by Julian Spivey
The moment that many NASCAR fans have been waiting nearly three years for finally happened on Sunday afternoon (August 5) at Watkins Glen International when 22-year old Hendrick Motorsports driver Chase Elliott broke through to win his first NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series race after coming so close in previous years.
The milestone first win was something most of us figured would’ve happened much sooner in the 2014 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion’s Cup Series career, with the talent he showed at an early age (he was the first rookie to ever win the Xfinity title), taking over great equipment at Hendrick with the team relinquished by the retired Jeff Gordon and having great runs with his eight second place finishes over his first two-and-half full seasons being the fourth most all-time before winning a race.
But, as those second place finishes piled up, and he saw things like Denny Hamlin wrecking him out of a first win at Martinsville in the playoffs last season and his own multiple mistakes while leading races late costing him the young gun, who’s last name being NASCAR royalty surely didn’t help things, started to get hard on himself. Many of us who’ve watched this sport for multiple decades had never seen a driver look so defeated and talk so poorly of himself when not ending up in Victory Lane.
But, we knew the talent was there and the equipment was too (although for much of this season Hendrick Motorsports had noticeably lagged behind competitors) and Elliott’s shining day would come sooner rather than later.
Chase thoroughly dominated the race at Watkins Glen on Sunday, leading 52 of the race’s 90 laps, and winning a stage for his third consecutive race (shockingly the only three stage wins for Hendrick all season) and had some good luck with his closest competitor Kyle Busch, who led 31 laps, having a pit problem that sent him to the back of the pack during the last stage (he remarkably rebounded all the way to third place by the day’s end). But, it still seemed at times toward the final laps of the race on Sunday like Elliott’s late race woes may show up again as defending champion Martin Truex Jr. was dogging him late. When Truex got into the “Bus Stop” poorly on the penultimate lap of the race it seemed like Elliott’s first career win was a cinch but going into turn one on the final lap Chase’s car wheel-hopped and he almost spun his No. 9 Chevrolet out allowing Truex to reach his bumper once again. The luck would be on Chase’s side today, however, as Truex’s No. 78 Toyota would soon run out of gas and Chase would just have enough to take the checkered flag (running out after the finish line).
One of the greatest things about seeing Chase’s first win on Sunday was how excited the crowd was for him. Being the son of 16-time Most Popular Driver winner and NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott and taking over for all-time NASCAR legend Jeff Gordon it seems Chase had already had a large built-in fan-base, that has no doubt grown over his three seasons due to his own talent and personality. He could easily follow in his father’s footsteps by being named the sport’s Most Popular Driver this year, but he’s always seemed to follow in his father’s footsteps – even more so than some might believe. It’s truly interesting how the beginning of Chase and Bill’s careers have mirrored each other.
Chase’s eight second-place finishes before his first win are the fourth most all-time (the recently passed James Hylton had the most runners-up ever before winning a race with 12), as previously mentioned, but he’s tied with another driver on that list and that driver was his father. Bill also had eight second place finishes in his career before breaking through in the season finale of 1983.
It came somewhat as a surprise to see Chase’s first win come at a road course race at Watkins Glen in New York, but once again he mirrors his father’s first career victory which came at the now defunct Riverside International Raceway road course in California.
The one place where Chase has his father beat is that Chase’s first career win came in his 99th career Cup Series start. But, Bill wasn’t too far behind his boy winning in his 115th career start. Unlike Chase though, Bill’s first win did come in his first full-time season where he ran every race on the circuit, having run seven part-time seasons prior to 1983.
It’ll be interesting to see if the Elliotts continue this “like-father-like-son” aspect with Chase’s career. Just two seasons after Bill’s first career win at the end of 1983 he won a career high 11 races in the 1985 season and within five years was a NASCAR Cup champion. There’s the mile marker Chase. Now go get it.
Sports Round-Up: Tiger at The Open, Brewers Fans Embarrass Themselves, NFL Controversy That Won't Go Away
by Julian Spivey
Tiger Takes Sunday Lead & Molinari Plays Perfect Golf
Man was it good to see Tiger Woods soar to the top of the leaderboard during the final round of The British Open at Carnoustie on Sunday morning. It felt like the old days, the glory days. It felt like he was going to come through and win his first major tournament in more than a decade. Then he double bogeyed the 11th hole and it all immediately seemed over with the perfect game Francesco Molinari, playing along with Tiger on Sunday, was playing. You just sensed that Molinari, even after only 11 holes, was going to par his way to victory and he pretty much did – with two birdies thrown in for good measure. Molinari is the hottest golfer on the planet right now winning three of his last six tournaments, with two runner-up positions thrown in the mix. It’s nice to see him at the top of his game as a 35-year old, after he and his brother Edoardo both came upon the scene around 2010 and seemed like they’d be the next big names in European golf without either really entering the upper-echelon. But, now it’s Francesco’s time and he will always have the honor of being Italy’s first major golf champion.
NFL Controversy That Won't Die
We are heading into the third NFL season in which it seems the biggest story of the season is yet again going to be the National Anthem and athletes protesting brutality against African-Americans, which has become one of the nation’s biggest debates and a hot topic for President Donald Trump. It’s a topic that the NFL should’ve squashed immediately in backing its player for having opinions and expressing them. But, instead the league cowered down to the President and its right-wing fans and made the whole ordeal a much bigger mess than it ever should’ve been. That mess became a major story again last week when the Miami Dolphins franchise announced plans to suspend any players protesting during the National Anthem for four games (one-fourth of the season). The NFL and the NFL Players Association quickly tabled any punishment when it comes to players protesting on the fields, which is where I hope the story ends. When it comes to an organization threatening to suspend players for one-fourth of the season for having opinions and showing them when the NFL has only suspended players who’ve physically or abused their spouses or girlfriends for lesser time you know the league is officially out of control.
Brewers Fans Embarrass Themselves
During last week’s Major League Baseball All Star game the big story toward the end of the game wasn’t the close competition that saw an extra innings finish or the record-breaking number of home runs hit during the game, but rather some seven year old tweets dug up from the annals of Twitter from Milwaukee Brewers All Star reliever Josh Hader that exposed viewpoints of racism, homophobia and misogyny. They were the disturbing thoughts and bad jokes of a 17-year old high schooler at the time who forgot to scrub his idiocy before becoming a baseball superstar. Baseball didn’t exactly punish Hader in the way that I would’ve liked choosing not to suspend him, but rather make him go to sensitivity training. It was at least an understandable form of punishment with the sport not wanting to suspend an adult for mistakes made as a teen, though I will say that what most believe at 17 they likely still will at 24. The most disturbing part of the Hader story was when he made his second-half debut on Saturday night at his home ballpark in Milwaukee and received a standing ovation from a mostly white Brewers crowd. This is not a good look for Major League Baseball, it’s not a good look for the Brewers fan base and it’s not a good look for the city of Milwaukee. It makes it seem like the fans are condoning racism, homophobia and misogyny and that’s not something we need in baseball.
Tim Tebow Injury Keeps Mets From Publicity Stunt
I hate to wish injury on any athlete, but New York Mets Double-A minor league attraction Tim Tebow breaking his hamate bone in his right hand over the weekend and likely being out for the remainder of the season is at least somewhat good news for baseball traditionalists. If you’re a hardcore baseball fan like me, you want to see players make it to the major leagues on merit and not superstardom and celebrity gained somewhere other than on the baseball diamond. You want this because you know just how hard it is to make “The Show” and you’d hate to see someone truly deserving passed over for what amounts to a publicity stunt. That’s exactly what it seemed the Mets, well out of playoff contention, were going to do in September with minor league call-ups. It seemed set that Tebow would make his major league debut for nothing more than to drive late season ticket sales for a struggling baseball team. That would’ve been the Mets prerogative, but as someone who wants to see the game played the right way it just wouldn’t have sat right with me. Tebow’s injury takes away any chance of that happening.
NASCAR Has a 'Big 3' and Nobody Else Stands a Chance
It’s been quite the unusual NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series with three drivers dominating the sport in a manner we haven’t seen in quite some time. Kevin Harvick (6 wins), Kyle Busch (5 wins) and Martin Truex Jr. (4 wins) have combined to win 15 of the series’ 20 races this season leaving many complaining about a lack of parity in the sport. I must admit I’d like to see some of the other superstars within NASCAR win a bit this season, but the longer this dominance by Harvick, Busch and Truex goes on the more impressive and interesting it gets. And, let’s be honest if you’re not a fan of one of these three drivers this season could seem incredibly boring (and unfortunately a good number of the races have been – but not as of late), but regardless it’s going to be a fun final few months of the NASCAR season to see just how many races these guys can win and watch the playoff battle between the three of them go down to the wire.
by Julian Spivey
Every year when the Major League Baseball All Star rosters are picked there are going to be a handful of snubs. That’s just the way it goes in a sport featuring 750 players on any given day and only round 60 all star spots. However, every year there seems to be a few egregious snubs and I’ve selected nine changes I would make if I could to the All Star rosters that were announced on Sunday.
Blake Snell (Rays) for Jose Berrios (Twins)
Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Blake Snell leads the American League in Earned Run Average, which should be an automatic selection for any All Star team regardless of other stats, but Snell is also second in the A.L. with 12 wins. He should’ve been a no-brainer, but due to every team most have a representative in the All Star game rule (which I like) he gets snubbed in favorite of Jose Berrios of the Twins who almost a run and a half worse ERA, fewer strikeouts and a much worse winning percentage.
Eddie Rosario (Twins) for George Springer (Astros)
Part of the reason why Snell got snubbed by the A.L. All Star roster is because the players made the egregious selection of Houston Astros outfielder George Springer, who’s only hitting .251 this year, when Minnesota Twins outfielder Eddie Rosario would’ve been a much better pick with a .300 average, more hits, homers, RBI and a better WAR (Wins Above Replacement). If Rosario were the Twins representative, as he should’ve been, there would’ve been no need for the Berrios selection. Rosario is part of the A.L.’s Final Vote nominees and hopefully will get into the All Star game that way. That selection will be announced on Wednesday afternoon (July 11).
Jed Lowrie (A’s) for Gleyber Torres (Yankees)
The players vote screwed this one up too giving New York Yankees second baseman Gleyber Torres the reserve two-bagger spot in the Midsummer Classic when Oakland A’s veteran Jed Lowrie, who’s never made an All Star squad, has nearly 40 more hits, 20 more RBI and a WAR more than a point higher.
Nick Castellanos (Tigers) for Michael Brantley (Indians)
Michael Brantley is a good story coming back after playing in only about 100 games over the last two seasons (though he was an All Star last year before he got hurt) and the players voted him into the game as a reserve outfielder. But, Detroit Tigers outfielder Nick Castellanos would’ve been a better pick with a WAR more than a point higher, more homers, RBI, hits and a higher on-base percentage. Castellanos also would’ve ensured that the commissioner’s office would’ve have to name reliever Joe Jimenez as the Tigers representative allowing for a more deserving pitcher making the team.
Collin McHugh (Astros) for Joe Jimenez (Tigers)
If Nick Castellanos was the Detroit Tigers All Star representative, as he should’ve been, then maybe Houston Astros reliever Collin McHugh, who’s having a far superior year to Jimenez with an ERA more than two runs lower.
Jesus Aguilar (Brewers) for Paul Goldschmidt (Diamondbacks)
There was no player in baseball I felt worse for on Sunday when the All Star game rosters were announced than Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar, who’s having an MVP-like season through the first half. In his second full MLB season Aguilar has become the slugger the N.L. leading Brewers need with a league high 23 homers, 64 RBI and a .305 average. He is part of the N.L.’s Final Five vote and hopefully makes the team, but he should’ve been there already and likely as the designated hitter in the starting lineup. Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt has been one of baseball’s hottest hitters since May but had an incredibly slow start to the season. Goldschmidt has fewer homers, more than 10 fewer RBI and an average 15 points behind Aguilar and yet got the players’ vote over him.
Ross Stripling (Dodgers) for Patrick Corbin (Diamondbacks)
This one isn’t the biggest of deals, but Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Ross Stripling does have an ERA almost a full run lower than Diamondbacks ace Patrick Corbin. Stripling also has a better winning percentage this year. Corbin has more strikeouts than Stripling, but Stripling didn’t begin the year in the Dodgers rotation. He’s certainly helped to keep them afloat though.
David Peralta (Diamondbacks) for Bryce Harper (Nationals)
I’ve taken both Arizona Diamondbacks All Star representatives out of the game and by rule they must have a rep, so I’m giving that spot to outfielder David Peralta who’s hitting .291 with 15 homers and 49 RBI. He’s going to replace Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, who was the only one of 17 selections made by the voting fans of Major League Baseball that was bad – yes, the fans did a better job at picking All Stars this year than the actual players. I understand it’s important to have one of the game’s biggest names at the All Star game, especially with it being played in his home ballpark this season, but his numbers just aren’t up to his standards.
Albert Almora (Cubs) for Charlie Blackmon (Rockies)
Charlie Blackmon was a National League MVP finalist last season and I believe the players voting for N.L. reserves remembered that more than researching his numbers this year because he’s not near the same guy he was. Blackmon has a negative WAR this season meaning a replacement player would likely put up better numbers than he has. He takes a spot that could be better served going to a first timer like Chicago Cubs outfielder Albert Almora, who’s hitting .323 this season. If you don’t like Almora in his place how about Pittsburgh Pirates Corey Dickerson or Philadelphia Phillies Odubel Herrera?
by Julian Spivey
If you heard a collective groan on Monday afternoon from NBA fans all around the world it’s because free agent center DeMarcus Cousins, arguably the second-best center in the NBA behind his former New Orleans Pelicans teammate Anthony Davis, signed a one-year, $5.3 million deal with the two-time reigning champion Golden State Warriors.
The deal in which Cousins took considerably less money than what he could’ve gotten to win a championship with the Warriors makes the best team in the NBA even better and gives the team an All Star player at every starting position and has led to discussions of whether it’ll be the greatest starting five in NBA history.
I understand why NBA fans everywhere are pissed. The best thing for any sport is parity and the NBA doesn’t have that right now. The NBA doesn’t even seem to have a team in the same stratosphere as the Warriors after this deal with the team being the overwhelming favorite to win a third consecutive NBA title and its fourth in five years. It’s not good for a sport to essentially have its next championship locked up less than a month after its last one ended. Of course, the games still must be played, and anything can happen, but that’s the way it seems right now.
It’s doubly irritating for fans of the league who were hoping this offseason’s free agent crop including LeBron James could jump start some action into the league with him going to a location like the Houston Rockets, who damn near beat the Warriors without LeBron, or the Philadelphia 76ers. Instead LeBron chose the Los Angeles Lakers, which sparked renewed interest in the game’s most popular franchise, but there wasn’t too much else the team could do financially to build a team that could compete with the Warriors. LeBron to the Lakers seems like a move that might take two years to pan out.
I can certainly understand fans of the game being upset about the lack of competition in the game, but what do you really expect the NBA to do about it? The Warriors have built their championship team the right way, no matter what some might think. The original three stars on the team: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green all came out of the NBA Draft and none of them were even top five picks. Green, in fact, wasn’t even a first round pick. The additions of Kevin Durant two offseasons ago and Cousins today are just the team playing by free agency and salary cap rules, but the way some fans are reacting to the creation of this “superteam” you would think the team was doing something illegal. Some people even want the NBA to step in, but the NBA simply can’t dictate where players go via free agency. If players like Cousins are selflessly willing to play for less in pursuit of a championship there isn’t much that can be done. So, if you don’t want to watch I completely understand, but the whining is pointless. If other teams want to stop the Warriors they’re simply going to have to get better on the court and better in the front office. Something that should truly concern NBA fans is the lack of trying for a player of Cousins’ stature via free agency. Free agency began at midnight on July 1 and up until the moment he signed his deal with the Warriors he hadn’t been contacted by a single other team in the league, according to ESPN’s Marc Spears. If your phone isn’t ringing and suddenly, the reigning champs come calling you might jump at that chance too.
by Julian Spivey
On Friday after he stormed to a multiple stroke lead at The Masters I went to social media to gripe that “Patrick Reed was going to ruin The Masters for me.” Now to be honest I likely would’ve said the same had any golfer taken a commanding lead. I hate to see dominance from anyone in a golf major because I want to see a half dozen or more guys have a shot on Sunday. But, there was a little more vitriol with Reed in the lead. He’s my least favorite golfer on the PGA Tour. I thought I was alone in that sentiment.
On Sunday, when Reed sank his Green Jacket clinching par on the 18th hole of Augusta the crowd reaction was weaker than it would’ve been if John Doe had won the Puerto Rico Open. It was basically a “meh.” Making the reaction even more surprising is the fact that Reed lived for a while in Augusta, Ga. and even led Augusta State University to two consecutive NCAA Division I championships in the early part of this decade. That didn’t matter to the gallery.
I wasn’t alone in my dislike of Reed. In fact, it appears he’s “the most hated man in golf.” After The Masters on Sunday evening I saw a bunch of articles pop up ranging from “Why you shouldn’t dislike Patrick Reed” to “Why do golf fans hate Patrick Reed?” to “Would golf fans like Patrick Reed if they knew him?” The most interesting piece I read was Alan Shipnuck’s piece for Golf.com about how Patrick Reed’s estranged parents watched their son win The Masters from their home just three miles away with mixed emotions.
Reed hasn’t spoken to his parents or younger sister since 2012 and his parents have never even met their granddaughter. They once attended the U.S. Open to follow his group in hopes of rebuilding their relationship and were escorted off the premises at the behest of Reed’s wife, Justine.
Of course, this is only one side of the story, but the piece just made me dislike Reed even more. Before I had disliked him for his use of a homophobic slur at a tournament in 2014, which I thought the PGA Tour should’ve suspended him for even though it was aimed at himself. I also grew to dislike Reed quite a bit during the 2014 Ryder Cup when his celebrating because he was playing well during the Europeans ass-stomping of the United States made him come off as an ass. I don’t believe in celebrating when you’re losing, especially losing badly.
There are evidently numerous reasons for others to dislike him from getting kicked off the University of Georgia golf team for multiple arrests, cheating allegations (which golf fans take very seriously) and abrasive cockiness (he once claimed he was a top 5 player in the world when he was far from it). Reed has also never done anything to seemingly make fans want to change their opinion of him. He seems to enjoy being disliked. He also seems to have zero report with his fellow professionals, almost always keeping to himself.
When reporters asked him after his Masters win on Sunday if it was “bittersweet not to be able to share the most triumphant moment of his life with his parents” Reed simply responded, “I’m just out here to play golf and try to win golf tournaments.”
He literally doesn’t seem to care about much else. That leaves the impression of a cold-hearted individual. One that even people who tend to like or find villains in sports interesting have trouble finding something redeeming in. That explains the “meh” response to him winning the biggest tournament in American golf. A career defining moment that would’ve had most golf crowds applauding with joy simply didn’t matter much to them. They say sports need villains. But, golf fans responded with emphatic quietness that they don’t need Patrick Reed.
by Julian Spivey
On Friday (March 16) we saw some major sports history and the biggest bracket buster in the history of the NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament when 16 seeded University of Maryland Baltimore County knocked off overall top seed Virginia in the first round of the tourney becoming the first 16-seed to ever do so in the tournament. It was great seeing something that had never been done in sports before – which doesn’t happen often these days. However, there have been quite a few upsets already in this tournament and it got me thinking that March Madness is the only time of year in any sport where people seemingly turn on the underdog. Many people don’t want to see Cinderellas find their slipper in the tournament because it busts their bracket and don’t we all want to be the one to win bragging rights and potentially money? I think most of us can probably agree that the Retrievers of UMBC over Virginia was quite worth it though because honestly that busted everybody’s bracket.
Tiger Woods Masters Favorite
Tiger Woods has been looking more and more like the Tiger of old lately. He finished second at the Valspar Championship last week and is playing well this weekend in the Arnold Palmer Invitational. His recovery from back surgery last year has been both remarkable and highly surprising and that has Vegas thinking he’s the favorite to win the Masters next month. Woods is considered an 8-1 favorite to win the Masters, something he hasn’t done since 2005 when he captured his fourth green jacket. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Woods in contention because I know he knows Augusta like the back of his hand but come on guys it’s way too soon to consider Woods the favorite of any golf tournament, let alone potentially the biggest in the world. Jordan Spieth, the 2015 winner, has 9-1 odds to win (tied with Dustin Johnson for second) and I believe he should be the favorite.
Cavaliers Title Chances
I’ve gotten to where I don’t like to see many prediction percentages for sports, especially in-game, because it takes a lot of the excitement and interest away from sports. You want to feel like each team has a shot. Sometimes these predictions also just seem flat out laughable. Recently I saw that the Basketball Power Index has given the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team that has made the last three consecutive NBA Finals, a 0.01 percent chance at winning the NBA title. The BPI gives six other teams a higher chance at winning the championship (including the Philadelphia 76ers who have a worse record than the Cavs). I believe that counting out the Cavaliers, and honestly mostly LeBron James, is foolish and by the BPI saying they only have a miniscule chance at winning the title is doing that. I don’t believe the Cavaliers have a great shot at winning the championship – I’d be shocked if any team that isn’t either the Golden State Warriors or Houston Rockets wins it this year – but I do believe they should still be considered the favorite in the Eastern Conference despite being behind the Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers in the standings.
Joe Thomas Retires
Sports hall of fames are places for the best of the best to be honored and have always been individual honors, but when Cleveland Browns All-Pro offensive lineman Joe Thomas announced his retirement this week after 11 seasons in the NFL the thing that instantly popped into my head was: “should a player essentially be penalized for playing on an all-time bad team?” If I had a vote for the Pro Football Hall of Fame I’d likely have to eventually vote for Thomas as one of the greatest O-lineman to ever play the game, but many experts think he’s a first ballot lock. Keep in mind Terrell Owens, a top five all-time wide receiver, had to wait multiple years before he was voted in. I think it’s fair to at least consider the Browns all-time bad run of football when considering Thomas for the hall of fame. Thomas only had one winning season with the Browns, in his rookie year, and only won a measly 27 percent of the NFL games he played in. That has to be the worst winning percentage for any hall of fame type player ever and probably by a lot.
Jose Altuve's Contract Extension
If you’re a baseball fan, but don’t have a favorite player I suggest watching Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve very closely. The 2017 American League MVP is likely the most exciting player in today’s game and the Astros awarded his excellence with a five-year, $151 million contract extension on Friday (March 16). It’s nice to see one of the game’s top players finally get paid and it couldn’t have happened to a nicer and more hard-working player. ESPN’s Darren Rovell tweeted on Friday that Altuve, a Venezuelan native, attended an Astros tryout camp in Venezuela at 16, was told “don’t come back” because he was too short (he’s 5’6 if he can be trusted), came back anyway, was given a $15,000 deal, worked his way to the big leagues, almost instantly became a perennial all-star, led the Astros to winning their first ever World Series last year and won the MVP. He’s a great example for people to never give up on their dreams.
IndyCar Excitement to Simmer By Second Race
The beginning of the 2018 IndyCar Series season at St. Petersburg, Fla. last weekend (March 11) had many within the motorsports community talking and raving about the excitement of a potential “instant classic” that saw Canadian rookie Robert Wickens dominate and nearly win his debut until 2016 Indianapolis 500 champion Alexander Rossi got into and wrecked him on the final restart of the race. Sebastien Bourdais, who was lucky to survive a devastating wreck in Indy 500 practice last year, snuck by to win the opener. It had been a long time since I’ve seen this many people rave about the IndyCar Series, especially at a race other than the Indy 500, which is something the series could really use. But, will that excitement even be remembered by the time the series drops the green flag at its second race in Phoenix on April 7. There should never be a gap almost a month long in the schedule for any sport, especially between the first and second races of a season. IndyCar really needs to fix this seemingly annual scheduling issue.
by Julian Spivey
Flags flew at half-mast at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. last Sunday during the 60th running of the Daytona 500 just over a three-hour drive north of Parkland, Fla. where 17 students and faculty had been gunned down a few days before in one of the worst school shootings in American history. Parkland victims and survivors were in the prayers of those at the speedway all weekend during the prerace invocations.
Austin Dillon would go on to win the Daytona 500 that day. One of his sponsors is the National Rifle Association (NRA), which thankfully wasn’t on his car that day. Imagine how that would’ve looked. The reigning NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr. is also occasionally sponsored by the NRA. The NRA also is set to sponsor the August race at Bristol Motor Speedway once again this season and has sponsored races at Texas Motor Speedway before.
The sport of NASCAR depends on sponsorship for survival maybe more than any other professional sport in the country, but they can be picky about what brands they allow to associate with the sport. Journeyman racer Carl Long found this out the tough way last season when NASCAR made the driver’s team remove decals for the company Veedverks from his No. 66 car. Veedverks is a hemp vape shop based in Colorado.
NASCAR takes issue with a legal (in Colorado) hemp vape shop but is OK with the NRA – a group that some people refer to as an American terrorist organization.
The same NRA that donated $10,000 to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s four-person varsity marksmanship team, in 2016. Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz was on that team and honed the very skills needed to perpetrate the tragedy at his school. The NRA that seemingly proves time and time again it cares more about the sale of firearms than people killed by AR-15s, which should be used for military purposes and nothing else.
NASCAR has never taken issue with the NRA as a race or team sponsor before, and the topic has come up before. In 2013, just months after 26 people were killed at Sandy Hook in Newton, Ct. the sport announced the NRA would sponsor a spring race at Texas Motor Speedway. NASCAR simply distanced itself from the decision with spokesman David Higdon saying, “Texas Motor Speedway ultimately secured this entitlement sponsor, not NASCAR.” After that season NASCAR instituted a new clause in its sanction agreements stating that it had to approve race sponsors, according to ESPN. Two years later the NRA was back as a race sponsor at Bristol, where it’ll serve as sponsor for a third consecutive year in August. NASCAR didn’t say no. This time they also didn’t comment. NASCAR team owner and NRA Second Vice President Richard Childress did, praising the sponsorship deal. He said: “So many fans are supporters of the NRA. They [NASCAR/Bristol Motor Speedway] made the right decision putting the NRA back in because so many of our fans are NRA members.”
There’s little doubt that many NASCAR fans are NRA supporters, but that doesn’t make it a right decision by the sport or a decision that looks good upon it. I’m sure a lot of NASCAR fans support marijuana, as well. I’m sure a lot of NASCAR fans are also supporters of Playboy magazine, which has been rejected as a sponsor multiple times for not being “representative of the image of NASCAR,” according to USA Today.
Pot and naked ladies aren’t good for the sport’s image, but high-powered machines of death are fine.
NASCAR should reconsider its relationship with the NRA, but it’d be highly surprising if they did. In the last few days many companies have felt the heat from people claiming they would no longer support them if they didn’t cut ties with the NRA. In response companies like Enterprise, Alamo, National and First National Bank of Omaha have already cut ties. Other companies like FedEx, LifeLock, Hertz and Norton Online are being pressured, as well. Nobody seems to be putting any pressure on NASCAR, probably because they view it to be a lost cause. Like I said, it probably would be. But, it’s still worth the fight. Who knows maybe NASCAR will decide to do something just because it’s the right thing to do? They lowered their flags and said they’re prayers in Daytona. But, as long as they’re taking the NRA’s money and giving them a sales boost by placing their companies on their cars, races and tracks they aren’t doing enough.
by Julian Spivey
The final lap of the 60th running of the Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 18 was likely the most controversial final lap of NASCAR’s biggest race since the very first Daytona 500 ended in a photo finish between Lee Petty and Johnny Beauchamp that took three days to declare Petty the winner. With about one mile remaining in Sunday’s Daytona 500 Aric Almirola led the race looking for his second career win and the biggest of his Cup Series career. Suddenly, Almirola was turned into the outside wall by the No. 3 Chevrolet of Austin Dillon, who completed the lap in first place to win his second career race.
Instantly folks were all over social media claiming that Dillon’s crash of Almirola on the final lap of the sport’s biggest race was one of the dirtiest thing they had ever seen in the history of the sport. Somewhat surprisingly though most drivers and NASCAR media who would chime in following the race disagree. They felt the move was either “do-or-die” on the final lap or that Almirola had caused the accident with a block that gave Dillon no other choice, but to drive through him or give up a chance at victory.
I thought the move was the dirtiest thing I’ve ever seen in almost two decades of watching NASCAR. I don’t believe the accident was any fault of Almirola’s (even though he didn’t put a bit of blame on Dillon in front of the cameras). Almirola did throw a block on Dillon on the final lap, but the block occurred multiple seconds before Dillon contacted Almirola. And, the first contact Dillon made on Almirola didn’t cause the wreck either. It’s the second contact he makes, which you can see from the side video replay (at 4:38 in video below), that turns Almirola into the wall and gives Dillon the lead he wouldn’t give back up. The replay looking toward the cars does look a little different, but it doesn’t change my opinion that Dillon dumped Almirola to win the race.
I’m a fan of hard racing and the “rubbing is racing” mentality. I approve of moves like the bump ‘n’ run that can push a car out of one’s way for a pass to win a race. If Dillon had contacted Almirola that caused a wreck as they got closer to the finish line it also would’ve been more OK, in my view. But, the way it happened leads me to believing the move to be dirty.
While most NASCAR media members don’t seem to take issue with anything that occurred on the final lap Sunday I agree with veteran NASCAR journalist Geoffrey Miller, who’s currently writing for himself, when he stated: “Austin Dillon won the Daytona 500 Sunday by wrecking Aric Almirola from the lead on the last lap. That sentence reads sour. But sour is the way it felt.” Miller would go on to write about how whether you feel Dillon was wrong depended on your perspective. It’s a perspective that’s interesting in that many fans, it looked like a majority yesterday, seem to view Dillon’s wreck of Almirola as dirty. Where as nearly all the drivers and media who approached the topic viewed it as “just one of them racing deals.”
If that’s just one of them racing deals than I’m not too sure I like where this sport is heading. But, then again, I haven’t really liked where the sport is heading for some time now. Many, including the recently retired Dale Earnhardt Jr., thought that the controversy and the story of Dillon winning the sport’s biggest race in the No. 3 car that Dale Earnhardt took to Victory Lane 20 years ago would be a huge boost to the sport, something it could really use right now among bleeding television ratings and arguably it’s three most popular drivers – Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Dale Jr. – retiring in consecutive seasons. NASCAR has become a young sport quickly, but it’ll ultimately be the on-track product and the sanctioning body leaving it be more than it has in the last two decades that decides whether NASCAR can boom again. We shall see if Sunday’s last lap boosts the sport next week, but I don’t see it happening because only drew a 5.1 overnight Nielsen rating, making it the least watched Daytona 500 of all-time. It’s hard to grow a sport that people have already tuned out.
by Julian Spivey
16. Clint Bowyer
This is a sign that the NASCAR playoffs probably have too many drivers. Clint Bowyer hasn’t won a race in five seasons and has kind of become a forgotten man, but Stewart-Hass Racing is a good team and surely that streak can’t continue forever.
15. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. surprised many last season winning half of the sport’s restrictor plate races (one each at Talladega and Daytona). He’s never been a threat at any other track, but there’s always a chance he’ll get another plate win and qualify for his second straight playoffs.
14. William Byron
I should’ve learned my lesson picking rookies to make the playoffs last year when Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones made me 0-for-2. But, William Byron, who has dominating the Xfinity and Camping World series the last few years, is driving for Hendrick Motorsports and could have the greatest rookie season in quite some time.
13. Kurt Busch
Kurt Busch, the reigning Daytona 500 champion, is seemingly a lock to get a win almost every season. He doesn’t seem to run up front as much as he used to, but a win will get him in the playoffs.
12. Daniel Suarez
I thought Daniel Suarez would crack the playoffs as a rookie last year and get his first NASCAR Cup Series win. He didn’t. But, 2018 will be the year.
11. Erik Jones
See Daniel Suarez.
10. Ryan Blaney
Ryan Blaney won his first career Cup Series race last year racing for the Wood Brothers to qualify for the playoffs. Blaney moved over to a third Penske Racing team this year and his career should only get better from here. I’m thinking multiple wins for Blaney this year, if the addition of a third team doesn’t hurt Penske overall.
9. Chase Elliott
It’s frankly dumbfounding that Chase Elliott didn’t win a race in one of his first two seasons in the Cup Series and he’s been runner-up seven times, including five just last year. There’s no way he’s not going to break on through to the Victory Lane side this season.
8. Denny Hamlin
Denny Hamlin has won at least one race in all 12 of his NASCAR Cup Series seasons. He’s basically a lock to win a race and qualify for the playoffs every year.
7. Joey Logano
Joey Logano missing the playoffs in 2017 was the biggest shock in NASCAR last season, in my opinion. He won a race at Richmond but had something illegal on the car and the win didn’t qualify him for the playoffs. I’m sure he’ll visit Victory Lane multiple times this year.
6. Kyle Larson
Kyle Larson won a career-high four times in 2017 and arguably had the second-best season in the sport behind champion Martin Truex Jr. I’m not sure he’ll win that many times this year, but he should be a lock for at least one.
5. Brad Keselowski
Brad Keselowski only has one winless season in his career – his rookie season. He’s won at least one race in his last seven seasons. He’s a virtual lock to make the playoffs.
4. Kevin Harvick
Over the last five years or so Kevin Harvick has been the most consistent driver in the NASCAR Cup Series. He’s won a race in each of the last eight seasons. Harvick is also a lock to make the playoffs.
3. Jimmie Johnson
Jimmie Johnson is going for his record-breaking eighth NASCAR Cup Series championship. Johnson has incredibly won multiple races in all 16 of his NASCAR Cup Series season and is arguably the greatest driver in NASCAR history. He’s a playoff lock, but his history in the playoff segments hasn’t always been the greatest.
2. Kyle Busch
Kyle Busch has won a NASCAR Cup Series race in each of his 13 seasons and is seemingly a lock for the playoffs even in seasons in which he breaks both of his legs (he actually won the title that year). Busch is one of the few drivers in NASCAR that can almost seemingly win at will. He should thrive in the playoffs.
1. Martin Truex Jr.
You’d have to be pretty dumb, in my opinion, not to predict Martin Truex Jr. as the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series champion in 2018 for a second straight year. I never thought I’d say this even three years ago, but he, his crew chief Cole Pearn and his entire Furniture Row Motorsports Toyota team is clearly the team to beat in NASCAR today, especially when it comes the 1.5-mile tracks that populate the sport’s schedule.
by Julian Spivey
The 2018 Winter Olympics are underway from Pyeongchang, South Korea and I’m left with a feeling of indifference. And, as someone who tries to be an all-around sports fan I don’t like it.
I’m hoping that this year is the year I finally find at least one Winter Olympic sport or event that interests or entertains me. Over the years I’ve become quite the fan of the Summer Olympics. In 2016 when the games were in Brazil I tried to watch as much of the games as possible, including at least one event from every sport at the games and I was successful. I had a blast doing it. I believe I’m more of a fan now as a 30-year old adult of the Summer games than I was as a bright-eyed child seeing my first Olympic games (the ’96 Atlanta games) as an eight-year old.
But, there’s something about the actual sports and events at the Summer games that seem more interesting or fun to me. The games have sports that I watch on the regular throughout the year anyway like basketball and golf, which I was thrilled was added to the Olympics in 2016. And, unlike the Winter Olympics the Summer games are filled with team sports like soccer, field hockey, volleyball and rugby (also added in 2016) that have more intensity and back-and-forth entertainment value because you have groups of people from different countries going at it. There are also unique Summer team sports at the Olympics like water polo and handball, that I’d likely watch more than once every four years if an American sports network would carry the events (I’d truly like to see this). And, yes, the summer games have individual sports like tennis, table tennis and fencing, but those sports have athletes going against each other mano-a-mano, which adds to the excitement.
In many Winter Olympic events it’s simply an individual going out in the elements and trying to set a winning time. Many of the events don’t feature multiple athletes on the field of play at a time and to me that’s just not quite as interesting. Sure, you have some team sports like hockey, but Olympic hockey is less exciting this year than it has been in many years because the NHL (National Hockey League) didn’t take an Olympic break this year to allow the best hockey players in the world the chance to compete for gold. I don’t have as much interest in watching second-tier hockey players compete for the honor. That makes it feel like it’s less worthy.
There are sports I’m hopeful I’ll find more entertaining and exciting like speed skating, luge and the always seemingly popular curling (though I don’t know anyone who could tell you exactly what’s going on and I always forget as soon as the Olympics are over).
My take on the Winter Olympics has always been the admittedly ignorant “sports don’t belong on snow and ice.” But, I’m hoping this is the year I find something that I can love, even if it’s just for two weeks every four years – like certain Summer games events. When I have free time during the next two weeks I’m going to try to catch as many different events as I can. Hopefully something will pique my interest. Come on Winter games, I’m begging of you.