New York Giants wide receiver Sterling Shepard only played in 12 games last season, but it looked like the Giants were getting their money’s worth for the time he was on the field. Shepard was one of the most threatening receivers to opposing defenses in 2020 and at times, it looked like some of his catches made Daniel Jones look better too.
The effort was ultimately one of the saving graces for the Giants during a year when the offense was all around poor, and it earned Shepard some recognition as Pro Football Focus compiled their position rankings for 2020. Shepard just barely made the cut, but was placed in the top 25 for his position.
23. STERLING SHEPARD, NEW YORK GIANTS
Shepard closed out his 2020 campaign with his two best games of the entire season, subsequently squeaking him into the top 25 with a 79.6 PFF grade for the year. He was one of 85 wide receivers to see at least 80 targets this season, and among that group, he was 11th in the percentage of catchable passes caught at 94.3%. Shepard hardly did anything vertically in Jason Garrett’s offense, but he jumped to 16th in receiving grade on non-vertical route targets.
As mentioned in the article, one of the big obstacles for the Giants passing game last season was Jason Garrett’s offense. The Giants didn’t make much happen down the field and the lack of creativity from Garrett allowed defenses to figure the Giants out somewhat. While receivers had trouble getting separation this year, some of the blame has to fall on the staff for not mixing things up and catching defenses off guard with different looks.
Going into the next season, the Giants may or may not have a more vertical threat as their number one wide receiver. However, Shepard should benefit either way from this setup. After all, if defenses are focusing on another player over the top, that opens up more chances for Shepard as a secondary receiver.
And with Darius Slayton not making the jump forward many expected in 2020, Shepard still might be the most reliable receiver the Giants have on the roster right now.
New York Knicks guard Elfrid Payton struggled against the Cleveland Cavaliers during a painful loss on Friday, January 15th. The Knick point guard finished with 9 points after shooting 4-7 from the field. Payton had 3-rebounds and 3-turnovers. The most glaring and disturbing stat category Elfrid Payton possessed was accumulating 0-assists for the entire game.
Cleveland did what many other teams will continue to do, play zone defense while Payton is trying to run the point- guard position for the New York Knicks. Payton struggled against the length of Cleveland’s team, leading to sloppy turnovers by himself and his teamate RJ Barrett.
Many Knick fans have lost confidence and patience with a few Knick players. However, Payton is leading the race as the most hated Knick by simply frustrated Knick fans. Some fans went as far as mentioning Elfrid’s ability to stay locked-in even when he’s struggling. There are whispers going around stating that Elfrid Payton mentally checks out if things aren’t going right for himself and the squad.
Rumors are circulating about Isaiah Thomas’s availability after a long period of being away from the NBA. Some chatter in Knicks universe states that the Knicks should give Isaiah Thomas a chance due to lack of shooting depth.
Overall, the Knicks are depleted by injuries. The players earning minutes currently are banged up. However, Tom Thibodeau and the Knicks must continue digging deep on defense in order to give themselves a chance for victory. Offensively, the Knicks need a starting point-guard who can shoot the basketball. Many are calling for Quickley to start. There’s definitely a possibility, however time will tell what these Knicks are really made of.
On Friday night, Dotson got his opportunity to repay the Cavaliers and get back at the Knicks.
Dotson delivered the big blows as the Cavaliers extended the Knicks’ losing streak to five, 106-103, at the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.
The Cavaliers snapped their three-game losing skid with Dotson stepping up to fill the hole left by the injured Collin Sexton and Darius Garland.
A former Knicks’ second-round pick, Dotson has found his niche with the Cavaliers. As a fill-in starter, he played 40 minutes against his former team, producing 13 points, four boards, and four dimes.
Dotson scored seven clutch points in the final quarter as a closer. He started to take over with a triple inside the final 2:46 that gave the Cavaliers a five-point cushion, 98-93.
RJ Barrett committed two costly errors down the stretch, which Dotson and the Cavaliers pounced to pull off the close win.
The Knicks pulled within one, 98-97, on a Barrett tough jumper to beat the shot clock.
Then the Knicks unraveled.
Barrett quickly turned from hero to zero. He lost the ball to Andre Drummond, which led to a clear-path foul by Julius Randle.
Dotson calmly sank the two free throws, then added another layup in the Cavaliers’ bonus possession. Drummond sealed the win with another steal on Barrett.
Barrett’s erratic play late in the game dampened his second straight efficient shooting. He finished with 20 points on 7-of-12 field goal shooting.
Drummond had a monster game — 33 points, 23 rebounds, three assists, two steaks, and two blocks — to lead the Cavaliers.
The big man already had a double-double in the opening half with 20 points and 14 rebounds — a feat never done by a Cavalier in more than 20 years, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Drummond is also the first player in the NBA to log in a double-double in any half since reigning two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo did it last March.
The Knicks’ eight loss flushed Immanuel Quickley’s career night down the drain. For the second straight game, Quickley was the Knicks’ best point guard. He kept them afloat with a career-high 23 points off the bench.
Quickley spearheaded a late third-quarter run with the help of Nerlens Noel, who had a season-high six blocks. The Knicks wiped out a second-half 12-point deficit.
Game of runs
A 16-0 run bridging the third and final quarter had the Knicks taking a four-point lead, 84-80. But Drummond could not be contained down low. He teamed up with Cedi Osman as the Cavaliers took the lead for good with a 9-0 counter-attack.
Osman fired 25 points, including 10 in the third, and added five assists.
Barrett and the Knicks need to forget quickly as they gear up for a back-to-back game against the Boston Celtics on Sunday and the Orlando Magic on Monday.
Since the calendar turned over to 2021, the UFC has been busy working on building it’s biggest year yet. They are kicking off the new year with a bang with three fantastic cards on Fight Island that starts tomorrow with Max Holloway – Calvin Kattar.
Of course, the biggest star in the sport, Conor McGregor, is headlining the first PPV next weekend at UFC 257. Despite all of this excitement in the next week, it’s actually the month of March that’s getting the hype.
The UFC has already announced a massive PPV event to kick things off in March. UFC 259 is scheduled for March 6th and has three title fights booked for that card with the headliner being Israel Adesanya – Jan Blachowicz.
Tonight, ESPN’s Ariel Helwani is reporting that the promotion has plans for another massive PPV at the end of March. Per Helwani, UFC 260 is being targeted for March 27th and the card would feature Stipe Miocic – Francis Ngannou 2 and Alexander Volkanovski – Brian Ortega.
Two UFC title fights
To start things off, it should be known that neither one of these fights for UFC 260 are finalized. However, let’s move with assumption that they will get done and let’s start with the main event of the evening.
The rematch between Stipe Miocic (20-3) and Francis Ngannou (15-3) is a fight that UFC fans have been waiting for. Ngannou has knocked out four straight opponents in the first round while Miocic just concluded his trilogy with Daniel Cormier.
While Miocic dominated the first fight, the general consensus is that Ngannou will be the favorite at UFC 260. Ngannou is looking better than ever while Miocic isn’t quite as good as he was when they first fought. The winner will take on Jon Jones (26-1, 1 NC) later in the summer.
Then we have the co-main event of the evening. The UFC featherweight title will be on the line as Alexander Volkanovski (22-1) will be taking on Brian Ortega (15-1, 1 NC). Volkanovski will be making his second title defense.
In my opinion, Brian Ortega looked like the best featherweight in the world when he fought Chan Sung Jung back in October. Ortega has always been known for his ground skills, but his striking looked sensational.
Factoring both of those in with his cardio and size and you have a problem for the division. Despite being the champion, Alexander Volkanovski will have a lot to prove at UFC 260.
Most people believe that he lost to Max Holloway in their rematch in July. He will need to come out and make a statement to show the world that he truly is the best in the UFC’s featherweight division. This event is not official, but if it gets done, March is going to be insane.
Determined to finally rise from the ashes of the WNBA cellar, the New York Liberty now face a most interesting free agency period.
The New York Liberty have sowed their post-Madison Square Garden rebuild for three years now. But after three years at or near the bottom of the WNBA standings, they’re really to start reaping.
Three months after the Bradenton bubble was deflated for the last time, the Association’s free agency period unofficially opened on Friday, with its twelve teams now permitted to negotiate with their own free agents, as well as Restricted and Unrestricted Free Agents. Deals and offer sheets can officially be signed on February 1.
Trapped in the midst of a three-year playoff drought, the longest in franchise history, the Liberty have picked some strong-long term contributors during their stay in hardwood purgatory. These additions go far beyond the high-profile arrival of Sabrina Ionescu, as the team has also welcomed in All-Star Kia Nurse and 2020 All-Rookie team representative Jazmine Jones through the draft, while veteran leader Layshia Clarendon arrived through free agency last season. More recently, the Liberty hit the jackpot at the WNBA Draft Lottery for the second straight season, as they earned an early Christmas gift in the form of the top overall pick at this spring’s upcoming draft. Additionally, the Liberty gained franchise stability through new management. Brooklyn Nets owner Joseph Tsai purchased the team in 2019 and was ready to move the team into Brooklyn’s Barclays Center before current events enforced a delay.
These decisions and steps forward have done little to atone for the fact that the Liberty have endured some brutal seasons in recent years, with things more or less plummeting in a 2-20 record inside the bubble. The Liberty went through most of last season without Ionescu and veteran contributors like Rebecca Allen, Asia Durr, and Marine Johannes, using seven rookies over the course of the enclosed season. With the veterans set to return, the Liberty will have some major decisions to make when it comes to these young players.
In the lottery aftermath, Liberty general manager Jonathan Kolb made it clear that the 2021 season would be one that could at least begin to right the ship while developing some of their younger talents. Kolb labeled this modern endeavor a “hybrid rebuild”.
“We have a really exciting opportunity to kind of have a hybrid rebuild if you will,” Kolb said. “We can be super competitive right now while bringing along the future of the Liberty down the road. So that’s what we’re going to try to do. We have a plan, and we’ll see how it goes. Time will tell.”
“I think the most exciting thing is, we’re in position to do something. We’re positioned cap-wise, flexibility-wise, that if they’re interested in coming to New York, we’re in a position to capitalize on it.”
Based on numbers from Spotrac, the Liberty have just over $467,000 to spend through free agency.
ESM has you covered with what you need to know about the Liberty’s transactional future as the process gets underway…
The Liberty have re-upped with one of their free agents thus far.
C/F Kiah Stokes
Stokes was set to become a free agent but inked a one-year contract extension just before the Liberty’s season finale in September. After sitting out the entire 2019 WNBA season due to personal issues, Stokes returned to America with a newfound propensity for shooting the three, putting up 85 attempts after only three in her first four seasons. She sank only 20, but her newfound confidence from beyond the arc was inspiring to head coach Walt Hopkins.
“Stokes has been a rock for this group in a lot of ways,” Hopkins said in September. “In spite of her going through what has to have been the most difficult mental season in terms of being uncomfortable, when you’re uncomfortable, you’re able to grow.”
“As this season went on, it was quite clear Kiah Stokes needed to be a part of what we’re doing,” Kolb said after her re-upping. “She enables us what we want to be and helps us be what we want to be.”
As a first-round pick from 2015, Stokes also presents a rare form of experience on the current New York roster.
The Liberty have no players with the core or unrestricted designations.
Reserved players are those that have three years or less of WNBA service. Their current teams have exclusive negotiation rights.
F Joyner Holmes
After the Liberty endured their veteran opt-outs, they brought in Holmes, a 2020 second-round pick from Seattle. Holmes averaged 2.9 points and 2.7 rebounds in 19 games off the bench but left her mark on New York history by tying a Liberty rookie record with 13 rebounds in a September tilt against Phoenix.
G Paris Kea
A former draft pick in Indiana, Kea was signed midseason once it became clear that Ionescu was out with a long-term issue. She made the most of her opportunity, averaging 6.9 points over 11 contests (five of which she started). The Liberty recently announced that Kea underwent knee surgery for an injury she sustained while playing overseas in Israel. Her 2021 status is uncertain, but she is expected to make a full recovery.
Unrestricted free agents are permitted to sign with any team, except if they been bestowed core status
C Amanda Zahui B
Another New York veteran, coming over in a 2016 trade with the defunct Tulsa Shock, Zahui B emerged as a leader on and off the court last season. The rookie surplus looked up to her as an inspiration, while she used her platform to bring attention to social causes away from the hardwood.
Zahui B set career highs in nearly every major category this season, including averages of 9.0 points and 8.5 rebounds, but with Stokes’ return confirmed and collegiate interior threat Charli Collier potentially up for the top pick, it’ll be interesting to see what becomes of the Stockholm native’s future.
Players with expired contracts but opted out of the 2020 season can negotiate exclusively with their current team
F/G Rebecca Allen
Allen opted out of the 2020 season in the wake of the ongoing health crisis, but was routinely mentioned by Liberty representatives over the season. Hopkins, for example, never hesitated to mention just how much he missed having Allen in his debut lineup.
“She’s got a tremendous skill set and she’s got a rare mix of characteristics in that she’s about 6’2 and she’s really long and she’s deceptively athletic to go with her ability to put the ball on the floor and get fouled and shoot the three at such a high level,” Hopkins said earlier last spring. “That’s really the type of player we absolutely need for this system to work and we’ve got one built-in already. On top of that, she’s a phenomenal person.”
F Stephanie Talbot
Talbot has yet to make her New York debut, having arrived through a draft night trade with Minnesota. Allen’s fellow Opal (a member of Australia’s national squad) likewise opted out but kept busy in her homeland’s top women’s league, earning first-team all-WNBL honors alongside WNBA All-Star Liz Cambage. Talbot previously worked with Hopkins when the latter was an assistant with the Lynx in 2019.
Outside Names to Watch
F Natasha Howard, Seattle
In her brief WNBA time, Ionescu found her shooting prowess rather quickly, scoring 33 points in only her second contest. If the Liberty were able to get another experienced interior threat, similar to what Ionescu had at Oregon with fellow 2020 draftees Satou Sabally and Ruthy Hebard, it could help her get even more comfortable with the WNBA game.
Howard has had her experience working with game-changing point guards in Seattle, namely Sue Bird. With a pair of All-Defensive First Team nominations, she would also give the Liberty some much needed defensive pointers, as New York has finished no better than ninth in points allowed in each of the past three seasons (including a league-worst 84.3 per game in 2019). Hopkins (as well as assistant Shelley Patterson) has also worked with Howard in the past, as the two previously collaborated on the Lynx’s 2017 run to the WNBA Finals.
F Nneka Ogwumike, Los Angeles
Both Kolb and Hopkins have preached about the value of high-character players representing New York, and it’s hard to find anyone more accomplished on and off the court than Ogwumike. The current Spark and future Space Jam: A New Legacy star is current in the midst of her second term as the WNBA Players Association president, with Clarendon serving as the second-in-command. WIth WNBPA headquarters situated on Sixth Ave., New York could be an attractive option to Ogwumike from both a basketball and business standpoint.
Both Howard and Ogwumike have core designations, but something can still be accomplished through a sign-and-trade deal.
F Emma Meeseman, Washington
Stokes’ newfound propensity to shoot from deep perhaps best personified Hopkins’ vision of playing positionless basketball where participants are confident from any area of the floor.
That more or less has been the story of Meeseman over the past few seasons, as she has fulfilled a variety of roles under Mike Thibault. She played it to her advantage during the 2019 WNBA Finals, coming off the bench to swipe series MVP honors after skipping the previous 2018 season to represent her native Belgium in the FIBA World Cup. Though Washington struggled without Elena Delle Donne last season, Meeseman set a new career-best with 4.5 assists per game.
From there, the Yankees turned their attention to the starting pitching market. I was told early this morning that the Yankees were in serious talks with Corey Kluber about a potential deal. However, Kluber had a number of suitors.
Well, this evening the Yankees got the job done. ESPN’s Jeff Passan was first to report that the Yankees have agreed to a deal with the former two-time Cy Young Award winner. Details have not yet been revealed, but I heard this morning that the Yankees wanted a one year deal.
This has turned out to be an incredible day in the Bronx. After an incredibly slow Winter, the Yankees have busted the door open in January with resigning LeMahieu and now adding Corey Kluber to the starting rotation.
Why Kluber picked the Yankees and what it means
Corey Kluber has missed much of the last couple of years due to injury. He was looking for a short deal where he could reestablish his value. However, he wanted to go to a team where he would have the chance to win.
Well, the Yankees fit the criteria perfectly. Kluber will now get to pitch on the biggest stage and if he pitches well, he should be in for a big raise after the 2021 season. This deal also greatly helps the bombers who desperately needed starting pitching help.
After Gerrit Cole, the 2021 rotation had a ton of question marks. Jordan Montgomery will of course be in the rotation, but after that nothing was guaranteed. Luis Severino is still recovering from Tommy John and Domingo German is coming back from suspension.
The Yankees have some solid young arms, but not proven on the biggest stage. Now, the Yankees are getting a low-risk and high-reward former Cy Young winner to slot in behind Gerrit Cole. Massive day for the boys up in the Bronx.
While the UFC continues to reign over the landscape of mixed martial arts worldwide, the Professional Fighters League (PFL) has exploded into the scene and now finds itself right behind the industry leader after just three years.
In an interview with CombatPress.com, PFL founder Donn Davis said that the league had established itself as the number-two MMA company globally on multiple factors, including fighter roster, worldwide audience, distribution, and growth.
“So I think what you’re seeing now, by all metrics, is the PFL is the number-two MMA company worldwide. In terms of fighter roster, PFL is number two. For a worldwide audience, PFL is number two. In terms of worldwide distribution, PFL is number two, and in terms of growth, PFL is number two,” Davis said.
But what pushed the PFL out into the front of the pack, alongside the UFC?
Founded in 2017, the league has already been able to put on two massively-successful seasons. Now, they are gearing up for the third season, which kicks off in April.
Notice how the PFL’s year is called a season?
That’s because the league follows a tournament-style format, which is unique in the world of MMA.
The league uses a regular season, playoffs, and finals format, which means the fighters will need to win to advance. At the end of the season, a world champion will be crowned for each weight division, and the winners are awarded one million dollars.
Making that tournament format all the more exciting for the fans to watch is the stacked roster of fighters that the PFL boasts.
Each of the league’s six weight divisions features veterans and up-and-coming talent from across the globe. The PFL is home to many of the MMA world’s top stars, including PFL Women’s Lightweight Champion Kayla Harrison, two-time PFL Featherweight Champion Lance Palmer, two-time PFL Lightweight Champion Natan Schulte, and many others.
In 2021, the league will have an influx of world championship talent led by Fabricio Werdum, Anthony Pettis, Rory MacDonald, and three-division boxing world champion Claressa Shields, who will be making her mixed martial arts debut.
While the PFL indeed features an all-star roster of fighters, they also have the number one executive team in sports.
Founder Donn Davis, who was also behind Revolution LLC, has brought together some of the top minds in media, sports, and digital to lead the league to the top.
Leading the charge is PFL CEO Peter Murray, who helped sign some of the biggest names in sports during his time with Under Armour. Executive Producer George Greenberg has over 40 years of experience and is coming off as an Executive Vice President for Fox Sports. President Ray Sefo was the founder of the World Series of Fighting and is a combat sports legend.
Those big names are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the PFL’s executive management roster.
The PFL is also backed by a world-class team of investors, including Swan & Legend Venture Partners and Matterhorn Private Equity, and Ted Leonsis, David Blitzer, Mark Lerner, Kevin Hart, Mark Burnett, and Tony Robbins. The league has also managed to secure sponsorships with AB InBev, Socios.com, The Marines, and many others.
The PFL can be seen in the United States via ESPN and in an additional 160 more countries worldwide via various platforms and sports networks.
With all these considered, it’s no surprise that the PFL is already at the top of the MMA mountain, alongside the UFC. With another big year in store in 2021, there’s no telling the heights that the fastest growing sports league in the world can reach.
The New York Giants‘ defense exceeded all expectations in 2020. The Giants’ defense allowed only 349.3 yards per game, the twelfth-best average by a defense in the NFL this season. New York’s biggest strength in 2020 was their run defense, allowing only 111.4 rushing yards per game (tenth-best).
The Giants benefit from having an impressive core of defensive lineman holding down the front of their defense. The trio of Leonard Williams, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Dexter Lawrence make up the strongest positional unit on the Giants’ roster.
The Giants’ defense improved drastically in 2020 when compared to 2019. New York allowed only 22.3 points per game in 2020 after allowing 28.2 points per game in 2019. The defense is the strength of the New York Giants, but there is still room for improvements.
Heading into the offseason, the Giants are focused on fixing the offense. But they could afford to allocate some assets towards the defensive side of the ball as well.
Where can the Giants improve on defense?
The Giants have an excellent, youthful defensive line. Their linebacker corps is led by Blake Martinez, a stud inside linebacker that totaled 151 combined tackles this season. Cornerback James Bradberry had an elite season in the Giants’ secondary. And, holding down the back end, is a phenomenal trio of safeties made up by Jabrill Peppers, Logan Ryan, and Xavier McKinney.
The Giants have good players in their front seven and their secondary. But neither one of these units is perfect. Within the Giants’ front seven, there is a major weakness at the edge rusher position. New York’s pass-rush was solid this year, but mainly because of their excellent interior defensive linemen. The pass-rush was lacking off of the edge and New York needs to find a way to improve that position this offseason.
The secondary has an obvious weakness as well. While Bradberry performed as a shutdown cornerback this season, the Gaints also enjoyed a solid rookie season out of Darnay Holmes in the slot. However, opposite of James Bradberry, the Giants had a revolving door at their second cornerback position. From Ryan Lewis to Isaac Yiadom and even safety Julian Love, the Giants experimented plenty at the cornerback position and struggled to find consistent play.
One could debate which position is a bigger position of weakness for the Giants entering the 2021 offseason. Regardless the Giants need to improve these areas to take their defense to the next level. The Giants should prioritize adding or developing talent off the edge and at their second cornerback position in 2021.
Could one of boxing’s brightest and younger stars be bound for the UFC? One of the most popular figures in boxing right now is WBC interim lightweight champion, Ryan Garcia (21-0). Garcia in a way is like the modern day Oscar De La Hoya.
He’s got the look and he’s got the skill to become a superstar. His skills in the boxing ring have led him to the interim WBC lightweight championship and a 21-0 record before he’s even turned 23 years old.
The plan has been in place for Garcia to lead the boxing world for years to come. However, Garcia has different plans. In fact, he’s not planning on sticking around in boxing very long.
Garcia was on the Rich Eisen Show this week and he talked about his desire to walk away from boxing at 26. He wants to retire undefeated and only fight if people truly believe he can’t win. Once he conquers all boxing challengers, he only sees one arena where people would doubt him.
That arena would be the UFC. Garcia mentioned a possible transition to MMA saying, “Say at 26 I retire and boxing is all good, right? You know what I’ll do? I’ll go prove to them (doubters) that I’m the best fighter all-around in the world. I will go to MMA to prove a point.”
Ryan Garcia to the UFC
It is worth nothing that Garcia has had some back and forth with former two-division UFC champion, Henry Cejudo (16-2). Granted, the talks centered around Cejudo potentially going to boxing to face Garcia.
I completely understand where Ryan Garcia is coming from. He wants to prove that no matter what the discipline is, he’s the best fighter in the world. However, that’s much easier said than done.
The reality is, nobody in the UFC’s bantamweight division could throw hands with Ryan Garcia. In pure boxing, he’s going to light up anyone in that division. We’re talking about one of the best boxers in the world here.
However, there is so much more to this than just your hands. Garcia would be young enough to really focus on MMA training if he wanted to make that transition, but it would take a long time to really learn.
He would have to learn how to defend/check kicks. Garcia would have to learn how to stop a takedown. Garcia would have to learn how to get out of submissions. He would have to learn how to get out of clinch positions along the fence.
In my opinion, the transition is so much easier for wrestler/grappler based athletes than pure strikers. For example, take Dillon Danis (2-0). Danis was purely a jiu jitsu competitor before transitioning to MMA.
It’s easier for an elite grappler to learn the skills of striking versus a striker learning all the other aspects. Garcia is an elite boxing. However, he’s extremely flat-footed when he boxes.
Think about some of the elite fighters in the UFC. They’d either light up his legs with kicks or take him straight to the ground and without being light on his feet, he’d have no answer. Garcia is young enough to learn the arts and make the jump, but it’s a lot more difficult than he’s making it sound.
Mr. 305 is making the four-hour drive from Miami to Daytona.
Award-winning hip hop artist and philanthropist Armando Christian Perez, best known by his stage name Pitbull, is joining up with NASCAR, joining the ownership group of Trackhouse Racing. Working alongside entrepreneur and former driver Justin Marks, Pitbull will help oversee Trackhouse’s 2021 debut. The team’s No. 99 Chevrolet will be driven by 2016 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Daniel Suarez.
Perez, who turned 40 on Friday, has been a supporter of NASCAR for several years. His 2020 single “Get Ready”, featuring country star Blake Shelton, was commonly used during the most recent NASCAR season. The track first appeared on Libertad 548, his 11th studio album. Perez and Shelton performed the song during prerace festivities at the Cup event at Phoenix last March.
“I’ve been a fan of the NASCAR story since the movie ‘Days of Thunder,’” Perez said in a statement. “As soon as I met Justin, (team president) Ty Norrisand Daniel, we were on the same page. They welcomed me aboard, and now we’re going to show the world NASCAR is not only a sport but it’s a culture. This is an amazing way to celebrate my 40th birthday, so Get Ready! Dale! (Dah-lay)”
In addition to his team owner duties, Perez will also serve as Trackhouse’s “brand and philanthropic ambassador”. He and Marks will oversee the development of a racing-based STEM curriculum, working alongside SLAM! (Sports Leadership Arts and Management) inner-city charter schools. Perez helped create the organization in 2014.
“Within the first 10 minutes of our first meeting, it was clear Armandoand I share a vision and passion for impacting the lives of the underrepresented,” Marks said. “We are creating and compelling a movement of positivity and possibility, using the platform and excitement of sports and music. Through NASCAR and our partnership with Pitbull, we are going to have the attention of a global demographic that is ready to be inspired into action for themselves, their families, and their future.”
The newly formed team will make its debut at the 2021 Daytona 500 on February 14. Suarez, 29, has earned 32 top-ten finishes over four full years of Cup Series competition, previously working with Joe Gibbs Racing (2017-18) and Stewart-Haas Racing (2019). He drove Gaunt Brothers Racing’s No. 96 car last season in that low-budget team’s full-time debut year, with his best finish being a pair of 18th-place postings at Bristol and Kansas.