by Julian Spivey
Best Driver: Kevin Harvick
OK, so this is probably controversial. Kyle Busch won the championship and Joey Logano won more races than any other driver during the season, but Kevin Harvick was the best driver all season long. Harvick scored more points than any other driver this season (which would have won him the championship from the sport’s inception in 1949 through 2003). He won three races and finished in the top two in the finishing order 16 times (yes, that means he was second place an incredible 13 times). Harvick finished in the top five in 23 of the series’ 36 races and almost broke Jeff Gordon’s modern era record for most top 10 finishes coming up two shy of it with 28.
Most Disappointing Driver: Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart announced a couple of months before the 2015 season ended that he would be retiring after the 2016 season, but some wondered if he shouldn’t have retired a couple of seasons ago. It’s always tough to see a living legend struggle so badly and Stewart’s last two seasons, but especially his 2015 campaign have been incredible duds. This three-time champion doesn’t even look competitive on the track and was frequently racing against underfunded teams and drivers who don’t even come close to comparing to him for most of the season. Stewart had his second consecutive winless season in 2015 and only managed a measly three top 10 finishes, with zero top fives. One can’t help but wonder if the leg injury he suffered in a 2013 sprint car accident and the controversial accident that resulted in dirt tracker Kevin Ward Jr.’s death in 2014 in another sprint car incident haven’t completely gotten inside this legend’s head.
Best Race: Martinsville Fall Race
The Martinsville Speedway Chase for the Championship playoff race on Nov. 1 wasn’t just the best race of the entire 2015 NASCAR season, but also the wildest race of the season … by far. There were five cars in the race that looked like they had a decent chance of winning – Joey Logano (who had won the previous three races consecutively), Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon. Rather late in the going of the race there was a restart with all five of these drivers in contention, when a part of Keselowski’s car broke and he wrecked Kenseth. Busch would also be collected in the wreck. Busch and Keselowski would go to the garage. Kenseth would lose nine laps repairing his car before returning to the track to take out his frustrations from two weeks prior on Joey Logano, the race leader, after Logano had spun him out for the lead and eventual win at Kansas Speedway. All of a sudden the four best cars in the race were all eliminated and Jeff Gordon, at his very best track, gained control of the lead and knew that a win would lock him into one of the final four spots at the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Gordon held off a hard-charging Jamie McMurray for the last segment of the race before embarking on maybe the greatest celebration we’ve ever seen from a NASCAR winner following what would turn out to be his final career win.
Best Moment: Jeff Gordon’s Martinsville Win
We knew as soon as Jeff Gordon announced his retirement shortly before the 2015 NASCAR season began that the entire season would become a farewell tour for him. What we didn’t know would be how badly he and his Hendrick Motorsports team would struggle for the majority of the season, especially given the fact that he looked like the best driver on track for most of the previous season. Gordon and his team stepped up big time during the playoffs and that culminated in what would become his 93rd and final career victory at Martinsville Speedway in dramatic fashion. The celebration was really what made this the best moment of the entire season as the 44-year old veteran of more than two decades in the sport looked like a young buck who’d just entered Victory Lane for the very first time and not the third winningest driver in the sport’s illustrious history.
Best Crew Chief: Rodney Childers
It’s pretty incredible to consider any other crew chief besides Jimmie Johnson’s crew chief Chad Knauss (the greatest crew chief in the history of NASCAR) for this honor, but Kevin Harvick’s crew chief Rodney Childers has been the best crew chief in the sport over the last two seasons. Childers has Harvick’s No. 4 Stewart-Haas racing car as the top contender week-in-and-week-out. He led Harvick’s car to 23 top five finishes this season.
Best Feud: Matt Kenseth vs. Joey Logano
The Matt Kenseth/Joey Logano feud was “quintessential” until it wasn’t … but really the whole thing was quintessential. Matt Kenseth had dominated the Sprint Cup race at Kansas Speedway until the very end when a hard-charging Joey Logano wasn’t pleased by Kenseth’s attempts at blocking and spun the past champion out. Kenseth was obviously displeased by Logano’s takeout for the win and vowed payback – as driver’s frequently do. And, boy did he ever get that payback two weeks later when, as a car many laps down, he flat-out put Logano in the fence while Logano was leading at Martinsville Speedway. Kenseth’s actions earned him a two race suspension (the first for any on-track incident in Sprint Cup history), which proved controversial in itself, because drivers have always been trusted to police themselves since the very invention of auto racing and Kenseth simply did what he felt he had to do to regain order.
Worst Wreck: Austin Dillon at Daytona
Austin Dillon’s last lap wreck during the July Daytona race wasn’t just the worst wreck of the NASCAR season, but the worst wreck I’ve ever seen in 14 years watching the sport (and that’s saying a ton). Dillon truly made everybody’s heart stop for a second whether they were watching in person and on television when his No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet was hit in the quarter panel during what they like to call “The Big One” and flew through the air over two entire lanes of traffic and into the safety catchfence ripping both the fence and his car to shreds before the car’s carcass landed upside down on the track. In the end, Dillon crawled out of his car unharmed, which is a true testament to the safety of NASCAR.
Best Rising Star: Chris Buescher
This could have easily have gone to 2014 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Chase Elliott who will be taking over one of the most iconic cars in the history of NASCAR when he jumps into Jeff Gordon’s #24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet next season, but Chris Buescher really proved himself this season winning the Xfinity Series championship in very consistent form. Buescher was tied with all Xfinity regulars with two wins on the season and 11 top five and 20 top 10 finishes. Buescher’s 2016 plans aren’t exactly finalized, but some rumors have the 23-year old potentially moving up to Sprint Cup to drive the No. 9 of Richard Petty Motorsports.
Worst NASCAR Decision: Only One GWC at Talladega
This might have been the hardest choice to make of all of these NASCAR recap honors and dishonors. It seems over the last few years, at least, that every decision NASCAR makes is a bad decision. The sport seems to change both rules and championship formats willy-nilly throughout the season(s). This past season was, by far, the worst NASCAR season I’ve ever seen both when it comes to the excitement of the on-track racing, due to a rules package that simply allowed little passing on the many intermediate tracks, and constant controversy due to NASCAR rules changes and decisions. The worst decision they made all season long though was overreacting to Austin Dillon’s terrifying wreck at Daytona International Speedway and instituting only one green-white-checkered finish for the fall Talladega race instead of the usual three that are allotted. This rules change completely destroyed one of the most important finishes of the entire season and led to more controversy when Kevin Harvick may or may not have caused a caution intentionally (I say he did) to end the race under caution and ensure he made it to the next segment in the Chase for the Championship playoffs. Hopefully NASCAR realizes how bad they screwed up and re-institutes three GWCs for the Daytona 500 in February, if necessary.
Best Silly Season Move: Chase Elliott to #24
This NASCAR silly season (the name given to drivers switching from one team to another) was quite tame compared to many years. One might say that Clint Bowyer going to HScott Motorsports for a season before moving on to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2016 to replace retiring legend Tony Stewart is the biggest or best silly season move, but let’s face it Bowyer hasn’t done anything for years and should be worse than ever driving for an underfunded team for a year. My decision is Chase Elliott taking over for the legendary Jeff Gordon in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. There are a ton of great young guns up-and-coming in this sport from Ryan Blaney and Erik Jones to Chris Buescher and Daniel Suarez, but Elliott could likely become the best of all of these and he’s getting the best seat in the business racing for the greatest team in the sport. There’s typically a learning curve for rookie drivers in the Sprint Cup Series, but it shouldn’t be a surprise if Elliott picks up a win in his rookie year in 2016.
by Eric Fulton
In a sport like college football, “win now or else” has seriously become a big deal. One conference that seems to have an arms race year-in-and-year-out is the Southeastern Conference (SEC). This conference is the perfect example of teams and coaches needing to win right now or else they will be gone. The SEC has become the high standard of college football over the past 10 years. They have had at least one team make the national championship in the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) in the last eight years. Every week there seems to be five to seven teams that make the national top 25 polls from this conference.
Les Miles, head coach of the LSU Tigers is known as one of the best coaches in all of college football. He has led LSU to a national championship and the Tigers are always contenders for an SEC and national championship. While he has had success in his 11 years in Baton Rouge, he has yet to conquer one goal: Beat Alabama and former LSU head coach Nick Saban.
Though Miles is 110-32 at LSU, he is only 5-7 against Alabama and Saban. Don’t get me wrong, LSU has a great football tradition. But it isn’t the tradition that the University of Alabama is, where they have won 15 national championships. Saban has three of his own, including beating Miles and the Tigers. In 12 games overall against Alabama, Miles is 5-7, which is under .500, but it is better than most other coaches in the SEC. Usually whoever wins the LSU-Alabama matchup is almost a fixture to make the SEC championship and possibly the national championship.
Going into this year’s Alabama game, LSU was 7-1 and in the top 10 in the polls. Alabama dominated the game from start to finish as they won by two touchdowns. Following the Crimson Tide game, the Tigers fell to Arkansas and Ole Miss. LSU is now 7-4. For a team that was once national championship game contenders led by college football’s best running back in Leonard Fournette, the expectations have gone south with this three game losing streak. Now it seems LSU is ready to give Miles the boot.
I don’t think it is a great idea for the Tigers to fire Miles, especially with what he has done to continue a great tradition at LSU. If they do buyout his contract (which some speculate will happen after Saturday’s game), which would be $15 million dollars, Miles can basically pick any job he wants. Notable locations hiring include USC, Virginia Tech, Missouri and South Carolina. If a coach as successful as Miles is available, every school would have him on the top of the list.
Another reason why LSU can’t let go of Miles is because the Alabama dynasty can’t last forever. Every team in that division has a chance to win in other conferences. That’s how great the whole division is. Recruiting is the biggest thing in college football because it gives you the chance to get the best players in the country. LSU has been one of the top teams in terms of recruiting every year under Miles. It’s unlikely whoever they hire to replace him could do as good of a job.
LSU buying out Miles would be a giant mistake. Even though his team has underachieved this year, they will still be really good next year. Their quarterback Brandon Harris will be back. In all likelihood, so will Fournette. If they do fire Miles, perhaps the best coach they could get currently resides in the NFL in Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly.
Coaches leaving after forming a legacy at a school is sad, especially when they are forced out after winning a national championship and averaging double digit wins each season. Then you realize it is business. Just like other businesses in the real world, college football can be cruel. I will sit back and let LSU decide its own future. Will they be good with or without Miles next year and in the years to come? Only time will tell.
by Julian Spivey
One thing NASCAR fans know is there’s always a controversy in NASCAR. Always. The more the sport tinkers around with the rules of the sport the more controversy there is and NASCAR has done a lot of tinkering around with the rules in the last few years.
The big controversy surrounding the final race or championship race this season that crowned Kyle Busch as the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion was whether or not he was deserving of actually being the champion because he missed almost one-third of the series’ season. Busch broke his leg and foot at the season opening Xfinity Series race at Daytona International Speedway in February and didn’t return to the series until late May at Charlotte Motor Speedway. In all, Busch missed 11 of the Sprint Cup Series’ 36 races, and almost half of the 26 races that consist of the sport’s regular season.
NASCAR drivers are supposed to compete in all races to be considered eligible for the championship, but the sport also has the ability to give a driver an injury waiver. This happened last year with Denny Hamlin despite missing a race with an eye injury. Some wondered whether NASCAR would grant Busch a waiver despite missing so many races and shortly before his return they did grant him that waiver. All Busch had to do to get eligible for the playoffs was win a race and finish the first 26 races of the season in the top 30 in the point standings. Busch went on a torrid pace winning four races in a five race span and wound up making the top 30 in the standings rather easily, because there frankly aren’t 30 teams in the series that are worth anything at all (that rule should at least be limited to the top 25 in the standings).
This is where the controversy comes in. Some fans just don’t believe a driver is worthy of being a champion without competing in all of the races. Others feel like Busch is well worthy of being a champion because he won five races during the season. Most within the sport – drives, owners and even media don’t seem to take issue with the fact that a driver who missed 11 races won the title. The majority of fans, however, do seem to care.
I’ve had my opinion on this topic ever since it was announced that Busch would be given the injury waiver. I didn’t like it. To me a champion must compete in either every race or at least a very high percentage (say 90 to 95 percent) of them. If you miss a race or two due to injury fine, I guess. But, double digit races are far too many to miss and still be a worthy champion.
I didn’t know whether I wanted to write this article or not, because I saw the majority of the people within the sport were annoyed by people who had this opinion. I didn’t feel like I was wrong, but didn’t necessarily want to waste time on something that nobody agreed with. And, then I posted a poll to this website’s Twitter page and found that 65 percent of NASCAR fans agreed with my take on the issue.
Since NASCAR’s modern era began in 1972 there hasn’t been a single champion of the sport in 40-plus years win a championship while missing a race during the season. Now all of a sudden Busch is a champion although he missed 11 races. It just doesn’t sit right to the old school NASCAR fan.
Now don’t mistake me. I don't mean to bash Kyle Busch. He's an all-timer and played within the rules the sport set forth for him. I just hate those rules so much. It isn’t Busch’s fault he became champion this season. He did exactly what he was supposed to do and he’s a championship-caliber driver. I think he’s incredibly worthy of being a champion in NASCAR’s premier series, just not this season.
Those trying to combat people like me who have this opinion are using the “he played within the rules” argument and we all realize this. This is why we aren’t faulting the driver, but the sport. Those using that argument don’t seem to be leaving open the option of the rule being a bad rule. NASCAR is full of bad rules. In my opinion, the fact that an entire 36 race season basically comes down to a one race crapshoot for the championship is a horrible rule. The fact that a driver can miss one-third of a season and win a championship is just another bad rule.
One unnamed NASCAR writer on Twitter asked me for justification over why I didn’t feel like Busch was a true champion. The justification I told him was very simple – if you miss as many races as Busch did you simply are not deserving of a title. There’s really no more too it. That argument should at least suffice as a valid opinion, even to those who disagree with it.
by Eric Fulton
Peyton Manning has been one of the greatest quarterbacks and greatest players in the history of the National Football League (NFL). It is amazing to see what he has accomplished year in and year out for nearly two decades.
Though it has been nice to see him have a great second career in Denver, it seems that “Father Time,” something no athlete can beat regardless of how hard they try, has caught up to the great Peyton Manning.
The Broncos lost their second straight game last Sunday at home to the Kansas City Chiefs. It was the worst game in Manning’s career. He threw four interceptions. Then he was pulled in the second half by head coach Gary Kubiak in favor of backup quarterback Brock Osweiler. A typical Peyton Manning game would be throwing 40-50 passes, 300 yards per game and at least three touchdowns. Well, Peyton didn’t do any of that against the Chiefs. However, he did pass Brett Favre for the most passing yards in NFL history.
So now that the Broncos have lost two in a row and have possibly decided to turn to their future in Osweiler, Peyton Manning may have to say to himself that it is time to call it a career. Peyton knows himself more than anyone else. I thought a little bit whether or not Manning would call it career regardless of what would happen to the Broncos this year.
When Peyton missed all of 2011 with a neck injury, most of us thought he would call it a career with the Indianapolis Colts. If you were to tell me, he would play somewhere else to finish his legendary career, I would have thought no way. The 2011 Colts finished 2-14, which gave them number one overall pick Andrew Luck. Luck got the keys to Indy’s offense.
Manning got a second chance in Denver. For three plus seasons, he has been one of the best quarterbacks in the league, once again, guiding the Broncos to an AFC championship game and a Super Bowl appearance. Maybe taking a season off to recover from injury was the best thing for him. But now, Manning is approaching 40 and it is just time to call it quits. Doing so would simply save him from the embarrassing QB he’s turned into in a quick fashion.
Whether fans like Peyton or not, you can’t deny anything that he has done over the course of his career. Multiple NFL MVPs, multiple Pro Bowls and every major passing record, which includes passing yards and touchdowns. He has done it all. Is he the best quarterback ever? Many would say no and that’s fair. However, you can give him credit for playing honest and becoming a true gentleman to the sport of football. Seems like there is not a whole lot of that these days.
It is time for Manning to go off into the sunset and enjoy life after football. We will see him a few years down the road in Canton for sure. But for now, he must turn the page and write a different story. All good things must come to an end. Thanks for the ride Peyton!
by Preston Tolliver
Last night, I made my girlfriend watch only our third game of the NBA season together. The first game was on Oct. 30 to watch the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Miami Heat, and the other two were Golden State games. In two games (and through hearing me complain endlessly about them), she's realized that I've made it a point to put on the Warriors when I can. Last night, in the middle of the first quarter, she asked me why. Generally, my interest has been piqued primarily by my three favorite teams -- the Boston Celtics, the Chicago Bulls and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
My first answer was easy, that though I still have my favorites, in my age I've become more of a fan of good basketball and overtimes than I am of teams. The second took a little explaining (I'm pretty sure she'd quit listening by this time). Last night's win would push the Warriors to 13-0, marking only the fifth time in NBA history (and the first since the 2002 Dallas Mavericks) that a team had started a season so dominantly. The Warriors, I explained, are on the cusp of making history. In 13 games, they've become an enigma, a team that has defied all odds that shouldn't have been stacked against them in the first place (because, really, by now, we should accept that nothing is outside the realm of possibility for this team). In previous years, the San Antonio Spurs were the best team in the NBA, but their reliance on fundamentals made their games boring. This year, the Golden State Warriors are the best team in the NBA, and they're fun to watch because they defy logic. Steph Curry makes shots that he shouldn't make. He, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes make passes to one another that shouldn't connect. Draymond Green blocks shots he shouldn't block. The Warriors are fun to watch because they don't make any sense.
There's been a shift in their play in their last couple of games, though, a chink in their armor. Even the Brooklyn Nets were able to push them to overtime last week, and on Thursday night the Warriors looked lost as the Los Angeles Clippers quickly built a first quarter lead. Chris Paul was doing everything right, draining threes on the way to his 18-point first quarter, while Steph Curry looked almost lackadaisical. Sure, he scored 40 points in their win last night, but he also committed seven turnovers, many of which were the result of sloppiness and inattention to the players around him, and less because of the Clippers' effort. The Warriors would come back, but it looked significantly different than their first nine or 10. Those first games, they came out stampeding through their competition; now, they're playing catch-up. Maybe they're bored. Maybe they're tired. Maybe they're human, after all.
Before their game against the Clippers last night, my friend Tim texted me about the game. My response was that, looking at Golden State's schedule, if they were going to finally lose a game, it'd be against the Clippers. Now, I think the same about their game against the Chicago Bulls tonight (which they won to go 14-0 before this could be published). They're on a back-to-back against two of the league's best teams, and while it wouldn't surprise me if they won, it wouldn't really surprise me if they didn't. After tonight, though, there schedule has them playing Denver, the Lakers, Phoenix, Sacramento, Utah, Charlotte, Toronto, Brooklyn, Indiana and Boston. Of their next 10 games, they're probably only really threatened by three of those teams, and those threats are minimal compared to what they went through against the Clippers last night, or what they'll likely go through with the Bulls tonight (again they beat them prior to this being published). Obviously, any team can have an on night or an off night, and it just takes one off night for Golden State to become vincible. At no point during this stretch should anyone be surprised if they falter and grab their first loss of the season. It's almost inevitable. No team can stay perfect forever. But they're the closest thing we've seen to perfection in a team in a long, long time. The Golden State Warriors aren't just knocking on the door of NBA history, where the Chicago Bulls' 72-10 record has stayed, safely tucked away. They're kicking it down.
by Julian Spivey
Jeff Gordon has been a living legend for so long in the sport of NASCAR that you kind of take him for granted. He seems as integral to the sport as the cars themselves, especially for someone like me who’s never known the sport without him and grew up loving the sport in large part because of him. NASCAR without Jeff Gordon is indeed going to be strange, but we still have one more race with him and the living legend may not be done adding to his hall of fame career just yet. Gordon is one of four drivers with a shot at winning the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday, Nov. 22 and if he’s able to finish it off that’ll instantly go to the top spot on this list, the 10 Greatest Moments of Jeff Gordon’s career.
10. Standing Up For Himself
This might be a controversial addition to this list for some fans who don’t like seeing drivers pay others back or fight, but that’s been a part of the sport as long as the sport has existed. It’s important for drivers to both race fellow drivers the way they would like to be raced and to ensure that fellow drivers don’t push them around on track. Gordon has shown himself very capable at not allowing himself to be pushed around whether it was laying the bump and run on NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace for multiple short track wins early on in his career or paying back drivers like Matt Kenseth and Clint Bowyer for roughing him up on the track. He’s also gotten into memorable scrums with guys like Jeff Burton and Brad Keselowski on track.
9. Winston Million
When the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company sponsored NASCAR’s premier racing series, then called the Winston Cup, they offered a special prize known as the “Winston Million” from 1985 through 1997 if a driver could win three of the sport’s four marquee events: Daytona 500, Winston 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, Coca Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. The Winston Million was only accomplished twice – first in the inaugural year of the event when Bill Elliott earned the nickname “Million Dollar Bill” by winning Daytona, Talladega and Darlington and again in the final year of the promotion in 1997 when Jeff Gordon managed to win the Darlington race in a close battle with Jeff Burton after having taken the victories at Daytona and Charlotte.
8. First Win
The first win of a driver’s career will always remain one of the most memorable and best moments of their career. Jeff Gordon had entered the sport in the very last race of the 1992 Winston Cup season and was being hailed immediately as the sport’s next biggest thing, especially with that race also being the final one in “The King” Richard Petty’s career. Gordon had a rough go of it in his rookie season of 1993 at the age of 21 with it becoming the first of only three seasons in his 23-year career in which he would not win a race. His sophomore season didn’t get off to the greatest start either in 1994 with him having six finishes outside of the top 20 in the first 10 races of the season. Then the driver, who would soon garner the nickname “Wonder Boy,” all of a sudden found Victory Lane for the first time at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 29 in the Coca Cola 600, one of NASCAR’s most legendary races, leading just 16 laps in a race dominated by Rusty Wallace and Geoffrey Bodine. The young driver was overcome with tears in one of the most emotional Victory Lane celebrations in the sport’s history.
7. Beating Jimmie Johnson
Jeff Gordon has had a lot of special and impressive wins over the 93 times he’s driven to Victory Lane during his illustrious career, but win No. 85 was one of my personal favorites. It came in September of 2011 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The greatest NASCAR finishes are often those when two guys duke it out for a long amount of laps toward the end of the race - it doesn't happen nearly as often as you'd think. It's fun to see a guy lap after lap eat into a leader's lead and try to use different lanes around the track to get around the leader. This is what Gordon's teammate Jimmie Johnson was trying to do that day and as anybody with even a little knowledge of NASCAR knows there is nobody better in the sport than Johnson. It's exhilarating to watch your favorite driver try to hold off the absolute best and a teammate nonetheless for a win, as long as he can hold on to win - Gordon did that on that day. It was a blast to watch.
6. First Brickyard
Jeff Gordon’s first career win came in the Coca Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, one of the most important and historic events in the sport’s history. His second win would prove to be even bigger. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway was basically the mother church of auto racing – but it had never held a NASCAR event. When NASCAR announced that the sport would head to Indy in 1994 everybody wanted to make the field for that race, in fact 84 drivers showed up for qualifying (the most in NASCAR history) at the event meaning almost as many people would fail to qualify for the race as would run it. Among those who ran the race would be former Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500 winner A.J. Foyt, who came out of retirement to do so. With 20 laps to go in the inaugural Brickyard 400 Ernie Irvan led Gordon and the two drivers battled hard for the next few laps exchanging the lead back and forth. With five laps to go in the race Irvan still led when he hit a piece of debris and slid up the track allowing Gordon to take the lead. Irvan’s tire would blow out seconds later. Gordon would cruise on to his second career win and still one of the most important and popular of his career. As long as there is a sport of NASCAR and an Indianapolis Motor Speedway Gordon will be remembered as the first ever winner of the Brickyard 400.
5. First Daytona 500
The biggest race in NASCAR is the Daytona 500. It’s a race that Jeff Gordon has won three times in his career in 1997, 1999 and 2005. The greatest of these has to be the first one in 1997, when at the age of 25, he became the youngest driver in NASCAR history to win the sport’s biggest race (20-year old Trevor Bayne would break that record in 2011). Before the start of the 1997 season it was announced that Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick had a life-threatening case of leukemia. Gordon and the entire Hendrick Motorsports team wanted to do something special for Hendrick, but nobody could foresee just how special it would turn out to be. With 10 laps to go in the race Gordon was in a hard fight with Dale Earnhardt, who still had yet to win the Great American Race, when a move to Earnhardt’s inside sent Earnhardt’s No. 3 car up and into the wall. Earnhardt bumping the wall resulted in the No. 88 of Dale Jarrett getting into him and flipping the No. 3. Earnhardt would memorably realize his severely damaged car still had all of its tires up and on it, get out of the ambulance, force the car off of the wrecker and complete the race. The incident set up a final dash for the checkered flag with Gordon in second place with his Hendrick teammates of Terry Labonte and rookie Ricky Craven directly behind him in third and fourth. Bill Elliott had the lead. With five laps to go Gordon shot inside of Elliott to take the race lead with his teammates going to the high side to pass Elliott, as well. With three laps to go a huge wreck behind the leaders forced the race to end under caution with Gordon winning his first Daytona 500 and Hendrick Motorsports taking the first 1-2-3 finish in series history.
4. First Title
Much like a driver’s first career win, a first championship is always going to be one of those most memorable moments of your career if you’re so lucky to win one. Jeff Gordon’s first championship came in 1995, at the young age of 23, when he won seven races and only had three DNFs (after having an incredibly high 21 in his first two seasons). Gordon would go on to beat Dale Earnhardt (who had won the two previous championships) by 34 points. Gordon would win three more titles (and could potentially win a fourth on Sunday). The 1995 season was truly a passing of the torch season between Gordon and Earnhardt (who would not win a championship again).
3. Greatest Season Ever
Jeff Gordon had what is arguably the greatest season in NASCAR history in 1998, it was certainly the greatest season since NASCAR’s modern era began in 1972. You could argue that a driver like Richard Petty had a greater season before the modern era, but that was at a time in the sport where way more races were run and the competition wasn’t nearly what it’s been during Gordon’s career. Gordon won a modern era record 13 races in 1998, including seven in a nine race span – something that will almost certainly never occur again in the sport. It would be the third consecutive season in which Gordon would win double digit races, something that’s almost never happens in today’s NASCAR. Gordon would win the 1998 championship by an incredible 364 points over runner-up Mark Martin, who actually won seven races that season (typically a number that would lead a season). Gordon’s 13 wins in 1998 was more than one-third of the races during the season.
2. Last Brickyard Win
Jeff Gordon is the most dominant NASCAR driver in the history of Indianapolis Motor Speedway with five wins in the Brickyard 400. Gordon’s five Indy wins are tied with Formula 1 legend Michael Schumacher for the most in the track’s legendary history. Gordon’s first win at the Brickyard came in the inaugural race in 1994 (No. 6 on this list), which was just his second career win overall. His final Brickyard 400 win came in 2014 in exciting fashion when he passed his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne on the final restart of the race with around 20 laps to go. Gordon would be the first to admit that since NASCAR adopted a double file restart policy a few years back he hasn’t been the most productive driver in the series when it comes to restarts. At Indy on this day he got one of the better restarts of his career to get around Kahne and drive to victory. It was probably my personal favorite Gordon win until three weeks ago.
1. Last Martinsville Win
As long as I’ve been a NASCAR fan I’ve been a Jeff Gordon fan. I was shocked when he announced his impending retirement before the 2015 season, especially given the fact that he would’ve won the championship in 2014 if the sport still competed under the same points only rules that he won his four titles under. Despite his 2014 success, Gordon’s 2015 season had been a disappointment from the start. Midway through the Chase for the Championship it didn’t appear as if Gordon was going to win a race in his farewell season. As a fan that frankly hurt, because his last win at Dover in 2014 none of us had a clue that it could’ve been his final win. Going into Martinsville Speedway three weeks ago I knew if Gordon was going to win one last time this would be the track. He had a good car, but a few drivers like Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth all had better cars. It would take a miracle for Gordon to win the race, which would also qualify him for the title race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Then the miracle happened – a big wreck took out the contending cars of Keselowski, Kenseth and Kurt Busch. Just a few laps later a damaged and many laps down Kenseth got some payback on race leader Joey Logano, who had spun him out to win a race at Kansas Speedway a couple of weeks before. Gordon went from having about the fourth or fifth best car on track to assuming the lead. He fought a hard-charging Jamie McMurray over the last 25 or so laps of the race to win at Martinsville, his winningest track in his career, once again. It was Gordon’s reaction to winning that truly made this a memorable moment. It was almost like he was a 22-year old kid again winning for the very first time. That win also gives him a chance on Sunday to finish what could be a storybook ending by walking off with one last championship.
by Julian Spivey
1. David Price
Zack Greinke had the best year of any pitcher in baseball in 2015, but David Price is the most valuable free agent pitcher on the market. The thing Price really has going for him is he’s younger than Greinke; Price just turned 30. Price went 18-5 last season for the Detroit Tigers and Toronto Blue Jays and had an American League best 2.45 ERA. Look for Price to potentially become the highest paid pitcher in baseball history this offseason and note that the Chicago Cubs could be the front-runner for him as Price has spent the majority of his career under Cubs manager Joe Maddon when the two were in Tampa Bay.
2. Zack Greinke
Zack Greinke had one of the best seasons for a pitcher ever last season with his majors leading 1.66 ERA to go along with his incredible 19-3 record. That season has Greinke in line for a huge payday this offseason, but his age being 32 puts him behind David Price on this best free agents list. He should get a smaller deal because of that. The Los Angeles Dodgers have the highest payroll in baseball and should be desperate to re-sign Greinke, but a lot of experts actually have him destined for the Dodgers hated rival San Francisco Giants.
3. Yoenis Cespedes
This year’s free agent outfielders are a who’s who of Major League Baseball outfielders. Every one of them is capable of hitting higher than .280, at least 25 homers and winning Gold Gloves when playing well. I think that Yoenis Cespedes is the best of the free agent class and he showed why last season in his two-month stint with the New York Mets leading them to the World Series. Sure, Cespedes was horrible in the World Series, but that shouldn’t hurt his stock any. Cespedes is about to be a rich man.
4. Jason Heyward
Jason Heyward is the best defensive outfielder in baseball, which will make him a rich man on its own. It’s Heyward’s bat that has frankly been a disappointment in his first few MLB seasons, but that bat was starting to come around a bit in the second half of the season for the St. Louis Cardinals. Heyward’s .293 average was almost 20 points higher than his previous high and he stole more bases last season than any year of his career. If his power and RBI numbers come up as expected, he’ll be an all-around player. The Cardinals gave up a lot to the Atlanta Braves last winter to acquire him and should offer a huge contract to keep him around.
5. Alex Gordon
Alex Gordon is hailed by some within the game as the greatest defensive left fielder to ever play baseball. Like, Heyward in right field, that alone will get him a ton of money. But, unlike Heyward, Gordon has actually shown he can handle the bat in the last few seasons. He’s entering his age 32 season, which makes him less valuable than a guy like Heyward, who’s only going to be 26. Gordon has been the face of the Kansas City Royals for many years now and even though they might not be able to afford him that alone should make the try.
6. Justin Upton
Justin Upton has quietly been one of the very best outfielders in all of baseball over the last few years for the San Diego Padres, Atlanta Braves and Arizona Diamondbacks and could be very well changing uniforms once again. The 28-year old averages around a .270 average with at least 25 homers and 80 RBI a season and could wind up around 30 homers and 100 RBI in the right situation.
7. Chris Davis
I don’t trust Chris Davis. Many best free agent lists have him as the best available offensive player and in the top three altogether, but I can’t put him ahead of the four outfielders I have ahead of him on this list. Davis is the best power hitter available, period. But, he can’t be trusted. He hit .262 with a major’s leading 47 homers and 117 RBI last season and had a majors leading 53 homers and 138 RBI in 2013. He’s also only going to be 30 years old next season. But, it’s his 2014 season that has him on the untrustworthy side for me. That season he hit under the Mendoza line at .196 with only 26 homers and 72 RBI – it’s that inconsistency that has him this far down on the list.
8. Johnny Cueto
Johnny Cueto has this weird thing about his career where he’s one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball for the first part of the year and then his numbers go up steadily throughout the season to where he’s not so special in the latter part of the year. Despite, his nearly perfect World Series start for the Kansas City Royals in October he didn’t help them out as much as expected during his two months with them during the season. He’s the third best starting pitcher on the market, by far, behind David Price and Zack Greinke and whoever misses out on those two should be willing to pay him big bucks.
9. Ian Desmond
Ian Desmond is a confusing one. The shortstop, who will be 30-years old next season, is capable of becoming one of the two or three best shortstops in baseball and has shown that at times during his career, especially the 2012 through 2014 seasons with the Washington Nationals and then last year in a contract year he kind of fell apart hitting only .233. Still, he’s the best middle infielder on the market and should be set to make a lot of money.
10. Jordan Zimmerman
A lot of experts have Jeff Samardzija has the fourth best starting pitcher on the free agent market, but I just don’t get it. Jordan Zimmerman would seem to be the obvious choice, but has been one of the most ignored and underrated best starters in baseball over the last few seasons. Not only is Zimmerman slightly younger than Samardzija, but his numbers over the last three years are incredibly better. Zimmerman has gone 46-24 over the last three seasons, whereas Samardzija has been 26-39. You say you don’t care about the outdated win-loss record? Well, Zimmerman’s career ERA of 3.32 is almost a full run lower than Samardzija’s ERA.
by Julian Spivey
The Ronda Rousey mystique is gone. Forever. Period.
I won’t get technical here because I can’t call myself a UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) or MMA (mixed martial arts) fan. Saturday night’s UFC 193 event from Melbourne, Australia was only the third or fourth UFC event I’ve ever watched. I’m not really a fighting sports fan in general. But, I think that gives me a unique viewpoint on why Rousey’s major upset loss to Holly Holm late Saturday night was essentially the end of the reputation that Rousey and the MMA and sports media have created for her.
The upset was the biggest in UFC history, according to UFC President Dana White, and it was so because Rousey had been billed as an unbeatable perfect athlete.
That’s the entire reason why I wanted to make sure I caught this fight. Many times before I had passed up opportunities to watch Rousey fight, but with each and every easy victory her legend became bigger and bigger and it didn’t seem she would ever lose. This made her the greatest athlete in sports that I’d never seen compete and that had to be corrected. So, I made plans (when I say that I mean I invited myself over) to join my friend Jon at his house on Saturday night to see this legendary physical and athletic specimen with my own eyes.
To say that Rousey is the UFC or the sport of MMA would be ridiculous and ignorant. But, to say she’s the most important figure within the sport for both its current state and the future of it is certainly not an understatement, especially when according to a Nielsen survey 44 percent of Americans knew Rousey by name, when only 12 percent of Americans could even name another MMA fighter.
Rousey is the face of the UFC and mixed martial arts, as proof of her being the cover face of the new EA Sports UFC video game. Rousey is the lone MMA fighter making the rounds on late night talk shows and she’s turned her success inside the octagon into a successful film career, as well.
Recently Rousey had likely surpassed Serena Williams as the greatest female athlete in the world and won the fan-voted ESPY award for Female Athlete of the Year this summer.
I’ve no doubt she will continue to be a terrific athlete and UFC star, but her mystique, legend, importance and level of greatness was obliterated in a matter of six minutes, barely over one UFC round on Saturday night by a commanding performance from Holly Holm, who absolutely owned every second of the fight against Rousey from the opening bell until she finally knocked her out with a kick to the face just 59 seconds into the second round.
Rousey was hailed as the perfect, unbeatable athlete and Holm made her look like absolute crap on Saturday night. Rousey’s entire reputation and brand was built on this perfect and unbeatable image and that was blown all to hell by Holm. The dominance from her entire career, a perfect 12-0 record, was shown that it could be penetrated. Rousey is not flawless after all. I don’t think any athlete truly is, but few have ever seemed to be hailed as such as much as Rousey has.
What’s to be seen is if Holm’s fantastically dominant and intriguing upset of Rousey will be good for the UFC and especially women’s mixed martial arts in the future? Rousey was the entire face of women’s mixed martial arts and it’ll be interesting to see whether or not the sport thrives knowing she isn’t perfect. It could turn out to be even more successful knowing that it’s not just going to be dominated by one athlete. It could also turn out to do worse if it turns out that people were only intrigued by Rousey’s dominance and her Hollywood-style good looks that aren’t often seen in the world of women’s sports. Hopefully the sports viewing public doesn’t prove to be that sexist or ignorant.
I went into Saturday night’s fight wanting to see the one great athlete in this country that I’d yet to see live with my own eyes. Like everybody else I felt Rousey would be dominant and cruise to her 13th consecutive win in her career. Instead I saw the exact opposite – the unthinkable happened and a living legend at only 28 years of age was brought down by the flawless execution by Holm. It was enthralling to see, especially knowing what the moment meant for Rousey, the UFC and all of the sports world.
by Eric Fulton
The National Football League (NFL) season of 2015 is near its halfway point. With a midseason record of three teams remaining unbeaten, it will be interesting how the second half of the season will pan out. With that in my mind, it is time to take a look at who has played the best so far through the first half of the season.
This was kind of a tough top five to choose. There were a lot of guys who deserve a spot, but these were the guys in my opinion who deserved to be first-half MVP.
5. Adrian Peterson (Minnesota Vikings), 633 yards, 3 Touchdowns
Currently, Minnesota is tied with the Packers for first place in the NFC North. Plus, it is good for a young quarterback like Teddy Bridgewater to have a strong horse running back. Vintage Peterson looks to be back after a tough couple of years with a good Vikings team that has a chance to make noise in the second half of the season.
4. Antonio Brown (Pittsburgh Steelers), 52 catches, 718 yards, 3 touchdowns
Antonio Brown had a monster day against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday with 17 catches for a whopping 284 yards. The final few yards, though, came without Ben Rothelisberger who left in the second half with a left foot injury. While Brown is having a great season, it seems as though he may have to carry the offense without their starting quarterback.
3. Julio Jones (Atlanta Falcons), 70 catches, 892 yards, 6 touchdowns
Julio Jones is easily Matt Ryan’s favorite target in Atlanta. He is another guy that is coming back from injury. However, the Falcons have not played well as of late. If Jones can stay healthy and the Falcons stay hot, Jones can have a career year.
2. Carson Palmer (Arizona Cardinals), 2386 passing yards, 20 Touchdowns 6 Interceptions
Had Carson Palmer been healthy in last year’s playoffs, Arizona probably would have made a deep run. He has been a valuable player to their whole team. With him, the Cardinals are a serious contender in the NFC. They could be the second best team in the NFC and as long as they have Palmer on the field, they have a great chance to unseat Seattle in the NFC West.
1. Tom Brady (New England Patriots), 2410, 20 Touchdowns 1 interception
OK, this has controversy written all over it. We know Tom Brady is coming off “Deflategate,” but he is still posting monster numbers that are in comparison to his 2007 season that nearly ended in a perfect season. Where would the Patriots stand right now had Brady served his four game suspension? Controversy or no controversy, hate it or love it, he is the best quarterback in the league. Yeah, plus he has a great core of receivers and backs to choose from. Also, his offensive line has been decimated with injuries all year long. Yet, he is on pace to have one of best seasons by a quarterback in NFL history. What can you say about that? He just gets the job done.
So that is my list. I am sure I left off some other names like Cam Newton, who has led the Carolina Panthers to an 8-0 start, same record as Andy Dalton with the Cincinnati Bengals. Also, the usual suspects like Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers. However, let’s keep in mind that there is still a whole second half of football left to be played. We all know that anything can happen. So enjoy the wild ride that is the NFL.
by Eric Fulton
The 2015 National Football League (NFL) season is near its halfway mark and there are still four teams remaining that are undefeated. The road to Super Bowl 50 seems definite in the NFC while in the AFC, three teams still remain undefeated. The 1972 Miami Dolphins are holding their breaths right now as the four remaining teams attempt to match perfection, it would be great to see another undefeated team in this generation.
5. Green Bay Packers
The Packers lost a tough one at Denver on Sunday night, but still they have a great quarterback in Aaron Rodgers, who didn’t play well. Still this team could win anywhere home or away. Don’t count Rodgers and the Pack out yet. It was a minor slip. RELAX.
4. Cincinnati Bengals
While the Bengals are 7-0, I am not convinced about this team yet. They need a deep playoff run to solidify their position as one of the best teams in the NFL. They have the talent and coaching, but it needs to really gel come January. It is a great start and they have the advantage of a down year in their division, but I will not say they are the best team in the AFC. Not yet anyway.
3. Denver Broncos
The Broncos had a huge home win Sunday night against Green Bay. The amazing thing about that game was Peyton Manning did not throw a touchdown pass and Denver still won in blowout fashion. The Broncos can be a very dangerous team come January, especially if they get home field advantage, but I don’t know if home field advantage will be enough.
2. Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers have been the hottest team since late last year when they were 3-8-1. They are winners of 13 out of 14 games. Cam Newton is an elite quarterback playing better than ever. Plus the defense just might be the best in the NFL. This team has a great shot to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
1. New England Patriots
The only team that can beat the Patriots is probably themselves. Right now, it is them versus the world. It does not matter if they are on the road or at home, they just seem to turn things up a notch when they get into controversy. Tom Brady is just too good and the whole team is just too tough to beat.
Things can change week to week, but we will see how these teams will continue to perform on the road to Super Bowl 50.