David Smith crunches the numbers for the million-dollar payday.
Matt Kenseth is on an intermediate track roll. (ASP, Inc.)
The NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race isn’t a typical all-star event.
Unlike the stick ‘N’ ball all-star “breaks” that feature lackadaisical effort and are more celebrated for the parties that supplement the fan activities rather than the actual contests, the Sprint Cup Series version of an all-star event pits recent race winners and champions in a race comprised of dash-style formats which has a $1 million carrot dangling on the end of a stick. It’s wild, unpredictable and in no way resembles a normal NASCAR race.
It also doesn’t have much bearing on the following week’s Coca-Cola 600, which, like the All-Star Race, takes place at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
3 in 13 Dating back to 2000, a span of 13 races, the All-Star Race winner has gone on to win the next week’s Coca-Cola 600 just three times.
Though they take place at the same facility, the two races don’t actually coalesce. The 600 not only requires a car capable of thriving on extended green-flag runs, but also a team that has built a setup to survive in both day and night conditions. The All-Star Race simply requires a setup for short runs, making the drivers and teams that excel at such a thing instant favorites.
3.2 Matt Kenseth has the highest average race rank (3.2) among all drivers in speed early in green-flag runs.
Kenseth, who also ranks first in the series in speed on restarts, has been a juggernaut at the drop of the green flag and for the ensuing 25 laps. While the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 team has been stellar on intermediate tracks this season — two of its three wins came at Las Vegas and Kansas — it will be its affinity for immediate speed that separates it from the rest of the field in Saturday night’s event.
6 in 13 In the last 13 All-Star Races, six were won by drivers that had visited victory lane at an intermediate track in one of the prior races that same season.
The fact that Kenseth has captured two 1.5-mile (intermediate) track victories this season provides no guarantees for Saturday. It doesn’t take numbers — just common sense — to understand that this race is its own beast. A stout intermediate program like the one JGR is currently flaunting is always good to have, but the varying formats of the race don’t lend it to easy prognostication. If Kenseth becomes the victor, it will be because of the combination of car strength and short-run ability.
The All-Star Race format should benefit Kyle Busch. (ASP, Inc.)
56.89% With a 56.89 percent pass efficiency, Kyle Busch is the most efficient passer in the Cup Series.
Busch is in a good spot for this race. Not only is his No. 18 team good early in green-flag runs (it ranks second to Kenseth), but he has also been able to pass at will all season. That comes in handy when a driver is aiming for a $1 million winner’s purse. It also makes him a favorite in the bonus purse — a driver that wins all four segments of the event gets an additional $1 million — which will take both explosions out of restarts and, if that fails, adept passing. If there’s a pick to click for this unprecedented purse, it’s Rowdy.
54.55% Busch and his No. 18 team have finished in the top half of fields in six of 11 races, or 54.55 percent of the time.
So Busch is one of my drivers to watch for the All-Star race, but how about the championship? Presently there is a consistency problem, seen in that 54.55 number, which is on par with the likes of Jeff Burton and the No. 31 team and Kurt Busch and the No. 78 team. Aside from mechanical maladies, Busch has the second-worst crash frequency in the series (0.55), keeping them from recording high finishes in five races. That low of a percentage is something that can intervene in the team’s quest for a championship; it is the lowest percentage among drivers currently inside the top 12 in points.
0.64 Marcos Ambrose’s crash frequency of 0.64 is the worst in the series.
This year has been a house of horrors for Ambrose, who is currently sporting a replacement-level Performance in Equal Equipment Rating of 0.659 and sits 23rd in the standings while Aric Almirola, the driver of Richard Petty Motorsports’ sister car, is in Chase contention. It should be noted that Ambrose’s contract with RPM is up at season’s end. This likely isn’t the sort of start to the season for which the free agent-to-be was hoping.
Ambrose, by way of his 2012 victory at Watkins Glen, is entered in this weekend’s All-Star Race. It might be Hail Mary time for the struggling No. 9 team.
$1 million The winner’s share for this event, a cool $1 million, would benefit David Ragan and his Front Row Motorsports team in spectacular fashion.
Sponsorship has been hard to come by for the underdog organization that captured the surprise victory two weekends ago at Talladega. Ragan’s No. 34 team pocketed $3,524,091 in winnings during the 2012 season. It would take some radical setup strategy and a car unlike any they’ve ever had to score the $1 million jackpot, but that sum of money would represent roughly 28 percent of last year’s take. For them to earn that kind of money in one night’s work would be a miraculous achievement and go down as one of the greatest upsets in the sport’s history.
Who are the best young professional athletes in all of sports?
To suggest that any player in any sport after just a few seasons is a lock to make the Hall of Fame is ridiculous. But it is always fun to look at athletes who have had instant success and try to extrapolate long-term potential.
HEAD COACH: Jimbo Fisher, 31-10 (3 years) |
OFF. COORDINATOR: Jimbo Fisher |
DEF. COORDINATOR: Jeremy Pruitt
After EJ Manuel led FSU to a victory over Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl, everyone knew the Seminoles would have to search for a new quarterback this season. What we couldn’t have predicted was what a wild ride that would be. For the first time in five years, Florida State conducted a truly open competition at quarterback during spring drills, and the winner appears to be redshirt freshman Jameis Winston. Coach Jimbo Fisher won’t confirm that just yet; he might not officially name his starter until preseason camp in August.
But Winston was so impressive during spring drills that junior Clint Trickett, who entered the spring atop the depth chart, announced he was transferring just four days after the Seminoles’ spring game. Winston, who was rated by many the nation’s No. 1 quarterback coming out of Hueytown (Ala.) High School near Birmingham, still will have to fight off challenges from sophomore Jacob Coker and redshirt freshman Sean Maguire.
FSU returns two junior tailbacks with starting experience. Devonta Freeman finished with 660 yards and eight touchdowns last season, while James Wilder Jr. had 635 yards and 11 scores. And the wide receiver group is deep and talented, led by junior Rashad Greene. Kenny Shaw, Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Dent all caught at least 27 passes last fall.
The Seminoles are solid up front, with four starters returning and the lone new starter being a veteran (junior Bobby Hart) with plenty of experience. FSU is not particularly deep on the line, however, so overcoming injuries would be a problem.
When Fisher lured Jeremy Pruitt away from Alabama to be his new defensive coordinator, he did so with the hopes of reshaping his defense in the mold of the Crimson Tide. He wants more turnovers and big plays, and the Seminoles should have the talent to make that happen.
Seniors Christian Jones and Telvin Smith lead a deep and talented linebacker corps, and the Seminoles might have even more talent in the defensive backfield. Senior Lamarcus Joyner is coming off of an All-ACC season at safety but worked primarily at cornerback in spring drills. Senior Terrence Brooks led FSU’s defensive backs in tackles last season, and juniors Tyler Hunter and Karlos Williams emerged as potential stars late in 2012.
The biggest challenges will be replacing four starters on the defensive line, but new tackles Timmy Jernigan and Demonte McAllister each put up better numbers in 2012 than the starters they are replacing.
There very likely will be a drop-off at defensive end, where the Seminoles lost high NFL Draft picks Bjoern Werner and Cornellius Carradine. Sophomore Mario Edwards Jr. and senior Dan Hicks likely will fill those roles.
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Lamarcus Joyner, CB - Can cover in space, is a big hitter despite a small frame, and will be used in blitz packages.
Rashad Greene, WR - Isn’t a big body, but has great toughness and breakaway speed. Led the Noles in receptions (57) and yards (741).
Timmy Jernigan, DT - Uses his strength and quickness to be a major disruptive force on the interior of the Seminoles’ defensive front.
Fisher believes redshirt freshman placekicker Roberto Aguayo could be even better than departing All-American Dustin Hopkins. Punter Cason Beatty returns from a solid freshman campaign, but the Seminoles will need to make improvements in the return game, where they struggled with fumbles last fall.
This hasn’t been the easiest offseason for Fisher. Not only is he replacing a slew of starters on both sides of the ball, but he also lost six of nine assistant coaches to other schools.
Despite that turnover, the Seminoles again will be among the most talented teams in the country. If Winston can handle the starting quarterback job as a redshirt freshman and FSU avoids injuries on the offensive line, the Seminoles will have a chance to win at least 10 games for the third time in Fisher’s first four seasons.
Athlon ranks the top 10 Florida State players since 1967. Buckley started for only two seasons in Tallahassee, but got his name securely into the record books. He claims the school’s all-time interception record with 21 and INT return yards with 501 – which also happens to be an NCAA mark as well. In 1991, Buckley led the nation – and set an FSU single-season record – with 12 interceptions (returned for 238 yards and two TDs). He was named an All-American and claimed the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s best defensive back. Buckley also played two years of varsity baseball and lettered on the Outdoor Track and Field team once. He was selected with the fifth overall pick in the first round on the 1992 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers.
As a three-time All-ACC performer, Dunn is the only Seminole to top the 1,000-yard mark in three consecutive seasons. His 3,959 career yards and 1,418 yards in 1995 represent the career and single-season records for Florida State. Dunn was a part of the 1993 National Championship team and has scored more TDs (49) than any other Florida State player. His 21 100-yard rushing efforts are also a school record. The Noles were 31-1 in ACC play during Dunn’s four-year career. He was also an All-American on the Track and Field team in Tallahassee. He was drafted in the first round of the 1997 NFL Draft by the Bucs and went on to rush for 10,967 yards in his illustrious pro career.
The frst three-year starter at QB for the Seminoles under Bobby Bowden, Weinke became the second FSU player to win the Heisman Trophy when he was named the nation's best player in 2000. He led the nation in passing with 4,167 yards. Weinke led the Noles to an undefeated season in 1999 and the National Championship. He was a remarkable 32-3 as the starter. He set both ACC and school records for career passing yards with 9,839 and would set 26 Florida State records. His 536 yards against Duke in 2000 and his 79 career TD passes highlight the long list of FSU benchmarks. Weinke also won the Davey O'Brien and Johnny Unitas trophies in 2000. The stellar QB was drafted in the fourth round of the 2001 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers.
Jones became the first Seminole to capture two major national awards in the same season when he earned the 1992 Butkus and Lombardi Awards. He was only FSU's third two-time consensus All-American, and his 111 tackles helped lead the Noles to an 11-1 mark that year, when Jones finished fourth in the Heisman voting. He finished his career with 369 tackles (seventh all-time at FSU) and 28 tackles for a loss (third all-time at FSU). The New York Jets selected Jones with the fourth overall pick in the 1993 NFL Draft.
Sellers remains the prolific receiver in FSU history. He held most of the NCAA receiving records from the end of his final season in 1968 until 1987. A flanker for FSU, he accumulated 3,979 yards on 240 career receptions. He caught a pass in 30 consecutive games, averaging 119.9 yards per game. He led the Noles to three straight bowl games in his time in Tallahassee. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1988 and was drafted by the Boston Patriots with the sixth overall pick in the Common Draft of 1969.
A two-time consensus All-American, Brooks was the big-play man on dominating defenses that not only won ACC championships but also the 1993 National Title. That year, Brooks made 77 tackles, seven for a loss, en route to ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors. He finished his career with 274 tackles, five interceptions, 8.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. Brooks is one of eight Noles to have his number retired. The talented tackler was selected in the first round of the 1995 NFL Draft by Tampa Bay, where all he did was go to 11 Pro Bowls, win a Super Bowl and the 2002 NFL Defensive Player of the Year award.
Few players from any school have ever had the raw explosiveness and play-making ability that Mr. Warrick possessed. He was virtually impossible to stop in the open field. The two-time consensus All-American caught more touchdown passes (32) than any FSUer in history. His 207 career receptions and 3,517 receiving yards rank second all-time to Ron Sellers. He was also the front-runner for the 1999 Heisman Trophy - scoring from five different positions on the field - before an off-the-field incident slowed his final season. He bounced back as the MVP of the 2000 Sugar Bowl, scoring three times in the National Championship victory over Virginia Tech. Warrick was the fourth overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals.
Very simply put: Simmons was the dominant defensive lineman in Florida State history, which is quite a statement considering the talent to roll through Tallahassee along the D-Line. After recording 81 tackles, six sacks and 17 tackles for a loss in 1979, Simmons finished ninth in the Heisman and earned his first of two consensus All-America awards. His career totals of 25 sacks and 44 tackles for a loss were Seminole records until the 1996 season. Simmons was the first Nole defender to have his jersey retired. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008 and was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the sixth round of the 1981 NFL Draft.
Likely the most exciting college player of his era, Sanders was a two-time consensus All-American and won the Jim Thorpe Award in 1988 as the nation's best defensive back. He intercepted 14 passes in his career (not including bowl games) and was a stellar return man who led the nation in punt returns at 15.2 per return in 1988. He holds seven FSU school records for INTs and/or punt returns. Sanders lettered in three sports - baseball, track and football - and is one of very few players to excel at two professional sports. Despite his lack of desire to tackle, Sanders is widely considered the best cover corner to ever play the game. Sanders was the fifth overall pick in the 1989 NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons. The NFL Hall of Famer also was a career .263 hitter in 11 MLB seasons.
Ward might be the most decorated player in NCAA football history. The list of awards and accomplishments for No. 17 is astounding. The two most important took place in 1993. Ward, an experienced leader on both the gridiron and hardcourt, earned the Heisman Trophy as the game's best player as well as the National Championship. He set 19 school and seven ACC records in his two years as the starting QB in Tallahassee. A consensus All-American, Ward claimed upwards of 30 individual awards including the Davey O'Brien Award, the Johnny Unitas Award, the Walter Camp Award and the ACC Player of the Year. His dynamic rush-pass ability netted him 6,636 yards of total offense (second in FSU history), and he posted the highest completion rate in school history with a 62.3% mark. Despite playing baseball and football at Florida State (at an elite level), Ward took his raw ability to the NBA, where he was a first round pick in 1994 by the New York Knicks. He helped lead the Knicks to the NBA Finals in 1999. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006.
Known as the “Choke at Doak,” referring to the Seminoles’ Doak Campbell Stadium home, Florida State overcame a 31-3 fourth-quarter deficit, scoring four touchdowns to tie Florida. Rock Preston’s four-yard run with 1:45 left and Dan Mowry’s subsequent PAT evened the count at 31-31 and gave the ‘Noles a huge moral victory over their biggest rival.
On the game’s second play from scrimmage, cornerback Terrell Buckley returned an Elvis Grbac pass 40 yards for a touchdown, starting the top-ranked Seminoles’ 51-31 rout of third-ranked Michigan in Ann Arbor. It was the most points scored on the Wolverines since 1958 and gave FSU another contribution to its growing sod cemetery.
The standing ovation from the Nebraska fans said it all: Florida State football had arrived. The Seminoles stunned the number-three Cornhuskers, 18-14, for the first big road win of coach Bobby Bowden’s tenure in Tallahassee. (Note: We don't have video of that game, so enjoy this little promo for the 1980 Super Seminoles.)
Peter Warrick caught six passes for 163 yards and two TDs and scored on a punt return to help Florida State cap a tumultuous year with a 46-29 win over Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl that clinched the national title. Chris Weinke threw for 329 yards and four scores for the victorious Seminoles.
Facing a 16-15 deficit to Nebraska in the Orange Bowl and the prospect of losing a shot at the school’s first-ever national title, the ‘Noles drove 62 yards in under a minute to set up Scott Bentley for a 22-yard field goal – his fourth of the game – to give FSU an 18-16 lead. When the Cornhuskers failed to convert a 45-yard try at the gun, Florida State was number one.
Through the Gears: Four things we learned at Darlington
Matt Kenseth (ASP, Inc.)
The Southern 500, while no longer held on Labor Day is still looked at as one of NASCAR’s biggest races. Darlington remains the place where, in 1950, an egg-shaped, awkward-looking asphalt track gave birth to superspeedway competition. Thirty-five years later, a million-dollar Chase by a man named Awesome Bill was another notch in the sport’s belt that wrapped the racetrack into our national consciousness. Like golf’s Masters, purists regard it as one of the sport’s crown jewels.
“I don’t know that I’ve had a win that feels bigger than this at this moment,” said Matt Kenseth on Saturday night. Keep in mind, the former Sprint Cup champ has had plenty of ‘em; well over two dozen, including two of the last five Daytona 500s. “There’s a lot of tradition here. This is one of the most storied and historic races anywhere, not just in NASCAR.”
To those Kenseth’s age and older, that will always ring true. The key is getting a new generation to embrace it. Overnight ratings at Darlington, for the 18-to-49 crowd according to zap2it.com lost out to the NBA Playoffs on ABC. “The Lady In Black” can tear a Chevrolet apart, but the Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony? He slam dunks right in her face.
It’s a shame, as an initial marketing push for Darlington’s May date designed to keep the seats filled has faded through the years, leaving the “Track Too Tough To Tame” a “Track Too Easy To Forget.” For one of the most important races on the schedule, getting tucked into Mother’s Day weekend on a Saturday night makes the race now seem lost, not loved. The importance of the Chase has diminished its overall worth on the schedule; right now, it’s just another event, with no Winston Millions or even an extra $100 bill attached to the trophy. Having a track-position yawner of a race Saturday didn’t help, either, as Goodyear seems like it’s missing the mark here more often than not.
People say NASCAR has been losing its place on the national sports landscape for several years. Perhaps it’s because of simple decisions like this one, making a race its most dedicated supporters love just another notch on a long, monotonous conveyor belt. While Kasey Kahne feels like he deserves an apology this Monday, Darlington is looking for something much more simple: attention.
FIRST GEAR: Gibbs vs. Hendrick, anyone?
The brief moment sparks flew at Darlington between Hendrick’s Kahne and Gibbs’ Kyle Busch could be a sign of things to come down the road. In virtually every category you could come up with, their two organizations — totaling seven cars — have put a whooping on the 2013 Sprint Cup field. Kenseth’s win, earned when Busch had a right-rear tire go bad down the stretch, was his third in 11 races, a series high. Busch has tacked on two additional victories for JGR, as the teammates have combined for a series-leading 1,521 laps led – more than the next eight drivers on the list combined. Kenseth has been especially impressive, seizing opportunities (Las Vegas, Darlington) late in the race where others have dominated. And he did it this time with a temporary crew chief in Wally Brown, as Jason Ratcliff serves out a downgraded NASCAR penalty after an appeals court turned his Kansas engine issue into a blip on the radar screen.
Hendrick has countered with Jimmie Johnson, fourth on Saturday night and on virtual cruise control on top of the point standings. Winning twice, Johnson has just one result outside the top 20, remains a contender at every type of track and, this season, has avoided the sting of NASCAR’s inspection process. Teammates Kahne, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon all look strong enough to make the Chase on points meaning 50 percent of the postseason field, at minimum, will be comprised of these two multi-car giants.
How dominant have these teams been? Just three of 11 races this season have been won by other organizations, and each can easily be explained away. Carl Edwards took Phoenix for Roush Fenway Racing in the second Gen-6 race, where rock hard tires meant no passing and track position roulette. Kevin Harvick captured Richmond for Richard Childress Racing, but he led just three laps in a bizarre, roll-the-dice green-white-checker ending. And David Ragan’s Talladega triumph last week? We know how much that race acts like your state’s lottery number machine.
So it’s clear that on the Chase tracks where handling, horsepower and head wrenches actually make the difference, HMS and JGR stand head and shoulders above the rest. With the season nearly halfway complete, it’s time for everyone else to start stepping up.
Kasey Kahne (ASP, Inc.)
SECOND GEAR: All-Star Race reuds coming?
While we’re at it, the Kahne-Busch battle is simply the latest in a long line that may need to be settled on Saturday night. While going for the lead late at Darlington, Kahne slid up in front of Busch only for the No. 18 to dive hard entering Turn 1. Whether there was contact or not is up for debate; the bottom line is it was too close for comfort. Kahne spun around, his chances to win went poof and the normally mild-mannered driver had the M&M’s Toyota to blame for a second week in a row.
“He’s got to just race me,” said Kahne about Busch. “I mean, I’ve never touched the guy in my life as far as on the race track. Three times this year, there have been other times in other years. I don’t really know what his deal is with me.”
Neither driver finished strong, as Kahne was 11th and Busch sixth to add fuel to their tempers going forward. So let’s see: that’s Kahne-Busch, Joey Logano-Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart-Kurt Busch … just the tip of the iceberg. If Charlotte’s amenable, this All-Star Race could finally see the types of settled scores that used to make it “must watch” event back in the day.
THIRD GEAR: Denny Hamlin is healthy
Perhaps the most understated run in a clean race that Gibbs dominated came from its driver of the No. 11 car. Darlington is one of the sport’s most physical tracks, as drivers take a beating on both mind and body. For Hamlin to return from an injury suffered in late May there, and not only come out of it feeling fine but running second shows that L1 Compression Fracture isn’t going to slow him much going forward.
“Really, it's like starting your season over,” he said, completing this distance for the first time since Fontana on March 24th. “It feels good to be competitive again. (But) I got to get back in racing shape. It will take time to get back to where I need to be.”
If that’s Hamlin in “out of shape” mode, drivers better beware. Clearly, the speed of JGR combined with a track position race helped his case. But second’s an A-plus baseline to start from when the task ahead is certainly brutal: Two-three wins, plus top 10s nearly every week to become Chase eligible by September.
FOURTH GEAR: Kurt Busch will put it together
It’s been a frustrating last few weeks for Busch, who’s been in position to win the last three races. At Richmond, he had a top-5 car down the stretch only to have circumstances and a bad last set of tires cost him. Then, at Talladega, he was in the lead pack of six cars, in position to make a run when a late caution bunched the field, jumbled up the draft and led to him being the bullseye in “The Big One.” Finally, at Darlington he won the pole at a track the No. 78 team has won at in the past, then led 69 laps only for his car to deteriorate on every pit stop once the green flag dropped. Busch stayed on the lead lap in the end, but wound up a disappointing 14th. No wonder why the driver’s been testing IndyCars, rumored to run a limited schedule in a crossover stunt later this year with Michael Andretti’s team after topping 218 mph in an Indy 500 rookie test (he won’t run that race this year).
But what’s been notable about this whole stretch in NASCAR land is how relatively calm the elder Busch has remained, even keeping his cool during a war of words post-race with Stewart at Richmond. The speed seems to be there from this team, and its presence up front makes it clear wins could come in the summer, whether at an intermediate (Charlotte? Michigan?) the road course at Sonoma or Daytona in July. Maturity finally may be making its mark. The question now may become where Busch feels his racing future should be, long-term.
OVERDRIVE Kyle Busch might be mad at what happened Saturday night, having left the track without comment, but Monday will offer the benefit of hindsight. With 265 laps led, he dominated and only bad luck kept him from Victory Lane, a curse that will change with time. Eleven times in his career he’s led 200-plus circuits in a race but scored the win in only three of them. ... As expected, the momentum for the two Davids’ thrilling one-two finish at Talladega came back to reality at a track where they just don’t have the horsepower to contend. The Front Row Motorsports cars were 29th and 39th Saturday night, with David Ragan blowing an engine and bowing out early. … What’s going on with Mark Martin? He hasn’t had a top-5 finish now with the No. 55 car since Daytona (third). The driver’s been involved in several on-track scuffles, some of his making and never so much as sniffed the top 20 at Darlington, a track right in his wheelhouse. Perhaps another indication this year will be his last in the series?
Will Texas A&M finish ahead of LSU in the SEC West standings this year?
With Alabama expected to be the No. 1 team in most preseason polls in 2013, combined with potential top-10 teams in LSU and Texas A&M, the SEC West should be one of the deepest divisions in college football. That also doesn’t include an improving Ole Miss squad, and Arkansas and Auburn – two teams that should also get better under the direction of new head coaches.
Athlon Sports ranks the best dynasties in college football since the AP Poll debuted.
Dynasty is a word that gets tossed around all too liberally by fans and media members alike. However, there are periods of time in sports where the term is not only applicable but completely accurate. The NFL had the Packers of the '60s, the Steelers of the '70s, the 49ers of the '80s, the Cowboys of the '90s and the Patriots of the '00s. The NBA has the Celtics, Lakers, Bulls and soon-to-be Heat dynasties.