Fantasy owners are wondering what to do with the Atlanta rookie. Is he a reliable start?
Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones jumped back on the fantasy radar after his two-touchdown, 131-yard performance in a quarter and change against Indianapolis last week.
However, he did not come out unscathed from the Colts game. He has again battled the hamstring injury this week, being limited in practice on both Thursday and Friday. He is probable for Sunday’s game against AFC South rival New Orleans.
It leaves fantasy owners wondering what to do with the rookie. Is he a reliable start?
Will Jay Cutler to Earl Bennett be gold each week or just a flash in the pan?
Earl Bennett is back in the lineup for the Chicago Bears. The receiver saw his first action on Monday night since a Week 2 chest injury sidelined him for most of the first half of the season. Upon his return, Bennett caught all five of his targets for 95 yards and a score.
Now he goes up against the Detroit Lions. What should we expect from Bennett this week?
I would expect more of the same as we saw Monday night.
A lot of verbiage was spilled into the microphone at Phoenix International Raceway on Friday. Taking turns, Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs spent precious moments making public amends, celebrating their corporate marriage while embracing the changes needed to keep their partnership afloat. Cupid wasn’t visible, but boy, did he work overtime Thursday night spewing arrows of affection in all the right places.
“We know where his heart is,” said owner Joe Gibbs, attempting to wipe away Busch’s Texas torment of Ron Hornaday with every word. “We think he’s one of the gifted people when it comes to just being an athlete.
“When you’re put in a situation like this, you really can make one of two decisions. I think the one would have been devastating and I think really discouraging for everybody associated with Kyle — everybody around him and for the sport. What I’ve chosen to do, I want to support Kyle and I feel like this could have a positive impact on Kyle and I’m committed to him as a person.”
Cue driver, returning heart-shaped Hallmark card of appreciation, stage right.
“Joe has been there and has stuck by my side and has held my arm through this whole deal,” Busch said. “I can’t say enough about the man sitting next to me.
“There’s an opportunity for me to become a better person, to grow and learn from this and I’m looking forward to those days.”
But actions speak louder than those pretty words. NASCAR is a business, after all, political correctness borne out of necessity as those who make mistakes face the wrath of Fortune 500 companies. Already, Busch’s tap of terror has cost far more than NASCAR’s $50,000 slap on the wrist. Primary sponsor M&M’s bailed for Busch’s final two Cup races; in addition, Nationwide backer Z-Line Designs opted out for Homestead. Team owner Gibbs made reference to additional penalties through his press conference, all internal and likely based off the loss of income Busch’s ill-timed, Ron Hornaday wall slam caused his three-car operation.
So on Friday, while sitting at the microphone in Phoenix, Busch had no choice but to act remorseful, his pledge to change contingent upon keeping his cash — the wallet has already gotten light enough. It’s notable that among those in the garage paddock, majority consensus appears to be he has been forgiven. Title contender Brad Keselowski tweeted Thursday that Busch had been punished enough, a one-race parking last weekend consistent with several other penalties for outrageously bad behavior doled out over the past decade. Even Hornaday himself, who Busch claimed “still invited (him) over to the house to stay on the couch if I need it,” seems to have cooled off from a banzai move that ultimately cost him an opportunity to win a fifth Truck title.
So like it or not, with probation for just two more races, the punishment of Kyle Busch ends now. The question is, on the heels of the majority of fans calling for Busch’s firing — 55 percent during Sunday’s ESPN telecast — whether the consequences were effective enough for this 26-year-old aggressor to learn a lesson. From the start, I’ve felt the only way that happens is if Busch feels true fear, acknowledging his job could be in jeopardy. What better motivation to become a better person then the thought of facing unemployment?
Once again, his words lead you to believe Busch spent the week running scared. But was he?
“Was there a point in which I thought, ‘Do I have a ride?’” he said. “Of course there was. Yeah, I thought that. Was there a point in which Joe (Gibbs) ever told me that, ‘Hey, we’re looking at terminating this?’ No.”
Uh oh. That, to me, is where words of Busch’s conviction start turning into, well, confusion. Just take a look at how the sponsors reacted. On the surface, M&M’s put up a valiant front in the wake of a possible Busch firing. A company in the business of catering to children, Busch’s R-rated on-track behavior had to be proven unacceptable in the public eye.
“As a proud member of the racing community, Kyle’s recent actions are unacceptable and do not reflect the values of Mars,” said Debra A. Sandler, Chief Consumer Office of the company, when announcing they wouldn’t back the driver again until February 2012. “We believe our decision will have a positive impact on Kyle and will help him return next season ready to win.”
Hmm. So by that statement, it’s clear M&M’s “felt” Kyle needed two more races to sit and think about what he’d done. Yet that’s not what’s happening. Interstate Batteries has backed the No. 18 this weekend, part one of a two-race act that covers Mars’ financial decision to back out. Instead of Kyle getting benched, he was actually rewarded by another company who felt the need to support him.
“We feel NASCAR took the appropriate action with Kyle, and we think he will become a better person for it,” said Norm Miller, Interstate Batteries president. “As founding sponsor of Joe Gibbs Racing, we felt it was the right thing to do to support JGR, Kyle and the No. 18 team during this difficult time.”
OK, so let me get this straight: one company says Kyle will be a better person by sitting. Another company says Kyle will be a better person by driving on Sunday. Meanwhile, Gibbs talks some threatening talk through the week, even contacting Aric Almirola to drive the car. But, when push comes to shove it’s all for show: his primary driver was back in the car as soon as humanly possible.
Confused? If that’s not doublespeak, I don’t know what is. I can tell you one thing, though: we’ve seen a whole lot of great business decisions. Interstate gets a little more exposure at a bargain price. M&M’s saves two races’ worth of money while looking like they’re taking a stand against this horrible driver who they’ll continue to make millions off of in three months. And Gibbs keeps his troubled three-car team financially viable, saving face while hanging on to the best wheelman he’s got.
So yes, Friday was a day filled with plenty of people saying all the right things for their wallet. But will that cause Kyle to actually change? A mixed message of “you've been a bad boy, but here’s more money for you to go and play” isn’t exactly a hard-line stance.
“We’re going to set out to do whatever we think is best going forward,” Gibbs, in closing said on Friday.
What that appears to be, according to their actions, is returning to the status quo as quickly as possible. So we’ll see. If last week’s slap was enough to scare Kyle then take all that cash to the bank. But if it doesn’t, no need to feel sorry for everyone except the driver himself. He needs a personal adjustment, not just for him but the safety of others he’ll race with. Unfortunately, this week’s lesson had absolutely nothing to do with that. It’s because even in the face of disaster, there’s one quiet voice that speaks louder than any other:
The almighty dollar's.
Agree with Tom? Disagree? Post a comment below and tell him how you feel. You can also follow Tom on Twitter@NASCARBowles
From the Spotter’s Stand
Jeff Gordon looked and sounded more like an unlikely 20 year-old Daytona 500 winner than a 20-year veteran with four titles in Phoenix International Raceway’s Victory Lane in February. Gordon broke a 66-race winless skid by moving past Kyle Busch with nine laps remaining to post the win.
While Gordon’s car was strong that day (138 laps led), don’t pencil him in for another win too fast. Phoenix has been repaved and reconfigured since the Cup Series’ last visit. It’s expected that until a second groove is rubbered-in, this may be a single-file show — something the drivers certainly don’t want to see — but if it races like the “old” Bristol, the fans may pleasantly surprised.
“It’s not just that there was not a second groove,” Gordon says of the Phoenix tire test conducted in August. “It was if you got a foot outside of that groove, you were either in the wall or you were going to lose a lap. It took that long to get back in the groove and clean the tires off and get back up to speed. That is the part where I say things could be very interesting and challenging.”
Two-time Phoenix winner Kevin Harvick agrres, painting a rather grim picture of what the racing could look like:
“If the second groove doesn’t come in, it is going to be a fuel mileage, single-file, tough to pass race. It will be a track position game with lots of wrecks.”
The desert also ended droughts for both Ryan Newman and Carl Edwards in 2010. Newman had gone 77 races since winning the Daytona 500 in 2008 before taking the checkers — after taking two tires rather than the full four — at Phoenix in April.
Meanwhile, Cousin Carl hadn’t back-flipped after a Cup win in 70 races prior to squeezing every last drop out of his fuel tank and dusting runner-up Newman by 4.77 seconds to take back-to-back Cup and Nationwide wins at the one-mile Avondale oval in November. This race will forever be burned into Denny Hamlin’s mind as the event where his team lost a championship. Yes, Hamlin and the team still had a shot the next weekend at Homestead, but after this bungled finish, they were mentally beaten.
Crew Chief’s Take
“Turns 1 and 2 are completely different than Turns 3 and 4 at Phoenix, which makes it difficult to find the right balance in the setup. And with a new surface as well as a reconfiguration, it’ll be all about track position. One groove — on the bottom — will probably make for a single-file race until some serious rubber gets worked into the track. Certain drivers — Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch come to mind — sort of know the tricks there. It takes a pretty talented driver to be willing to experiment out there, and Phoenix rewards the ones who find the tricks.”
Fantasy Stall Looking at Checkers: You have to figure Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards are going to pull out all the stops. Pretty Solid Pick: Jeff Gordon led a race-high 138 laps here in February. Good Sleeper Pick: Martin Truex Jr. typically notches top-15 runs in the desert. Runs on Seven Cylinders: David Ragan needs some solid showings to end the season in order to score a 2012 ride, but his 26.1-place average finish here is nasty. Insider Tip: Friday and Saturday practice sessions may be the most critical of any all season. Pay close attention.
Classic Moments at PIR
For the first time in 13 years, The King returns to Victory Lane. Bobby Hamilton, driving Richard Petty’s No. 43 STP Pontiac, leads 40 laps in the 1996 Dura Lube 500 at PIR to earn his first career Cup win.
Hamilton loses the lead on pit road, falling to fourth for a lap 266 restart, but he blows by Mark Martin and Terry Labonte within seven laps, and gets by Geoff Bodine 10 laps later to secure his first of three career cup triumphs.
“I’ve told a lot of people, there’s Dale Earnhardt fans or Bill Elliott fans, but when those guys fall out of the race, they’re still Richard Petty fans,” Hamilton says. “I thought it was pretty cool to win this race for him.”
Will the speedy Raiders receiver live up to his hype?
Oakland Raiders coach Hue Jackson raved about speedy receiver Jacoby Ford in the offseason, saying he had the potential to be a standout No. 1 receiver.
Ford did show his knack for racking up big yards in just a few catches last week against Denver’s suspect pass defense. In Carson Palmer’s first start as the Oakland QB, he targeted Ford six times and the former Clemson standout pulled down five of them for 105 yards and a score.
And I won’t understand what parents across this country are feeling until, God willing, one day I’ve become one myself. But what has happened at Penn State University has shaken me to the core, nonetheless.
Joe Paterno did not stop Jerry Sandusky's alleged abuse, so Mike McQueary should have
In 1992 Sinead O'Connor stood on the stage of Saturday Night Live, held up a photograph of Pope John Paul II, sang the word "evil" and ripped up the photo to protest child abuse by the Catholic church.
And from that point on, her world came crashing down.