor Speedway in October.

“Something that has stuck with me since he said it to me was that the front end of the car should do what you ask it to do,” said Patrick. “I thought it was a fantasy in my mind, that it would do what I wanted it to do. He said that that should be the point it gets to.”

The time Martin spent aiding Patrick was invaluable; her four best finishes in 2010 all came after Martin assisted her with the Charlotte test.

With the continuing support of JR Motorsports, Eury Jr., and drivers the caliber of Martin, Patrick is in a situation in terms of equipment and surroundings that tops even those of big-name, open-wheel converts Juan Pablo Montoya and Sam Hornish Jr. during their transitions. In terms of equipment and personnel, all the pieces are in place for driver No. 7 to handle one of the most difficult learning curves in all of motorsports.

There’s no overstating how tough the jump from open wheel to stock cars really is. It’s a challenge that has chewed up and spit out drivers far more accomplished than Patrick, be they three-time Indy Racing League champion Dario Franchitti or 1997 Formula 1 world champion Jacques Villeneueve. The two most notable open-wheel converts in recent memory would be Montoya and Hornish, who have found homes in the Sprint Cup ranks the last few seasons but enjoyed limited success. The Colombian has just two victories, while Hornish couldn’t even score two top 10s last season and is likely on the outside looking in for 2011.

How do Patrick’s first race starts compare? The evidence is inconclusive. Her results, as unspectacular as they may have been on paper, were in fact better than those of Hornish. Her average finish was stronger, a 28.0 compared to Hornish’s 32.8 in his first 11 Nationwide starts. She had just as many lead lap finishes, and just as many top 20s in that span. And for as often as she found trouble on the track in 2010, Patrick had half the DNFs of Hornish.

Based on the duo’s respective IndyCar résumés, those results should never have been that close. Patrick has only won once in IRL competition, while Hornish is both an Indianapolis 500 winner and three-time IRL champion. And yet, when it comes to stock cars, after one year Patrick is, statistically at least, further along than Hornish was at that point in his career.

On the other hand, Patrick’s results don’t come close to stacking up to those of Montoya, also an Indianapolis 500 winner and perhaps the most successful open-wheel convert to stock cars since Tony Stewart. Montoya, who made only four Nationwide starts in his debut stock car season before jumping to Cup full-time in 2007, remains the model that the next wave of open-wheel converts, including Patrick, will need to follow.

In speaking to the driver herself, there’s no shortage of confidence that results will come. Addressing home state media at Gateway International Raceway in October, Patrick said of her progression: “I know that I’ve learned as I’ve gone along. That’s important, and I feel more comfortable in my car for sure. I feel a little more under control. I feel like it’s coming slower at me than it did in the very beginning.”

With Patrick committed only to the first four races of the 2011 Nationwide Series, and planning to run a maximum total of 14, the jury remains out on whether Danica the driver will be able to make the jump from a back marker to a top-15 fixture next year. What also remains to be seen is whether the impact that GoDaddy’s fastest girl had on the Nationwide Series in 2010 is in fact the “good thing” for NASCAR that sanctioning body CEO Brian France proclaimed in November 2009, well before Patrick ever took the green flag for a stock car race.

There’s no doubt in terms of TV viewership that Patrick helped NASCAR’s second-tier series. The large ratings boost ESPN received televising her debut at Daytona was instrumental in the networks’ Nationwide Series ratings ending 2010 with an increase over the season prior, even as the Sprint Cup Series saw its ratings continue to flounder despite the drama of a three-way battle for the title heading into the season’s final race. Ticket sales also saw an uptick. New Hampshire Motor Speedway reported its Nationwide Series demand went up 30 percent after confirming that Patrick would be competing at the racetrack.

Her part-time campaign led to a full-time entry that the Nationwide Series field desperately needed as well. To ensure that her No. 7 car would remain in the top 30 in owner points — and locked into the field as a result — JR Motorsports decided at Bristol in March to run the car full-time, sponsored or not. And if Travis Pastrana and Brian Deegan are any indication, NASCAR, for all its current attendance and ratings trouble, is still proving an attractive market for motorsports’ biggest names.

The other side of the coin, though, surfaced even before the 2010 Nationwide Series took its first green flag. Addressing the media at Daytona, ESPN’s Vice President of Motorsports Rich Feinberg was questioned as to how his network planned to balance coverage of Danica’s debut with that of the 42 other story lines that would take to the racetrack. His response: “It’s our strong belief there will be people that turn on Saturday’s Nationwide telecast that perhaps don’t watch a lot of Nationwide races or NASCAR at all, because of the interest in her. We want to serve that curiosity.”

If the ratings were any indication, it was mission accomplished for ESPN, and for Patrick as well. But as for the other competitors, it was harder to find a positive to the massive influx of Danica-maniacs who tuned in. Because, frankly, the exposure wasn’t necessarily there, regardless of what the ratings said.

“The only thing I will say is that TV has been doing a horrible job,” said Kyle Busch of the media frenzy that saw Patrick dominate airtime throughout Speedweeks. “They’ve been covering her way too much.

“If you’re going to have all this attention drawn on the series, let’s put it towards all the people. If you’ve got all these people watching TV that want to hear about Danica, well, take advantage of that and show the less-funded teams, the underprivileged that want to have funding so they can race the rest of the year.”

Robert Richardson Jr. echoed those sentiments when questioned that weekend about his family-owned team’s experience regarding TV coverage, noting that the narrow window the networks offered is “why half of us don’t have sponsorship.”

To be fair to ESPN, the overwhelming focus on Patrick’s first few races subsided as the season progressed. But the question as to whether the decision to promote nothing but Danica-mania will actually have a lasting impact on the Nationwide Series remains to be seen. After all, just as 13 races provided an incomplete grade for Patrick’s NASCAR experiment, 13 telecasts may well be too small a sample size to determine just what kind of impact her rookie year actually had on NASCAR’s minor leagues.
No matter how many questions surround Patrick as she prepares for her second year as a stock car driver, one thing is for certain: Every high and low will be painstakingly broadcast in front of millions.

“Everybody has to face a learning curve,” summarized fellow NASCAR female racer Jennifer Jo Cobb. “Danica has to face hers, unfortunately, in front of the world with a big spotlight on her.”

That spotlight is not going anywhere for 2011.

Teaser:
<p> In her second season in NASCAR, Danica Patrick looks to apply lessons learned to prove she has what it takes to make a career in stock cars</p>
Post date: Monday, December 5, 2011 - 14:30
All taxonomy terms: 2011, nascar archive, NASCAR
Path: /nascar/cashed-out
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In celebration of Athlon Sports' upcoming 10th annual Racing magazine, we've dug into the archives to uncover some of the most memorable features, profiles and Q&As that have graced our pages. Visit the site daily for more retrospective looks at NASCAR throughout the decade.

Article originally published in 2011 Athlon Sports Racing annual

— by Tom Bowles

For the better part of half a decade, critics have beaten up NASCAR like prizefighters boxing for the heavyweight belt of Who Killed The Fastest Growing Sport In America. The stories of sorrow may change, but the punch-throwing theme remains the same: An uppercut of negativity surrounding declining attendance and decreasing revenue, the sanctioning body going from unparalleled growth to an open-heart wound for seemingly everyone but itself to see.

Now, after a tumultuous 2010, even the sport’s top officials can’t hide behind a torrent of ugly statistics. Television ratings, trailing off since the last contract began in 2007, entered a freefall that peaked during the playoffs when five of the 10 Chase races had fewer viewers than Danica Patrick’s debut in the Nationwide Series last February. Even the Homestead finale, in which three men entered neck-and-neck for the championship, was down eight percent from the 2009 numbers, the capper to a year that began with the lowest Daytona 500 rating since 1991. Apathy wasn’t just limited to couch potatoes; the France-controlled International Speedway Corporation, owning over half the Cup schedule and tracks, saw an 18.7 percent drop in ticket revenue in the third quarter of last season alone.

You hear the stats, look at a list of teams laying people off and you’d think NASCAR was on its deathbed. That’s somewhat deceiving. Like with any business, there are peaks and valleys, but keep in mind that there are still some very good things happening in the sport. Sponsorship deals remain in the $20-$30 million range for top teams, and a national television contract for all 36 races is in place through the end of 2014.

Clearly, though, valleys can only last for so long before panic sets in. A reversal of fortune is needed in 2011 more than ever, with anxious executives from sponsors to manufacturers looking for positive signs upon which to build. But can it be fixed? How much do they need to? And why did it get to this point, just five years after a ratings peak had the NFL looking over its shoulder for the first time in a generation?

Finding that answer means going beyond the political correctness of Daytona Beach, peeking outside the box at the sport’s once-boisterous middle class. After all, those in the best position to advocate for change are the ones whose blood, sweat and tears of the past have been most directly affected by failure in the present.

Four stories. Four chapters that weave together to identify clues on problems, solutions, and whether successes will strike NASCAR once again.

From single-car powerhouse to praying for sponsorship
Twenty-seven years ago, good friends Tim Morgan and Larry McClure came to the Cup Series for what would be an unthinkable purpose today: They needed a hobby.

“When Morgan-McClure began, Tim and I just did it just to have fun,” says McClure, whose No. 4 car started off slowly, not running full-time until 1988. “We were doing it small-scale, weren’t even looking at (the sport) nationally and what it was doing.”

The 1990s changed all that. An upset winner in the 1991 Daytona 500 with Ernie Irvan, the duo won the Great American Race twice more, in ’94 and ’95 with Sterling Marlin. Marlin peaked at third in the standings in ’95, and suddenly, this “fun” outfit had become a force in NASCAR.

“It took our hats off,” says McClure. “We thought, man, we had arrived in the biggest sport, and we don’t see an end to it. We just thought it was going to continue to grow.”

It did. Just not for them. Beginning in the late 1990s, multi-car teams, which had always been around to challenge Morgan-McClure Motorsports, suddenly began to emerge as powerhouses.

“When there were two-car teams like Junior Johnson did (in the 1980s), there was tremendous competition within them,” explains McClure. “There were these big egos. They didn’t want to share information.

“So the foot came down, and the manufacturers got more involved. All of a sudden, (multi-car teams shared) a lot of information. They started trying to make the cars exactly equal, the engines exactly equal.”

That philosophy shift took its toll. By 1998, Roush Racing had five cars, while three-car Hendrick Motorsports captured four straight championships with Jeff Gordon and Terry Labonte. That was also the last year Morgan-McClure finished in the top 10 in points, with expansion plans falling short as a hardworking single-car shoestring gradually saw economic disadvantages and manufacturer preferences outweigh its effort.

“Around 2001, 2002 the money was killing us,” adds McClure. “It all was about money. Then, they let Toyota in, and their money separated the teams even further, made it even more of a corporate, three-team, four-team entourage.”

“What you have now is you’ve got two or three teams and, maybe, you have a two-car team that’s really just an extension of somebody’s four-car team,” Morgan says. “So if you have 10 cars out there that are affiliated, do you think as a fan it’s reasonable to assume that those cars are going to compete with each other as aggressively?”

Still, despite a lack of regulation — NASCAR didn’t step in with a four-car limit per owner until 2009 — both men refuse to place blame.

“They played the game by the rules that were there,” says Morgan. “And we played the game by the old rules. We don’t feel like, even today, they did a better job racing than we did. We feel like they did a better job marketing than we did. And we should have woken up to that earlier.”

Oversleeping proved costly. Losing Kodak to one of the multi-car giants (Penske Racing) in 2004, the advent of the Chase, and some new qualifying rules created an environment that crippled a team that never found replacement funding.

“During that Chase period, if you’re working hard to get a sponsor and you’re a team that shouldn’t finish 15th and you finish 15th, you’re not even mentioned (in the press),” Morgan explains. “(The Chase) takes away from the overall effectiveness of the sponsorship of anybody outside that group. They’ve basically just become ghosts during that period. They’re not even noticed. That’s a bigger issue than (officials) realize.”

“We’ve got to have the last-place car just like we have the first-place car,” adds ­McClure. “I think that’s the thing we’ve forgotten about — the whole field is important in NASCAR.”

That’s where even the top 35 “locked in” rule can be crippling, creating inequality within a 43-car field composed of those coming to race and others simply trying to make the field.

“You don’t have the fastest cars necessarily racing,” adds Morgan. “That encourages mediocrity. Once you get in the points, you’re paid mostly just to sit there and coast since you don’t take chances to get out.

“The old system, if teams did so poorly they couldn’t qualify week after week, then they got in trouble with their sponsor. But it should be that way. I think the way the system was set up was very fair.”

Instead, a tornado was unleashed, the perfect storm that left MMM damaged in its wake. Once a wonderful story, Morgan and McClure now sit and wonder how they wound up on the outside looking in.

“It’s hard to (place) blame,” says Morgan. “This thing moved so fast, the corporate money came in there and NASCAR was growing at the same time. It was hard for them to control their growth and keep perspective. They worked hard, made some good decisions. But I guess maybe sometimes you gotta revamp.”

The owner pauses. He knows revamping is the only way to get the No. 4 back on track, change needed to bring a car that’s been dormant from full-time competition since the end of 2007 — even with $37 million in career prize money to his name.

Development in the unemployment line ... not on the track
J.J. Yeley’s been on both sides of the seesaw. Brought up as a Joe Gibbs Racing prospect, he made his name by taking the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevy from Bobby Labonte’s hands in 2006. It was the break of a lifetime, one the USAC Silver Crown Champion never fully realized until stepping foot on the sport’s hallowed grounds of Daytona.

“Seeing so many fans, that’s the biggest thing,” he remembers of the 150,000 in the stands. “My wife and I were completely wowed at just how friendly NASCAR was.”

That era of good feelings extended inside the garage. Overshadowed by fellow youngster Denny Hamlin, Yeley got released after just two seasons at JGR. But back then, it was a driver’s market, owners banging down doors and throwing money at any type of experience. Six career top-10 finishes? That’s six more than Yeley needed to continue full-time.

“It made me feel good there were a lot of opportunities,” he says. “I went with what I thought was going to be the best position.”

It wasn’t. Hall of Fame Racing was a struggling single-car effort, without the resources or funding to be successful. In only nine months, Yeley got booted into a shockingly different world.

“In 2008 and 2009, it really surprised everyone that money all of a sudden got really tight,” says Yeley, now 34 and backed into a corner for two-plus seasons to start-and-park or retire from stock car racing in his prime. “There was nothing available. And there really hasn’t been a whole lot available since.”

So Yeley sits on the other side of the garage, racing mostly with teams that typically run 30th or 35th on a day when they run the distance at all.

“From a sponsor that understands the sport, they know there’s a chance they may not ever get seen,” he says. “To me, TV has been the downturn because if you’re at a racetrack, there’s racing going on all over the place. It may not be for the lead, but it’s usually 10th-15th, 15th-20th, there’s five to six cars throughout just racing their tails off. But on TV, you don’t always see that.”

The timing of Yeley’s career unraveling also coincided with the economic crash. The nation’s worst recession in 70 years caused the bankruptcy of General Motors and Chrysler, unemployment rates of over 20 percent in regions close to several racetracks (Michigan, Martinsville for starters) and forced companies to roll back their advertising. For Yeley, it’s a factor that can’t be understated — fans and sponsors staying home simply because they don’t have any cash.

“You don’t have families that can afford it,” he claims. “It’s going to take awhile for those fans to afford to come back. NASCAR just has to get a little more creative with what they’re doing at the tracks because there’s not as many dollars out there being spent.”

From sold-out crowds to empty seats. What gives?
That’s where Pocono track President Brandon Igdalsky comes in. The grandson of founder Joe Mattioli, he started out collecting trash as a teen during the sport’s early growth spurt in the 1980s. Managing the track’s concession stands a decade later, one of the sport’s most powerful young business executives saw firsthand just how much the fans were overwhelming a 2.5-mile, triangular-shaped facility that’s held two spots on the Cup Series schedule since 1982.

“It was a crazy time,” he says. “When we put the new backhouses for concessions in behind the grandstands (during the late 1990s), we had to call in more beer that first year. Our beer sales almost tripled.

“For awhile there, it was almost like Field of Dreams. If you built it, they would come. Tracks didn’t have to sell tickets. They just took orders.”

The peak for the Northeast Pennsylvania facility occurred at the close of the 20th Century. A flurry of great races, punctuated by Jeremy Mayfield bumping Dale Earnhardt on the last lap to win the June 2000 event, left the facility forced to do the unthinkable — actively advertise for fans to stay away.

“In ’99, I remember my grandfather put an article in the paper telling people if you don’t have a ticket, don’t come,” he says. The fans who came empty-handed would have to wait eight hours in misery outside, as the rural area was one-way in, one-way out on race day. “We had no room.”

Ten years later, the track can only wish for the glory days. Igdalsky admits that they “came close to selling out” last in 2002-03 before the numbers began a slow but steady slide downhill. Specific figures are hard to come by — official attendance stats through NASCAR have listed 105,000 for four years, but a local paper, the Pocono Record, did an estimate based on aerial photographs and crowd-counting techniques that put that number at 48,000 last August. How do they move forward?

“None of our fans are saying ticket prices are an issue (for 2011), so we’re happy about that,” he explains, somewhat contradicting Yeley. “It’s not just a matter of putting on a race anymore. They want more bang for their buck. And rightly so. It’s a different world, a different time right now. People want the most quality for each dollar they’re spending.”

So Pocono has focused its promotional efforts on other parts of the experience — beautiful, year-round lodging facilities adjacent to the track and a 25-acre solar farm. Also, track ownership is reviewing plans to build additional entertainment nearby.

“The product at the track this year was unbelievable. It was one of the best years I remember in a long time in terms of the on-track races, the experience,” he says. “I think like in any business, there’s dips and valleys. Right now, we’re on the way back up from the dip. I definitely see things turning around.”

The sponsorship struggle
In a sport held together by Fortune 500 support, the key to sustaining any upward trend is convincing companies to keep spending money. That’s where Bob Jackson comes in. Jackson is a marketing exec whose client list has included Joe Gibbs, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Boris Said, but whose 27-year background mostly involves that elephant NASCAR wishes would go back to the zoo — the NFL. What’s the difference between the two?

“Parity,” says Jackson. “So many times, you see a team that is 4–12 in one year, then making the playoffs the next. That happens a lot.

“In NASCAR, to me, it seems like you know who’s going to be the top 10 or 12. There’s going to be cars who come in and get a top 10 every now and then, but I feel like it’s the haves and the have nots. It’s just hard to compete with the big boys if you’re an independent.”

The stats bear that out, as just 35 drivers with only 10 different chassis/engine combinations cracked the top 10 last season in Cup. Compare that to 45 drivers and around two dozen combinations from 2001, and an ugly trend leaves sponsors unwilling to take a chance at new opportunities.

“I’d like to see everybody be competitive out there. But there’s four or so big players in the NASCAR game, then everybody else,” he says. “I have to look out for what’s best for the sponsor, because they are too hard to find to put them into something that’s not going to work. Every one of them wants something that can be measured. Every one of them wants to see what their return on their investment is.

“Win on Sunday. Sell sponsors on Monday. That’s the way to do it.”

Those problems create a trickle-down effect, as young Nationwide Series drivers have struggled to stay in seats, while Cup driver infiltration takes its toll. Jackson is working hard for a number of teenage phenoms to acquire the opportunities they need. The problem is, with no owners and sponsors taking risks, there’s no money to give them the long-term chance needed for success.

“Unless you’re one of the lucky ones,” he says, “like a Joey Logano that gets handpicked by one of the top teams, how are you going to break in and really show how well you can do if your only choice is to go with an underfunded independent? It’s tough. It’s really tough.”

Jackson sighs. He can’t make a convincing argument alone.

Solutions and conclusions
Four stories, four differing perspectives. Yet these men stand together in identifying common concerns more than they would have guessed.

“Back in the day, we had personalities,” McClure says. “Everybody sounded different and talked different, acted different, came from small towns. Then, it changed to the corporate world, and it appeared to be all about money and not so much the competition.”

“‘Boys, have at it to a different level’ is what I’d push,” says Igdalsky, referring to NASCAR’s 2010 “edict” of laying off punishments for on- and off-track conduct. “Give the guys a little more freedom, and let ’em have a little bit more fun out there.”

But even the best-laid plans nowadays seemingly come down to money. The smartest, most flamboyant driver is handicapped if his car doesn’t have the parts and pieces to compete.

“Sometimes, NASCAR these days reminds me of Major League Baseball that doesn’t have a salary cap,” adds Jackson, whose answers lie in marketing parity. “It’s like the Yankees and Red Sox against the Kansas City Royals. But how do you tell a Rick Hendrick or a Jack Roush, that’s built their team up so beautifully, ‘OK, you have to cut it in half now’? You just can’t do that, can you?”

Sounds like a job for a young, up-and-coming leader, a behind-the-scenes stalwart capable of being Brian France’s right-hand man. In other sports, now’s the time when the charismatic leader emerges, saving everyone from their own excess in reestablishing structure and success before it’s too late. Yet not one of these men has a young star who comes to mind.

“I don’t know who’s going to take it to that next level,” says McClure. “But we’re going to go through a lot of changes. Bill’s (France’s) children are, certainly, super intelligent. And hopefully capable.”

Looks like they’ll need to be. There’s nowhere else to turn — more than ever France’s leadership stands out as the key to keeping all of these different problems from sinking the sport.

Otherwise, each one of these stories is destined for an unhappy ending, a parking lot of faltering dreams in a sport that once thrived on making dreams come true.

Teaser:
<p> Four stories, four differing perspectives of how the economic environment has changed NASCAR</p>
Post date: Monday, December 5, 2011 - 14:22
Path: /nascar/2011s-13-tough-questions-and-politically-incorrect-answers
Body:

In celebration of Athlon Sports' upcoming 10th annual Racing magazine, we've dug into the archives to uncover some of the most memorable features, profiles and Q&As that have graced our pages. Visit the site daily for more retrospective looks at NASCAR throughout the decade.

Article originally published in 2011 Athlon Sports Racing annual

1. What’s to blame for NASCAR’s sagging television ratings and attendance?

A confluence of events. No one action could account for such a dramatic dip in interest, both at the track and on television.
The continued economic downswing certainly has hurt attendance figures, despite track operators slashing ticket prices and promoters pulling out all the stops. Three- and four-night minimums at hotels where rates are already jacked up 100 percent or more continue to keep fans away. Factor in gas or airfare as well as food and drinks and a souvenir for little Timmy, and suddenly the ticket to get in the gate is the least of the expense — particularly for the largely blue-collar diehard who can blow an entire mortgage payment on a three-day getaway to the track.

A continued refusal on the sanctioning body’s part to acknowledge the NFL’s Sunday superiority doesn’t help, either. As ol’ DW stated on the matter, if there’s an 800-pound gorilla in the room, run away from it. Since NASCAR has shown it has no qualms with shucking tradition, maybe moving away from Sunday afternoons should be considered.

Outside factors aren’t the only issue, though. During NASCAR’s ascension in the public consciousness in the early part of the decade, speedway magnates International Speedway Corp. and Speedway Motorsports, Inc. built monstrous temples for the racing pilgrims, the idea being that 1.5- and 2-mile tracks would not only seat more, but also facilitate both stock cars and open wheel machines. Aerodynamics, and its effects on the fendered set, weren’t considered. What resulted was a shift from beating and banging (a major stock car draw) to aero-sensitive parades. And with the economy (and SMI’s and ISC’s portfolios) a mess, there will be no capital projects to rein in the speedways in favor of popular half- or three-quarter-mile bullrings.

At the same time, a cancerous greed grew from within the sport. The more attention NASCAR garnered, the more it wanted. With that attention came sponsorship and television dollars. Billions of them.

A new generation of driver was molded to attract the funding teams needed to outspend, and thus outperform, the competition. The sanctioning body was no different. It neutered the rough and tumble aspect of the sport — an aspect that drew so many fans initially — to bring in more corporate suits to the garage, the boardroom, and the suites.

Left was a sport that answered to corporate America. Clean. P.C. Friendly. Safe. As is so often the case, NASCAR realized only when it was too late that it had strayed down the wrong path, that it had alienated and disenfranchised its true base.

It’s trying to bring back those unique traits, but as the wise racing scribe Ed Hinton noted last season, “Greed is never retrogressive.”

2. Are tweaks to the Chase format needed to bring interest back into NASCAR’s playoffs?

An unequivocal “no.” NASCAR CEO Brian France’s fascination with “Game 7 moments” continues to drive talk of change to a 10-race playoff format that has never found true acceptance in NASCAR fandom. In fact, the only change many fans desire is a return to the classic points system — but that’s not going to happen.

Instead, France’s vision hints at an expanded Chase field with points resets throughout the 10-week run that encourage (read: engineer) a paper-thin title battle each season.

What France fails to realize is that the 12-driver Chase format, sans points resets, etc., sets the stage for a thrilling playoff drive. But just as in any sport, the proverbial walk-off home run can never be guaranteed, regardless of how much a ruling body attempts to manipulate the system to allow for it.

Worse, with each tweak to the championship format — the expected change would make three in eight years — the championship (not the champion) loses a bit more legitimacy. After all, how can anyone take a title format seriously when the governing body makes multiple changes not with the worthiness of the championship in mind, but with television ratings and ad revenue as the sole guiding factor?

There are a few modifications that would be welcome, such as a bonus for the “regular season” champion or more points awarded for race wins. But what’s truly needed is a revamped schedule that takes the circuit to the most exciting and electrifying venues NASCAR has to offer in the Chase. Great racing trumps a hokey plea for ratings every time.

And speaking of a revamped schedule …

3. What became of Brian France’s promised “impactful changes” to the schedule?

When Brian France suggested last July that the 2011 schedule would “have some pretty impactful changes ... that I think will be good for NASCAR fans,” the prayers of many were thought to be answered. The lumbering 36-race slate of dates was a logistical nightmare that needed some streamlining and common sense injected to re-energize and captivate a fan base that had seemed to tire of the oversaturation of cookie cutter tracks and stale Chase venues.

Instead, NASCAR gave the fans more of the same. The “impactful changes” France spoke of ultimately manifested themselves in an additional race date for Kansas Speedway at the expense of Auto Club Speedway, and Kentucky Speedway getting a date to the detriment of Atlanta, while Chicagoland Speedway was awarded the Chase’s first date. No radical realignment to freshen things up and, specifically, to give the Chase its much-needed facelift.

Auto Club Speedway was mercifully put out of its two-date misery so ISC could bring more people to its new casino just outside of the Kansas Speedway track, essentially trading one cookie cutter for another. And make no mistake; Kansas does not present thrilling enough racing to earn a second date without the casino. SMI CEO Bruton Smith bought Kentucky for one reason: to host a Cup date. As a result, a struggling Atlanta lost one stop.

Perhaps the most disappointing decision of all was to award Chicago the first Chase date. This move was made, again, not on the merits of the racing, but to maximize a slumping track’s earnings potential. Imagine kicking off the Chase with the Bristol Night Race. Imagine the hype, the attention, the crossover appeal! Instead, a track with no unique characteristics whatsoever, one that is basically a clone of the aforementioned Kansas Speedway, will host what should be one of the sport’s most important and visible dates.

The common theme this answer shares with most others in this feature is that NASCAR’s final verdict wasn’t made in the best interest of the fans or in the spirit of competitiveness. It was made with the France family’s bank account in mind. Fair enough, you may say — after all, they own the sport. True, but at what point do the short-term objectives cancel out any potential long-term gains?

4. Will the real Tony Stewart please stand up?

Last June, after the worst start of his 12-year career, pit strategy and perfect timing left Stewart with a third-place finish at Pocono. Pumped after just his second top-5 in 14 races, Smoke came to the podium steaming, his usual swagger reminiscent of childhood idol A.J. Foyt.

“I’ve seen some of the worst driving I've ever seen in my life in a professional series right here today,” he said. “So for anybody that’s looking for drama for the next couple races, start looking, ’cause I can promise I’m going to start making the highlight reel the next couple weeks. I know you love that.”

But in a year when “Boys, have at it” dominated the headlines, the 39-year-old Stewart packed no punch while others traded barbs in public. Instead, on a return trip to Pocono in August, he served as NASCAR’s protector by lying to reporters about his knowledge of a $50,000 secret fine for driver Ryan Newman, then wagging his finger at the media for negativity.

“Between everyone in this room (media center) and in the garage we have all done our part to try to break this sport down over the last four-five years. When you finally tell someone that the racing is bad enough, long enough, you’re going to convince people that it really is,” he said. “The facts show that the racing is better than it’s ever been. Everybody sitting here and listening to this right now makes a living off this sport, myself included, and we’re all shooting ourselves in the foot.”

Looks like making a living is the most important issue for Stewart at the moment, money enough to muzzle his mouth for the time being. Let’s be honest: 2005 Tony would have looked at those comments, searched for 2010 Tony and punched him in the face.

5. Will ESPN bail on NASCAR’s television package?

It was a horrible year for NASCAR on ABC/ESPN, both in the Nielsen ratings and behind the camera. Only one of 17 races had a ratings increase (Bristol, August); average viewership was down by more than a million; and its supposed “crown jewel,” the Chase, had its numbers tank a whopping 21.3 percent over the 10-race playoff. In the middle of it all, longtime producer Neil Goldberg was discharged in October over a “peeping tom” arrest that went national and embarrassed the network.

Clearly, all is not roses at the Worldwide Leader In Sports, which holds the biggest chunk of NASCAR’s behemoth eight-year television contract worth $560 million annually. With sources claiming private unhappiness, budgets deep in the red and the sport’s unwillingness to give a discount (Why should it? The networks were the ones stupid enough to sign it) all eyes now focus on ESPN’s bid for the Olympics. If it wins it, the rights fee could be $500 million per two-year event, a gargantuan price that necessitates budget cuts elsewhere. And with their racing leader on the sidelines for good, losses in the millions on a contract halfway over and no end to the ratings disaster in sight, guess who could be first in line to take the fall?

Can TV just break a contract like that, you ask? It’s as simple as not showing up. Already, they’ve thrown nine of the 10 Chase races to cable, expanding post-race programming on SportsCenter to show the sanctioning body that, “Hey, we hyped this racing thing on Sundays more than ever before – and it’s still not working.” The next step, it seems, would be to give up and let someone else take the reins … likely for a much cheaper price tag.

6. What could NASCAR possibly have to gain by “secretly” fining Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman after Hamlin’s comments via Twitter concerning late-race debris cautions (among other things) and Newman’s damning assessment of plate racing at Daytona and Talladega?

To understand this, you must understand the antiquated line of thinking that pervades the sport’s leadership.

NASCAR wants controversy. It craves headlines. Since its January 2010 “Boys, have at it” edict, it has actually encouraged personality and outspokenness among its competitors. Unless, of course, that controversy and outspokenness are directed at the sanctioning body itself.

So when Hamlin admitted to being “secretly” fined $50,000 by NASCAR, the absurd rationale of the brass in Daytona was revealed. After all, how can a fine of this magnitude be levied in such a covert manner without the garage area — a place where rumors run rampant and some media members share a borderline unprofessional chumminess with the competitors — knowing about it.

Hamlin crossed the line in late July, insinuating that debris cautions were being thrown late in races to improve the show — basically stating that NASCAR was attempting to engineer exciting finishes.

Newman’s sin may have been more noble, but was viewed with no less consternation after a Talladega crash.

“No business owner would permit employees, vendors or partners to damage their business — nor can we,” NASCAR’s managing director of corporate communications, Ramsey Poston, said. “It is the sanctioning body’s obligation on behalf of the entire industry to protect the brand, just like every other major sport.”

Fair enough. You don’t work for me, but please don’t work against me, right? NASCAR is a sport that has to sell itself harder than ever to win the entertainment dollar of Joe and Jane Fan. When its legitimacy is called into question by a swarming media and on message boards by fans across the internet, the last thing it needs are its drivers fanning the flames of conspiracy and calling its credibility into question.

However, the way to handle those drivers is not by secretly penalizing them. The NFL, NBA or MLB may drop the hammer on its participants’ criticisms, but the crime and punishment are outlined in minute detail so players’ unions, ownership groups and fans are assured said punishment fits the crime. Not so, in this family-owned sport. No checks and balances — not without a players’ union. And nothing short of franchising will bring that into existence.

It’s situations such as these, when the sport’s benevolence could rule the day, reassuring its skeptics that any credibility issues can be put to rest, that NASCAR finds its long lost consistency. The problem is, the only consistency displayed is a relapse into an outmoded iron-fisted rule: “Boys, have at it on the track, but don’t you dare cross the line off it.”

7. How will NASCAR’s 20 percent cut in Nationwide Series purse money affect the series in 2011?

When word came down last August that the Nationwide Series would see a 20 percent cut in purse money this season, jaws dropped. The series, along with the Cup and Truck circuits, suffered from a 10 percent purse reduction prior to 2010, stretching an already thin margin for the lifeblood of the two junior series: the low-budget, independent teams.

Those shoestring-budget teams that fill NASCAR’s fields in the Nationwide and Truck series often depend on purse money to pay the bills, a far cry from the Cup juggernauts that keep the lights on via sponsor dollars, not race earnings.

The reductions have been made with track operators in mind. An extended economic downturn has given way to sparse attendance figures and less corporate sponsorship backing for the facilities. Therefore, NASCAR took the step to slash the purses tracks must pay, while still charging the same sanctioning fee — the money tracks must pay the sanctioning body to host its events. In refusing to accept any less itself, NASCAR has made the decision to hit the teams where it hurts: in the wallet.

What is expected to follow are less-than-full fields in the Nationwide Series, a development that’s been anticipated for some time, but may become a reality as the season’s erratic travel schedule combines with a substantially lighter payday to discourage the small teams — the backbone of the junior circuit — from making a go at a full-time effort.

8. Did Mike Ford’s trash talk kill Denny Hamlin’s chances of winning the championship?

For eight weeks, Denny Hamlin’s Chase plan worked to a tee. After staying within striking distance through the playoffs’ first half, he’d turned it on with two wins in three races to take the point lead over Jimmie Johnson at Texas, seemingly stealing all the momentum while doing nothing on- or off-track to wake the sleeping giant. The No. 48 was a team in disarray, with crew chief Chad Knaus swapping out pit crews in the middle of that same race while Johnson appeared resigned to the fact someone may have gotten the better of him. Everything seemed to be leaning the No. 11’s way … and then Hamlin’s crew chief spoke up.

“I think it was kind of a desperation move,” said Mike Ford of the No. 48’s crew swap, words that would come back to haunt him. “Their team got them to this point and they pulled them out, so this is more about trying to win a championship for the company and not the team.”

Clearly, those words lit a fire under Knaus and Co., who used mental toughness to outlast a faster No. 11 car at Phoenix before throwing a knockout punch in the season finale. That left Hamlin at odds with Ford, a poor fuel mileage decision combined with knowing how much those words cost them.

“I didn’t appreciate the way that they said that,” said Chad Knaus two weeks later. “I wanted to make sure that this championship is not about that decision that was made in Texas.”

Did Ford play with fire and lose? Yep, and don’t think Hamlin doesn’t know it. If a terrible start to the 2011 season ensues, leading to divorce, look back to these moments as the ones that broke them up.

9. How can Whitney Motorsports cheat twice and get 50-point penalties each time while Clint Bowyer’s team does so once, gets 150 points, four-race crew and car chief suspensions and is essentially knocked out of the Chase?

OK, so let’s get this one straight: NASCAR needs a laser, three geeks from Revenge of the Nerds and 48 hours of nitpicking at the R&D Center to figure out if Clint Bowyer’s car is out of tolerance. Whitney Motorsports, a small, single-car outfit whose hobbies include start-and-parking, has not one but two instances discovered at the track. First, parts of the engine were found illegal at New Hampshire in September – the same weekend Bowyer was penalized. Then, at Talladega one month later, lower A-arms were discovered with buckshot inside, an old Junior Johnson trick to realign the weight inside the car. Surely, if Bowyer got such hefty consequences, and Carl Long was docked 200 points/$200,000 with an oversized engine in ’09, poor Whitney would find itself setting the wrong kind of records, right?

Wrong.

To understand why Whitney gets off the hook, look no further than this year’s car count. Only 30 fully funded teams are left; the back half of the garage is so poor that even operations set up to start-and-park as a business are closing up shop. Getting to 43 cars each week, even with field-fillers, is going to be a difficult task at places like Phoenix and California, putting the sport in jeopardy of losing precious TV money. That means that imposing a $500,000 fine for cheating and killing off a team like Whitney, whose small operation was even putting two cars out there at times to close 2010, could cheat NASCAR out of millions over the long-term.

So the little guy escapes, a rarity in this sport, while Bowyer gets the equivalent of a guilty verdict for murder. And the rest of us? We sit and wonder when the hypocrisy will finally stop.

10. If Dale Earnhardt Jr. struggles again this season, will he ask out of his contract a year early?

It doesn’t appear likely. Earnhardt and Hendrick casually mentioned that contract extension talks — Earnhardt is currently signed through 2012 — were in the near future just one week after the personnel shakeup at HMS that aligned Earnhardt with crew chief Steve Letarte in the new “48/88” shop. While that may be true, it may also be posturing, putting any sponsor’s apprehensions at ease while the company regroups and rolls out a new product in 2011. Any sponsorship negotiations attached to the Earnhardt name take a much more decided effort and additional diligence due to the asking price. Could the pair’s hinting at an early extension actually be step one in luring AMP Energy Drink and the National Guard back? Possibly.

Also, Earnhardt knows the resources currently behind him are unmatched. Hendrick Motorsports is the unquestioned powerhouse in the sport with 10 Cup titles in its trophy case and an all-star lineup that will only get bolstered in 2012 when Kasey Kahne comes on board (and that’s not to mention the relationship with Tony Stewart and his Stewart-Haas Racing operation). Really, it won’t get any better for Junior. Or Hendrick.

Despite three subpar seasons at HMS, Earnhardt brings in over $30 million per year in sponsorship revenue alone. Factor in merchandise sales (of which Hendrick gets a cut) plus over $14 million in winnings over the last three years, and the numbers say Earnhardt — win or lose on the track — is raking in just as much money for Hendrick as his new shopmate.

Still, does a blues jeans and t-shirt Earnhardt fit in a starched white-collar world at Hendrick Motorsports? Maybe, maybe not. And for the time being, he’ll remain where he’s at through at least 2012.

11. Does NASCAR need to change its officiating style?

Like NASCAR, stick ’n’ ball sports aren’t immune to controversial calls. So why do stock car officials wind up with the worst rap? Simple: visual aides. NFL challenges, MLB instant replay and NBA shot clocks can help tell us whether a decision is right or wrong, leading to endless and exciting debates at the office the next day.

How can we do that with, say, a season finale in which Kevin Harvick was busted for speeding, then accused Jimmie Johnson of sneaking by without so much as a warning? No media member or fan gets a look at pit road times, and all we see is a bunch of cars charging real slowly on the screen towards pit out. NASCAR refuses to publicly release those times, just like it won’t adequately explain a rules violation from Clint Bowyer that contains a top line that would make any politician proud.

Behold, Section 20-3: “The car body location specifications in reference to the certified chassis does not meet the NASCAR-approved specifications.”

What specifications? What tolerances? What in the world does that mean? You’d have to go through 16 pages to find out, in a rulebook not every Joe Schmo on the street can access. Considering NASCAR’s inauspicious history with penalty calls – just look at some of these other questions in the book for proof – it’s no surprise that this breeds suspicion in a transparent world where WikiLeaks, Facebook and Deadspin feed the public’s desire to know.

For generations, that’s how the France family has run NASCAR, a family-owned dictatorship with more secrets than Nixon and Watergate. But that needs to stop, pronto, if the sport wants to stop the bleeding of angry fans and nose-diving attendance. It’s time to drop the act, open the books and work to ensure that fans can believe in the legitimacy of officials’ calls.

12. Is Kyle Busch good for NASCAR?

He’s cocky, oftentimes immature, seemingly on an emotional roller coaster in the car, wins a lot and plays it up for the crowd in the process. What’s not to like?

Actually, for many fans there is a lot not to like. Busch’s post-race scowls and short answers in defeat and goading bows and mock tears in victory provide the ammo, and NASCAR fans are all too happy to fire the gun. However, fans — particularly in auto racing — often love to hate a driver more than they love to cheer on their favorite. And nothing spurs those feelings more than when a driver is good … and tells you so.

Busch has been compared to Dale Earnhardt on the track, but goes about his business much more like Darrell Waltrip in his early days. The fans loved to hate Waltrip too, as his brash personality, fast talking and once-in-a-generation talent burst onto the scene in the mid-1970s. While Earnhardt was more subdued than Waltrip in his early years on the circuit, he was more vicious on the track, never afraid to bully his way to the front.

The one thing both drivers had in common — besides a fierce rivalry — was the polarizing effect they had on the fanbase. As each became more successful, the sport garnered more publicity. It was a wild growth NASCAR experienced in the ’80s and ’90s — one that can be attributed to personality as much as horsepower.

So the answer to this question is a qualified “yes.” NASCAR has historically been a more entertaining sport when a heel is around to stir the pot. Just enjoy it while it lasts, because the “bad boys” don’t stay that way forever.

13. Should Mark Martin have let anyone know he was retiring?

Like any good businessman, Rick Hendrick is always looking ahead to stay on top; it’s why he’s won 10 championships as one of the sport’s most successful owners. But as the conductor on the sport’s fastest train, the second you leave his forward-thinking mind you’re in danger, changed from a first-class passenger to a stowaway inside the railway line once built for your success.

Just ask Mark Martin. Ever since the moment the 51-year-old announced that he would retire after 2011, here’s what his “supportive” car owner has done:

• Combine resources with the No. 5 and No. 88 during the ’09 offseason, including moving Martin’s top-notch engineer, Chris Heroy, over to Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s team.

• Sign Kasey Kahne a year early to replace Martin. Only one problem existed: Hendrick had no ride for Kahne in ’11 before those plans went public. As deal after deal for Kahne fell through, media questions mounted about whether Martin would depart a year early, an ugly distraction that had him snippy with the media last summer and ultimately struggling enough on-track to miss the Chase.

• Hendrick made major moves in December 2010 to fix three of his ailing four teams. Where did Martin land? With the worst chassis (former No. 88) and worst-performing crew chief, Lance McGrew, a man with one career Cup victory to his credit. Heroy and Martin are reunited … but is it too late?

Some say this man’s cried wolf too many times, this being the third full-time “retirement tour” he’s had in six years. But that doesn’t make this arrangement fair.

Teaser:
<p> A no-holds-barred look at the most pressing issues alive on the NASCAR touring series today</p>
Post date: Monday, December 5, 2011 - 14:18
All taxonomy terms: 2010, Danica Patrick, nascar archive, NASCAR
Path: /nascar/danica-%E2%80%94-brand-comes-nascar
Body:

In celebration of Athlon Sports' upcoming 10th annual Racing magazine, we've dug into the archives to uncover some of the most memorable features, profiles and Q&As that have graced our pages. Visit the site daily for more retrospective looks at NASCAR throughout the decade.

Article originally published in 2010 Athlon Sports Racing annual

— by Amanda Brahler

Will she or won’t she? That has been the question surrounding Danica Patrick and her possible jump from open-wheeled machines to stock cars ever since the pint-sized spark plug broke onto the auto racing scene in America. After five seasons in the IndyCar Series and only one race win, the question loomed larger than ever, as speculation swirled last summer that her jump to NASCAR was imminent after she was spotted visiting Tony Stewart’s race shop in North Carolina.

The discussions continued as the heat of the summer turned into a winter chill. Despite the constant buzz and “breaking news” from ESPN that a deal was done, nothing materialized and news became stagnant, with nothing more than speculation repeatedly eating up the headlines, placed right next to year-in-review wrap-up pieces.

With build-up surrounding a national appearance on Good Morning America at the end of November, and while the NASCAR media was on its way to Las Vegas and the awards ceremony, some thought an announcement was forthcoming. However, when all was said and done, Patrick had no NASCAR endeavors to announce.

Hey, if nothing else, she knows how to get people’s attention.

The 27-year-old’s “big” GMA announcement that caused a whirlwind of press after months of speculation turned out to be nothing more than a two-year extension with an additional third year as an option with car owner Michael Andretti and the Andretti Autosport team in the IndyCar Series. That, however, didn’t eliminate the possibility of her moving to stocks, as long as the races she ran fell on off-IndyCar weekends. Patrick’s priority, she said, was to win the Indy 500. But with three more possible opportunities aligned, it became clear that she was free to focus on other things, such as expanding her “brand” across the sometimes-blurred lines of the racing business.

In tandem with her new contract, Patrick announced primary sponsorship from GoDaddy.com. Ironically, GoDaddy is the same company that sponsored Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his JR Motorsports Nationwide Series team. The branding moved from JRM to Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 5 team on the Cup level, and driver Mark Martin for a 20-race deal in 2010. In fact, after her contract details were disclosed, her website was updated, and early visitors were greeted with a picture of Patrick that, oddly enough, featured her wearing what appeared to be a JR Motorsports uniform with Chevrolet and Nationwide Series logos. The image was promptly taken down and replaced with a photo in a GoDaddy-green IRL suit, but its posting was far from unnoticed, and the question evolved from ‘Will she or won’t she?’ to ‘When will she?’

“I’ve made no mystery that I’m curious about NASCAR and I would like to do it,” Patrick said in a media teleconference shortly after her IndyCar announcement. “As a driver, if I had the chance to be able to run in both series and try it and challenge myself, I would like to do that.”

Though the discussions between the two parties were never denied — and oddly, were more open than any other worst-kept secret in recent years — it seemed strange that the monumental announcement continued to be put off. What exactly was the point of all of the buildup? Did they expect fans to become more interested or did they want to prove Danica’s appeal to the media and in turn, pull in more sponsorship interest? Or was this simply a matter of two parties not being able to get on the same page? Some reports stated that Danica was looking for a six-figure sum per race, a number unheard of in Nationwide competition.

And so it came to pass on Dec. 8, that Patrick announced a two-year deal to drive a partial schedule — believed to be in the 12-to-15-race range — for JR Motorsports, owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Rick Hendrick, Kelley Earnhardt and Tony Eury Jr. Of course, she will be sponsored by GoDaddy.com and will bring her familiar No. 7 along with her, replacing the No. 5.

“It’s been a long time coming, but the stars finally aligned for me with GoDaddy and JRM,” Patrick said just before making her announcement. “I have always said I love to drive, and if I could make it work to race in both IndyCar and NASCAR — with the right sponsor, like GoDaddy.com and the right team, like JRM — then I’d love to drive in NASCAR.”

It’s somewhat ironic that Patrick and Earnhardt are set to team up. The two share the same burden within their respective racing divisions: being tagged as over-hyped fan favorites who lack statistical support to back up all of the sponsorship dollars and fuss. Fans may adore them and sponsors may be able to use them to sell product, but the bottom line is that neither is a regular visitor to Victory Lane and neither has been able to earn the moniker of champion at the highest level. They’ve also both seemingly mastered the art of effortlessly playing the media like a fiddle, feeding the inquisitive types just enough to continually eat up column space, but not enough to break a story wide open.

Earnhardt, while openly embracing Patrick and what she could bring to not only his team, but the sport as a whole, has gone on the record as saying that despite his involvement with the team, his general manager and sister, Kelley, is the one responsible for putting the deal together.

“She’s going to drive stock cars for somebody someday, (and) I think it’s exciting,” Earnhardt said. “She would be great for our sport. She wants to see what’s up.”

But then when the announcement finally came, it was still a bunch of nothing, because everything announced had long been expected. The meat — “How many races? When? Where?” — was left out.

The bottom line is that she is, in fact, racing for JR Motorsports in the Nationwide Series. So what does Patrick’s transition to stock car racing actually mean? What will her presence and performance bring to the competition within the Nationwide Series garage?

More of the same, to be honest. Patrick’s addition would simply continue a trend, albeit a bit changed, but the overall tone would continue to cast a shadow on the younger and less prominent teams, drivers and talent within the Nationwide garage.

Take her expected teammate, Kelly Bires. Bires was said to be manning the No. 88 JRM machine, which would mark his first full season in a realistically competitive car. In his early 20s, Bires, like many other younger drivers, has been overshadowed in his previous three seasons thanks to the Sprint Cup Series drivers who run either partial or complete seasons. In his debut year in Nationwide competition, Bires ran for a Nationwide-only team, JTG-Daugherty Racing, before being forced into free agency after the team could not secure funding the following season. In 2009, he ran part-time for a handful of teams, including Kevin Harvick, Inc., and Braun Racing. For younger drivers like Bires, that trend will continue — only the focus shifts from “the Cup drivers” to “the girl.”

More disturbing is the revelation made by Earnhardt Jr. that the familiar No. 88 Nationwide team may have to resort to a partial season, as funding is in short supply even for an owner named Earnhardt. Could the focus of importing a commodity like Patrick be hindering JR Motorsports’ other entry? It’s likely, though not clear.

In all fairness to Patrick, her expectations — beyond the speculated salary — seem to be realistic: “In all of the talks over the summer, (and) in meeting with people, there was a lot of emphasis on learning, so I’d be very prepared to start small and grow and really learn the cars.”

The suggestions more than likely stem from drivers like Stewart who have made the competitive transition from open wheelers to stocks and could easily serve in a mentoring role to Patrick. Stewart won the Indy Racing League championship in 1997 before making his move over to NASCAR. He did it gradually, running a part-time effort in what was then the Busch Series while still running Indy cars. Once he made the transition full bore, he made it look easy, having compiled two Sprint Cup Series titles and nearly 40 race wins.

Sam Hornish Jr., Juan Pablo Montoya and Dario Franchitti have also made the move, albeit with less success. But they are different than Danica. All have won the Indy 500, something she still has on her to-do list. Hornish Jr. and Franchitti have also won championships. The closest she’s come was a fifth-place showing in the point standings last year, a year that, while consistent, boasted zero wins.

But the qualities Danica has that her predecessors lacked — at least at her level — are marketing pull and fan appeal. Despite her lack of on-track success, she’s a sponsor’s dream: young, attractive and relatable. But she’s also a standout for the mere fact that she is a female, and at an elite level in the racing world, that’s a unique quality. Despite diversity’s gains in auto racing, thanks to her own effort and that of NHRA legend John Force’s daughter, Ashley, the fact remains that female drivers are few and far between in the upper echelons of motorsports.

Patrick uses her qualities — that marketability and those looks — to cross over from mediocre driver to calendar-girl pinup sensation. She’s often traded her firesuit for a swimsuit and made a hefty chunk of change in doing so. You can’t blame her for following the saying that if you’ve got it, flaunt it, because that is what has made her the brand that is “Danica.” She knows the whirlwind of interest around her and what she’s able to bring to the table. That recognition is why a move to NASCAR makes sense. No, she may not challenge for race wins, and she will certainly tear up a car or 10 as she learns her way in the heavier, full-bodied machines, but she brings sponsors and throngs of fans — or possibly throngs of curious onlookers.

Not only do teams want her for that reason, but NASCAR’s sanctioning body does as well. After years of trying to establish a diversity program, the sport lags decades behind its contemporaries, and Patrick would unquestionably be its biggest land yet. And if nothing else, the one-woman marketing machine that is Danica would bring with her something NASCAR desperately needs right now: dollars and viewers.

“She has a lot of talent,” NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France said last November at the season-ending Ford 400. “She will be good for NASCAR. How well she will perform is like any other driver that comes through the front door and sits in the car — you never know until they do it. She probably doesn’t know (either). We’ll see what the future brings, but she’s certainly very welcome in NASCAR. I’ve told her that directly and I know others have, too.”

Though many females have tried before, none has remained in the series long. Shawna Robinson, Jennifer Jo Cobb and Erin Crocker are just three who have recently worked their way up to at least score a shot at the big time. All three have fizzled out, though, the victims of less-than-ideal marketing personas.

Patrick however, has graced the pages of men’s magazines in provocative poses and appeared in numerous television commercials, promoting a variety of products for corporate America. She has selling power. And with the endorsements come followers. People want to see her in front of a camera and on a race track. Some, because she’s pretty; some, to see her fail; others to see her succeed. But in the end, the bottom line is the same: They want to see her.

This desire by the all-powerful consumer is what lures sponsors toward the phenomenon and away from those possibly more talented Nationwide Series regulars and Cup-invaders alike. It’s an ugly cycle that has plagued the series since the new millennium — marketing over talent — and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.

With Patrick, it will continue, only on a new and heretofore never explored plateau.

That alone causes debate about the health of the series once known as a place to prove a driver’s worth or jumpstart his or her career. But another, more fundamental question has arisen: Can dainty Danica muscle a heavy stock car? After years of steering a downforce-laden, ultra-sensitive 1,300-pound IndyCar, will she find the 3,400-pound beasts that drive like bulldozers to be too much for her physically? The answer lies in the females who have come before her: A long period of adjustment will be required, but her grace period will no doubt be longer than any female’s in the past. Her on-track rope with other drivers may not be, though.

The feisty temperament that has become her calling card will not go over well with the good ol’ boys. There will be no stomping down pit road in front of a packed grandstand to confront another driver’s pit crew or foul-mouthed banter with another driver in the garage. Actually, there may be, but there are also fenders on these cars — fenders that allow drivers to send a message or teach one another a lesson the hard way should they see fit.

With that in mind, a move to a Hendrick-supported team would be the perfect setting for Patrick to learn the mindset of the sport. HMS is an operation that does not tolerate anything less than an exemplary on- and off-track image. You do it the right way — the Hendrick way — or you’re shown the door. Temper-tantrums and signs of disrespect may fly in other shops, but not on Papa Joe Boulevard.

Patrick tested a JR Motorsports-prepared car on Dec. 13 at Walt Disney World Speedway, familiarizing herself with the foreign feel of a stock car. The test was low key, so much so in fact, that the racing media wasn’t even aware of it until it hit Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Facebook page.

“It’s come up in the past to run NASCAR, and I never really was … my heart wasn’t there,” Danica says. “I didn’t want to at all. I wasn’t really curious.

“I’ve always thought that the most important thing for me in my career is that I go with my gut and I go with what I want and not worry about the rest. And so now my curiosity is there and I’d like to just try it, and I’d like to see how I get on with the cars. I just think the racing looks fun.”

Whether or not she actually has fun adjusting to the rigorous schedule, the heavier cars and tough competition that is far from gentlemanly, she more than likely won’t mind cashing the checks that come along with it. The marketing machine that is Danica Patrick is coming to NASCAR.

Teaser:
<p> Hold onto your marketing degrees... here comes Danica!</p>
Post date: Monday, December 5, 2011 - 14:11

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