Posted in NASCAR, Sports

Part 2 of If I Ran NASCAR…

In the first part of my series, I talked about the changes NASCAR needs to make, at least schedule, field, and qualifying wise.

Next, I’d like to dive deeper into topics such as criticism, the lower series, and rule changes.

Cup Guys In The Lower Series

I’ve pretty much beat this topic to death over and over again in previous posts, but it bears repeating. Get the Cup guys out of the lower series. Limiting them (at least the ones with more than five years of experience) to no more than ten races has not helped at all so far. Only two Xfinity regulars (Ryan Reed at Daytona and Justin Allgaier at Phoenix) have won races. Even though the Cup guys can’t run in Xfinity playoff races, they can still run the majority of the schedule.

Team Penske is only running their 22 car in nine races. Even if they’re not running for a driver or owner’s championship, if I’m a team owner, I would give some additional races to Austin Cindric, Chase Briscoe, and any K&N series driver looking to get their feet wet in the Xfinity Series.

If I’m the CGR owner, and I see that Kyle Larson is the points leader, I’m pulling him out of that seat and running Tyler Reddick the rest of the season, so Reddick can gain experience and Larson can focus on the Cup championship.

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In this scenario, everyone wins. Larson gets a chance to run for the title, and Reddick gets close to a full year under his belt.

Furthermore, I would limit the number of races Cup guys can run in lower series to no more than five races with more than three years of experience. And this rule will be strictly enforced in order to give the series its own identity.

Criticism and Rule Changes

A lot of NASCAR drivers, and some media hardly, if ever, criticize the sport of NASCAR. It’s as if the sport is run with an iron fist. Ever notice that some of the changes NASCAR makes, there’s very little, if any objection to it, lest there be “double-secret probation”?

If I ran NASCAR, I would listen to fans and drivers when it comes to rule changes, points format, etc. The core base, even though it’s getting smaller, helped make the sport what it is, and should have more of a say in how the sport works. I don’t feel as if the Fan Council is really helping at all.

And if the drivers don’t like a certain change or certain rules, there should be room in the NASCAR rule book (that has never been made public) for change. Rule changes should have room to be repealed over the course of the season and not simply thrown on everyone at short notice.

Part three, which will be up either Friday or Saturday, will go into what to do in the event of driver confrontations, increasing the ratings, how the sport is broadcast, and how to sustain good momentum.

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Posted in Sports

Reflections on the 2017 NCAA Tournament…So Far…

Just a week ago, we started off with 68, and now we are down to 16 teams.

Many a bracket was busted this week, with upsets by Wisconsin over the defending national champion Villanova, South Carolina (making their first NCAA tournament appearance since the 1990s) over national powerhouse Duke,  Michigan over 2013 NCAA tournament champion Louisville, and Xavier over #3 seed Florida State (in Orlando, no less).

Also featured amongst the Sweet 16 were close calls from North Carolina (using a 10-0 run over Arkansas to advance), Kentucky (which needed two blocked shots to fend off Wichita State), Baylor (holding off USC), Arizona (holding off Saint Mary’s after trailing in the second half), Gonzaga (holding a lead despite a furious Northwestern comeback), and Oregon (hitting two clutch threes in the final minutes to knock off upset-minded Rhode Island).

If I have learned anything in the past few editions of the NCAA Tournament is that you can’t really predict who will win it all. Several underdog teams (in just the past six years alone)

2011:

#8 Butler returning to the National Championship game and becoming the first #8 seed since 2000 to make it to the final four, #11 Virginia Commonwealth (who nobody thought would even make the NCAA tournament) making a run from the inaugural first four to the final four, mid majors San Diego State (with eventual NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard) and BYU (with Chinese Basketball Association superstar Jimmer Fredette), #10 seed Florida State, #11 seed Marquette, and #12 seed Richmond making it to the Sweet 16.

2012:

#10 Xavier beating #15 Lehigh, who upset the Duke Blue Devils, North Carolina State making it to the Sweet 16, losing to Kansas by three, #13 Ohio taking UNC to double overtime in the same round, and #15 Norfolk State beating Missouri.

 

2013:

#9 Wichita State making it to their first Final Four, despite playing five against eight late in that contest, #13 La Salle (Philadelphia) making it to the Sweet 16, #14 Harvard upsetting New Mexico, and who could forget #15 Florida Gulf Coast (aka Dunk City) making it all the way to the Sweet Sixteen by beating national powerhouse Georgetown and mid-major San Diego State?

2014:

#7 UConn needing over time to beat St. Josephs and eventually winning it all, #8 Kentucky upsetting previously undefeated Wichita State and making it to the title game, #10 Stanford making it to the Sweet Sixteen, #11 Tennessee making it to the Sweet Sixteen by beating #14 Mercer, who upset Duke, and #11 Dayton making it to the Elite Eight, upsetting national powerhouses Ohio State and Syracuse.

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This will never get old, no matter what team you root for or who you are.

2015:

#14 seeds Georgia State and UAB knocking off Baylor and Iowa State, respectively, #7 Michigan State making it to the Final Four, #8 NC State making it to the Sweet Sixteen, and #11 UCLA (another team nobody thought should have been in the tournament) making it to the Sweet Sixteen.

2016:

#11 Northern Iowa beating Texas on a half-court buzzer beater, but blowing a double digit lead with 44 seconds to go, and losing in double overtime, #12 Yale defeating Baylor in their first tournament appearance since 1950, #12 Arkansas-Little Rock defeating Purdue in overtime,#13 Hawai’i making their first tournament appearance since 2003, upsetting California, #14 Stephen F. Austin upsetting West Virginia and coming within one point of making the Sweet 16, #15 Middle Tennessee State upsetting tournament favorite Michigan State, #11 Gonzaga making a run to the Sweet Sixteen, and #10 Syracuse (ANOTHER team people said shouldn’t have been in the tournament) making it all the way to the Final Four.

 

Of the underdog teams remaining, the likeliest (in my opinion) to make the Elite Eight are #7 Michigan (who has played really well since the Big Ten Tournament), in fact, don’t be surprised to see That Team Up North make the Final Four, and #7 South Carolina. South Carolina’s a great underdog story who played good ball during the season, and scored points in bunches in the second half against Duke.

There’s still a lot of tournament ball left to play over these next couple of weeks. Will there be one (or more) upsets? Or will the big dogs make their move? Play restarts on Thursday evening. Only time will tell…

 

 

 

 

Posted in NASCAR, Sports

The Dawn of A New Era: Thoughts On The Upcoming 2017 MENCS Season

A new season is officially upon us. After a wild off-season, the 2017 Daytona 500 is just three days away.

Despite some of the changes that NASCAR has made, especially to the points and championship formats, as a fan of NASCAR for sixteen years, I have decided that I am going to at least give this new format a chance.

I do not like the new changes at all, most notably the fact that races are broken up into segments instead of being decided naturally, basically ensuring that NASCAR will never have a caution-free race for the rest of its history. NASCAR is a sport that has never needed “quarters” or “periods” for any reason, but evidently the “powers that be” know what is best for the fans…

Also not a fan of the new points system (I’m an old school guy and think they should go back to the system from 1974-2003). I can understand part of where they were going with rewarding the top 10 drivers with points after each segment, but in my mind, it’s a lot easier to reward the points after the race.

It’s nice that the regular season matters again, and that the regular season points winner will have an advantage going into the MENCS playoffs, but it makes no sense to reset the final four in points after the fall Phoenix race. Why not let the points leader go into Homestead-Miami with the advantage that he gained over the course of the season? At least the first few Chase iterations let the points leader enjoy his advantage, even if it was over the course of nine races.

 

Here are just a few predictions I have for the season:

Chase Elliott will win not have a sophomore slump. After an incredible rookie season, his sophomore year will be even better, as he will multiple races this year and contend for the championship. (Winning the pole for the Daytona 500 Sunday will definitely go a long way towards helping those chances) He has stepped up in a big way as a replacement for four-time champion Jeff Gordon.

Clint Bowyer will have better results than he did last season. This goes without saying. Is he going to get a victory? No. He likely won’t make the Chase playoffs either, but he will have at least one top five and multiple top tens this season.

Daniel Suarez, last year’s Xfinity Series champion, has some big shoes to fill, replacing the suddenly retired Carl Edwards. He will have some good finishes, and will make the Playoffs. It will be a dogfight between him and Erik Jones for the Rookie of The Year.

Both Roush Fenway Racing drivers will win this year, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at Bristol and Trevor Bayne at either Talladega or the Coke Zero 400. Their results will continue to improve, and Stenhouse Jr. will make it to the second round of the Chase. Darrell Wallace Jr. and Ryan Reed will be called up to Cup for a few races at some point during the season.

Martin Truex Jr. will make it to the final four, including grabbing a victory in a must-win situation in one of the early rounds of the playoffs.

Erik Jones will win a race this season. This guy’s got a lot of talent, as evidenced in being the youngest Camping World Trucks champion in 2015, and narrowly missing out on the Xfinity Series title the year after. Even if he doesn’t, with a teammate like Martin Truex Jr. (who has risen as a contender for the championship the past couple years) the sky is the limit for this 21-year-old Michigan native.

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He will be the next Joey Logano, and if the breaks go Martin Truex Jr.’s way, Truex himself will be contending for the title. It has been a very impressive last couple years for the Furniture Row Racing team out of Colorado.

Joey Logano will make the final four for the third time in four seasons. At 26 years old, this guy has just been getting it done lately. He won the Daytona 500 a couple years ago, and ever since he moved to Penske Racing, he has finished no further than eighth in the points standings. I see him winning multiple races (including the Brickyard) and being in contention for the title throughout the season.

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Can the driver formerly known as Sliced Bread pick up his second Daytona 500 win?

Jimmie Johnson will qualify for the final four this season and contend to win his eighth championship. Say what you will about the Cup points formats and his crew chief, they have just been getting things done when it matters. He has finished no worse than 11th in Cup points his ENTIRE career.

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Can Jimmie become eight-time?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will retire after the 2017 season. But he will win at least one race during the season. I hope I’m wrong about his retirement, but the man has taken quite a few hits during his career. Either way, 25+ wins (two of them Daytona 500s) is nothing to be ashamed of.

*Drivers who will win this season

MENCS Playoff Drivers: *Ricky Stenhouse Jr., *Trevor Bayne, *Dale Earnhardt Jr., *Kurt Busch, *Chase Elliott, *Jimmie Johnson, *Kevin Harvick, *Erik Jones, *Martin Truex Jr., *Joey Logano, *Brad Keselowski, *Matt Kenseth, *Kyle Busch, *Denny Hamlin, Daniel Suarez, Kyle Larson

Eliminated In Round 1: Trevor Bayne, Daniel Suarez, Kyle Larson, Erik Jones

Eliminated In Round 2: Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Eliminated In Round 3: Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Chase Elliott

Final Four: Martin Truex Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin

Champion: Jimmie Johnson

Rookie of The Year: Erik Jones

Even when all is said and done, as I said before, I’ve been a fan of NASCAR for sixteen years and I can’t just up and divorce the sport cold turkey. No matter what, I will always watch at worst, the Daytona 500, the Coke Zero 400, the holiday races, and the season finale.

Will the racing be as exciting as it was last year? Will the sport recover from its recent downspiral, I don’t know, and so far, things are not trending in the right direction with some of the decisions that have been made. But we’ll just have to sit back and see what happens through the first few races.

 

Posted in NASCAR, Sports

2016: A Year In Review For NASCAR

Well, folks, another year of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing has come and gone in nine months. Now that the year’s over, it’s time to look at the good, the bad, and the ugly that described the 2016 Sprint Cup Season.

The Good:

Depending on how you look at it, Jimmie Johnson captured his 7th Sprint Cup championship, tying NASCAR legends Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. Including his top 10 points finishes in the Busch Series in 2000 and 2001, the only season that he finished outside of the top 10 is 2014. Chase format aside, those are very impressive statistics.

The Daytona 500, where Denny Hamlin held off Martin Truex Jr. by a fender, and Matt Kenseth, the leader going into turn three on the final lap, ended up finishing in 13th. Not to be ignored, Regan Smith also ended up in 8th place for Tommy Baldwin Racing, ensuring that kids ate free at Golden Corral the next day.

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Penske Racing’s restrictor plate domination, with Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano taking three of the four plate races.

Kyle Larson scoring his first career victory at Michigan International Speedway, breaking a 99-race winless streak and punching his ticket into the Sprint Cup Chase grid.

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Chase Elliott, despite not winning a race, won the pole for the Daytona 500, amassed 10 top 5s and 17 top 10s, finished in the top 10 in points, and also won the Rookie of the Year.

Chris Buescher picking up his first career victory and second ever for Front Row Motorsports in a fog-shortened race at Pocono in August.

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The Bad:

Depending on how you look at it, Jimmie Johnson winning his 7th Sprint Cup championship, tying Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. A lot of people feel that Jimmie Johnson isn’t a real champion due to his titles coming in the Chase. With the regular season format, Jimmie would only be a two time champion, in 2009 and 2013.

Tony Stewart retiring from NASCAR after the season. He was one of the last remaining drivers that was unafraid to speak his mind, and drove with fire throughout his career. It will be really sad to see him go, and he definitely will be missed at the track.

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Happy retirement, Smoke.

Greg Biffle leaving Roush Racing and most likely retiring. I remember watching the Busch Series races where he was dominant week in and week out. It’s too bad he never got that elusive Cup championship to go with his Busch and Truck Series championships.

Brian Scott suddenly retiring to spend time with more family. Even though he didn’t have a lot of good finishes, it seems very sudden for a guy who could have hung around for a while. Nevertheless, I respect his decision and wish all the best for him and his family.

#44Ever

The Ugly:

The charter system, instituted in February, a few weeks before the Daytona 500, guarantees that 36 teams will automatically qualify for every race for the next nine years. This system takes out the fifth car that some teams usually will run for up to seven for rookies. I would have liked to have seen Daniel Suarez run a JGR cup car for a race or two, like Chase Elliott did for Hendrick Motorsports last year, but it looks like those days are over. This charter system also prevents smaller teams from attempting to run in the Cup Series, forcing teams and drivers to be “on loan”. There are too many good drivers coming up, and not enough rides.

The caution clock being instituted in the Truck Series. This is ridiculous because it guarantees that there will be no caution-free races ever. It’s only a matter of time before this nonsense makes it to the Xfinity and Cup Series.

Some of the finishes to the races this year. I’m not pointing fingers or blaming any specific teams for their tires going down. But I’m not gonna lie, some of these finishes seem pretty suspicious to myself and the common fan.

Pure Michigan 400: Chase Elliott leads with 13 to go, win in sight, Michael Annett cuts a tire. On the ensuing restart, Chase spins tires, and Kyle Larson wins.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400: Chase Elliott leads with 3 to go, Michael McDowell cuts a tire. On the ensuing restart, Martin Truex Jr. passed Ryan Blaney to win the race.

Can-Am 500: Matt Kenseth was 1 1/2 laps from punching his ticket to the final four, when Michael McDowell cut a tire. On the ensuing restart, Alex Bowman blocked Kyle Busch, inadvertently putting Kenseth in the wall, eliminating him.

Ford EcoBoost 400: Carl Edwards has the dominant car, a yellow comes out for Dylan Lupton “spinning”. On the ensuing restart, Edwards goes to block, and hits the wall, causing a huge wreck, leading to a red flag period. Jimmie Johnson then goes on to win the race and the championship.

All in all, if I had to grade 2016, I would give it a C. I hope that NASCAR, with Monster Energy Drink being a new sponsor, will turn things around for the better.

 

 

Posted in Sports

Labor Day Weekend Sports Action

Labor Day weekend is known in a lot of circles as the last weekend of summer.  However, it’s an exciting weekend as well from a sports fan’s perspective.

The high school football season has already kicked off in Ohio and is gearing up for its second week of action. As an Ohioan, I have to say that Ohio is one of the most passionate states for high school football. There are several Cleveland area teams that have very passionate student sections that ride or die with their teams, and that’s nothing to look down on.

The National Football League will be playing its final preseason games on Thursday night and will be setting its rosters for the regular season, set to begin the following weekend.

In baseball, the pennant races are heating up big time, especially in the American League East (where four teams are within 7 games of the lead with just over 30 games to go) and the American League Central, where, hopefully, the young and scrappy Cleveland Indians can hold off the Detroit Tigers to capture the division. Anything can happen in baseball over the course of the final month. Nothing is ever certain until the last out of the final game of the season.

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Even though the college football season technically started last week in Sydney, Australia, the real season starts on Thursday night. Each new season brings renewed hope for hungry football programs to improve on the previous year’s results. On Thursday, the Tennessee Vols, ranked just outside the top 10 in preseason, open up against Division I neophyte Appalachian State, a school that knows a thing or two about pulling off a major upset.

There are also other huge prime-time games going on this weekend, such as Houston-Oklahoma, Texas-Notre Dame, Auburn-Clemson, and Ole Miss-Florida State. But as a fan of the defending National Champion Alabama Crimson Tide, I’m the most excited about the Saturday night primetime game between them and the Trojans of Southern California. This should be an exciting, no-holds barred game between the country boys and the Hollywood kids.

I’m also a huge NASCAR fan, and there is nothing more special than racing at Darlington Raceway on Labor Day weekend. For some race teams, it will be one of their last chances to lock up a win and secure a berth in NASCAR’s version of the playoffs. It’s also the second year of NASCAR’s Throwback weekend. This year, more teams will be participating and donning throwback paint schemes, which is a very special sight to see as a NASCAR fan. I believe that the on-track action racing will be just as exciting.

Like last year, Ken Squier is back in the broadcast booth with Ned Jarrett. Hopefully, they get to call more of the race than last year. One dream team that I wish was able to call the race this weekend would be Eli Gold, Buddy Baker, and Benny Parsons. Sadly, Buddy and Benny are no longer with us, but will definitely be watching the race from heaven.

Not to be overlooked, the US Open for Tennis continues action in New York City, the FedEx Cup playoffs kick off in Boston, the IndyCar Series makes its second-to-last stop at Watkins Glen, and the Camping World Truck Series will be racing north of the border at Mosport.

There will be no shortage of action this weekend wherever you are and whichever channel you watch.