Articles By Athlon Sports

All taxonomy terms: Carl Edwards, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/carl-edwards-2015-season-driver-preview
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This season, it’s championship or bust for Carl Edwards.

 

That NASCAR’s most natural pitchman has lofty expectations in plain view for 2015 isn’t much of a surprise. Optimism and external motivation are hallmarks of Edwards’ personality.

 

But it is interesting to hear the two-time Chase runner-up talk so candidly about his expectations in 2015 after an offseason of such significant change. Edwards, 35, will drive the No. 19 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing this season after a decade of driving Fords for Roush Fenway Racing in the Sprint Cup Series.

 

It’s a big move, no doubt, but to Edwards, it’s one that had to happen. The theory is that a new environment, after years of stagnation, gives the driver an automatic boost.

 

“Matt Kenseth’s move, Kevin (Harvick)’s move, Joey (Logano)’s move — when I talked to (Roush Fenway Racing President) Steve Newman and Jack Roush about my decision, those guys were evidence that sometimes change on its own can spur performance,” Edwards says. “I’m hoping that it works that way for me.”

 

That trio’s success could mark a shift in thinking that’s emblematic of NASCAR’s decades-long push for on-track parity — a movement that has pushed every well-funded, competitive team within tight technical parameters and minimal setup diversity. No longer does a crew chief have to find the optimal way to communicate with a driver to maximize performance. The team leader just has to make sure that a team of engineers can appropriately mesh on-car data acquisition with driver feedback, and then he has to hope that the team’s overall approach isn’t lagging behind the competition. If that all goes well, then the driver’s heavy lifting gets a bit easier.

 

Edwards also sees NASCAR’s newest championship format — the revised Chase for the Sprint Cup featuring a regular season, three elimination rounds and a final best-finisher-take-all race — as another hurdle eliminated in the process of reaching the sport’s greenest pasture with a new team.

 

“I don’t have to perfectly mesh with everyone or figure out the race cars right away,” Edwards says. “All I have to do is get a win in the regular season and be at top form at race 36. I’m certain, that as a driver, I can do that.”

 

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The process Edwards speaks of is very similar to how Harvick won the 2014 title. Harvick won twice early in 2014 and ran relatively well for the entire season, but he hit rocky stretches in which mechanical issues, bad luck and pit crew problems knocked him from contention on a seemingly weekly basis. The wins, however, provided his team with the championship eligibility safety net. By race No. 27, the team was firing on all cylinders.

 

But Harvick also had the benefit of an open testing policy that’s been completely shelved in 2015, turning laps in his new No. 4 just weeks after his stint with Richard Childress Racing ended. Edwards’ only time on the track with his new JGR team will come on race weekends, NASCAR-scheduled test sessions and an occasional Goodyear tire test.

 

To make up the difference, Edwards is expecting that the opportunity to work again with Kenseth — they were teammates at RFR from 2004-12 — at JGR will shorten the learning curve. Their reunion may rekindle memories of a time when the two didn’t get along so well — including an awkward post-race incident at Martinsville Speedway in 2007 — but Edwards insists that the relationship has improved. “There were times when we didn’t get along, but that’s ancient history,” Edwards says. “He’s a guy I really look up to.”

 

Edwards will start the season with Darian Grubb as crew chief. There’s irony here as the duo once battled when Grubb led Tony Stewart’s team, winning the 2011 title that Edwards lost on a tiebreaker. Grubb is a strong engineer who will help a new team get off the ground. His chemistry with Edwards is unknown, but keep in mind that he’s got wins with three of the best in the business: Denny Hamlin, Stewart and Jimmie Johnson.

 

Then, there’s owner Joe Gibbs, one of NASCAR’s best, who waited nearly a decade to expand from three teams to four. He wanted the perfect financial combination (in this case, ARRIS and Stanley Tools) paired with the right driver capable of contending immediately. Expectations for the new No. 19 will be high.

 

“To us, to me, that championship is it,” Edwards says. “Anything less and I won’t be satisfied.”

 

Fantasy Stall

Needs some speed  Roush Fenway’s No. 99 car ranked 18th in average green-flag speed, per NASCAR. Joe Gibbs Racing cars should supply Edwards with a jolt in the speed department.

Road course standout  Edwards averaged a third-place finish last year at the road courses and scored his first career road course win at Sonoma.

Still a threat on the quad-ovals  Las Vegas, Texas, Charlotte and Atlanta proved comfortable for Edwards during a down 2014 season. The fast intermediates were his best oval track type per average finish (7.5) and saw him close adeptly, gaining 37 positions in the final tenth of races.

Positive regression forthcoming  His 135 laps led in 2014 were his fewest in a season since becoming a full-time Cup Series driver in 2005. It’s doubtful he’ll perform that poorly again, especially in JGR equipment.

 

No. 19 Toyota Joe Gibbs Racing

Primary Sponsors: ARRIS, Stanley

Owner: Joe Gibbs

Crew Chief: Darian Grubb 

Year With Current Team: 1st 

Under Contract Through: 2017

Best Points Finish: 2nd (2008, ’11)

Hometown: Columbia, Mo.

Born: Aug. 15, 1979

 

Career Stats

YearsStartsWinsTop 5sTop 10sPolesTitlesEarned
1137323108187130$73,610,081

 

Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Teaser:
Carl Edwards 2015 Season Driver Preview
Post date: Wednesday, February 18, 2015 - 11:00
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6. Tyreke Evans

Evans has been doing point guard duty for his New Orleans Pelicans lately, but only because of an injury absence from Jrue Holiday — the two is ‘Reke’s natural spot. The 25-year-old’s vast talents have not been truly unlocked in New Orleans, or with his previous Sacramento Kings squad. But a terrific winter has shown that Evans is a crazy-talented freelancer who’s capable threatening triple-double territory on any given night. Combined with Holiday and Anthony Davis, Evans is in the best situation of his career, and looks poised to spread roundball optimism down south.

 

5. Wesley Matthews

Damian Lillard’s coming-out party over the past two seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers has been a hell of a story. But it wouldn’t be possible without Matthews at his side; the Blazers’ guard is one of the most underrated players around, providing a “three-and-D” combo that’s the envy of front offices across the league. He’s made the third-most three-pointers in the NBA this season, and he stymied James Harden through much of his team’s first round series victory over the Houston Rockets last year. Does his resumé really need anything more?

 

4. Jimmy Butler

The Bulls’ breakout All-Star is one of the most frenetic players in the league. He covers more distance than anyone in the NBA, according to mileage reports, and that bit of data is hardly surprising. Watching Butler, one begins to wonder whether he’s got a clone who secretly subs in for him every few minutes; he affects nearly every Bulls play, on both sides of the ball. He finds alley-oop opportunities, open jumpers, invades passing lanes and runs down scorers with the intensity of a soldier. Does he even sleep? It came as no shock when Floyd Mayweather recently said that the relentless Butler could make an easy transition into boxing.

 

3. Kyle Korver

The Hawks’ historically hot-handed shooter is so good a marksman that he’s rarely appreciated for the all-around player that he is. Korver can’t create shots for himself at a high rate, but there really aren’t any other deficiencies to his game. He’s a crisp passer with an eye for the open man, a firm defender, and a terrific hustle player with more muscle and speed than you think. And at 6’7”, he creates some matchup issues that are going to tie opposing defenses into knots when the Eastern Conference playoffs roll around.

 

2. Klay Thompson

37 points, one quarter. Klay Thompson’s internet-breaking performance isn’t soon to be forgotten, and here’s the thing: it was a representative feat. While Steph Curry’s backcourt partner with the Golden State Warriors can’t shatter record books every night, you always have to guard him like he might. As deadly a shooter as there is, Thompson is also shrewd at recognizing defenses and creating opportunities, and a staunch to defender to boot. If the vaunted Warriors are going to make a real run at a title this season, it’ll be in no small part because of their All-NBA candidate Klay.

 

1. James Harden

James Harden’s defensive embarrassments are a thing of the past, and so is acknowledging him only for his singular facial hair and scoring ability. Harden must now be mentioned among the very best players in the game, as he’s whipped himself into one of the fiercest competitors around. A more willing — and smarter — facilitator than he’s ever been, the 2015 version of Harden is a roving, hyper-intelligent army tank who creates problems on every play with his I.Q. and unparalleled footwork. No team relies as much on one player as the Rockets do on Harden, and they could hardly be making that investment in a better man.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, February 17, 2015 - 16:40
All taxonomy terms: MLB Draft, MLB
Path: /mlb/look-back-2005-mlb-draft
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Take a look at any draft, no matter the sport, and there are going to be some people chosen in the top eight or 10 picks who never make it. In some years, the misses far outweigh the hits.

 

The 2005 MLB version didn’t fit that description. If you’re looking for a prime example of the exception to the draft rule, consider this episode. Six of the first seven and eight of the first 12 players picked became All-Stars. And we’re not talking just a bunch of one-and-dones for the Midsummer Classic. Five of the eight earned multiple berths. And three of the four players who didn’t gain that distinction enjoyed big-league careers. That’s a pretty good winning percentage for those doing the drafting.

 

It had hits elsewhere, but for sheer star power at the top, it’s tough to beat 2005.

 

1. Diamondbacks: Justin Upton, OF

Great Bridge (Va.) HS

’07-12, Arizona; ’13-14, Atlanta

A steady source of outfield power who has hit more than 25 homers in a season four times, Upton had his biggest year in 2011, when he hit .289 with 31 homers. Although he will strike out quite often (100-plus Ks in seven straight seasons), Upton is a big run-producer. Though not the superstar Arizona thought he would be when it drafted him No. 1 overall, Upton has delivered considerably.

All-Star Games: 2

 

2. Royals: Alex Gordon, 3B

University of Nebraska

’07-14, Kansas City

A cornerstone of the Royals’ rebuilding process that culminated in a trip to the 2014 World Series, Gordon is an all-around standout who has won four Gold Gloves and been a productive middle-of-the-order bat for K.C. A two-time All-Star, Gordon began as an infielder but settled in left field. He has hit 20 or more home runs twice and in 2011 led the majors with 51 doubles.

All-Star Games: 2

 

3. Mariners: Jeff Clement, C

USC

’07-08, Seattle; ’10, ’12 Pittsburgh

Clement’s abbreviated career was hampered by injury and poor production, as he managed just a .218 batting average as a part-time catcher, first baseman and DH. He bounced around the minors in between shortened MLB stints and never gained enough traction to become an everyday player. After spending September 2012 with the Pirates, he became a free agent, never reached the majors again and retired before the ’14 season.

All-Star Games: 0

 

4. Nationals: Ryan Zimmerman, 3B

University of Virginia

’05-14, Washington

 A two-time Silver Slugger winner, Zimmerman personifies the Nationals like no other member of the organization. He has been part of the franchise since its move to D.C. and has been a stalwart at third base and in left field. Zimmerman has hit 25 or more homers four times and driven in 100 or more runs twice. In 2009, he hit .292, with 33 homers and 106 RBIs.

All-Star Games: 1

 

5. Brewers: Ryan Braun, 3B

University of Miami

’07-14, Milwaukee

The five-time All-Star and 2011 NL MVP has had a career that has featured triumph and controversy. One of baseball’s most accomplished sluggers, he was also suspended for the final 65 games of the ’13 season for PED use. He won the 2011 MVP award after hitting 33 homers and knocking in 111 runs. He was suspended for the first 50 games of the 2013 season for a positive urine test. He appealed, and the penalty was overturned on a technicality. He was caught again in 2013, and the charges stuck.

All-Star Games: 5

 

6. Blue Jays: Ricky Romero, LHP

Cal State Fullerton

’09-13, Toronto

After a blazing start to his career over the first three seasons, Romero’s fortunes faded, as poor performance and injury removed him from the majors. He won 42 games from ’09-11 and was 15–11 in 2011 with a 2.92 ERA and 178 strikeouts, a performance that earned him an All-Star invite. But he became increasingly ineffective after that and spent 2014 in the minors and on the DL, due to a knee injury.

All-Star Games: 1

 

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7. Rockies: Troy Tulowitzki, SS

Long Beach State

’06-14, Colorado

One of the premier infield talents in the majors, “Tulo” combines the ability to hit for power and average with excellent fielding that has earned him a pair of Gold Gloves. A four-time All-Star, Tulowitzki has topped 30 homers twice and has batted over .300 four times. But injuries have limited his production over the past three years, and he missed a total of 222 games from 2012-14.

All-Star Games: 4

 

8. Devil Rays: Wade Townsend, RHP

Rice

Townsend was drafted by Baltimore in 2004 but couldn’t agree to terms and returned to finish his degree at Rice before entering the draft again in ’05. A rare miss by Tampa Bay, he never climbed higher than AA ball and posted a 7–21 record in five minor league seasons. He was plagued by injury during his time in the minors and underwent Tommy John surgery and a procedure to repair a torn labrum.

All-Star Games: 0

 

9. Mets: Mike Pelfrey, RHP

Wichita State

’06-12, New York Mets; ’13-14, Minnesota

At one point, Pelfrey was considered a linchpin of the Mets’ rotation, and his 15–9 record in 2010 was proof of that. For four seasons, he was a fixture among the team’s starting pitchers, but after a 7–13 performance in 2011, Pelfrey underwent Tommy John surgery and missed almost all of the ’12 campaign. He has spent the past two years with Minnesota, but elbow, groin and shoulder injuries limited him to just five starts last season.

All-Star Games: 0

 

10. Tigers: Cameron Maybin, CF

T.C. Roberson (N.C.) HS

’07, Detroit; ’08-10, Florida; ’11-14, San Diego

With a blend of speed and size, Maybin was considered the perfect outfield prospect. But during his eight years in the majors, he has not delivered on his substantial promise. Maybin has had his moments, like when he stole a total of 66 bases in 2011-12 for the Padres. But his highest batting average for a season has been .264, and he has spent just two campaigns (’11-12) as a full-time outfielder.

All-Star Games: 0

 

11. Pirates: Andrew McCutchen, CF

Fort Meade (Fla.) HS

’09-14, Pittsburgh

The four-time All-Star was voted NL Most Valuable Player in 2013 and has become one of the majors’ top all-around players. McCutchen’s blend of speed, power and the ability to hit for average has made him a catalyst in the Pirates’ recent run to the postseason. McCutchen has hit above .300 for the past three years, and in 2012 he smacked a career-high 31 homers. That year, he also won his first Gold Glove.

All-Star Games: 4

 

12. Reds: Jay Bruce, CF

West Brook (Texas) Senior HS

’08-14, Cincinnati

A two-time All-Star and Silver Slugger winner, Bruce has been a steady power producer for the Reds, hitting at least 20 homers in each of his first six years in the league and at least 30 from 2011-13. A torn meniscus hurt his production in 2014, but Bruce remained a formidable presence in the middle of the Cincinnati lineup. In 2012, Bruce had a slugging percentage of .514, and the next season he drove in a career-high 109 runs.

All-Star Games: 2

 

13. Orioles: Brandon Snyder, C

Westfield (Va.) HS

’10-11, Baltimore; ’12, Texas; ’13, Boston

It took Snyder five years to reach the majors, and he hasn’t been able to find a regular job during the parts of four years he has been on big-league clubs. Snyder has spent time at catcher, first and third but was never a full-time member of a team. He signed a minor league contract with Boston before the 2014 season but never reached the big leagues, instead playing 35 games in AAA and hitting .206 with eight homers.

All-Star Games: 0

 

14. Indians: Trevor Crowe, CF

University of Arizona

’09-11, Cleveland; ’13, Houston

For a while, it looked as if Crowe was headed for a spot in the Cleveland outfield. After making his big-league debut in 2009, he played in 122 games, hitting .251, with 24 doubles. But Crowe lasted in Cleveland for just 15 games the next season and was out of the majors in 2012. He played 60 games for the Astros in 2013 but hit only .218, and after signing a contract with Detroit in 2014 was cut loose in July.

All-Star Games: 0

 

15. White Sox: Lance Broadway, RHP

TCU

’07-09, Chicago White Sox; ’09, New York Mets

After pitching a total of 27 games — with two starts — and compiling a 2–2 record with a 5.24 ERA in three seasons with the White Sox and Mets, Broadway was out of the majors. He made 20 starts for the Blue Jays’ AAA team in 2010 and went 3–11, in the conclusion of his professional pitching career. Broadway has since taken up acting.

All-Star Games: 0

 

16. Marlins: Chris Volstad, RHP

Palm Beach Gardens (Fla.) Community HS

’08-11, Florida; ’12, Chicago Cubs; ’13, Colorado

Although Volstad only had one year with a winning record as a starter, he did make 102 starts from ’08-11 with the Marlins and went 12–9 in 2010. He became a free agent after the 2011 campaign and was signed by the Cubs, for whom he went 3–12. Volstad appeared in six games for the Rockies in ’13 but failed to register a decision. He spent the 2013 and ’14 seasons in the minors and had 17 starts in the Korean Baseball Organization.

All-Star Games: 0

 

17. Yankees: C.J. Henry, SS

Putnam City (Okla.) HS

There are those who believe Henry should have stuck with his other sport, basketball, for which he was highly recruited. His brother, Xavier, plays in the NBA, but C.J. never made it to the Show. In fact, he didn’t escape High-A ball. He struggled in the field and at the plate and was out of the minors after 2008. He played in the Frontier League in 2013 but didn’t compete in ’14.

All-Star Games: 0

 

18. Padres: Cesar Carrillo, RHP

University of Miami

’09, San Diego

The total of Carrillo’s MLB experience is three starts for the Padres in 2009 — a 1–2 record with a ghastly 13.60 ERA and 16 hits allowed in 10.1 innings pitched. He has spent 10 years in the minors, the last two in independent ball. He was implicated in the Biogenesis scandal in 2012 and was suspended for 100 games. Though Arizona signed him to a contract in early 2014, he couldn’t hang with the team.

All-Star Games: 0

 

19. Rangers: John Mayberry Jr., RF

Stanford

’09-14, Philadelphia; ’14, Toronto

Son and namesake of the former Royals slugger, Mayberry never displayed the necessary consistency to warrant a full-time starting position. Mayberry spent five-plus seasons with the Phillies as a reserve, going on occasional short binges that would tantalize before reverting to his inconsistent form. He hit 15 homers in 2011 and 14 in ’12 but wasn’t able to drive the ball on a regular basis. Philadelphia traded him to the Jays in a waiver deal on Aug. 31, 2014.

All-Star Games: 0

 

20. Cubs: Mark Pawelek, LHP

Springville (Utah) HS

The lefty never climbed higher than High-A ball during his five years with MLB organizations and topped out at three wins during that time. His final season was 2010, when he made three starts for Gateway of the Frontier League. In 2013, he pitched for Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic.

All-Star Games: 0

 

21. A’s: Cliff Pennington, SS

Texas A&M

’08-12, Oakland; ’13-14, Arizona

Pennington spent most of three years (’10-12) as the A’s regular shortstop and hit a career-high .264 with 26 doubles in 2011. He was traded to Arizona following the ’12 campaign, after losing his starting job and has been a reserve middle infielder for the D-backs the last two seasons.

All-Star Games: 0

 

22. Marlins: Aaron Thompson, LHP

Second Baptist (Texas) School

’11, Pittsburgh; ’14, Minnesota

Thompson had a strong beginning to his professional career and was named a South Atlantic League All-Star at one point, but his pitching record during five years in the Marlins’ system was 22–34. He pitched in four games for the Pirates in 2011, making one start, and threw seven times for the Twins last year with a 2.45 ERA and six strikeouts in 7.1 innings pitched.

All-Star Games: 0

 

23. Red Sox: Jacoby Ellsbury, CF

Oregon State

’07-13, Boston; ’14, N.Y. Yankees

A strong all-around player with good speed, a quick bat and excellent glove, Ellsbury is a former All-Star who can create trouble for opposing teams with his bat and on the basepaths. He has led the AL in steals three times, including a career-high 70 in ’09. In 2011, Ellsbury was the runner-up in the MVP voting, thanks to a .321 average, 32 homers and 105 RBIs. After the 2013 season, he signed a seven-year, $153 million deal with the Yankees.

All-Star Games: 1

 

24. Astros: Brian Bogusevic, LHP

Tulane

‘10-12, Houston; ’13 Chicago Cubs

Although Bogusevic was drafted as a pitcher and spent three-plus years in Houston’s system as a hurler, he was converted to the outfield in ’08. He hit .287 with the Astros as a part-time outfielder in 2011 and was a starter in ’12 but hit only .203. After spending part of 2013 with the Cubs, he was in the minors for all of ’14 and signed a minor league deal with the Phillies after the season.

All-Star Games: 0

 

25. Twins: Matt Garza, RHP

Fresno State

’06-07, Minnesota; ’08-10, Tampa Bay; ’11-13, Chicago Cubs; ’13, Texas;  ’14, Milwaukee

A starting pitcher who has posted a 75–75 record during his big-league career, Garza bounced among four teams before signing a four-year, $50 million deal with the Brewers before the ’14 season. Garza’s finest season came in 2010, when he went 15–10 with a 3.91 ERA for Tampa Bay. Garza struck out 197 hitters in 2011 with the Cubs and has twice logged more than 200 innings in a season.

All-Star Games: 0

 

26. Red Sox: Craig Hansen, RHP

St. John’s

’05-06, ’08 Boston; ’08, ’08-09, Pittsburgh

Although Hansen had a stretch with the Red Sox during which he appeared in 70 games during parts of two seasons, he never became a reliable reliever, and his career was waylaid by sleep apnea and a weakening of the arm that ended his time in professional baseball. In four seasons, Hansen posted three saves and had an ERA of 6.34.

All-Star Games: 0

 

27. Braves: Joey Devine, RHP

NC State

’05-07, Atlanta; ’08, ’11, Oakland

If Devine had not had to endure two Tommy John surgeries, he might have become one of the majors’ top relievers. But he missed 2009 and ’10, and after a solid 2011, had to go under the knife again.

All-Star Games: 0

 

28. Cardinals: Colby Rasmus, CF

Russell County (Ala.) HS

’09-11, St. Louis; ’11-14, Toronto

Rasmus has been a steady outfield producer for the Cards and Jays, although he has never had a breakout season. After a lackluster 2014 (.225 average, 18 HR, 40 RBI), Rasmus became a free agent.

All-Star Games: 0

 

29. Marlins: Jacob Marceaux, RHP

McNeese State

In six professional seasons, Marceaux never reached the majors. He rose as high as AA ball, and in 2008 was 4–1 as a reliever with the Marlins’ Carolina affiliate. Marceaux began as a starter but couldn’t develop consistency.

All-Star Games: 0

 

30. Cardinals: Tyler Greene, SS

Georgia Tech

’09-12, St. Louis; ’12, Houston; ’13, Chicago White Sox

A utility infielder who saw action with three teams over five seasons, Greene never became a consistent starter. His greatest activity came in 2012, when he played 77 games with the Cardinals.

All-Star Games: 0

 

Other Notable Selections

 

Luke Hochevar, RHP

Dodgers (Round 1 – Supplemental) • University of Tennessee

Hochevar didn’t sign with the Dodgers, spending a year in an independent league. He was then taken No. 1 overall the following season by Kansas City.

 

Clay Buchholz, RHP

Red Sox (Round 1 – Supplemental) • Angelina (Texas) College

A two-time All-Star, Buchholz has become a fixture on the Red Sox starting staff, amassing a 66–44 record in eight seasons.

 

Jed Lowrie, 2B

Red Sox (Round 1 – Supplemental) • Stanford

After spending five seasons as a part-timer with Boston and Houston, Lowrie spent 2013-14 starting for Oakland and hit .290 in 2013. He signed a three-year deal with the Astros in December.

 

Chase Headley, 3B/OF

Padres (Round 2) • University of Tennessee

Headley hasn’t been a star throughout his nine years with San Diego and the Yankees, but in 2012, he won a Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger and led the NL with 115 RBIs. He signed a four-year deal with the Yankees in the offseason.

 

Yunel Escobar, SS

Braves (Round 2) • Martires de Barbodos (Cuba) HS

Escobar has not earned an All-Star berth during his time with Atlanta, Toronto and Tampa Bay, but he has been steady in the field and reliable at the plate.

 

Brett Gardner, OF

Yankees (Round 3) • College of Charleston

Gardner has been a fixture in the New York outfield for the past five years. He led the AL in steals (49) in 2011 and in triples (10) in ’13.

 

Jeremy Hellickson, RHP

Devil Rays (Round 4) • Hoover (IA) HS

Although Hellickson was laid low by elbow surgery before the 2014 season, he had been a big part of the Tampa Bay rotation from 2011-13, when he won 35 games. He was traded to Arizona after the ’14 campaign.

 

Marco Estrada, RHP

Nationals (Round 6) • Long Beach State

Estrada bounced between the starting rotation and the bullpen during his seven seasons with the Nats and Brewers. The hard thrower was dealt to Toronto in the offseason.

 

Michael Brantley, OF

Brewers (Round 7) • Central (Fla.) HS

In his sixth big-league season, Brantley had his best year, posting 20 home runs, 97 RBIs and a .327 batting average for Cleveland, a performance that earned him an All-Star berth and a third-place finish in the American League MVP voting.

 

Will Venable, OF

Padres (Round 7) • Princeton

Venable has demonstrated the ability to play all three outfield positions during his seven years with San Diego, including the last five as a starter. In 2013, he slugged 22 homers.

 

Austin Jackson, CF

Yankees (Round 8) • Billy Ryan (Texas) HS

Jackson has led the AL in triples twice during his five years in the big leagues and has played well in the field. The runner-up in the 2010 Rookie of the Year balloting, Jackson was traded by Detroit to Seattle during the 2014 season.

 

Logan Morrison, LF/1B

Marlins (Round 22) • Northshore (La.) HS

Morrison has proven to be a valuable outfielder and first baseman, first for the Marlins, for whom he hit 23 homers in 2011, and most recently for Seattle.

 

Tommy Hanson, RHP

Braves (Round 22) • Riverside (Calif.) Community College

From 2009-12, Hanson was a solid contributor to the Braves’ rotation, winning a total of 45 games. But injuries have detoured him and limited his MLB starts to 13 over the past two years.

 

Jaime Garcia, LHP

Cardinals (Round 22) • Sharyland (Texas) HS

During his first two full years in the majors, Garcia looked like a potential ace and won 26 games. Since then, shoulder problems have limited him greatly and cast doubt over his future.

 

Sergio Romo, RHP

Giants (Round 28) • Colorado Mesa University

Romo has become a valuable part of the Giants’ success and is one of the top closers in the majors. In 2013, he earned an All-Star berth on the way to 38 saves.

 

— Written by Michael Bradley for Athlon Sports

Teaser:
A Look Back at the 2005 MLB Draft
Post date: Tuesday, February 17, 2015 - 14:15
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/matt-kenseth-2015-season-driver-preview
Body:

Predicting where Matt Kenseth will end up at the end of this season isn’t easy after the results he’s turned in during the past two years. But there is good news buried inside that confusion: Even if Kenseth replicates the worst of his first two seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing, he’ll be a top-10 driver.

 

Kenseth, of course, was simply golden during his first run with JGR in 2013. He won a series- and career-high seven times and pushed Jimmie Johnson harder than any other driver.

 

But last season proved to be far different. Kenseth was largely as consistent as ever, recording the same number of lead-lap finishes (30) as the previous year while increasing his top-5 and top-10 results. However, in the stat that counts — visits to Victory Lane — he put up a surprising goose egg. Kenseth qualified for the postseason through points, a product of his consistency, and actually remained eligible for the title through the third round.

 

For a time, it even looked like he could become the sport’s first winless champion. When it didn’t happen, Kenseth was realistic, recognizing the lack of speed that hampered him.

 

“In 2013, we were exceptionally fast at most race tracks,” Kenseth says. “Between the (2014) aero changes and getting the cars down and all that stuff, we just didn’t seem to have a handle on it the way we did the year before. Our balance was just way off, and we never really did get it fixed the way we wanted to.”

 

Interestingly, Kenseth wasn’t too surprised at how he and his JGR teammates performed. In testing before the 2014 season, the JGR Toyotas never had the same handling comfort — and thus the speed — as they had with the 2013 rules package. It’s a deficit from which they never recovered. That’s changed for this season, Kenseth said after test sessions revealed major improvement based on 2015 rules.

 

“I feel the best about the aero changes, getting the downforce off the cars,” Kenseth says. “Hopefully that will make it a little bit easier to pass in traffic and the cars a little more free. I’m hoping that will help.”

 

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

Among the tweaks this year are decreased rear spoiler heights, a reduced-horsepower engine and a new set of in-car suspension adjustment tools for the driver’s use. Should Kenseth adapt well, expect it to make a substantial difference in how well he and the rest of the JGR stable perform. Despite teammate Denny Hamlin earning a spot in the final race to determine the champion, JGR teams won only twice in Sprint Cup — and one of those wins came on the restrictor-plate track at Talladega Superspeedway, NASCAR’s ultimate equalizer.

 

In Kenseth’s favor is the addition of Carl Edwards, Kenseth’s former Roush Fenway Racing teammate, to the JGR lineup as the multi-car operation expands from three to four teams. Kenseth and Edwards had a positive working relationship at RFR prior to Kenseth’s departure for JGR in 2013. Edwards also brings in substantial new sponsorship, allowing JGR to hire more engineers and shop staff while dedicating more resources to research and development. An influx of funding from Kenseth’s main backer, Dollar General, and the addition of old partner DeWalt give the team more funding even with the departure of longtime JGR supporter Home Depot.

 

The organization is also undergoing a hefty transition of several key staff members thanks to the addition of Edwards and the disappointment of 2014 — though Kenseth’s main point of contact, crew chief Jason Ratcliff, won’t change. This season, Edwards will work with Darian Grubb, who moved over from Denny Hamlin’s team. Grubb was replaced in that role over at the No. 11 Toyota by Kyle Busch’s former crew chief, Dave Rogers. That leaves Busch with Adam Stevens, promoted from the JGR XFINITY Series teams, on his pit box going forward. Expect the changes to boost performance.

 

Kenseth, 43, will start his 545th Sprint Cup race and 16th consecutive full-time season at NASCAR’s highest level when the green flag drops on the 2015 Daytona 500. Having made 10 of 11 Chases, a record topped only by Jimmie Johnson, there’s no reason to believe the consistency will stop.

 

“I really feel more confident about (2015) than I did last year at this time,” Kenseth says.

 

With changes made and plans for improvement over a moderately successful run a year ago, it’s not hard to understand why.

 

Fantasy Stall

No wins? No problem  Kenseth’s fall from seven wins in 2013 to zero in 2014 had more to do with speed than skill. His No. 20 car dropped from second to seventh in average green-flag speed rank. If JGR regains speed in 2015, look for Kenseth to take advantage.

Expect excellence  The one- to 1.49-mile tracks, such as Phoenix, Dover and Darlington, are welcome sites for the veteran, who averaged a 7.4-place finish in seven races at tracks that fall in that mileage range last year.

Seal the deal  Kenseth gained 37 positions in the final 10th of races last year. His closing acumen was amplified in the daylight, where he gained 46 positions across 25 races in daytime hours.

A top-10 fixture  In what many felt was a down season after a career year, Kenseth scored two more top-10 finishes — 22 in all, up from 20 — in 2014.

 

No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota

Primary Sponsors: Dollar General, DeWalt

Owner: Joe Gibbs

Crew Chief: Jason Ratcliff

Year With Current Team: 3rd 

Under Contract Through: 2016

Best Points Finish: 1st (2003)

Hometown: Cambridge, Wis.

Born: March 10, 1972

 

Career Stats

YearsStartsWinsTop 5sTop 10sPolesTitlesEarned
1754431151270131$105,899,162

 

Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Teaser:
Matt Kenseth 2015 Season Driver Preview
Post date: Tuesday, February 17, 2015 - 12:00
All taxonomy terms: Kyle Busch, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/kyle-busch-2015-season-driver-preview
Body:

Kyle Busch demands perfection from the racecar and has no qualms about ratcheting up the pressure on his crew chief to make that happen. It’s understandable that Busch has a periodic revolving door of team leaders, a merry-go-round that resulted in the move of former crew chief Dave Rogers to Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 11 team for this year.

 

The two were at odds for much of the Chase, which is surprising, because that’s when Busch snapped it together after a summer slump that endangered his playoff bid. Outside of a Talladega wreck, you could argue that the 2014 Chase was Busch’s best in terms of consistency. Busch won once last year and finished 10th in points, impressive considering he was 17th — with four DNFs — heading into the Chase.

 

Busch, who’s been vocal about the changes for 2015, insists that his relationship with Rogers was just fine, thank you. Any public back-and-forths between the two were a case of two parties demanding nothing less than perfection.

 

Internal sources claim differently, although Rogers’ move in the offseason was part of a larger shift of employees at JGR, both across series and across teams. When the music stopped, it was Busch’s XFINITY (formerly Nationwide) Series crew chief Adam Stevens who landed on Busch’s Sprint Cup team for this year.

 

Stevens wasn’t necessarily Busch’s first pick. “There was definitely a wish list on my end, and there was definitely a ‘Hey, you’re getting Adam Stevens’ on their end,” Busch says. “I went and did some of my due diligence, talked to a few of the guys that I had on my list. I got a good response from that, but at the end of the day it just all came down to bringing Adam up.”

 

Busch sees Stevens’ transition from managing an XFINITY Series team to a Cup program as a challenge. “For Adam, just going from the (XFINITY) level to the Cup level, you’re working with probably 40 people in the (XFINITY) shop and with 400 in the Cup shop,” Busch says. “It’s a lot more people, a lot more things on your plate, and I’m sure you can get overwhelmed quite quickly.”

 

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

Should Stevens manage the transition, the organization has high hopes. Since pairing up at the start of the 2013 season, he and Busch have 19 XFINITY victories in 52 starts, winning at an unthinkable 36.5 percent clip. Even a sliver of that success puts Busch on better footing in Cup, where he’s struggled by comparison. 

 

Stevens is making the transition to Cup just as JGR is undergoing an expansion to four teams with the addition of Carl Edwards. This move has Busch enthused, as he felt for much of 2014 that the lack of a satellite program, like Hendrick Motorsports has with Stewart-Haas Racing, left his organization with a big disadvantage in terms of resources.

 

“Having Carl on board is going to be great for the team. He’s obviously gotten results in years past,” Busch says. “Having a bunch of new people at JGR and getting the engineering department all ramped up with more people. … It’s just going to make us a stronger team.”

 

Busch says any jumps in performance won’t come from the new rules package that cut downforce and reduce horsepower. It’ll make the Cup cars handle more like their XFINITY series counterparts. “It’s just a baby step. I don’t think it’s markedly different,” he explains. “You’re going to see some speeds slow down from the track records maybe, but it’s just going to be about trying to see what balance is going to be like with the horsepower to drag and everything else.”

 

Differing from the majority, Busch claims that the JGR problems are in-house, related simply to getting the cars to turn better. But having the cars in Cup handle more like those in the second-tier series may be a step in favor of Busch’s on-track handling preference. He’s become a regular dominator of the XFINITY Series in recent seasons — which brings things back full-circle to the Stevens promotion.

 

“The relationship we’ve had over the last year has gone really well,” Busch says. “We’ve won lots of races and we’ve been competitive. That level at the (XFINITY) level is obviously a lot less than what it is at the Sprint Cup level, but I still think he’s got a good repertoire within the shop and his guys. When you can have all of that, then there’s no better thing than to try and move that guy up.”

 

It’s a mixed message coming from Busch, who seems torn on all the changes. But replicating any XFINITY success on the Sprint Cup level would mean very positive things for Busch come November.

 

Fantasy Stall

The car didn’t fit him It’d be tough to find a driver who desires a car with a looser handling condition than Busch, who was stymied by the tight-skewing rules package of 2014. It affected his laps led; the 453 he led for the season was his lowest total since his rookie year in 2005.

Gotta love those quad-ovals  Busch averaged an eighth-place finish on the quad-oval intermediates of Las Vegas, Texas, Charlotte and Atlanta in 2014.

The spring Richmond race In the last eight spring races at Richmond, Busch won four times, led 613 laps and averaged a finish of 4.4. His last eight fall races at Richmond? Zero wins, 53 laps led and an average finish of 12.1. Perhaps he just prefers Virginia in the springtime?

Crew chief help  Busch’s crew chief fed him 57 positions across green-flag pit cycles at all oval tracks, save for Daytona and Talladega.

 

No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota

Primary Sponsors: M&M’s, Interstate Batteries, Doublemint Gum, Snickers

Owner: Joe Gibbs

Crew Chief: Adam Stevens

Year With Current Team: 8th 

Under Contract Through: 2017

Best Points Finish: 4th (2013)

Hometown: Las Vegas, Nev.

Born: May 2, 1985

 

Career Stats

YearsStartsWinsTop 5sTop 10s PolesTitlesEarned
1136529118178160$69,281,569

 

Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Teaser:
Kyle Busch 2015 Season Driver Preview
Post date: Tuesday, February 17, 2015 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: MLB Draft, MLB
Path: /mlb/top-25-high-school-prospects-2015-mlb-draft
Body:

The 2015 MLB Draft isn't until June 8-10, but it's never too early to take a look at the next potential crop of impact players. When it comes to making the leap from high school to a top prospect in the minor leagues, look no further than the reigning MVPs in each league. Clayton Kershaw out of Highland Park (Texas) High School was the No. 7 overall pick in 2006, while Mike Trout from Millville Senior (N.J.) was taken with the 25th overall selection in 2009. Obviously, those two first-round picks have worked out well for the Dodgers and Angels, but what about this year's high school class? Are there any Kershaws or Trouts in this group? Only time will tell.

 

Related: Top 25 College Prospects for 2015 MLB Draft

 

Athlon Sports' 2015 MLB Preview magazine covers the diamond and circles the bases with enough in-depth preseason analysis, predictions and other information to satisfy fans of the national pastime from the Bronx to the Bay and everywhere in between. Order your copy today!

1. Brendan Rodgers, SS, Lake Mary (Fla.) HS

Rodgers, a Florida State commit, has an advanced bat with a chance to hit for average and power while sticking at shortstop.

 

2. Kolby Allard, LHP, San Clemente (Calif.) HS

Last year’s high school class featured countless players with plus fastballs. Allard fits right with that group, with an easy 91-94 mph fastball and a solid breaking ball.

 

3. Justin Hooper, LHP, De La Salle HS, Concord, Calif.

A massive (6'7") lefty with massive stuff, Hooper has one of the best fastballs in the class as he’ll touch 95-97 mph at his best.

 

4. Trenton Clark, OF, Richland HS, N. Richland Hills, Texas

Speedy outfielder who is among the fastest players in the class and shows an advanced understanding of how to put the bat on the ball and get on base.

 

5. Daz Cameron, OF, Eagles Landing Christian Academy, McDonough, Ga.

Son of long-time big league outfielder Mike Cameron, Daz is also a smooth center fielder with excellent bat speed and the speed to create havoc when he gets on base.

 

6. Nick Plummer, OF, Brother Rice HS, Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

If you’re a hitter from a northern state, you better play well on the summer showcase circuit as you won’t face the same competition during the high school season. Plummer positioned himself well with an excellent summer.

 

7. Chris Betts, C, Woodrow Wilson HS, Long Beach, Calif.

One of the better power bats in the draft class, Betts has shown significant improvement behind the plate. He became more and more polished as a receiver throughout the summer.

 

8. Ashe Russell, RHP, Cathedral HS, Indianapolis

Russell, a Texas A&M signee, is one of the pitchers batters hate to face, especially with a wood bat, as his ability to make the ball run in on batters breaks bats.

 

9. Mike Nikorak, RHP, Stroudsburg (Pa.) HS

Nikorak has been one of the hardest throwers in this class, topping out at 96 mph at the Perfect Game National showcase.

 

10. Garrett Whitley, OF, Niskayuna (N.Y.) HS

A speedy outfielder with excellent range and instincts in center field, Whitley impressed throughout the summer, showing more advanced instincts than expected for a prospect from the Northeast.

 

11. Demi Orimoliye, OF, St. Matthew HS, Orleans, Ont.

Orimoliye intrigues scouts now, but they are even more excited about what he could be with further polish. The big (6'4", 225) outfielder has power and speed.

 

12. Beau Burrows, RHP, Weatherford (Texas) HS

Burrows has the makings of three quality pitches with a 90-95 mph fastball, a quality changeup that has late movement and a 12-to-6 curveball.

 

13. Kyle Tucker, OF,  Plant HS, Tampa, Fla.

The younger brother of Astros outfield prospect Preston Tucker, Kyle is one of the more well-rounded prospects in this year’s class. Has good speed and strength.

 

14. Austin Smith, RHP, Park Vista Community HS, Lake Worth, Fla.

Another potential power pitcher with size, Smith throws a heavy 88-93 mph fastball that he works down in the zone to generate ground balls.

 

15. Cornelius Randolph, SS,  Griffin (Ga.) HS

Randolph may end up moving to second or third base because of his thick lower half, but he is a left-handed hitting infielder with a chance to hit for average and power.

 

16. Juan Hillman, LHP, Olympia HS, Orlando, Fla.

The school that has produced first-rounders Jesse Winker and Nick Gordon in recent years could get another first-rounder in 2015.

 

17. Donny Everett, RHP, Clarksville (Tenn.) HS

Clarksville doesn’t produce a whole lot of baseball players — the last player from Clarksville High School to be drafted was back in 1967. Everett, a Vanderbilt commitment, should change that, as he throws strikes with a 90-94 mph fastball.

 

18. Triston McKenzie, RHP, Royal Palm Beach (Fla.) HS

A long and lean (6'5", 160) Vanderbilt commitment, McKenzie gets swinging strikes thanks to his lively low-90s fastball.

 

19. Chandler Day, RHP, Watkins HS, Pataskala, Ohio

The 6'4", 167-pound Day is a skinny righthander with lots of projection ahead of him, but he has present stuff with an easy 91-93 mph fastball. Also committed to Vanderbilt.

 

20. Cole McKay, RHP, Smithson Valley HS, Spring Branch, Texas

McKay has shown a 92-94 mph fastball with good riding life to run in on right-handed hitters. The LSU commit has mixed in a curveball and changeup with impressive potential.

 

21. Alonzo Jones, 2B/OF, Columbus (Ga.) HS

Jones is one of the fastest players among this year’s high school class, but he’s not just a speedster —he’s thickly built with some strength to go with that blazing speed. Jones is also committed to play at Vanderbilt.

 

22. Kyler Murray, SS/OF, Allen (Texas) HS

Murray is one of the best athletes and best prospects in this year’s draft class, but scouts aren’t even sure he’ll keep playing baseball after high school. He’s also one of the top quarterback prospects in the country and has signed to play at Texas A&M.

 

23. Kyle Molnar, RHP, Aliso Niguel HS, Aliso Viejo, Calif.

An athletic pitcher who works to both sides of the plate with a 91-93 mph fastball and a quality breaking ball and changeup, Molnar is one of the more polished pitchers in the class.

 

24. Dakota Chalmers, RHP, ­Lakeview Academy, Gainesville, Ga.

Chalmers, a University of Georgia signee, has stuff that got better as the summer heated up. By October, Chalmers was sitting at 91-93 mph while showing excellent control.

 

25. Luken Baker, 1b/RHP,  Oak Ridge HS, Conroe, Texas

Better known as a pitcher despite his plus power at first, the big and thick Baker gets lots of ground balls with a 90-95 mph fastball with plenty of sink. He’s committed to TCU.

 

— Written by Baseball America's J.J. Cooper for Athlon Sports

Teaser:
Top 25 High School Prospects for 2015 MLB Draft
Post date: Tuesday, February 17, 2015 - 10:10
All taxonomy terms: MLB Draft, MLB
Path: /mlb/top-25-college-prospects-2015-mlb-draft
Body:

The 2015 MLB Draft isn't until June 8-10, but it's never too early to take a look at the next potential crop of impact players. Among the college prospects, defending College World Series champion Vanderbilt leads the way with three Commodores in the top 10. At the top of the list is lefthander Brady Aiken, last year's No. 1 overall pick who didn't sign with Houston. Will Arizona take Aiken first again this June?

 

Related: Top 25 High School Prospects for 2015 MLB Draft

 

Athlon Sports' 2015 MLB Preview magazine covers the diamond and circles the bases with enough in-depth preseason analysis, predictions and other information to satisfy fans of the national pastime from the Bronx to the Bay and everywhere in between. Order your copy today!

1. Brady Aiken, LHP, TBD

We don’t know where Aiken will play this year after last year’s overall No. 1 pick’s deal with the Astros fell through because of elbow concerns. But his arm looks healthy, and he’s got the best pure stuff in the class.

 

2. Michael Matuella, RHP, Duke

Matuella carries plenty of concerns because he’s taken summers off, and he has a back injury that forced him to sit out fall ball, but he has shown top-five stuff for Duke.

 

3. Kyle Funkhouser, RHP, Louisville

The ace of Louisville’s College World Series team last year, Funkhouser has big stuff. But befitting someone with his name, his nasty stuff isn’t always easy to control and throw for strikes.

 

4. Walker Buehler, RHP, Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt was so deep that Buehler was the fourth starter on its national championship club last year and now is one of the top pitching prospects in the country.

 

5. Dansby Swanson, 2B/SS, Vanderbilt

Swanson was arguably the best player in the College World Series last year. Now he gets a chance to move from second to shortstop to quarterback the Commodores’ title defense.

 

6. Nathan Kirby, LHP, Virginia

Virginia’s aces don’t have a great pro track record yet (Danny Hultzen is the most prominent example), but Kirby is a lefthander with polish and athleticism.

 

7. Alex Bregman, SS, LSU

The 2013 SEC Freshman of the Year struggled as a sophomore — he hit .316 after a .369 freshman campaign — but has lots of swagger and a track record of hitting.

 

8. Riley Ferrell, RHP, TCU

Ferrell was a closer who came in to finish off Brandon Finnegan’s starts last year with a 95-100 mph fastball. Now, he will get a chance to start on Friday nights for the Frogs.

 

9. Kyle Cody, RHP, Kentucky

Cody is a big-bodied (6'7") righthander with a big fastball (93-96 mph). He battled injuries as a sophomore, but a strong summer in the Cape Cod League has scouts very interested.

 

10. Carson Fulmer, RHP, Vanderbilt

Fulmer served as a moment-of-truth pitcher for the Commodores last year, switching from the pen to the rotation and pitching well as the starter in Vanderbilt’s national championship win. He’s an emotional leader with the results to back it up.

 

11. Jake Lemoine, RHP, Houston

Unlike most of the pitchers on this list, Lemoine doesn’t really have above-average stuff yet. But thanks to a good body and a very clean delivery, scouts believe he will continue to develop.

 

12. Ian Happ, OF, Cincinnati

Happ might be able to stick at second base in pro ball, but most scouts believe he’ll move to the outfield. That will hurt his draft value, but his track record of hitting makes him hard to ignore.

 

13. James Kaprielian, RHP, UCLA

Kaprielian has one of the best breaking balls in the draft class, as he showed repeatedly with Team USA last summer. But he’s got to prove his fastball is good enough to set up his breaking ball.

 

14. Phil Bickford, RHP, College of Southern Nevada

A first-round pick in 2013 who was erratic as a freshman at Cal State Fullerton, Bickford was better this summer as a reliever in the Cape Cod League. He transferred to a junior college to become draft eligible this summer.

 

15. Kevin Newman, SS, Arizona

Newman is a typical college shortstop prospect. He may not be able to stick at short in pro ball, but his quality bat and defensive versatility will make him a potential first-round pick.

 

16. D.J. Stewart, OF, Florida State

Stewart has always hit, and he looks like he could hit for power. But so far he’s been a corner outfielder who doesn’t provide the home run numbers one would expect. He’s got one more year to prove to scouts there’s more thump.

 

17. Cody Ponce, RHP, Cal Poly Pomona

A Division II righthander, Ponce used the Cape Cod League to rocket onto the national scene by showing a 93-96 mph fastball and a very useful cutter.

 

18. Gio Brusa, OF, Pacific

Brusa hit for average and power in the Cape Cod League last summer, but he did it with a swing-at-everything approach that scares scouts.

 

19. Jacob Nix, RHP, TBD

Nix signed with the Astros last summer as a fifth-round pick, but ended up having the contract voided when Brady Aiken didn’t sign. He may have to go to a junior college because of eligibility issues.

 

20. Richie Martin, SS, Florida

Another well-rounded college shortstop who won’t wow scouts with exceptional tools, but he impresses with his baseball aptitude, athleticism and understanding of the game.

 

21. Tyler Jay, LHP, Illinois

Jay is an electric, small-bodied, left-handed reliever who had a great summer with Team USA. He’s going to try to start, but can he hold up in that role?

 

22. Dillon Tate, RHP, UCSB

Tate is an athletic, high-energy reliever who was hitting 97-99 mph for Team USA last summer in short stints.

 

23. Jon Harris, RHP, Missouri State

Harris showed some versatility for Missouri State, serving as both a weekend starter and a closer during his sophomore season. He should be the club’s ace this spring.

 

24. Mac Marshall, LHP, Chipola (Fla.) JC

Another of the Astros’ 2014 draft refugees, Marshall ended up not signing when the Astros didn’t sign Aiken and Nix. He’s a lefty with plus stuff and some feel for pitching.

 

25. Marc Brakeman, RHP, Stanford

Brakeman has largely worked as a reliever at Stanford but will start this spring after striking out 47 batters in 33 innings in the Cape Cod League. He mixes a quality 90-95 mph fastball and an above-average changeup.

 

— Written by Baseball America's J.J. Cooper for Athlon Sports

Teaser:
Top 25 College Prospects for 2015 MLB Draft
Post date: Tuesday, February 17, 2015 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder, NBA
Path: /nba/kevin-durant-goes-marshawn-lynch-all-star-media
Body:
Kevin Durant, as teammate Russell Westbrook has previously done, looks to be joining Team Marshawn Lynch in terms of his media availability.

 

The perennial All-Star and reigning NBA MVP blasted All-Star reporters in New York City. After hearing a question he didn’t like about Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Scott Brooks’ job security — a favorite topic of NBA analysts — Durant scolded the media. From Darnell Mayberry of NewsOK.com:

 

“You guys really don’t know (expletive)… To be honest, man, I’m only here talking to y’all because I have to. So I really don’t care. Y’all not my friends. You’re going to write what you want to write. You’re going to love us one day and hate us the next. That’s a part of it. So I just learn how to deal with y’all.”

 

Durant went on to reveal much of his humanity:

 

“I'm 26 years old so I'm in my mid-20s, almost to 30. My first few years in the league I was just finding myself. I think most of the time I reacted based off of what everybody else wanted and how they viewed me as a person. And I'm just learning to be myself and not worry about what anybody says. I'm going to make mistakes. I just want to show kids out here that athletes, entertainers, whoever, so-called celebrities, we aren't robots. We go through emotions. We go through feelings. And I'm just trying to express mine and trying to help people along the way. But I'm not going to sit here and tell you that I'm just this guy that got programmed to say the right stuff all the time and politically correct answers. I'm done with that. I'm just trying to be me and continue to grow as a man.”

 

Transparency has been a big buzz word of all things Internet Era, and athletes like Durant and Lynch are using an increasingly informed, increasingly accessible audience to break down the athlete archetype of the strong, docile, well-meaning and silent type. It’ll be interesting to keep watching K.D.’s celebrity evolution.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, February 16, 2015 - 14:15
All taxonomy terms: Kyle Larson, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/kyle-larson-2015-season-driver-preview
Body:

A year ago, there were a lot of questions about Kyle Larson’s readiness and ability. Was he too young, at age 21, to drive in Sprint Cup? Did his track record — he was winless in the Nationwide Series — warrant a promotion? Was owner Chip Ganassi being too aggressive bumping veteran Juan Pablo Montoya, especially considering that his top prospect didn’t even sit in a stock car until 2012?

 

It took just five races for the rookie to change the narrative entirely. At Fontana, Larson nearly swept both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup events, falling one position short of his first Cup win. From there, it was like a gun went off; Larson sped through the field like a bullet train while positioning himself as NASCAR’s next big superstar. It seems silly, in hindsight, to have ever possessed any doubt about his capability.

 

Related: Q&A with Kyle Larson

 

Simply earning top freshman honors, for which Larson bested a crowded field of eight, was the main goal for 2014. Now, he looks like a shoo-in for the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup and the driver who can transform Chip Ganassi’s NASCAR operation.

 

Answering those doubts seemed to motivate Larson. “There was a lot of room on the Kyle Larson bandwagon to start (last season),” he said in November. “I think a lot of people chose Austin Dillon to win (Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year), and I was pretty confident in myself and in my team that we could do it.”

 

Larson won the award on the strength of eight top-5 finishes and 17 top 10s, besting Dillon by 88 points in the final standings. He finished second three times in 2014 and was oh-so-close to winning a race.

 

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

“I kind of set out as a goal to be a top-15 car all season, and I noticed right from the start of the season we’d be a top-10 car most races,” he says. “I changed the goals a little bit to run top 10 every race, and now, the way things are going, you want to be top 5.”

 

Larson shined the most once the Chase got underway. He missed qualifying for the title fight by just a few points but clicked off three top-5 finishes and six top 10s in the 10-race span to close the year. How impressive was the postseason? Had Larson qualified, he would have advanced all the way to NASCAR’s Round of 8.

 

All told, it was a sterling rookie debut, filled with momentum that should carry into 2015. Larson played a huge role in the success of the No. 42 and placed as the highest-achieving non-Chase driver in the season-ending point standings.

 

Perhaps most important, Larson’s racing style rarely brought criticism from the sport’s veteran driving corps, a group known for repudiating the ways of successful rookies.

 

Larson’s most successful tracks in 2014 were the 1.5- and 2-mile speedways that make up the majority of the schedule. His first win will come soon, possibly by the tour’s return to Auto Club Speedway on March 22. A Chase bid will follow, making him an intriguing postseason player. In just a year, he’s gone from question mark to unquestioned contender.

 

Fantasy Stall

Reliable passer  Larson ranked fourth in the series in adjusted pass efficiency in 2014 (53.13 percent) and first in efficiency at the quad-oval tracks, encompassing Las Vegas, Texas, Charlotte and Atlanta, with a 54.22 percent mark.

Big gainer  He averaged a finish better than his average running position on all track types except short tracks. At tracks 1.0-1.49 miles in length, he averaged a finish 3.6 positions better than where he typically ran.

Martinsville is the worst  The sweeping high banks Larson enjoys at bigger tracks don’t exist at Martinsville, where he struggled in 2014, finishing 27th  and 30th.

Not a leader  Larson’s 53 laps led were paltry and reflected his output in smaller divisions. He led only 64 laps during a title-winning 2012 season in the NASCAR K&N East and just 102 laps in the Nationwide Series in 2013.

 

No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

Primary Sponsor: Target

Owner: Chip Ganassi

Crew Chief: Chris Heroy

Year With Current Team: 2nd 

Under Contract Through: 2017

Best Points Finish: 17th (2014)

Hometown: Elk Grove, Calif.

Born: July 31, 1992

 

Career Stats

YearsStartsWinsTop 5sTop 10sPolesTitlesEarned
240081710$5,711,004

 

Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Teaser:
Kyle Larson 2015 Season Driver Preview
Post date: Monday, February 16, 2015 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: Kyle Larson, NASCAR, News
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Kyle Larson won the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year, wheeling his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet SS to a higher top-10 finish rate (47.2 percent) than what Richard Petty (42.9) and Jeff Gordon (36.7) did during their freshman seasons in the sport’s most grueling division. In advance of his highly anticipated sophomore campaign, the 22-year-old racer sat down with Athlon Sports for an exclusive interview, discussing his dirt racing background, his strengths and weaknesses and the critics who questioned his rapid rise to the Cup Series.

 

Who was your biggest racing influence?

      Probably my dad. He was the one that got me into this. He built me my first go-kart. He didn’t race at all; he was just a huge fan growing up. He grew up a couple of doors down from (two-time Knoxville, Iowa, Raceway Sprint Car champion) Tim Green. He’d go to West Capital Raceway (Calif.) when he was a kid. He met my mom when they were teenagers and got her into liking racing too.

 

In your first full season of stock car racing, you won the championship in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, widely considered NASCAR’s top developmental division. We’ve heard stories that you constantly picked everyone’s brain about this type of car while you were there. It seems like you worked awfully hard for someone perceived to be an overnight success.

       Well in my eyes, I don’t know that I did, but I guess if that’s what is being said, then I probably was. I worry about the way cars drive more than the parts and pieces that go onto them. That first year, I hardly even led laps. I just tried to take everything in. I watched other young guys like Corey LaJoie, Brett Moffitt, Chase Elliott and Darrell Wallace Jr. and learned from them, because they all grew up racing stock cars. I learned a lot just driving behind them. I was just trying to adapt quickly.

 

Across your three years in stock cars, you haven’t led much despite having strong average finish records. Do you prefer playing from behind?

    Oh, trust me, I wish I could lead all the laps and have the most dominant car. I think a big reason for not leading is because I’m a better long-run driver than short-run driver. Even though I’m not exactly trying to, I feel I take care of my tires early in runs, and then I’m able to pick spots off toward the end of them. Last year I felt like every time I was close to the lead it was time for green-flag stops or a caution came out. I think short-run speed takes experience. In Nationwide, I felt I was better on short runs in my second year than I was in my first.

 

As a rookie, you ranked fourth in adjusted pass efficiency (53.13 percent) in the Cup Series in 2014 while ranking first specifically on the fast intermediates (54.22 percent). Becoming that efficient usually takes drivers years. What has allowed you to become such a nuanced passer?

     Understanding how the air works when you’re behind people, and trying to find clean air helps to pass, especially on the intermediates. I think that’s why it comes so easy there. Intermediates relate to 3/8- or half-mile dirt tracks. Winged sprint cars really helped me understand how dirty air works. You have that big wing on top that’s sticking up and punching a huge pocket into the air, and you have to find ways to keep good air on your wing so your car handles right. I’m glad I grew up racing the kind of cars I did, because it taught me to not waste time when you’re behind someone on the track.

 

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

There was a lot of interest in your driving services prior to 2011. What made Ganassi the most appealing option?

     To me, I thought Chip (Ganassi) was the most excited about me coming into the organization. He didn’t have any development drivers at the time, and the other teams did. He had a plan for me. And even though their cars weren’t the greatest when I signed, you could see that they were getting better. I signed in 2011 and thought that if I got to Cup in 2015, I’d be in a great spot. I got to Cup earlier than I expected it, but now I feel like it was the perfect time.

 

Your crew chief, Chris Heroy, went from Juan Pablo Montoya, a driver with a seemingly rigid handling tolerance, to you, someone who can conceivably thrive regardless of a car’s setup. How do you feel the dynamic between you and Chris has improved?  

     It improved a lot. Even though we tested together in 2013, I came from a way different background than he did, and especially what Juan did. It took about six races … the terms I used to describe how the car was handling were different. At Phoenix (in March), I was really loose to start the race and he asked me to give him a 1 to 10 number on how loose I was. I told him I don’t like numbers, because my 7 might be different than his 7. I just want to get the car close (to my liking), and I’ll drive it. I feel like there are veteran drivers that worry too much about how well their car is handling and it gets in their head. I just feel like once you start the race, that’s what you’ve got. In stock cars, lines change during the race. I choose to focus more on moving around to find extra grip and a line that works for my car.

 

The short tracks were the only track type where you did not average a finish better than where you ran. Why do you feel a track like Martinsville presented such a challenge?

     Martinsville is my worst racetrack, by far. I think it’s because in Sprint Cars, you might go race at a quarter-mile racetrack, but you’re still going to carry a ton of momentum into the corner. Martinsville is totally backwards from what I grew up learning. There, I almost come to a stop and try to get the car pointed before driving to the other end of the track. At mile-and-a-halfs, you try to carry a lot of momentum into the corner. That’s why I’m better there. Tracks like Martinsville and Richmond don’t really suit me that well because I have to use a lot of braking and slow down a lot. I’m sure I’ll get better over the years, but I’m definitely struggling at those places right now.

 

If you could have one race from 2014 to do over, which one would it be and what would you do differently?

     The first Michigan race. We were really strong, and at the end we played fuel strategy right to where when we had to make a stop, we wouldn’t have to put a full fuel load in, making our pit stop quicker. Well, the stop before that, I sped on pit road and got penalized — I had to go to the back (of the field). Had I not sped, I would’ve had that track position, and we would’ve had a quicker stop than Jimmie Johnson’s team did. I don’t know if I would have won, but it would have been a really good chance to get a win.

 

There were many in the industry who felt you weren’t ready for the Cup Series when your promotion was announced in the fall of 2013. Do you feel now that you were ready back then?

     Definitely. I’ve been “too young” everywhere I’ve raced. I knew there would be doubters. I was confident in myself that I could come out here and compete. I did it in go-karts when I was eight and did it in sprint cars when I was 14 and racing against 50-year-olds. I felt like I showed them that I belonged. I’m glad I did. I did an interview early last year with Darrell Waltrip, and he asked whether I thought I’d picked a bad year to come out as a rookie because I was going up against Austin Dillon. I laughed to myself because I was pretty confident that I would beat him.

 

 

Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Teaser:
Kyle Larson Q&A
Post date: Monday, February 16, 2015 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/internet-fooled-fake-fat-jameis-winston-photo
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Separating facts from fiction during the run-up to the NFL Draft is tough enough.

 

Now, we’ve got to contend with bad Photoshops, or at least optical illusions.

 

Someone posted a photo of a tubby-looking Jameis Winston on Twitter on Saturday. Folks with a good eye drew attention to Winston’s shadow not matching up with his gut plus that absurdly skinny waist.

 

The image didn’t stand up to close scrutiny, but it was just enough to fool the NFL Network’s Rich Eisen.

 

 

 

George Whtifield, the QB coach preparing Winston for the draft, told The Big Lead the photo was taken in mid-January, and, no, Winston does not have a gut. Maybe it was a bad angle. Maybe it was that leash around his waist. Winston will be at the NFL Combine this week.

 

Sander Philipse of SBNation’s Bucs Nation traced the fakery back to Barstool Sports, a site that probably doesn’t adhere to the most strict journalistic standards.

 

Teaser:
Internet Fooled By Fake Fat Jameis Winston Photo
Post date: Saturday, February 14, 2015 - 14:08
Path: /nba/nba-trade-deadline-roundup
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While the NBA All-Star festivities are underway in New York this weekend, some more weighty affairs may occur in league front offices. The trade deadline is February 19, or just six days away, and there are still some major pieces potentially in play.

 

Amar’e Stoudemire

The New York Knicks’ beleaguered big man is taking baths in red wine and seeking a buyout from Phil Jackson’s disastrous club. The Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Clippers and Stoudemire’s former Phoenix Suns team are all said to be in the mix for his services, with Phoenix in the lead.

 

Reggie Jackson

The writing’s been on the wall for Jackson and the Oklahoma City Thunder, even since before OKC traded for ostensible Jackson replacement Dion Waiters. Jackson’s list of suitors is a little small, since he’ll be available in free agency this summer, so he could be viewed as a costly rental. But the Thunder seem to know they’ll lose him now or then, as it’s no secret that he’s unhappy coming off their bench. So they’d be wise to get a return on Reggie.

 

Arron Afflalo and Wilson Chandler

When the Denver Nuggets traded Timogey Mozgov — now thriving with LeBron’s Cleveland Cavaliers — it was seen as a potential white flag and ensuing fire sale from the Rockies franchise. Afflalo is a very useful two-way guard, while Chandler is dangerous at perhaps the NBA’s least deep position — small forward. The Portland Trail Blazers, Chicago Bulls, Sacramento Kings, Miami Heat and Clippers are all said to be interested in these two.

 

Ray Allen

After putzing about in semi-retirement for the season, Jesus Shuttlesworth is now making his decision about which team deserves his shooting services. He’s said to have whittled his list down to the Golden State Warriors, Cavs, and Atlanta Hawks. We may see him making gigantic playoff shots in crunch time, once again.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, February 13, 2015 - 14:34
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR, News
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Athlon Sports’ 2015 Racing magazine delivers full driver profiles as well as complete 2015 NASCAR coverage. Click here to order your copy today!

The 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup season revs up with the Daytona 500 on Feb. 22. Here's how each team stacks up as the race to get into the Chase and for a shot at the Sprint Cup championship will begin anew in less than two weeks.

 

1. Hendrick Motorsports

Team owner Rick Hendrick admitted that it was painful to arrive at the 2014 season finale in Homestead-Miami Speedway without a single driver remaining in the Championship 4 vying for the title, even though he began the Chase for the Sprint Cup with all four of his Chevrolet drivers in the hunt.

 

“I can’t remember coming down here when we weren’t in it,” Hendrick said at the time. “But hey, it’s racing, and we’ve still had a good year.”

Indeed, they did. Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. won four races apiece, and Kasey Kahne won one to give HMS a total of 13 on the season. No other organization registered more.

 

But let’s face it. Hendrick is in this to win championships. You can bet his teams will do a better job of making sure they get to the final race with a shot to do so next season — and it likely will start with Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus, who again will attempt to make history by winning what would be a record-tying seventh championship (the same as NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt). They were embarrassed by their performance in the Chase in 2014.

 

Two teams will have new crew chiefs in 2015, with Keith Rodden replacing Kenny Francis atop Kahne’s pit box and Greg Ives taking over for Steve Letarte on Earnhardt Jr.’s team, as Letarte heads to his new job as a NASCAR analyst for NBC.

 

2. Team Penske

Team Penske fell short of winning a championship in 2014. But for a two-team operation with drivers Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski leading the way, it was a mighty impressive season.

 

Keselowski failed to make the Championship 4 and didn’t make many friends during the Chase for the Sprint Cup, but he won a series-high six races in his No. 2 Ford and led a total of 1,540 laps — second only to champion Kevin Harvick. Logano won five races in his No. 22 Ford, led 993 laps and was in position to contend for the title at Homestead until a late pit-stop snafu cost him that chance.

 

There is every reason to believe that these two young drivers and their teams, with capable crew chiefs in Paul Wolfe for Keselowski and Todd Gordon for Logano, will be able to build on their success in 2015. They will, in fact, be among the early favorites to contend for the title next season along with the Hendrick group.

 

3. Joe Gibbs Racing

New driver Carl Edwards could be the key to a rebound season for Joe Gibbs Racing. It’s happened before, and recently. But after Matt Kenseth won a career-high seven races in his first season with JGR and finished second to Jimmie Johnson in the 2013 championship battle, another big year was expected of both Kenseth in particular and the organization in general in 2014.

 

It never happened. Despite making the Chase again, Kenseth didn’t win a single race all season. Driver Kyle Busch, who won four in 2013, won one. The same was true for Denny Hamlin, although he did heat up enough down the stretch to make the Championship 4, and he was seemingly in position to steal it until a late-race gamble by crew chief Darian Grubb failed to pay off. The bottom line is that Toyota Racing Development needs to be giving JGR’s drivers engines that pack more punch without sacrificing durability. It seemed to be moving in the right direction toward the end of the season, and it’s hard to imagine the team will suffer through another disappointing season in 2015 — especially with Edwards, who left Roush Fenway Racing to come to JGR, added to the fold in a fourth car.

 

There also has been a major shakeup in JGR’s crew-chief lineup, with Dave Rogers, who had been with Busch, moving to Hamlin’s team; Darian Grubb, who had been with Hamlin, moving to Edwards’ team; and Adam Stevens moving up from JGR’s highly successful Nationwide (now XFINITY) Series program to replace Rogers as Busch’s crew chief. Jason Ratcliff will remain Kenseth’s crew chief.

 

4. Stewart-Haas Racing

Kevin Harvick won his first Sprint Cup championship in his first season with his new team and new crew chief Rodney Childers, leading a series-high 2,137 laps along the way. Harvick and Childers are the new hot duo in the Sprint Cup garage and would have won three or four more races than the five they did win if not for miscues by the No. 4 pit crew. Assuming those will be fixed — Harvick switched pit crews with Tony Stewart for the Chase — they should contend for another title.

 

Harvick’s championship gave SHR two titles in the last four seasons, with co-owner/driver Stewart winning it in 2011. And while Stewart had a difficult year as he attempted to return from a badly broken leg and then missed three races after his Sprint car struck and killed a fellow driver in a non-NASCAR-sanctioned event, he’s a good bet to bounce back strong next season without all the distractions. He failed to win a race in 2014 for the first time in 15 seasons.

 

Kurt Busch, whose future was thrown into a gray area when a former girlfriend accused him of domestic abuse toward the end of last season, was also disappointing overall last season but still won the spring race at Martinsville Speedway to qualify for the Chase. Busch remains a considerable talent behind the wheel if he can get his off-the-track issues in order.

 

The fourth SHR driver is Danica Patrick, who needs to show improvement after finishing 27th and 28th in points, respectively, in her first two Cup seasons.

 

5. Richard Childress Racing

Richard Childress Racing started and ended the 2014 season with a bang. It was what happened in between — or failed to happen — that was the problem.

 

Rookie Austin Dillon, the grandson of team owner Richard Childress, began the season winning the pole for the Daytona 500 in the iconic No. 3 Chevrolet made famous by Dale Earnhardt Sr., which was making its return to the Sprint Cup Series after a 12-year absence following Earnhardt’s death in the 2001 Daytona 500.

 

Then Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 31 RCR Chevy, nearly pulled off one of the greatest upsets in the history of the sport in the Championship 4 season finale at Homestead. Newman ended up finishing second in the race to Kevin Harvick and thus ended up second in the final points standings despite failing to win a race all season and finishing in the top 5 only five times in 36 races.

 

In between those two big moments, however, RCR’s three teams were actually pretty mediocre, with Paul Menard (21st in points) wheeling the third car. They need to find more speed and consistency in 2015 to keep up with Hendrick Motorsports, Team Penske, Joe Gibbs Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing.

 

6. Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates

The Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates operation always is a difficult one to figure out.

 

Since the inception of the Chase in 2004, only one Ganassi driver has qualified to participate (Juan Pablo Montoya in 2009). They failed to do so again in a 2014 season that seems highly disappointing at first glance. Yet a closer look reveals that not only was it exciting on some levels, but it also seems to have laid the groundwork for a promising 2015.

 

Kyle Larson did not win a race in what was his rookie season, but he finished second three times and third twice to serve notice that he wasn’t your average rookie. He also narrowly missed qualifying for the Chase and is generally recognized in the Sprint Cup garage as having the talent and potential to become one of the next great drivers in the sport.

 

Larson’s teammate in the two-car operation, Jamie McMurray, won $1 million by capturing the non-points Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May. McMurray also led a respectable 368 laps in points events over the entire season. Both drivers could take off and win multiple races in 2015, although again, it’s hard to say for certain. There have been times in the past when the Ganassi organization just hasn’t been able to transfer positive momentum from one season to the next.

 

7. Roush Fenway Racing

Roush Fenway Racing had a season to forget in 2014, and then it lost its top driver, Carl Edwards, to a rival organization.

 

That doesn’t bode well for 2015, when Edwards will be replaced by Trevor Bayne — who hasn’t done much since shocking the racing world by coming out of nowhere to win the 2011 Daytona 500 at age 20.

 

The two other RFR teams are led by Greg Biffle, who will be 45 years old by the time the green flag drops for the Daytona 500 and has won one race in the last two years, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., a two-time Nationwide Series champion who is more known these days for being Danica Patrick’s boyfriend than he is for doing anything notable in the Sprint Cup Series.

 

At the heart of the matter is that the organization has been leaking top talent in terms of engineers and other employees to rival teams that offer better deals, and it shows. Sadly, the situation seems likely to get worse before it gets better — especially with a driver lineup that frightens no one (except maybe Jack Roush himself, if he’s really honest about it).

 

8. Michael Waltrip Racing

As recently as late in the 2013 season, Michael Waltrip Racing appeared to be an organization on the rise.

 

That no longer appears to be the case after a 2014 season in which MWR scaled back from three full-time Sprint Cup teams to two and failed to win a single race with either of its drivers. Furthermore, neither Clint Bowyer nor Brian Vickers managed to qualify for the 16-driver Chase.

 

It’s possible that losing top-notch crew chief Rodney Childers to Stewart-Haas Racing, where Childers teamed with driver Kevin Harvick to win the 2014 championship, hurt the organization more than anyone realized it would. Remaining crew chiefs Brian Pattie (Bowyer) and Billy Scott (Vickers) no doubt could have benefited from bouncing data and ideas off a third team headed up by the talented, innovative Childers.

 

But the real blow can be traced to all the sponsorship money that fled the company in the wake of the 2013 SpinGate scandal triggered by Bowyer’s alleged intentional spin in the final regular-season race at Richmond, which is why MWR had to scale back from three teams to two and lay off 15 percent of its workers prior to 2014. The organization is still reeling from the cutbacks more than a year later.

 

9. Richard Petty Motorsports

After having driver Aric Almirola make the 2014 Chase and running well for stretches of the season, there is a sense on one hand that RPM has something positive to build on heading into 2015. But Almirola made the Chase by virtue of gambling to win the rain-shortened July race at Daytona International Speedway, so on the other hand there is a sense that luck played a huge role in his locking up a spot in NASCAR’s playoffs.

 

Then there is the loss of RPM’s other driver, Marcos Ambrose. He decided to return to his native Australia at the end of the 2014 season, and he will be missed, especially on the circuit’s two road-course races where he always was a legitimate threat to win.

 

The organization’s prospects in 2015 will rest on Ambrose’s replacement, Sam Hornish Jr., and how quickly and how well RPM is able to build a capable team around him. Hornish, a former IndyCar star, struggled while driving full-time in the Cup Series for owner Roger Penske from 2008 through 2010, with only two top-5 and eight top-10 finishes in a total of 106 starts.

 

10. JTG/Daugherty Racing

Driver AJ Allmendinger’s gritty victory on the road course at Watkins Glen International last August put the single-car JTG/Daugherty team into the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup.

 

Allmendinger is back with the team for 2015, and as long as he’s behind the wheel, the No. 47 team is a threat to win on the two road courses at Sonoma and WGI. In fact, with Marcos Ambrose heading back to Australia and Juan Pablo Montoya already out of NASCAR and back in the IndyCar series, Allmendinger might even now be the favorite to win at both places.

 

That’s big for this small operation and bears close watching, as one win at either road course means another berth in the Chase.

 

The team seemed to benefit last season from a switch in manufacturers from Toyota to Chevrolet and by forming a new technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing that included getting its engines from Earnhardt-Childress Racing Technologies and engineering help. Crew chief Brian Burns also will return as crew chief for the No. 47 car, so he and Allmendinger will have a chance to build on what worked and work on what didn’t in 2014.

 

If they can find a way to improve performance on the oval tracks, they might surprise some people.

 

Top photo by Action Sports, Inc.

Teaser:
2015 NASCAR Owner Rankings
Post date: Friday, February 13, 2015 - 13:00
All taxonomy terms: Tony Stewart, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/tony-stewart-2015-season-driver-preview
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Will the real Tony Stewart please stand up? In one corner, there’s the three-time Cup champion and certain Hall of Fame driver. In the other, there’s the guy who went winless for the first time in his career, en route to a nightmare no one could have ever imagined.

 

Which one will emerge in 2015?

 

Stewart’s 2014 season will forever be defined by a sprint car race that took place outside the insular world of NASCAR, a race where Stewart struck and killed a fellow competitor, Kevin Ward Jr., who got out of his car to confront him after a spin. Stewart was later cleared of any charges by a grand jury, but the damage wasn’t merely legal, as the events surrounding the accident clearly took an emotional toll on the driver. 

 

Long before that fateful night, though, Stewart was struggling. He missed the last 15 races in 2013 after breaking his leg in a sprint car race and didn’t return until Daytona. That injury and subsequent surgeries presented a difficult obstacle for Stewart as he missed two offseason tests. He also had a new crew chief in Chad Johnston, new teammates in Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch and a new NASCAR rules package to handle. The team had fast cars, but the deck was stacked against him, and poor preparation left him three steps behind out of the gate.

 

So why should 2015 be any different? Stewart, recovering through his focus on racing, will come into the season as prepared as anyone. Teams won’t have the opportunity to test a new rules package in the offseason, putting them all on an even playing field. His equipment is excellent; the cars are prepared for the Stewart-Haas Racing drivers in-house, so they’re tailor-made to suit their driver/owner. Yes, there’s the question mark of offseason surgery on the leg he injured in 2013, but a spokesman called it “routine maintenance,” and the procedure was performed in early December, plenty early for Stewart to recover.

 

Johnston is still a bit of a wild card on top of the pit box. He had one win in three seasons with Michael Waltrip Racing driver Martin Truex Jr. and came to SHR with fellow MWR crew chief Rodney Childers, giving the two a leg up on working together. On the other hand, Stewart didn’t perform well with Johnston last year. This season will be the real test.

 

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

Stewart’s sponsorship situation is solid, with backers Bass Pro Shops, Mobil 1, Rush Truck Centers and Code 3 Associates set to return. His equipment will be the best available, and it’s equipment that’s taken eight of the last nine titles, including two of those by SHR.

 

But perhaps the most compelling reason to expect a rebound is Stewart himself. Despite that career-worst 2014 season, he’s still a three-time champion with 48 wins to his name, a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame and one of the best drivers of his era. Despite the setbacks, Stewart still has the talent and drive to win races and put his name in the hat for the title.

 

Fantasy Stall

Falling star  Stewart’s No. 14 team finished 29th and 25th in points in 2013 and 2014, respectively. Though injury and incident were responsible for some of that, the 43-year-old Stewart has showed signs of decline. The biggest is his inability to pass at the quad-ovals on which he has earned seven of his 48 career victories. He scored a below-par adjusted pass efficiency of 45.68 percent at the fast intermediates in 2014.

Not the leader  Stewart hasn’t led more than 1,000 laps in a season since 2006. In 2013 and 2014 he led 114 and 125, respectively.

Chasing his unicorn  One of the sport’s most talented drivers has yet to win at Darlington, one of its most unique tracks, but he’s been solid there in recent outings. Stewart finished in the top 10 in five of his last eight  Darlington attempts.

 

No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet

Primary Sponsors: Bass Pro Shops, Mobil 1, Rush Truck Centers, Code 3 Associates

Owner: Tony Stewart/Gene Haas

Crew Chief: Chad Johnston

Year With Current Team: 7th  

Under Contract Through: Lifetime

Best Points Finish: 1st (2002, ’05, ’11)

Hometown: Columbus, Ind.

Born: May 20, 1971

 

Career Stats

YearsStartsWinsTop 5sTop 10sPolesTitlesEarned
1655448182297153$117,428,670

 

Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Teaser:
Tony Stewart 2015 Season Driver Preview
Post date: Friday, February 13, 2015 - 12:00
All taxonomy terms: Denny Hamlin, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/denny-hamlin-2015-season-driver-preview
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Denny Hamlin walked into the Joe Gibbs Racing shop in December and noticed a change. As he was meeting with new crew chief Dave Rogers, Hamlin saw that yellow had largely replaced black on the cars and equipment for his No. 11 team. Even the hauler was different.

 

“I looked at him and said, ‘I guess I’m pretty much driving the No. 18 car,’” Hamlin says. “He said ‘Yeah, pretty much, other than we get to bring your pretty fast pit crew over here.’”

 

Hamlin won’t actually drive the No. 18 this season — he’s still in the familiar No. 11 Toyota with FedEx as the primary sponsor — but he will be part of a reshuffled program. Hamlin’s former crew chief Darian Grubb has been assigned to lead Carl Edwards’ No. 19 team as JGR expands to four Sprint Cup cars.

 

“I think it’s a great deal for me, and really Carl is stepping in to a great situation with Darian,” Hamlin says. “I know what he’s capable of doing. (Carl)’s really getting all of my A-team mechanics and everything, so no one got slighted on this deal whatsoever.”

 

Rogers moves to direct Hamlin after more than five years leading the charge for fellow JGR driver Kyle Busch. This season marks the first time that Hamlin and Rogers will have worked together at the Sprint Cup level — but not the first otherwise. They have previous experience as crew chief and driver for the JGR Nationwide (now XFINITY) Series program.

 

Rogers worked as Hamlin’s crew chief in NASCAR’s second-tier series during the 2006-07 seasons. Together, they collected five wins, 23 top 5s, 39 top 10 and 12 poles in just 57 combined races. Those were extraordinary numbers for a JGR program that, in 395 starts from 1997-2005, scored just three wins.

 

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

For this duo to dominate once again, JGR will need to improve. The organization won twice last season but only once on an intermediate track. Hamlin, despite making two serious championship bids since 2010, believes JGR is still trying to level up to its peers. “We’ve always kind of been that next-tier team, realistically,” Hamlin says. “We can compete for race wins week-in and week-out, but the championships have escaped us through mechanical stuff.”

 

Hamlin says the team sacrificed speed to fix that last year so now they can race without the worry of a DNF. Now, the focus will be on sharing information, a weak point for Toyota compared to other manufacturers but one JGR hopes to fix with an additional car and more personnel.

 

It’s been two full seasons since Hamlin, a 24-time winner in the top series, visited Victory Lane more than once in a single season (in a points-paying event). The pairing with new crew chief Rogers and the additional resources brought to the JGR team by Edwards — an elite driver in his own regard — may be the answer needed to change that. If not, the No. 11 team will become an interesting story to watch early. Hamlin’s contract is up following the 2015 season, and he’s arguably the strongest potential free agent. Stay tuned.

 

Fantasy Stall

Dynamic drafter  Hamlin proved to be last season’s most prolific driver at the restrictor plate tracks. At Daytona, he scored wins in the Sprint Unlimited and his Budweiser Duel race, and he finished second and sixth, respectively, in the two points-paying races. He scored his lone points-paying win of 2014 at Talladega.

He takes his talent to South Beach  Since 2006, Hamlin has won twice, finished third twice and led 213 laps in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He led 50 laps and averaged a third-place running position in 2014.

Martinsville strength  Fans of Hamlin are quick to discuss his ability at Martinsville, but the four-time Martinsville winner hasn’t scored a finish better than fifth since the fall 2010 race. Still, he has managed to lead 272 laps during his seven-race drought. 

 

No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota

Primary Sponsors: FedEx, Sport Clips

Owner: Joe Gibbs

Crew Chief:  Dave Rogers

Year With Current Team: 11th 

Under Contract Through: 2015

Best Points Finish: 2nd (2010)

Hometown: Chesterfield, Va.

Born: Nov. 18, 1980

 

Career Stats

YearsStartsWinsTop 5sTop 10sPolesTitlesEarned
103262491154200$60,719,961

 

Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Teaser:
Denny Hamlin 2015 Season Driver Preview
Post date: Friday, February 13, 2015 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/your-guide-nba-all-star-weekend-2015
Body:
All-Star weekend comes but once a year — right after the Super Bowl’s been decided, and football’s finally fizzled out. If you’re stuck inside this weekend amidst the snow or otherwise, here’s your catch-all guide to what’s happening in New York City — the sporting event of this February season.

 

Friday night

Celebrity game, 7 PM ET, ESPN

This goofy game will include entertainers and personalities of all kinds. The roster lists hold the the likes of actors Kevin Hart, Nick Cannon, and Michael Rapaport; Memphis Grizzlies owner Robert Pera — who once challenged Michael Jordan to a round of 1-on-1 — former league stars Chris Mullin and Allan Houston, rapper Common, and Arcade Fire singer Win Butler, among others. Spike Lee and Carmelo Anthony will coach one of the teams, going up against ESPN radio hosts Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg on the opposing bench.

 

Rising Stars challenge, 9 PM ET, TNT

This year’s rookie/sophmore showcase features an interesting twist — it’ll pit American ballers against those from the rest of the world. And the international squad, in this new generation, is the overwhelming overdog, featuring the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Andrew Wiggins from Canada, his Senegalese teammate Gorgui Dieng, Chicago Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic, Utah Jazz Australian point guard Dante Exum and the sensational Giannis “The Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo, of the Milwaukee Bucks. The U.S.A. roster boasts Zach LaVine and Shabazz Muhammad of the Wolves, Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton of the Orlando Magic, and Exum’s Jazz running mate Trey Burke. If last year’s explosive shootout between Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Dion Waiters is any indication, we know that this event can be extremely entertaining.

 

All-Star Saturday night, 8:30 PM ET, TNT

Event One: Shooting stars challenge

This one is a series of shooting obstacles, with four teams including one NBA All-Star, one legend, and one WNBA star. Russell Westbrook is matched with Penny Hardaway and Tameeka Catchings; Paul Millsap, with Scottie Pippen and Elena Delle Donne; Steph Curry with his father Dell and Sue Bird; Chris Bosh, finally, will compete with Dominique Wilkins and Swin Cash. The deciding sequence of this game ends with its biggest doozy — a half-court shot that must be made to win.

 

Event Two: Skills challenge

Watch as various NBA stars dart around through glorified cones and test their precision with a combination of dribbling, passing, running and shooting tasks. Mostly assembled from point guards, this season’s collection has the likes of Houston Rockets fireplug Patrick Beverley, a bit of double event duty from Orlando’s Payton, Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroeder of the Atlanta Hawks, Antetokounmpo’s Bucks teammate Brandon Knight, and Toronto Raptors general Kyle Lowry, who will be starting in the main event on Sunday.

 

Event Three: Three-point contest

This year’s three-point shootout might hold the claim of having the most potent field of shooters ever. The Golden State Warriors’ “Splash Brothers,” Curry and Klay Thompson, fight with Kyle Korver of the Hawks, Curry’s MVP competition in the Rockets’ James Harden, Wesley Matthews of the Portland Trail Blazers, J.J. Redick of the Los Angeles Clippers, Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and reigning three-point champion Marco Belinelli of the San Antonio Spurs.  May the most accurate marksman win.

 

Final event: Slam dunk contest

A unique, young group will end the night and try to capture the imagination in a competition that’s been creatively lacking in recent years. Oladipo, Antetokounmpo and LaVine (the prohibitive favorite) will be met by Brooklyn Nets’ center Mason Plumlee. But there’s real hope for fireworks, this year: Read our preview of the dunk contest field here.

 

Sunday night

NBA All-Star game, 8:30 PM ET, TNT

The main event is a spectacle of sentiment, high-flying dunks, and a defense-is-optional form of basketball that rarely sees either the East or West team score any less than 150 points. See the full rosters for each side here. And if you’re curious about who’s been snubbed from the contest, go here, and have a terrific All-Star weekend.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, February 13, 2015 - 10:07
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/yes-gonzaga-team-real
Body:

For better and worse, consistency explains Mark Few’s tenure at Gonzaga.

 

Over the past 16 seasons, Few has amassed 427 wins, 15 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, 13 conference regular season titles and 11 conference tournament championships … with zero national championships, zero Final Fours and zero Elite Eight appearances.

 

The model of consistency, for better or worse. 

 

It seems that each season the debate begins again. Is this Mark Few’s best Gonzaga team? Is this the year Gonzaga finally makes it to the Elite Eight … or Final Four?

 

Yes, this is Few’s best Gonzaga team, and this is the Gonzaga team that can keep the Madness rolling to Indianapolis. This team is different. This team has star power. This team has depth in the frontcourt and weapons in the backcourt. This team has a great coach. And this team plays exceptional, tougher defense. 

 

This Gonzaga team can break the mold and go to the Final Four. Here are the reasons why:

 

1. Kevin Pangos

 

A great college point guard must not only be able to score, but create for his teammates and set the tone defensively. Kevin Pangos does all of that, and then some. 

 

According to KenPom, Pangos is the country’s third-most offensively efficient player (137.8), he’s 11th in true shooting percentage (67.5) and 26th in effective field goal percentage (63.4). But it isn't just Pangos' ability to score, especially from deep, that makes him arguably the nation’s best point guard. His ability to set the tone for the Bulldogs’ second-most efficient offense in the country is nothing short of fantastic, averaging nearly five assists to one turnover per game, and increasing his assist rate to 23.8 from 18.3 in 2014. Pangos’ development over the past four years has been a model in which to build a superstar point guard. 

 

From his junior season to senior season, Pangos has improved his field goal percentage, 3-point percentage and assist rate while lowering his turnover rate. If the Zags want to crack the Sweet 16 code, Pangos’ formula of sharp shooting and offensive productivity could be the solution.

 

2. Backcourt Depth

 

The Bulldogs didn’t become the nation’s second-most efficient offense and the WCC’s best defense with just Pangos. No, it takes a team — and this team is loaded.

 

Gonzaga’s backcourt includes Byron Wesley, a senior swingman and graduate transfer from USC. Wesley is a reliable third option who hits 50 percent from the floor, averaging 11 points, five rebounds and three assists in 27 minutes per game. The Zags also feature another reliable shooting senior to complement Pangos, Gary Bell Jr., who chips in eight points per game to go along with a 40 percent 3-point shooting percentage.

 

3. Frontcourt Options and Weapons

 

The Gonzaga frontcourt gives opposing defenses headaches, and not just in the paint. Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer has been a revelation for Gonzaga and is the definition of a stretch four. In his first season in Spokane, Wiltjer has opened up Mark Few’s offense to new levels, posting a 16.4 points per game average while shooting better than 54 percent from the field, 44 percent from deep, 80 percent from the line, all while ranking eighth nationally in offensive efficiency rating (103.2). 

 

Wiltjer has help from his post-up brethren. Seven-foot-one Prezemek Karnowski fits his role perfectly in the Zags high scoring offense. The Polish import scores almost 11 points per game with six rebounds, all while shooting 62 percent from the floor. 

 

The son of former NBA center Arvydas Sabonis, freshman big man Domantas Sabonis has basketball in his genes. The 6-10 forward from Portland has played noticeably well for an 18 year old. Sabonis averages 10 points and seven rebounds off the bench for the Zags, complemented by his 70 percent field goal percentage and high offensive rebounding rate. Sabonis may be a role player on this Zags team, but he has the ability to go off, like he did against Pepperdine when he was 9-of-9 from the floor with 18 points and 12 rebounds, in a two-point win over the Waves on Jan. 15.

 

4. Defense Wins Championships

 

We can talk ad nauseam about the Zags’ prolific offensive attack, but as the old adage declares, defense wins championships. Gonzaga has kept teams under 60 points 13 times this season and allows rival offenses just 60.7 points per contest, best in the WCC and 33rd nationally. Efficiency wise, the Bulldogs are a top-tier team. According to KenPom’s defensive efficiency rating, the Zags rank first in the WCC (95.4) and 27th nationally (92.7). 

 

A significant reason Gonzaga excels defensively is their ability to rebound. Gonzaga is first in its conference in preventing second-chance rebounds for opposing offenses and rank second behind BYU in total rebounds, defensive rebounds and rebound rate in the WCC. The Bulldogs get rebounding from all over the court, with four players averaging at least five boards per game. It’s hard to beat a team that doesn’t allow extra possessions for their opponents. 

 

Gonzaga’s offensive arsenal headlined by Pangos and Wiltjer, accompanied by Sabonis, Bell, Wesley and Karnowski gives Few his best team since he has been in Spokane. With a lockdown defense and a little March magic, this could be the Zags team that breaks the spell and stays out after midnight, dancing in the glow of the downtown Indianapolis lights this April. 

 

-By Jake Rose

Teaser:
Yes, This Gonzaga Team is for Real
Post date: Friday, February 13, 2015 - 08:00
All taxonomy terms: Kasey Kahne, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/kasey-kahne-2015-season-driver-preview
Body:

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Fantasy Stall

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

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

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

 

No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet

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

Owner: Rick Hendrick

Crew Chief: Keith Rodden

Year With Current Team: 4th

Under Contract Through: 2018

Best Points Finish: 4th (2012)

Hometown: Enumclaw, Wash.

Born: April 10, 1980

 

Career Stats

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

 

Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Fantasy Stall

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

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

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

 

No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet

Primary Sponsors: Caterpillar, Quicken Loans, WIX Filters

Owner: Richard Childress

Crew Chief: Luke Lambert

Year With Current Team: 2nd

Under Contract Through: 2016

Best Points Finish: 2nd (2014)

Hometown: South Bend, Ind.

Born: Dec. 8, 1977

 

Career Stats

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

 

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

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

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

 

Kurt Busch's Secret Assassin Girlfriend

 

Gordon’s Last Lap

 

In the Chase Elliott

 

Losing Makes My Dick Trickle


Balls to the Wall All the Time


Dog the Labonte Hunter

 

Shake & Bake

 

Well Kyle Be Damned


Bad News Mears


Flash Gordon


Gilliland’s Island


No Kahne No Gain


Stewart Your Engines


The Blue Lagano


2 Girls, 1 Sprint Cup


Me So Hornish


Mears for Fears


Marcos Polo


Team Motorboaters


Hello….Newman!


Shaking the Busch, Boss


Magic Johnson


Ambrose Before Ho


A Country Gal Kahne Survive


A Little on the High Side


The Need for Scott Speed

 

Blaney’s Got a Gun

 

The Big Keselowski


2 Lbs. in the Rear Got Her Loose


Green Eggs and Hamlin


Gas Holes


The Sum of All Mears


Team Skidmark

 

Go Left Young Man


Wise Johnsons Fear Burning Busch


UPS = Ugly Paint Scheme

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Fantasy Stall

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

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

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

 

No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota

Primary Sponsors: 5-Hour Energy, Peak, AAA

Owner: Michael Waltrip/Rob Kauffman

Crew Chief: Brian Pattie

Year With Current Team: 4th

Under Contract Through: 2017

Best Points Finish: 2nd (2012)

Hometown: Emporia, Kan.

Born: May 30, 1979

 

Career Stats

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

***

 

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

 

Here is what Tark had to say.

 

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

 

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

 

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

Yes, they have.

 

But letting it go is hard?

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

 

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

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

 

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

I’ve learned to move on from that.

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

John Calipari?

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Fantasy Stall

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

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

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

 

No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet

Primary Sponsor: Haas Automation

Owner: Tony Stewart/Gene Haas

Crew Chief: Tony Gibson

Year With Current Team: 2nd

Under Contract Through: 2016

Best Points Finish: 1st (2004)

Hometown: Las Vegas, Nev.

Born: Aug. 4, 1978

 

Career Stats

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

 

Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Teaser:
Kurt Busch 2015 Season Driver Preview
Post date: Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - 13:00

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