NASCAR: Ryan Blaney comes home first in an emotional, wild Talladega thriller

An eventful afternoon of NASCAR Cup Series racing at Talladega Superspeedway ended with Ryan Blaney taking the win by a minuscule margin.

Blaney, Ryan Blaney.

Deja vu descended upon Talladega Superspeedway on Monday afternoon, as the No. 12 Team Penske Ford won its second consecutive event, the GEICO 500 at the NASCAR Cup Series’ longest track. Much like his win in last October’s postseason thriller, Blaney’s margin of victory was 0.007 seconds. This time, he held off Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in a finish that came down to the literal final line.

Blaney’s victory was his first since the aforementioned playoff race from last October and the fourth win of his Cup Series career. He has been one of the circuits hottest drivers since it returned from the coronavirus-induced pause five weeks ago, as Monday’s posting was his sixth finish in the top four over the last seven races.

“The past month and a half has been really good for us,” Blaney said in a postrace Zoom conference. “We’ve had some really good runs. We’ve had really fast cars, had a chance to win I feel like every race the last month and a half. It just really hasn’t fallen our way. We just haven’t been in the right place at the right time or not been quite fast enough.”

“(It’s) nice to finally break through, get the first one of the year. Hopefully, this opens the floodgates here and we can get on a roll. This team has been awesome. They’ve been so much fun to work with all year.”

The thrilling finish was the finishing touch of an emotional visit to Talladega. Before the race, the NASCAR community stood in support of Bubba Wallace, the driver of the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet. After the race’s postponement from its original date on Sunday, NASCAR revealed that a noose had been found in the garage stall of Wallace, the only African-American driver on the circuit.

Shortly before the green flag flew, drivers and crew members stood alongside Wallace as his car was wheeled to the front of the field. With team owner and NASCAR legend Richard Petty by his side, the racing community stood behind the No. 43 pair during the invocation and national anthem. Each of Wallace’s 39 competitors then embraced him, starting with his close friend Blaney. The two have been racing alongside each other since they were each 10 years old.

“I think it’s great that everyone rose up, Bubba included, and really came together,” Blaney said of the prerace demonstration. “I don’t want it to be remembered as a terrible day or a bad day in NASCAR. I want it to be remembered as there was an incident and we all overcame it together, showed that we were not going to take it anymore.”

“You may not like each other all the time, may tick each other off on the racetrack from time to time. (But) at the end of the day we’re going to support each other. What really got me was when we got Bubba’s car to the front there, he had to take a little bit to pause and compose himself because it was a very emotional moment for him. I think it was emotional for him because everyone was supporting him. It’s just something different that I couldn’t personally be a part of because I’ve never been in Bubba’s position, but I’m going to support him the best I can.”

Under a new technical rules package, competitive racing dominated the day. Monday’s race featured 177 passes for the lead under green flag conditions, with 19 drivers leading at least one lap. A tightly-packed battle for the lead was set to be altered by fuel mileage, but Jimmie Johnson’s spin on the penultimate lap set up a two-lap overtime finish. Several cars pitted for precious fuel, but Blaney stayed out to pace the field alongside Kevin Harvick.

Harvick got off to a quick restart thanks to a push from Chris Buescher, but the field narrowed up as a get-together in the penultimate turn took out several cars. As the lead pack reached the start/finish line for the final time, Blaney took the lead and made contact with Erik Jones and John Hunter Nemechek. Further chaos erupted as the field completed the final lap, but Blaney was able to narrowly steal the victory away from Stenhouse. A spinning Aric Almirola finished the race backward but came home in a respectable third-place while Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Jones respectively rounded out the top five.

Blaney’s win was his first under new crew chief Todd Gordon and the fifth win for Team Penske this season (teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano have two each). He also becomes the first driver to win consecutive Talladega events since Jeff Gordon swept the yearly couple in 2007.

The Cup Series will return to Talladega for a playoff event in October.

Halfway through its regular season, Cup proceedings now turn to a weekend doubleheader at Pocono Raceway, the first of its kind. The Pennsylvania landmark, known as the “Tricky Triangle” will run the Pocono Organics 325 on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, Fox) and will immediately follow it up with the Pocono 350 on Sunday (4 p.m. ET, FS1). Entries from each of NASCAR’s lower-tier national series will precede each event.

Race Notes

  • Toward the end of the first of two 60-lap stages, the event was stalled by a 57-minute rain delay. Rookie Tyler Reddick won the stage, becoming the first freshman to do so since Daniel Suarez at Watkins Glen’s 2017 event. A late stop for fuel relegated Reddick to the 20th position, but he departs Talladega as the holder of the final playoff spot.
  • Monday’s event welcomed 5,000 fans to Talladega, which normally draws crowds of about 175,000.
  • Wallace was in contention for most of the day and even led a lap, but low fuel forced him to pit during the Johnson-induced caution. He would finish 14th and be applauded by the crowd that was admitted.
  • Nemechek was the top finishing rookie, overcoming a spin at lap 96 of 188 to come home eighth.
  • Chase Elliott briefly took the standings’ points lead from Harvick, but a crash at lap 135 ended his day. He was one of four drivers whose day ended due to crash damage, joining Brennan Poole, Joey Gase, and Austin Dillon. Matt Kenseth’s rear hub issues relegated him to a last-place posting in 40th.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

MLB Breaking News: Commissioner Manfred imposes 60 game season to start July 24th

MLB announced Monday night that commissioner Rob Manfred intends to impose a season on the players, following the owners voting unanimously for that option. MLB’s statement also put forth two directives to the union, with a request for an answer by 5 p.m. on Tuesday evening. Those matters pertained to the players’ ability to report to camp within a week (by July 1) and the ratification of a safety and testing protocol.

The league’s decision came after the MLB Players Association voted to reject Major League Baseball’s proposal for a 2020 season on Monday evening. The proposal called for, among other things, a 60-game season, an expanded postseason, and no additional salary guarantees should the season be canceled due to the novel coronavirus. The vote — which featured one MLBPA representative per team and eight members of the union’s executive committee — was 33-5 against the proposal, CBS Sports HQ’s Jim Bowden confirmed.

While the league did not offer specifics of the imposed season, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports it will be 60 games. Here’s the league’s statement, which acknowledges the union’s rejection:

“Today, the Major League Baseball Players Association informed us that they have rejected the agreement framework developed by Commissioner Manfred and Tony Clark.  Needless to say, we are disappointed by this development.

“The framework provided an opportunity for MLB and its players to work together to confront the difficulties and challenges presented by the pandemic.  It gave our fans the chance to see an exciting new Postseason format.  And, it offered players significant benefits including:

  1. The universal DH for two years
  2. A guaranteed $25 million in playoff pools in 2020
  3. $33 million in forgiven salary advances that would increase the take home pay of 61% of Major League players
  4. Overall earnings for players of 104 percent of prorated salary
  5. Over the last two days, MLB agreed to remove expanded Postseason in 2021 in order to address player concerns

“In view of this rejection, the MLB Clubs have unanimously voted to proceed with the 2020 season under the terms of the March 26th Agreement.  The provisions listed above will not be operative.

“In order to produce a schedule with a specific number of games, we are asking that the Players Association provide to us by 5:00 p.m. (ET) tomorrow with two pieces of information.  The first is whether players will be able to report to camp within seven days (by July 1st).  The second is whether the Players Association will agree on the Operating Manual which contains the health and safety protocols necessary to give us the best opportunity to conduct and complete our regular season and Postseason.”

The MLBPA released a statement earlier Monday evening implying it was done negotiating with the league over the specifics of a return-to-play plan.  Manfred gained the right to impose a season as part of a March agreement between the sides. He had resisted exercising that right due to concerns from the owners’ side about a potential union grievance, which would claim the owners did not negotiate in good faith and with the intent to play as many games as possible.

Indeed, the union waiving its right to a grievance seemingly became a central part of the negotiations late in the process. Still, with no agreement in place and time running out, Manfred has turned to his last-resort option — one that will then, in all likelihood, spur a grievance from the union that could prove financially costly if the players can prove the owners were intentionally dribbling out the clock.

Monday’s developments came on the heels of more harrowing news as 40 MLB players and staff members reportedly tested positive for the novel coronavirus in recent days. MLB has reportedly ordered all spring training sites to be closed and sanitized, and personnel must test negative for COVID-19 before being allowed to return.

Above report from Ken Rosenthal of the Atlantic and CBS Sports.

For more MBL and New York Yankees news stay with EmpireSportsMedia.com for the latest.

BREAKING NEWS: MLB has a plan to start season

After almost two months of negotiations, the MLB is finalizing a plan to start the 2020 season. Players need to approve the safety plan and if they promise to report to camp within a week, then the season is officially on.

We will see a 60 game season with a universal DH and expanded playoffs. This is due to the length of the season and the fact that there will only be three divisions instead of six. The AL and NL division counterparts will merge together to form divisions. For example, the AL East and NL East will merge for this season. All regular season games will be played in home ballparks and within divisions only.

The players will be receiving prorated salaries like requested all along. They never gave into the owners and held their ground throughout negotiations to get what they wanted and what was right. In this set season, players also don’t have to waive grievances and could potentially opt-out if they don’t want to play.

Although the owners will lose money this year, not all hope is lost. There will still be TV deals, and even more games on national television than normal. Additionally, limited attendance at games may still be a possibility.

It’s great that the MLB finally got their act together and set up a season. The game of baseball needed this desperately, as the sport is already losing popularity and the negotiations certainly didn’t help with that. Baseball will also serve as a distraction during these unprecedented times.

Although the 2020 season may have an asterisk next to it, PLAY BALL!

UFC: Josh Emmett suffers complete ACL tear in Saturday’s fight against Shane Burgos

The winner of last Saturday’s co-headlining fight at UFC on ESPN 11 received some really tough news today. Per multiple reports, Josh Emmett suffered a complete tear of his ACL and a number of different injuries caused in the first round of his fight against Shane Burgos.

This is absolutely devastating for Emmett. I wrote earlier today that Emmett was ready for a top five opponent after the performance he put on Saturday night. Now, you would have to think that he’s going to be out for at least the next year. Emmett really came into his own on Saturday which makes this news even tougher to hear. Emmett expressed his frustrations with his lack of push from the UFC. He feels that he’s one of the best featherweights in the world, but he hasn’t felt respected by the company or the media to this point. Emmett tore the ACL just seconds into the fight. The fact that he was able to put on the performance of his career with all of those injuries is just remarkable. It makes the performance even more memerable.

UFC Featherweight Outlook

There is a little bit of a log jam right now at featherweight. Most of the top contenders are currently booked for their next fights which would have caused frustrations for Emmett had he been healthy. There was not a clear next step for Emmett given the landscape of the top five. Maybe once he returns from his lengthy layoff due to this injury, there will be a clear path for him. I just hope that the UFC does right by him in giving him a top five opponent when he returns. Emmett has put in the work, and he definitely deserves to be a contender in the UFC‘s featherweight division.

MLB Breaking News: Players union rejects 60 game season, the next move is on Manfred, details

In the latest move to have a New York Yankees 2020 baseball season, the MLBPA (players union) has rejected the supposed last MLB offer for a baseball season of  60 games. Without a formal rejection, the players countered with a 70 game season that owners immediately rejected.  The union late today voted on the MLB plan and rejected it 33-5.

The MLBPA then released a statement Monday evening, implying it was done negotiating with the league over the specifics of a return-to-play plan.

The next step is expected to see commissioner Rob Manfred impose a season on the players. It’s unclear if Manfred will take that step on Monday night (or even on Tuesday). However, he is supposed to have a call with the owners, according to the New York Post’s Joel Sherman.

Under the March agreement baseball Commissioner, Manfred has the right to impose a season of MLB’s liking as long as the players receive their full pro-rata pay for the games played.  By imposing a season, he leaves both sides of the negotiations to file grievances and counter grievances over the season.

Indeed, the union waiving its right to a grievance seemingly became a central part of the negotiations late in the process. Still, with no agreement in place and time running out, Manfred will presumably turn to his last-resort option, one that he will implore to impose.

The union vote comes on the heels of more harrowing news as 40 MLB players and staff members reportedly tested positive for the novel coronavirus in recent days. MLB has reportedly ordered all spring training sites to be closed and sanitized, and personnel must test negative for COVID-19 before being allowed to return.

Ken Rosenthal, an MLB insider, made this report about an hour ago, and Joel Sherman of the New York Post says that MLB will have a conference call with the owners tonight to get their input.

New York Giants: Why Blake Martinez Could Improve Drastically In Big Blue

New York Giants, Blake Martinez

The New York Giants made a splash in free agency this offseason signing a couple of key defenders. The Gmen signed cornerback James Bradberry and linebacker Blake Martinez to expensive contracts. People were mostly pleased with the work Dave Gettleman and company did in free agency, however, there were some mixed reviews.

In particular, some were critical of the Martinez signing. Blake Martinez was one of many linebackers available in a very talented free-agent class. The Giants signed Martinez to a three-year contract worth $30.75 million. Comparatively, Cory Littleton signed a three-year contract worth $35.25 million. Many viewed this to be a marginally more expensive signing for a significantly better player. That might be true when comparing the two linebackers’ 2019 seasons. But upon further examination, there is reason to believe Blake Martinez will be a better player in 2020.

A Disappointing 2019

2019 was a terrible performance by Blake Martinez in pass coverage. His completion percentage allowed rose to 83.8%, allowing opponents to complete 62 passes on 74 targets for 570 yards and 2 touchdowns. This makes Martinez a serious liability in pass coverage on the Giants’ defense.

Additionally, Blake Martinez missed 18 tackles in 2019. This was a missed tackle rate of 10.4%. This number needs to go down in 2020, but there is a reason to believe it will. The role Martinez played in the Packers’ defense last season could be the reason for the higher percentage of mixed tackles. But in the Giants’ defensive scheme, his role will be much different.

Why He Should Bounce Back In 2020

Blake Martinez is well aware of the criticisms people have regarding his performance last season. He gave this response:

Blake Martinez says the public misconception of him is that he doesn’t make impact plays. He says that his role in the GB D was to be a “clean-up” guy, the only LB on the field, with no gap responsibilities. Basically play off the other guys and go make the leftover plays. – Tom Rock of Newsday

What Martinez said is highly important. His role in the Packers’ defense changed drastically last season. Martinez is at his best when filling gap responsibilities. In 2019, he did not have gap responsibilities and was not able to make plays in run defense himself.

The Packers changed their coaching staff from 2018 to 2019. In 2018, the linebackers coach and run game coordinator was Patrick Graham. Graham is now the defensive coordinator of the New York Giants. He and Martinez are very familiar with each other and Graham was able to get the best out of Martinez in 2018.

Blake Martinez racked up 144 combined tackles in 2018 along with 10 tackles for loss. But Martinez was also an excellent pass-rusher, a role he was basically taken out of in Green Bay’s 2019 defense. In 2018, Martinez blitzed 61 times, recording 11 pressures, 5 hurries, and 5 sacks. The Packers only brought Blake on 24 blitzes in 2019, but he was still efficient. He recorded 5 pressures, 2 hurries, and 3 sacks on his 24 blitz attempts this past season. Reuniting with Patrick Graham and returning to a blitz-heavy scheme, expect to see Blake Martinez brought on a number of blitzes in 2020.

VIDEO: NASCAR drivers rally around Bubba Wallace prior to the start of Talladega race

NASCAR

NASCAR competitors came together to support Wallace, pushing his No. 43 car to the front after a noose was found in his garage stall.

A racist act at Talladega Superspeedway meant to create division instead brought the NASCAR community closer than ever to protect one of their own.

Hours after the postponement of Sunday’s GEICO 500, NASCAR announced that a noose was found in the garage stall of Bubba Wallace, the only African-American driver on the circuit. Prior to the event’s rescheduled start on Monday afternoon, Wallace’s competitors made it clear that such racism would not be tolerated.

Wallace’s No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet was pushed to the front of the field as drivers and crews literally stood behind him in a show of support. Standing alongside Wallace was NASCAR legend and team owner Richard Petty. The seven-time champion and winner of a Cup Series record 200 races has avoided coming to the track for safety concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic, but came to Talladega in support of the current driver of his iconic No. 43.

After the invocation and national anthem, each of the 39 other drivers competing in Monday’s race hugged Wallace before taking to their own cars. Wallace began the race in the 24th position, placed via a random draw earlier in the week. Additionally, the Talladega infield bore the stenciled message “#IStandWithBubba”.

NASCAR President Steve Phelps addressed the media about the incident about two hours before the green flag waved at Talladega. Phelps confirmed that NASCAR is working in conjunction with the FBI to find the perpetrator.

“This is a difficult time for our sport. We are going to react swiftly,” Phelps said. “We’re going to use all the means, resources at our disposal and those of the FBI to make sure this person or persons are caught swiftly and severely.”

Phelps said that the perpetrator will be “unequivocally” banned from the sport when discovered.

“They will be banned from this sport for life. There is no room for this at all. We won’t tolerate it. They won’t be here. I don’t care who they are, they will not be here.”

As protests and demonstrations against systemic racism have risen throughout the country, Wallace has been one of the most prevalent voices advocating for change. He was a driving voice behind NASCAR’s ban of the Confederate battle flag and his car at Martinsville Speedway bore the “#BlackLivesMatter” slogan.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

NHL Allows the New York Rangers and Other Teams to Increase Size of Practice Groups

New York Rangers, Igor Shesterkin

Even with the news that there have been some positive cases reported among NHL players, the league will allow on-ice practice sessions for the New York Rangers to include up to 12 players starting Tuesday according to Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston.

The NHL’s decision to increase the number of players allowed at practice sessions is part of a continuation of Phase 2 of the league’s return-to-play plan. Phase 3, which includes the reopening of training camps, is scheduled to begin July 10. Since June 8 when Phase 2 was implemented, teams were allowed only six players at the practice sessions.

This comes on the heels of the Tampa Bay Lightning temporarily shutting down their training facility after three players and additional staffers tested positive for the COVID-19. In response to this, other players and staffers who have been at the facility are being tested. The Lightning and NHL will figure out how to proceed based on the results of those tests.

In the meantime, some players are expressing concern about whether it will be safe to return in July, as the league recently announced that 11 players have tested positive for COVID-19 since Phase 2 of the league’s return-to-play plan began on June 8.

The NHL and NHLPA are still working out health and safety protocols for Phase 3 (training camps) and Phase 4 (games). However, the league has already announced that it will be testing players and staff daily once games resume. Each test costs approximately $125 and Commissioner Gary Bettman has estimated that 25,000 to 35,000 tests will be needed to get through the playoffs.

In light of these events and the seeming resurgence of the virus in the absence of a complete national strategy to combat it, social distancing was a topic of conversation at a recent meeting, with GMs told that players and staff that they are not to be going to restaurants and clubs.

Regardless, the NHL is going forward with increasing the number of practice participants in phase 2, with the reminder that participation in this phase is strictly voluntary. It is also noted that the increase will help facilitate the return of players from other locations, especially since the league recommended that overseas players return to help facilitate the extensions of their work visas.

 

COVID-19, not negotiations, will dictate whether MLB will play out its season

On Monday afternoon, the players are expected to discuss the possibility of accepting to play 60 games in the 2020 season as the MLB owners want, with prorated salaries, as they desire. However, there is now an element to the negotiations that both parties left out for weeks, and is now taking all the headlines: coronavirus.

The reality is that the COVID-19 element never left. And now, as cases are spiking again in some key states (most notably Florida and Arizona, which is where all spring training camps are located, one thing becomes clearer, told by Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News: the fate of the season won’t be dictated by how many games they play or whether there will be expanded playoffs or a universal DH. It will be dictated by the coronavirus outbreak.

Now, commissioner Rob Manfred and the MLB owners and players are scrambling to create a plan should the disease prevents them from finishing the 2020 season, one that doesn’t even have a date to start as of the moment of writing this piece.

Should MLB keep pursuing a season?

The Florida outbreak is specially concerning. The Yankees kept the doors of the George M. Steinbrenner Field open for more than 100 days, but now, given that the disease appears to be spreading with ease again in Florida, they are packing up to go to New York for a hypothetical second spring training.

The negotiations, which were centered around money for months, are now focused on health and safety, as it should have been the case in the first place. MLB and the union may now be too late to come up with a solution.

After Philadelphia Phillies employees and players tested positive in camp, MLB was put on hold again. USA Today reported that there were 40 positive tests last week among players and staffers.

There were 4,094 confirmed cases on Friday in Florida, and 3,822 the day before. There might not be proper conditions to play baseball anytime soon, but we will see the outcome of Monday’s players meeting.

Former Giants quarterback Eli Manning has jersey retired by Ole Miss

New York Giants, Eli Manning

Retirement has treated former New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning well, as the golf course greens seem to be plastered with golf balls hit by him and his brothers. Manning has remained active in the community and even joined Twitter to voice his opinions and have some fun with Tom Brady.

However, the legendary quarterback who won two Super Bowl’s back in 2007 and 2010 is still on his retirement tour. Recently, Ole Miss University, Eli’s alma mater, elected to retire his number and jersey permanently. This heartwarming video details the moment he found out about the honor.

His fantastic career in college led him to be the number one overall selection by the San Diego chargers in 2004. However, we all know the story of what went down, as Eli forced his way to the Giants, and went on to win two Super Bowls and record several historical accolades in the process.

With Eli spending more time with his family and taking time off from football, he is living the life of a normal dad. However, he will return eventually, whether it is to coach high school football or make his way back to the pros.

“I learned I don’t want to be in coaching. I don’t like it. I don’t like doing that aspect.”

While Eli might not enjoy coaching, he could join his brother Peyton in the booth as a commentator. Wouldn’t it be fun to watch the two battle it out in a game of dry humor? According to Eli’s teammates, he’s quite the jokester and has pulled off some illustrious pranks in the past.

Former Giants QB Jared Lorenzen detailed one prank Eli always loved to exercise:

An ESPN the Magazine story noted that “one of Peyton’s and Eli’s favorite pranks is stealing cell phones and changing the interface language to Spanish or French.” “The worst part,” says Jared Lorenzen, Eli’s former backup, “is that you have to know Spanish to figure out how to change it back.”

Classic Eli.