NASCAR is reinvigorated as new eyes shift to its incredible change

NASCAR was one of the first professional sports leagues to return following COVID-19. The desperate longing for sports and gambling has driven diehard sports fans to all forms of sports. Soccer has become a little more recognized by some that had ignored it in favor of NBA or MLB during the early summer.

The AFL and KBO have gained more mainstream notoriety in recent weeks as their fan bases expand to the United States. The sport that’s had the most successful return, NASCAR. NASCAR has experienced a reinvigoration in terms of both public image and ratings.

New Eyes On NASCAR

In the last few weeks since their return, over the span of 11 races, including some primetime week races, some races on FS1, and the usual summer dip, NASCAR has had an average of 3.08 million viewers per race.

In terms of comparison against pass races this time last year, the numbers are higher even if they’re on FS1. Publicly NASCAR being back also turned eyes to the sport with the uproar of the Black Lives Matter Movement and allowed them to take a vocal stance in support of the movement. More eyes are tuning into the sport, and more money is being spent on merchandise than before.

With that said, is it sustainable? As the NBA and MLB attempt to navigate their returns, those same fans that gravitated to NASCAR in the absence of sports may return to watching the more familiar sports. Not only that but as coronavirus spikes in the south, that’s not good for NASCAR, which has most team shops primarily based in North Carolina. Now, Jimmie Johnson has been diagnosed with COVID, and that could also spark some worries as the first case they’ve had since their return.

Still, with sports like MLB struggling to return and missing out on an opportune time to gain mainstream attention and the NBA trying to navigate the new normal, eyes will still be on the sport for now. At least for now, a sport that was deemed by some to be on the ropes just a short time ago has experienced a rejuvenation.

 

UFC: Masvidal willing to step in for Burns, will the UFC make it happen?

Late Friday evening, next week’s UFC 251 card took a massive hit. The main event was taken out by a positive COVID-19 test from welterweight challenger, Gilbert Burns. UFC champion, Kamaru Usman, did not board the charter flight to Fight Island after the news came out. There is no official word from the UFC yet, but the original number one contender has voiced his interest in stepping in.

What will the UFC do?

No disrespect to Gilbert Burns, but this title shot always belonged to Jorge Masvidal. After Masvidal was named fighter of the year in 2019, he earned the title shot. There was so much heat between him and Usman that the fight was guaranteed to sell. However, the negotiations went south when Masvidal was expected to take less money for the title fight than he received for the BMF fight against Nate Diaz.

Negotiations spilled out into the public and Burns was given the shot over Masvidal. Now, Gamebred is saying that he will step in on a week’s notice to take the fight. The question is, will the UFC make it happen? Will the UFC pony up the money it will take for Masvidal to get the shot?

Anything is possible, but my guess is no. If the UFC couldn’t make the fight happen over the course of months of negotiations, I don’t think they will make a last minute fight happen. I think they will be content with rescheduling Burns/Usman for a later date. I hope I’m wrong because I believe that Masvidal deserves to be in that main event spot.

New York Yankees’ fresh ace Gerrit Cole motivates us with new updates

New York Yankees, Gerrit Cole

The New York Yankees will start spring training 2.0 on Saturday, evidently the 4th of July. Sparks will be flying, and so will baseballs at 100 MPH thrown by ace, Gerrit Cole.

Cole, who signed a nine-year, $324 million deal this off-season, also had a baby boy this past week. His son Caden might not enjoy the baseball his dad will put forth this year, but Yankee fans will always remember the first season their new ace tossed.

The New York Yankees will be challenged right away this season

Cole will start his Yankee career against the Washington Nationals on Opening Day, in primetime. Gerrit recently lost to the Nationals in the World Series while pitching for the Houston Astros.

However, on a conference call Friday, the new pitcher detailed how he has practiced the last few days and where he is in terms of starting the regular season on schedule.

I think well probably take it one step at a time, in terms of where I’m at now, it’s a great baseline, I threw three innings yesterday, roughly 45 pitches at normal velocity, granted, it’s just a different environment facing your own hitters, as it will be progressing through this shortened summer training,” Cole stated. “But, three innings with good velo and good load is a great place to start. I see no reason why, can’t get into the regulars season with at least five innings under our belt, and hopefully we can get more.”

Motivating words from Cole followed his break down, and every fan wants to hear their new ace beaming with confidence before stepping foot in Yankee Stadium.

With reports indicating that Hal Steinbrenner hopes to include fans in a minimal capacity at in the Bronx, Cole might have a small fan-base in attendance. While that is yet to be established, watching on TV will nonetheless be exciting.

“I’m here to take that burden on and take it in stride. “I’m honored to do it, and I’ve prepared this entire summer to be put in that position. So I fully expect to be ready to go.”

Baseball is still fighting to return from COVID-19

The former Astro is no longer thinking about the past after having a baby boy and the regular season set to start in late July. The league also conducted COVID-19 tests, and out of 3185 tests, only 38 came back positive.

The righty-arm represents the Yankees’ best opportunity to earn a World Series trophy in 2020, and while an asterisk might accompany it in a shortened campaign, it would break a decade-long drought.

MLB News: MLB officially cancels the 2020 All-Star festivities

New York Yankees fans will be deprived of the summer classic All-Star Game and Homerun derby as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.  The cancellation was assumed, but yesterday, MLB made it official in a statement they released. The festivities were scheduled for July 14th, but with the season starting on the 23rd and while wanting to get in as many games as possible in the short-season, MLB made the decision.

Major League Baseball announced today that the 2020 All-Star Game presented by Mastercard, which was scheduled to be hosted by the Los Angeles Dodgers and the City of Los Angeles, is being cancelled.  With the Atlanta Braves already named as host of the 2021 All-Star Game in Atlanta, the Dodgers will host the next available Midsummer Classic in 2022.

Based on the health circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic that are beyond MLB’s control along with governmental directives prohibiting large gatherings, the league determined it is unable to conduct the All-Star Game and its week of surrounding fan activities this year.

MLB and the New York Yankees last hosted the All-Star game in 2008 the last year of the old Yankee Stadium. They also hosted the game in 1939, 1960, and 1977.  In the 2008 Homerun Derby, the Minnesota Twins Justin Morneau won two of the three rounds for the award.  However, that was overshadowed by Josh Hamilton’s incredible 28 dingers in the first round.

The All-Star game itself was historic as it went 15 innings with the American League finally wining it 4-3.  By the length of time, this was the longest MLB All-Star Game in history at four hours and 50 minutes. The game finally came to a conclusion at 1:38 the next morning.

The game was an exciting one for many reasons.  One was it was the last time the crowd got to see the ailing “Boss” George M. Steinbrenner that entered the Stadium to the surprise of Yankees fans in a golf cart with his family to bring out the game balls.  Greeting him near the pitcher’s mound was Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Reggie Jackson and Goose Gossage, the Yankees’ four Hall of Famers who were on the field. Ford and Berra kissed Steinbrenner, and Jackson and Gossage hugged him. The elder Steinbrenner died in 2010.

Problems the New York Yankees could encounter this season

New York Yankees, Luke Voit

The New York Yankees are one of the favorites for the World Series during this unconventional 60-game year and for good reason. They have one of the strongest and most intimidating lineups in all of Major League Baseball and with the addition of superstar Gerrit Cole to the rotation, they’re on a whole different level than last season.

Despite all the positive things to be excited about this season, there are some issues the Yankees will need to have a grip on if they want that end goal: bringing home the 28th Commissioner’s Trophy to the Bronx once again.

Injuries

This is one of the most obvious ones, as last season was a nightmare of injuries. Even though the Yankees still found success even when they have several of their key players on the Injured List, it would be extremely difficult to repeat that. It’s crucial that sluggers Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton remain healthy throughout the shortened season. Other important players such as Gary Sanchez, Luke Voit, and Aaron Hicks who have had injury problems throughout their career need to stay healthy as long as the club wants another successful season.

During a normal 162-game season, going on the IL for 14 days isn’t ideal, but it wasn’t the end of the world. During these new circumstances with only 60 games, the team can’t afford to have key players sit out for two weeks.

Back end of starting rotation

The addition of Gerrit Cole made the Yankees’ pitching rotation significantly better, no doubt. However, without Luis Severino and Domingo German, the back end of the rotation is a little questionable. The projected rotation is as follows: Gerrit Cole, James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, JA Happ, Jordan Montgomery, and Jonathan Loaisiga. Happ, Montgomery, and Loaisiga are all guys that can either dominate for seven innings or be pulled in the fourth.

The reason why I say these three guys are questionable is that you never know what’re you’re going to get when they take the mound. Happ looked great during the preseason games, however, struggled last season with keeping the ball in the park. Montgomery was fantastic prior to Tommy John surgery, and a pitcher could be completely different after having a big surgery like that. Loaisiga has some nasty stuff but sometimes struggles to command the zone.

The New York Yankees rotation will interesting to watch this season. I think the “opener” strategy” that was used last season will probably be used again this season, as it was deemed highly effective. The Yankee bullpen remains one of the league’s best so they can utilize that with little concern.

Can these guys repeat it?

There were several players on the Yankees last season that had what you can call their “breakout” seasons. Gio Urshela, Mike Tauchman, Mike Ford all busted onto the scene last year when they proved they were valuable to the team’s success. It’ll be fun and interesting to watch if these guys can repeat their success from last season. It’s possible that last year was just a career year for them, however, I think that’s unlikely. I believe these players are truly able to compete with some of the league’s best and Yankee fans should expect it again this year.

New York Mets Sign Fireballer Richard Brito

The New York Mets continued the revitalization of their farm system, but this time turned to an international prospect. They signed 21-year old Venezuelan pitcher Richard Brito to add to their growing pitching depth in the minors.

Brito fastball reached speeds of 101-102 mph and was the top international pitching prospect during 2019. His 6’4″, 195-pound frame is on par with Jacob deGrom, which could allow him to pitch with high velocity throughout his career.

Successful Generation K?

Brito is considered a late bloomer with experience pitching in the Dominican Republic but has not seen professional ball yet. Unlike most young fireballers, his age allows him the opportunity to move up the minor league ranks faster than most. Of course, Tommy John Surgery is a worry with pitchers who throw this hard. Hopefully, the Mets build up his strength and incorporate his legs in his motion more to relieve some of the stress the arm undergoes.

He joins the Mets pitching prospects of Matthew Allen, Josh Wolf, Robert Dominguez, and 2020 second-round pick J.T. Ginn. It sets the Mets up very well for the future and possibly allows them to remain competitive without needing to rebuild over the decade.

New York Mets injury report: Cespedes sprinting, Lowrie still on brace

For a regular baseball player, running sprints is just another part of their training routine. For a guy that hasn’t played since July 2018, though, and is looking to make his mark in the last year of his contract, it is a significant development. Yoenis Cespedes, after months of being unable to run at full speed, did just that in the New York Mets‘ Citi Field on Friday night.

He also played catch with his throwing partner Johneshwy Fargas, per MLB.com. The sprinting is a giant step in the right direction for the Mets’ outfielder, who has missed the last year (and change) with multiple heel and ankle surgeries. He seems an awful lot closer now.

“We’ll see in the upcoming days in camp when we start ramping it up more and we get involved into the bases and all that where he is as far as that,” manager Luis Rojas said earlier in the day. “But I know he was in progression and I heard really good things about it, and I can’t wait to see Céspedes myself.”

With the addition of the designated hitter in the National League, the New York Mets stand to be among the biggest beneficiaries because they can plug Cespedes in that slot and bring him along slowly. They also have other candidates such as J.D. Davis, Dom Smith and Robinson Cano.

Lowrie still a question mark for the Mets

While the Mets got good news on Cespedes, infielder Jed Lowrie seems stuck in his recovery. He reported to spring training with a knee brace back in February, and he still has it this time around.

As a result, he may not be able to participate in full baseball activities at Mets camp. The likelihood is that he won’t appear in games until he sheds his brace. Brodie Van Wagenen recently narrowed down Lowrie’s physical issues to his left knee, and said he must find a way to feel comfortable playing while wearing a lighter brace.

For now, Lowrie played catch and took some ground balls, but not much else.

“Once again, we’re going to see how his progression is,” Rojas said. “That’s something that I need to reassess with the performance staff as well to see where he is. The knee brace was his limitation as far as getting comfortable … throughout practice and seeing if he can wear it in games. That was the question as we were going through camp, and we need to reassess with the performance staff here in camp as far as his baseball activity.”

NASCAR: Christopher Bell talks about a most unusual rookie season

Christopher Bell’s first NASCAR Cup Series starts have come during perhaps the most unusual stretch in the circuit’s history.

The 2020 NASCAR season has been unlike any in the auto racing circuit’s history. Drivers in the premier Cup Series have raced as often as three times in seven days as they provide a sports-starved nation enticing morsels in the midst of a health crisis. To adhere to social distancing mandates, drivers are often afforded little, if any, face-to-face time with their crews as they prepare their machines for race days. Grandstands have been kept empty save for a few lucky thousands invited to Cup events at Homestead-Miami Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway (this month’s All-Star Race in Bristol is expected to welcome 30,000).

Now imagine making your first starts at the Cup Series in the midst of this chaos.

Such is the case for Christopher Bell, the rookie driver of the No. 95 Leavine Family Racing Toyota. Bell finished third in last season’s Xfinity Series rankings and won the 2017 Truck Series to earn his promotion. Most up-and-coming NASCAR stars, like Bell’s fellow Rookie of the Year candidates Tyler Reddick and John Hunter Nemechek, often race in a handful of Cup Series events before making their debuts, but Bell wasn’t afforded such a luxury. He made his debut in February’s Daytona 500 and remains, by far, the least experienced full-time driver on the entry list.

“It started off with a pretty crazy turn of events,” Bell remarked with a smile in a Friday morning conference call. “With Donald Trump coming to the Daytona 500 and getting rained out, racing on Monday and then all of a sudden we’re taking a hiatus or whatever it was. 2020 has been one to remember, that’s for sure.”

Bell enjoyed the elite backing of Joe Gibbs Racing on the Xfinity circuit, but with their Cup stable full, he’s latched on to the mid-budget endeavors of LFR. The Texas-headquartered, family-owned squad is one of NASCAR’s few single-car teams, having regularly fielded the No. 95 since 2011. It has yet to visit victory lane, but gained speed over the years thanks to a technical alliance with Gibbs. Last season saw Matt DiBenedetto drive it to a team-best three top-five finishes, including a runner-up posting in the August race at Bristol.

The season’s opening saw Bell struggle to keep the momentum alive. A multi-car pileup on the penultimate regulation lap of his Daytona 500 debut set a foreboding pace to his Cup career before a slow day marred by postrace inspection penalties actually saw him leave Las Vegas Motor Speedway with negative points. By the time the Cup Series was forced into a two-month hiatus due to the ongoing health crisis after four race, Bell already had his first last-place finish under his belt (38th after an engine failure at Fontana) and sat a humbling 32nd-place in the standings.

He credited crew chief Jason Ratcliff for guiding him through the tough stretch. Ratcliff worked with Bell during top-five postings on the Xfinity level and won 14 races with Matt Kenseth in the No. 20 Toyota stall at JGR. The two earned 15 wins together in NASCAR’s AAA-baseball equivalent. Their seven in 2018 were good enough to set a record for an Xfinity Series rookie.

“Jason is obviously a guy that I have a lot of trust in,” Bell said. “He’s an A-caliber crew chief and I was fortunate enough to get my feet wet with him in the Xfinity side and I think that was kind of our goal was to train, I call it train, together in the Xfinity Series and get to know each other and get on the same page. It was all about making this transition to Cup. The first four weeks were a disaster, but it seems like we’re getting going and getting a lot better here recently.”

When the series was able to resume in May, Bell got off to a solid start with an 11th-place posting at the second race back at Darlington Raceway before earning the first top ten of his career in his first start at another crown jewel, the marathon Coca-Cola 600. Since the return, Bell has tallied four top-tens overall and his first top-five, a fourth-place posting at the first half of a Pocono Raceway doubleheader on Saturday.

“Ever since the break, we’ve been able to come back to the race track and be pretty competitive,” he said. “I feel like the first four weeks were definitely disappointing, but after the break my team has been doing great, bringing a lot better race cars to the track and we’ve been able to capitalize on that.”

The efforts to race in a confined, timely manner haven’t afforded Bell the opportunity to try out his Cup car on the track. So-called racing gods have apparently been all-too-keen to further complicate his quest.

With qualifying wiped out, Bell and the rest of the field are at the mercy of random draws in determining the starting lineup. The top dozen in car owners’ points get the corresponding spots. The next 24 are then separated into equal pools while the final four round out the field. Bell’s brutal start has placed him in the third pool, which is awarded the 25th through 36th positions. Prior to the second half of the Pocono doubleheader, Bell had started 32nd or worse in five of the prior six races.

With the Sunday race lineup determined by inverting Saturday’s final order, Bell started 17th, which might as well been pole position based on his luck. However, disaster came on lap 39 of 140, when a crash ended his day early and relegated him to a 39th-place finish. NASCAR’s latest travels haven’t done any good toward Bell’s starting lineup luck, as he’ll start 36th for Sunday’s Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 Powered by Big Machine Records at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (4 p.m. ET, NBC). The No. 95 is 17 points behind Nemechek and his No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford for the final spot in the second pool (24th).

However, even as the lineup lottery fails to smile upon him, Bell is enjoying the change.

“Honestly, I’ve really enjoyed the no practice and no qualifying,” he said. “I feel like it fits what I’ve grown up doing and if you look at our performance, we’ve run exceptionally better since we stopped practicing for whatever reason that is. I really enjoy it.”

“As a rookie going to the race track, which my starting position, I’m not starting on the pole or the front row so I’m not having to go wide open into turn one and expect the car to stick or anything. I have enough time starting in the back that we’re able to just creep up on it and I feel like I’ve done a good job of not overstepping my limits and making sure I get to that first pit stop where we can tune the car to my liking and stuff like that.”

Time will tell where Cup Series endeavors take Bell. He’s impressing in LFR’s mid-budget ride thus far and has declared that he’d be interested to see where the car would be if not for their brutal luck in the early going.

But if this is what his rookie season is like, it’s certainly safe to say any post-yellow stripe campaigns should be a Sunday drive.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: WR Quincy Enunwa addresses mental health in Instagram post

New York Jets, Quincy Enunwa

The New York Jets receiver took to Instagram after a long hiatus to address mental health and look back on his time in New York.

View this post on Instagram

#MinorityMentalHealthMonth⠀ I've been off IG for a long time, but I'll try to keep this post short. ⠀ •⠀ I was once somebody who didn't think I could be affected by symptoms of mental illness. I always believed that my will would pull me through any issue. If I was really a "Man," I could deal with my own problems. I managed to live that way for a while, and then I injured my neck again. Suddenly just being a man wasn't enough. I needed something more to help me figure out what I was going through. Long story short, I found therapy and in it a space to process not only what I was going through, but also my relationships, friendships, and being black in America. Some people may think, "But Q, you just signed a 4-year extension, I would have just wiped my tears with those dollar bills," and to that, I say you right, but mental illness doesn't discriminate. @kevinlove said it best, "Success is not immune to depression or mental illness." ⠀ • With that being said, My wife created and is selling #BlackFeelingsMatter masks. When people are continually looking for ways to give back, she's found an amazing one. 100% of proceeds will be donated to @therapyforblackgirls and @nqttcn , which aim to provide culturally affirming therapy to people of color.⠀ •⠀ As I continue to evolve and use my platform for change, I refuse to allow my community to continue to struggle in the dark. Asking for help isn't weak and you're not alone in your struggle. Like @beastmode said, "Take care of your mental"

A post shared by Quincy Enunwa (@quincyenunwa) on

New York Jets receiver Quincy Enunwa returned to Instagram after a 13-month hiatus this week to address his mental health and look back on his time in the metropolitan area.

In a multi-photo post, the 28-year-old Enunwa admitted to having suffered from mental illness in the past but was proud to disclose that he worked through it with the assistance of therapy and through the words of his fellow athletes. The accompanying photos feature Enunwa engaged in various activities in the New York area, including a lead photo of his time with the Jets.

“I was once somebody who didn’t think I could be affected by mental illness. I always believed that my will would pull me through any issue,” Enunwa’s caption says. “If I was really a “Man,” [sic] I could deal with my own problems. I managed to live that way for a while, and then I injured my neck again. Suddenly just being a man wasn’t enough. I needed something more to help me figure out what I was going through.”

His post coincides with Minority Mental Health Month, which was established in 2008 by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

Enunwa’s words include a quote from NBA All-Star Kevin Love, reading “Success is not immune to depression or mental illness”. The Cleveland Cavaliers forward was one of the first and most renowned professional athletes to address his mental health publicly.

“Long story short, I found therapy and in it a space to process not only what I was going through, but also my relationships, friendships, and being black in America,” he continued. “Some people may think, “But Q, you just signed a 4-year extension, I would have just wiped my tears with those dollar bills,” and to that, I say you right, but mental illness doesn’t discriminate.”

The receiver was referring to a four-year, $36 million extension he inked with the Jets in December 2018 and the resulting neck injury in the Week 1 contest against Buffalo in the ensuing season. Placed on the reserve/physically unable to perform list in May, Enunwa will also miss all of the 2020 campaign.

Enunwa then went on to reveal a new charitable endeavor, selling protective face coverings that read “Black Feelings Matter”. The masks are made by Enunwa’s wife and U.S. Army veteran Deanna. All of the proceeds will be donated to Therapy for Black Girls and the National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network. These organizations, according to Enunwa, “aim to provide culturally affirming therapy to people of color”.

“As I continue to evolve and use my platform for change, I refuse to allow my community to continue to struggle in the dark. Asking for help isn’t weak and you’re not alone in your struggle,” Enunwa concludes. “Like (All-Pro running back Marshawn Lynch) said, “Take care of your mental”.

Numerous teammates left messages of support under Enunwa’s post, including Jamal Adams and Chris Herndon.

Enunwa was drafted by the Jets in the sixth round (209th overall) of 2014’s draft out of Nebraska. He has earned 1,617 yards on 119 receptions in his career to go with five touchdowns.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

 

New York Giants: 3 players that need to step up on defense in 2020

New York Giants, Jabrill Peppers

The New York Giants are heading into the 2020 season with unpredictability scattered across the board. Their offense might have some new talented pieces, but we don’t know what the offensive line holds or how Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley will perform behind them.

On defense, the Giants landed safety Xavier McKinney in the draft and brought in several new players in linebacker Blake Martinez and pass rusher Kyler Fackrell. With general manager Dave Gettleman attempting to piece together the defense and rid the team of underperforming athletes, we should expect an increase in production, but there are several players that need to step up and fill the void.

Here’s a look at three players the New York Giants need to step up on defense:

1.) Lorenzo Carter

Carter needs to improve in 2020, after posting two seasons of uninspiring play. After his rookie campaign, most were excited to see Carter make his debut in his sophomore season, as he contains the size and speed to be a quality player in the NFL.

After posting 4.0 sacks, 43 combined tackles, and 10 quarterback hits in just 40% of defensive snaps; he backed it up with marginal improvements in year two. Carter posted 4.5 sacks, 45 combine tackles, 13 quarterback hits, and a 15.1% missed tackle rate on 65% of snaps.

The sophomore slump is undoubtedly a real thing, as expectations were weighing down on Carter’s shoulders. At 24 years old, the Giants shouldn’t give up on him yet, and I expect him to earn about 50% of defensive snaps with Patrick Graham as defensive coordinator. If the Giants manage to retain Markus Golden on a one year deal, Carter could be pushed on the depth chart, but his development is essential in the progression of the Giants’ pass rush.