NASCAR: Brad Keselowski steals a wild Bristol race

For the second straight Sunday, Brad Keselowski stole a NASCAR Cup Series race in its final stanzas, benefitting from chaos upfront.

It was deja vu all over again for the NASCAR Cup Series on Sunday. Whereas Brad Keselowski welcomed it with open arms, Chase Elliott probably could’ve done without it.

Keselowski once again benefitted from Elliott’s misfortune at Bristol Motor Speedway. When Elliott’s battle for the lead with Keselowski’s teammate Joey Logano ended in contact, Keselowski took advantage, passing them both to win the Supermarket Heroes 500 presented by Food City.

Just a wild, wild day,” Keselowski said in a postrace conference call hosted on Zoom. “One of those days that you look at and you think of going back, being a part of Bristol lore for a long time to come.  Glad we were able to win it.”

“So much beating and banging, oh my goodness. We’ve all been cooped up in our houses too long, came to Bristol and took out some aggression I guess.”

Last Sunday, Keselowski won the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte on Memorial Day weekend after Elliott’s puzzling decision to pit prior to a two-lap overtime shootout. This time, it was a pit decision from Keselowski’s crew that put him in position to win a wild showdown in Tennessee.

Awarded the pole position from a random draw, Keselowski led 117 of the first 203 laps before getting caught in the middle of the pack while Elliott took home playoff points by winning the first two stages of the 500-circuit event. Keselowski was able to keep his car relatively clean in a race that featured 17 caution flag incidents. When Gray Gaulding hit the wall with 41 laps to go, Keselowski was one of a select few to visit pit row for fresh tires. He made the fateful stop at the advice of crew chief Jeremy Bullins and hoped to salvage a top ten finish with the adjustments.

Jeremy called a really good race,” Keselowski said. “I’m super proud of him and this team, the way they’ve come together, and keep coming together.  It’s a special group.  I feel like we’re all trying to find each other’s full potential.  We’re just starting to do that. We were getting real close to that before the pandemic happened.  Kind of slowed us down.  Now we’re really pushing each other hard and that’s a very good thing.”

Further incidents allowed Keselowski to think bigger. A multi-car incident that took out several contenders (including Martin Truex Jr. and Aric Almirola) moved the No. 2 into the top ten. When leader Denny Hamlin got bumped but Logano with ten laps to go, Keselowski had moved into fifth and was in prime position to take the victory.

Antics between Elliott and Logano allowed him to do so.

Elliott and Logano broke away from the pack when the race got back underway with six laps to go. The two pounded away at each other until a little too much tension had them both rubbing against the wall. Keselowski scooted past the chaos to take home his second win of the season and the 32nd of his Cup Series career.

I think with 41 to go, I was quite honestly just hoping to get a top ten,” Keselowski recalled. “Once we broke in the top 10 I thought, I have a real shot at the top five. Next thing I know we’re running fifth.  I think the 11 car got turned around, something happened there. Now we’re running fourth. Now we have the preferred lane on the restart.”

“Then the restart we clear and get third.  I’m watching Chase and Joey (thinking) this is not going to be good. It was just such a turn of events.  I felt like I was sitting in Vegas, playing poker, and I got all the turns. They call it the river. All the turns went my way. I went from having a bad hand to having a full house real quick.”

(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

The tension between Elliott and Logano capped off an eventful day at Bristol, the 0.533-mile short track known for close racing, big wrecks, and flared tempers. Several big wrecks removed several big names from the proceedings. Another Keselowski teammate, Ryan Blaney, saw his day end on a disastrous spin during the second stage, putting his No. 12 Ford on a collision course with Ty Dillon. Blaney had been running second and chasing down Keselowski for the lead at the time. The race was also briefly paused at lap 231 to clean up a big wreck that collected several cars, including those of Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Alex Bowman, Kurt Busch, and Tyler Reddick. 

Logano and Elliott respectively finished at the tail-end of the lead lap in the 21st and 22nd positions. The two confronted each other on pit road after the final incident and were able to keep things civil. It’s the latest chronicle in a roller-coaster return to racing for Elliott. The No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet has been in the top three during the final ten laps of each of the past four Cup Series races. Elliott was able to earn a win at the second half of a Charlotte doubleheader last Thursday, but incidents with Kyle Busch at Darlington and now Logano at Bristol have marred an otherwise stellar year.

Clint Bowyer was able to take the runner-up spot, while Elliott’s Hendrick teammate Jimmie Johnson came home third. Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch and Erik Jones rounded out the top ten.

The NASCAR Cup Series will now go through a customary full week off before returning to action next Sunday for Atlanta Motor Speedway’s Fold of Honors QuikTrip 500 (3 p.m. ET, Fox).

Race Notes

  • Kevin Harvick retained his lead in the points standings but saw his streak of consecutive top-ten finishes come to an end at 13. Harvick was involved in a late incident with Jones and lost track position after he visited pit road to repair damage. His No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford came home 11th.
  • Rookie Christopher Bell tied his career-best finish at 9th in the No. 95 Leavine Family Racing Toyota.
  • Austin Dillon came home sixth in the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet to earn his first set of back-to-back top ten finishes since November 2018.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

MLB: Several owners are willing to cancel the season

Buster Olney and other sources reported that some owners are willing to cancel the 2020 season to save money.

This is again another example of the greed coming from the owners. They seem to forget that they will make back the lost revenue from the 2020 season rather quickly. Cancelation of the 2020 season could come if players and owners don’t get on the same page about pay cuts.

The players agreed to take prorated salaries back in March, but owners now want more significant pay cuts for players. Some players could see 80% pay cuts in the recent MLB proposal.

The players union reportedly submitted a new proposal to the MLB that includes a longer season, but still with prorated salaries. If this reaction from the owners is coming after seeing the players union proposal, then a season seems less likely.

Many teams have committed to paying minor leaguers for at least a few more months, while the Reds and Royals have committed to pay them all season. However, the Athletics chose the opposite and will no longer pay their farmhands in 2020.

A canceled 2020 MLB season could have lasting effects on the league. Baseball could lose viewership, and the current CBA expires after 2021. That means its entirely possible we see a lockout beginning in 2022, and that could also help kill baseball.

The greediness of the owners has put baseball in a bad position during the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic could have lasting effects on the MLB and baseball, and that hurts baseball even more due to its declining popularity. Hopefully, all sides can figure this out, and we can see baseball in 2020.

 

New York Giants: Julian Love Called Most Underrated Player

New York Giants, Julian Love

The New York Giants will be in a state of flux in the secondary this year. James Bradberry comes in from Carolina to replace Janoris Jenkins in the number one spot, but no one can say definitively yet if Bradberry will work in the Giants’ system and play like someone worth the money. DeAndre Baker would have been the top candidate for the number two corner after playing there last season and making improvements towards the end, but his ongoing legal trouble means that his future with the team entirely is in question. And no one knows exactly where Julian Love is going to line up.

Love came onto the scene last season and made an impact during the second half when the coaches finally gave him a chance, and he gave them reason to not look back with one interception and five starts overall. His play also earned him a decent title from Pro Football Focus – the most underrated player on the Giants, according to their list of the most underrated player on every team.

The Giants’ secondary has some definite question marks with DeAndre Baker facing possible legal trouble and an unproven group at cornerback behind free agent acquisition James Bradberry. But Julian Love is someone they should feel pretty good about after a promising start to his NFL career as a rookie last season. Love is a guy who graded extremely well at the college ranks as an outside cornerback for the Fighting Irish, earning coverage grades of 83.7 and 90.9 during his final two seasons with Notre Dame. Love followed that up by coming away from the 2019 season with an encouraging 70.5 overall grade despite being a 21-year-old rookie playing a new position. Whether he remains at safety or moves back to cornerback to potentially fill in for Baker outside, Love is a player to watch as he enters his second season.

While it remains to be seen what position Love will play, his versatility is one of his strengths in this case and will help his chances with getting into the starting lineup. Though, it’s debatable whether Love can truly be considered the most underrated player on the Giants, because his position has gotten plenty of attention which has put Love on the radar of most fans who look beyond the surface to see which players could break out this season.

If Love does remain at safety, where he played last season, he would have to compete with Xavier McKinney. Due to the marquee nature of the second round pick, a move to corner seems more likely. Love can play both positions, but there’s multiple ways a full time move like that could go overall. If Love can hold the position down, though, he may not be so underrated anymore as it would bring more mainstream popularity for him and his game among Giants fans.

Could the New York Jets draft a quarterback in 2021 if Sam Darnold doesn’t improve?

New York Jets, Sam Darnold

Before we get started, it is essential to note that New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold missed three games in both 2018 and 2019, and will be just 23 years old going into his third season in the NFL. However, in his first two seasons as a professional, he has never logged more than 19 touchdowns and has thrown double-digit interceptions in both seasons.

His production on offense has been inconsistent compared to the success he enjoyed at USC. Inconsistency was always his flaw, and putting it all together was the primary goal for him at the NFL level. So far, he has failed to overcome that deficiency.

Given his youth and the lack of a quality offensive line to work with, Darnold cannot be blamed for the degradation of the offense and inconsistent play. The Jets essentially threw out a bunch of misfit toys to protect Darnold in 2019, leading to 33 total sacks.

He did improve in several important categories, including completion percentage where he jumped from 57.7 to 61.9, and total yards, where he added nearly 200 additional yards to his 2018 stats in the same number of games.

However, Darnold threw the ball about 30 more times in 2019, indicating that the Jets did not have faith in their run game due to the offensive line protection. General manager Joe Douglas was just buying this time until he could address the situation this off-season, where he signed a Greg Van Roten, Connor McGovern, George Fant, and drafted Mekhi Becton out of Louisville with the 11th overall pack. They shored up nearly every position on the line, despite some of the players being fringe starters. While it might take some time for the line to achieve cohesion and chemistry, Darnold should see an uptick in efficiency and productivity.

That leads me to my question, can I just continue to rely on Darnold if he flops in 2020?

The reality is, the Jets will have two years left on his rookie deal, including a fifth-year extension, giving them plenty of time to round out their team and give him the resources he needs to succeed.

Alternatively, they cannot continue to dump assets into the defense with an incapable offense setting the team back. If the Jets somehow land in the top five picks of the 2021 NFL draft, they could look to Justin Fields to fill the void or compete with Darnold.

While I believe Darnold will remain in the mix for at least the next two seasons, they cannot put all their chips in on a quarterback who simply can’t find the recipe for compatibility. There are some voids on both sides of the ball, but as a whole, the team has enough playmakers to compete in 2020. With that being said, Darnold is a very good passer when playing at the top of his game, and this article is only meant to describe a situation if he struggles next season, which I don’t think he will.

What are the New York Giants getting in 7th round pass rusher Carter Coughlin?

New York Giants, Carter Coughlin

Taking a look at Carter Coughlin and what he’s bringing to the New York Giants:

While most believed the New York Giants would trade some of their seventh-round picks to move up in the 2020 NFL draft, they stayed put and utilized every pick to its completion. One of the players they landed was Minnesota pass-rusher Carter Coughlin, who finished his college career with 22.5 sacks and 40 tackles for loss.

Coughlin is a high character player that operates with speed and intelligence. He ended up playing for Minnesota based on his love for the school, stating that he grew up a Gopher fan since the day he came out of the womb.

Transferring from college to the NFL can be problematic for late around players, as sometimes they don’t require the necessary size to excel at the next level. Coughlin stands at 6-foot-3 and 236 pounds, offering more speed and power off the edge.

“He’s a guy that gives us more speed on the edge,” head coach Joe Judge said when the Giants selected Carter. “He brings some length with him. He plays with a high motor and a lot of aggressiveness. He was productive in Minnesota’s scheme and with the way we are going to play guys on the edge in different packages, he’s someone with a lot of value. He will come in here and compete.”

Coughlin has moved around Minnesota’s defense in the past, setting the edge and also playing a hybrid linebacker due to his smaller size. He is extremely athletic and capable of developing a multitude of pass rush moves, and while I believe Coughlin will take a specific role in the Giants’ defense, he could have an impact as a rookie. His size will affect his production against offensive tackles, but I believe utilizing him as a down linebacker that focuses more on stopping the run and rushing from a second level stance might be beneficial.

Selected with the 218th pick in the seventh round, Coughlin is a value player with high upside, the most you can ask for in the later rounds.

New York Yankees Prospects: Wilkerson Garcia

New York Yankees, Aaron Boone

The next prospect that we will take a lookout in our prospect series signed with the New York Yankees at just 16 years old for $1.35 million. That prospect would be the Venezuelan shortstop, Wilkerson Garcia. Garcia signed with the Yankees back in 2014 and made his organizational debut back in 2015. The one thing I can tell you from watching tape and reading scouting reports is that you probably won’t find a harder worker in the minors than Garcia. Garcia takes perfecting his game very seriously and is the type of player who can fill gaps in talent with sheer effort and determination. He just turned 22 back in April so he is still very young in his career and has plenty of room to grow. He’s got everything you’d want out of a shortstop prospect. After really struggling in 2018, Garcia turned the ship around with a solid 2019 campaign.

Bounce Back 2019

2018 was a rough year for Garcia where he hit .218 and had an OBP of .274. Garcia looked lost a lot of the time at the plate and he wasn’t watching a lot of pitches go by. His walk rate was very low and his strikeout rate was pretty high. Last year saw Garcia make some drastic improvements. Overall, Garcia played in 67 games last season and in those 67 games, he hit .275 and had an OBP of .301. Garcia was being more selective at what pitches to swing at last year. He’s a line-drive hitter and he was more patient about waiting for his pitch in the strike zone before attacking. His approach reminded me a little of Miguel Andujar with less power. Garcia is not the type of guy who is going to provide a lot of pop, but he will hit you some balls in the gap. Another big plus about Garcia is his ability to run and his fielding ability. He has plus speed and a great feel for the bases which should translate to a guy who can steal you about 20-30 bags in a full season. Garcia has great range for the shortstop position, a good arm, and excellent hands. He’s got all the tools to be a plus prospect, he’s just got to put everything together, and I believe that last year was a step in the right direction.

Moving Forward

There is a lot of uncertainty with minor league baseball right now, but whenever play resumes, I want to see Garcia keep that approach he had last year with some slight modifications. I would love to see him try to draw more walks. He has a very good ability to find the barrel when he swings which translates to a lot of hard contact, but he still seems a little anxious at the plate. If he can get those walks up, it would make him even more of a threat at the plate. As mentioned, he’s a plus runner, and I’d like to see him try to swipe a few more bags. Getting the walks and steals up would make him a much more valuable prospect in the eyes of scouts. He’s good enough defensively where I would feel comfortable with him on a major league diamond right now so on that front, he just needs to continue to perfect the craft. I really like Wilkerson Garcia, and I love the fact that he tries to be the hardest worker in the room. That is a quality that I know the Yankees look for in a baseball player.

What Should the New York Yankees’ Lineup Be For Opening Day?

New York Yankees, Jacoby Ellsbury

The New York Yankees have a lot of possibilities and ways to interchange their lineup. It’s well known that the Yankees have one of baseball’s best benches, but who will be the ones starting? There are a lot of question marks about who’s better to start and who could’ve been a fluke and what they project like. These are good decisions to have to make but are still decisions that have to be made.

Starting Pitcher: Gerrit Cole

This is the clear pick, the Yankees only other possible option was Luis Severino, but he’s hurt. Even if he wasn’t this is pretty easy, the pitcher who should’ve won the AL Cy Young and the best pitcher in 2019 statistically by most important metrics. I won’t go too in-depth with this pick because this one’s a given, but he’s still the best pitcher by far on this roster.

Projections: 2.95 ERA/2.75 FIP/2.70 xFIP/12.3 SO per 9

Catcher: Gary Sanchez

This is again a pretty easy pick, but let’s remember that Gary Sanchez is elite. Over the last three years, he’s had the most home runs for a catcher, 4th in fWAR, tied for 2nd in wRC+, and this is all while only having the 12th most games played by a catcher. We also have a catcher that has the 23rd best Defensive Rating among 99 qualifying catchers since 2017. Another easy pick, and someone I’m so glad we have, if you’re not, go root for another team hater, you aren’t objective.

Projections: .330 OBP/.520 SLG/125 wRC+

First Base: Luke Voit

Oh Luke, how people forget how great of a slugger you are. Since 2018 you’re 4th in wRC+ among first basemen minimum 300 Plate Appearances, 8th in slugging %, and 4th in OBP. The main issue is that Luke Voit defensively isn’t great, but the Yankee’s defensive situation at first isn’t great anyway, so I think his offensive prowess makes up for that. He’s a great righty and going to be a force in the lineup.

Projections: .375 OBP/.475 SLG/120 wRC+

Second Base: DJ LeMahieu

The New York Yankees signing fan-favorite DJ LeMahieu is one of this team’s best signings in recent memory as they are going to pay less than $15 million a year for a player who’s a top 3 2B in baseball right now. He’s been nothing short of great defensively, and his offensive numbers are just as good. 7th in Home Runs, 4th in SLG%, 3rd in OBP, and 2nd in fWAR among 2B minimum 300 Plate Appearances, he’s an absolute unit with the bat. He was 6th in DRS and 4th in UZR despite not nearly as many innings played as those above him.

Projections: .370 OBP/.495 SLG/125 wRC+

Third Base: Gio Urshela

While Miguel Andujar is the younger option and people feel like he is the better option, Urshela statistically improves on most things Andujar does. He’s the better defender and hitter, but a worse baserunner in terms of speed. Urshela is the New York Yankees’ option at 3rd right now until Andujar proves otherwise. Gio is a really good slugger and his xStats show that how his stats are more sustainable than Andujar’s offensively.

Projections: .340 OBP/.510 SLG/ 125 wRC+

Shortstop: Gleyber Torres

This is a lock at SS, with Gleyber being the shortstop of the future for the New York Yankees. With his defense being the only real question mark here, Gleyber seems to be the middle infield lock for our future and the true successor to Derek Jeter. Look for Gleyber to look better against teams that aren’t the Orioles, and I think his stats will experience a noticeable rise as his stats against fastballs and offspeed pitches are great in terms of SLG% and xSLG% and that projects him to do really well as those accounted for 65.3% of the pitches he saw in 2019. Look for Gleyber to establish himself as a true top 10 SS in a stacked position.

Projections: .350 OBP/.550 SLG/ 130 wRC+

Left Field: Giancarlo Stanton

I know this is a weird take seeing as we have Brett Gardner and Mike Tauchman, but for the Yankees, the best possible lineup in terms of both offensive and defensive prowess involves Stanton at Left where in his short stint of 386 innings there, he has 3 DRS and a 19.8 UZR/150 which is really flipping good. His offense doesn’t need mention, as people should know he’s an absolute stud. His ability to slug at a high rate gives protection for younger guys in this lineup like the aforementioned Gleyber Torres who are still growing. He’s a staple in this lineup, and a damn good glove too

Projections: .360 OBP/.570 SLG/145 wRC+

Center Field: Aaron Hicks

The New York Yankees have top 5 players at each position in the outfield, with Aaron Hicks, Giancarlo Stanton, and Aaron Judge. This outfield is anchored down defensively in the corners allowing for Hicks to continue to flourish defensively and hit really well. His ability to get on base and hit for power will always be his bread and butter offensively, and he’s going to be able to be really good if healthy in 2020. There’s no denying that this is a guy that you’d want on most rosters.

Projections: .360 OBP/.470 SLG/ 125 wRC+

Right Field: Aaron Judge

Easily the game’s 3rd best Right Fielder and in terms of overall production even though he’s missed significant time, since 2017 he is still the 6th most valuable player according to Fangraphs, 3rd best hitter according wRC+, 3rd best defender according to UZR/150, and 5th in DRS (a stat that gets better with more games played). There is no denying a guy as a top 5 player in all of baseball when he’s at the top in counting stats even with injury and in averages is at the top.  He’s going to be the anchor of this lineup and will be the best player on this team.

Projections: .380 OBP/.560 SLG/ 155 wRC+

Designated Hitter: Mike Ford/Miguel Andujar

Mike Ford may not be the guy most people would pick, but think about what he brings offensively. He had a 134 wRC+ in 50 games, with a SLG% of .559 with a .497 xSLG. He may seem like a downgrade because you could have Andujar all the time or Gardy/Tauchman at LF and Stanton here but Mike Ford is the best lefty bat out of those three. A 45.6 Hard Hit percentage is elite, and if he can keep his 10.4 BB% and lower than normal for a power hitter K% of 17.2, he could be a sneaky good player in this lineup, and add a desperately needed left-handed power bat to the lineup.

Miguel Andujar would be for lefties as while Ford crushed lefties, it was in a short stretch and so you could put them wherever they’re more successful but to me this a platoon type of role. He has some low expected stats and I honestly see him playing fewer games than most would have him play but he’s still a really good hitter. He had some of the best stats with RISP and so in a DH role with guys ahead of him that get on base, he could develop a lot.

Projections: .360 OBP/.490 SLG/ 120 wRC+ (Ford)
Projections: .330 OBP/.520 SLG/ 120 wRC+ (Andujar)

How Would the Lineup Be Built?

In my opinion, the best Yankee lineup looks like this:

  1. DJ LeMahieu
  2. Aaron Judge
  3. Giancarlo Stanton
  4. Gleyber Torres
  5. Aaron Hicks
  6. Gary Sanchez
  7. Luke Voit
  8. Mike Ford/ Miguel Andujar
  9. Gio Urshela

Tauchman and Garder could be used to take the load off of the guys at DH or in the outfield as they are good defensive players and they’ve had solid bats, but for starters, these are the guys I’d role within 2020.

NASCAR: Fan favorite Matt DiBenedetto seeks to finally master Bristol

Bristol has hosted the brightest moments of Matt DiBenedetto’s NASCAR Cup Series career thus far. Could it soon feature his first win?

If and when someone gets their first career NASCAR victory during this fan-free period, it’ll come at the price of not being able to “properly” celebrate. The joyful congestion of victory lane has been temporarily erased so the sport’s return can adhere to continuing social distancing guidelines, an isolated atmosphere described by the original winner of the new normal Kevin Harvick as “awkward”. One can only imagine that the feeling would amplify fortyfold if a driver were to earn their first win during this process.

Matt DiBenedetto doesn’t care about that in the slightest. The driver of the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford just wants a mere visit to victory lane and is quite pleased with NASCAR’s protocols as it’s the first team sport to return in the wake of the current health crisis.

“I’ve actually been nothing but thoroughly impressed with how smooth everything has gone and how to a T every single person that you see in the garage is following every guideline because we’re all so on the same page and just so appreciative to be racing and willing to do whatever we have to do,” DiBenedetto said in a Zoom media conference call earlier this weekend. “Honestly, it’s gone ten times smoother than I could have possibly imagined and I’m just really, really proud of the effort of everyone. It’s amazing to see that big of a group of people all come together like family and be willing to do whatever, no complaining, just everyone happy to be following every guideline to be putting on a show for the fans.”

DiBenedetto has run 184 NASCAR Cup Series races, a majority of them with microbudget racing squads where merely running at the finish would be equivalent to a win. No wins have followed, but DiBenedetto’s ability to post respectable finishes in subpar equipment, as well as a racing journey that began by swapping his Little League baseball cap for a firesuit, has made him a fan favorite on the circuit.

The Wood Brothers (Leonard and the late Glen) and their iconic No. 21 (previously driven by names like David Pearson, Buddy Baker, Neil Bonnett, Dale Jarrett, and Ryan Blaney) have provided DiBenedetto the most stable car in his career to date. He has followed through on the potential the Woods saw in him. He currently places 11th in the NASCAR points standings and posted a runner-up finish at February’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas. It was the second runner-up finish of his career.

He returns to the site of the first on Sunday afternoon. The NASCAR Cup Series returns to action at Bristol Motor Speedway for the Supermarket Heroes 500 (3:30 p.m. ET, FS1). It will be the first visit to “The Last Great Colosseum” since DiBenedetto finished a most heartbreaking second in last year’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race last August.

Then driving Leavine Family Racing’s No. 95 Toyota, DiBenedetto seem poised to earn that elusive first win as he took the lead with 104 laps to go around the half-mile short track. Such a win also would’ve allowed DiBenedetto to qualify for the NASCAR playoffs, which would’ve been a first.

Alas, contact made with the notoriously hard-to-pass Ryan Newman (whom DiBenedetto was trying to put a lap down) slowed the No. 95, allowing another Toyota, the big-budget machine of Denny Hamlin, to take over the lead with a dozen laps to go. Hamling even jokingly remarked that he was “sorry” that he passed DiBenedetto during his postrace interview with NBC.

That evening, one that produced his career-best finish to date, was a bittersweet affair for DiBenedetto. He mentioned that he hasn’t viewed the film from that monumental race.

“That was probably one of the biggest days for my entire career honestly, so that was a moment I’ll never forget, having all the support from the fans,” DiBenedetto said. “That was a crazy moment and I really didn’t even know how to feel because it was probably one of the most defeating and toughest days of my life, but also one of the most rewarding from the support we had from the fans and everybody. It was a tough week on us, so there was a lot of not really feeling how to feel, but ultimately it led to being a big factor in me getting this opportunity to drive the 21 car this year, so it was a big day and everything was meant to be.”

Less than a month after that Bristol event, Wood Brothers Racing announced that DiBenedetto would take over their Ford.

Bristol is a track for developing tempers even hotter than the tires. Known as “Thunder Valley”, the track’s cramped quarters can put you in the wall without warning. DiBenedetto, however, has seen his brightest NASCAR days at the track. He has completed over 99 percent of the maximum laps he could’ve run over ten visits. The stadium also played host to DiBenedetto’s first career top-ten finish, a sixth in the 2016 Food City 500. At the time, he was driving the No. 83 Toyota for BK Racing.

DiBenedetto’s Bristol prowess could come up big on Sunday. To limit events to single-day proceedings, qualifying has been canceled at most of the events since the circuit came back from the coronavirus-induced pause. A random draw for starting position yielded a ninth-place spot in the starting lineup. Practice has likewise been canceled.

“I would say Bristol would probably be more of the nerve-racking ones of firing off with no practice,” he said. “I think at the mile-and-a-halves and some of these places, Darlington is a little treacherous but not too bad. I’d say the mile-and-a-halves are not too bad. Bristol, there’s just no margin for error. It’s really, really fast. It’s an insanely fast short track. You’re on edge already even when you have your car dialed in, so I’d say that one will be a little bit more nerve-racking for the drivers.

“It’ll be fine. It’ll work out fine, for sure, but you just really are out and outpraying that your car is dialed in right because it’s very sensitive. If you’re off just a little bit at Bristol, it can affect you worse than these tracks where it’s a big race track, a mile-and-a-half, and you don’t have to worry about going a lap down if you miss it or things like that, so this one will be a little bit more treacherous.”

The series’ descent on Bristol comes at perhaps the perfect time for DiBenedetto. He has finished in the top 20 in each of the first four races since the return, but those finishes haven’t come easy. When qualifying was held at Charlotte Motor Speedway, DiBenedetto had to go to a backup car when he spun out during his timed run. On Thursday night, the second half of a CMS doubleheader, the No. 21 took the lead on the opening lap but a wreck between Joey Gase and Garret Smithley prevented it from getting into clean air and away from the field. The team wound up settling for a 14th-place finish.

Either way, DiBenedetto is well on his way to posting the best numbers of his career. He holds a 35-point cushion over 17th-place Tyler Reddick in terms of playoff positioning.

But DiBenedetto is confident that his group is capable of more. A 14th-place finish might’ve been cause for celebration in his earlier days, but his current Wood Brothers settings (which includes technical assistance from Penske Racing) have higher expectations…ones DiBenedetto anticipates meeting.

“We do have a little cushion right now, but we as a team have to get a lot better, in my opinion,” he said. “We have a lot of speed. We have great people. We’re just learning each other and we’ve got to close out these races a little better. We’ve got, for sure, the car speed and the people to do it, so it’s nice that we’re still sitting there in points when, honestly, we’re a little bit disappointed with some of our end results of these races because we know that we can do a lot better and we will do better moving forward, so I feel good about that part of it.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

 

UFC: Dana White fires back at Jon Jones after demanding release from contract

UFC, Dana White

There’s nothing like a good old fashion Twitter war between UFC president Dana White and light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. Jones demanded his release after stating that DeontayWwilder is paid vastly more than him, somewhere in the $25-30 million range, while Jones is making less than half of that.

“Don’t be a f—ing liar,” Jones expressed on Friday, via Twitter. “My reputation has already taking enough hits. I don’t need this bulls— Dana. I never asked for [Deontay Wilder] numbers. And how about since [Wilder] is making $30 million, we settle for half of that. Since you said I’m the [greatest of all time] and everything.”

Jones, who is one of the best fighters in the world, believes he deserves more pay and less BS from White, who continues to undervalue him and ignore his requests. Jones wants a heavyweight fight against Francis Ngannou, and while White has stated that Jones continues to ask for a specific amount of money, Jones has denied those claims.

“He can do whatever he wants,” White said Saturday, per ESPN. “He wants to sit out, fight, he can do whatever. He can say whatever he wants publicly. It’s his God-given right in America. He can say whatever he wants. When he’s ready to come back, he can.

“In one of his tweets, he said I tarnished his name. I tarnished you? You’ve done a very good job of tarnishing you.”

One of the significant issues that Jones faces regarding an increase in pay is his legal history and the questionable image he provides for the UFC as a whole. He has been arrested multiple times throughout his career, and at 32 years old, it doesn’t seem White is willing to give him what he wants.

Hypocritically, White continues to coin Jones has the best MMA fighter of all time but refuses to pay him more than some of the lesser-known athletes. White did indicate that being the best does not make you the most valuable in terms of selling, which ultimately plays a significant factor in the overall numbers.

NFL Players Teaming Up to Help During Pandemic

Although many of us may be facing hardships during these unprecedented times, NFL players are helping ease the difficulties some are dealing with.

Here are just some of the wonderful things NFL players are doing:

  • Chicago Bears Allen Robinson knows that many students rely on schools to provide sustenance and with schools closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Robinson is making sure that these kids and their families do not go hungry.  His foundation The Within Reach Foundation has started a fundraiser to ensure kids are given meals through the Chicago Food Depository.   Robinson is even matching all donations up to $12,000 in honor of his jersey number.  To donate go to https://givebox.com/12for12
  • Miami Dolphins Allen Hurns is trying to brighten the days of the class of 2020 through his foundation 88 Blessings.  Hurns saw fit to send care packages to 17 students part of his S.O.A.R. campaign which helps those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic with help from sponsors Eternal Water, Quest Nutrition, the Miami Dolphins, Become Athletics, Pajcic, and Pajcic law firm, UBS and The Boyce Foundation.  Hurns also plans to hold a Senior’s Night Out event to celebrate the graduates when the pandemic is over.  Be sure to visit http://88blessings.org/soar/  to learn more and find out how YOU can help.
  • Denver Broncos Von Miller has set up a campaign to help eradicate hunger due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Fans can bid on awesome prize packages, with proceeds going to hunger relief efforts to provide meals for those in need with a goal of 580,000 meals provided.  Get your bids in and help a great cause at https://vonsackscovid.org/
  • Carolina Panthers Seth DeValve is holding a free virtual seminar on June 11th, to aid student-athletes in the college recruiting process.  DeValve will cover topics ranging from scholarships, how to properly conduct oneself both on and off the field, academics and so much more.  To register, go to https://sethdevalvefoundation.com/current-events/seminars
  • Baltimore Ravens Calais Campbell provided 100 laptops for less-fortunate students.  These laptops ensure that students get the proper education they need and deserve.
  • Former New York Giant Victor Cruz teamed up with Altice and ACER to provide 100 laptops to students in his hometown of Paterson, New Jersey area to ease their distance learning troubles.  Cruz never forgets where he came from and always gives back in any way he can.

Of course, these are just some of the amazing things NFL players are doing to help spread positivity and joy to those in need during these hard times.  It is truly great to see that some good can come from such a negative event!