New York Jets: Three stars from Sunday’s loss vs. Las Vegas

The New York Jets snatched defeat from the clutches of victory, as a long, late touchdown doomed them to an 0-12 fate.

The masochistic cult of New York Jets tanking efforts enjoyed an early holiday present in the late stages of Sunday’s action.

Derek Carr’s 46-yard touchdown pass with five seconds to go landed safely in the hands of Henry Ruggs, whose go-ahead touchdown gave the Las Vegas Raiders a 31-28 victory over the Jets at MetLife Stadium. Carr and Ruggs’ late-game heroics doomed the Jets to an 0-12 record, though they took another step toward securing the top overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft.

Despite the loss, the Jets tallied a season-best 376 yards of offense and enjoyed a stellar rushing day from Ty Johnson and Josh Adams, who united for 178 yards on the ground after Frank Gore left the game with a concussion.

ESM has a trio of game balls to dispense in valiant, but short, effort…

3rd Star: LB Neville Hewitt

12 tackles, 1 sack

Perhaps it says more about the modern Jets than it does about the veteran linebacker, but Hewitt has been one of the Jets’ most consistent contributors over the past three seasons. He has established himself as a strong depth option, and this has proven to be no exception. Hewitt has taken on a veteran leadership role as injuries continue to eat away at the secondary, and he rose to the occasion with 12 tackles and a sack of Carr. The tanking concept is completely irrelevant to guys like Hewitt, who might be playing for a long-term deal after joining the Jets on three separate single-year contracts.

2nd Star: QB Sam Darnold

14-of-23, 186 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT, 3 carries, 26 yards, 1 TD

As Jets fans clamor for the Endeavor for Trevor (Lawrence), Darnold made it clear on Sunday that he’s not going to relinquish his hold on the team’s franchise quarterback spot without a fight. His turnover problem (three on Sunday) continued to surfac, but he nonetheless came up big in leading the Jets back from a 24-13 fourth quarter deficit. Darnold also found Jamison Crowder for a pair of touchdown passes in the first half. These final hours will be crucial for Darnold to prove that he can still be the man of the future, perhaps under a new coaching staff. After all, the draft doesn’t begin or end with Lawrence or Justin Fields. Penei Sewell would perhaps be a strong blocking option in a high posting.

1st Star: RB Ty Johnson

22 carries, 104 yards, 1 TD

Johnson made New York Jets history on Sunday, earning the first triple-digit rushing yard game since Isaiah Crowell put up 219 against the Denver Broncos in October 2018. Claimed off waivers from Detroit earlier this fall, Johnson came up big when Gore was evaluated for a concussion. His 104 yards were a career-high since joining the league as a sixth-round pick out of Maryland last season, and he scored what probably should’ve been the game-winning touchdown just past the midway mark of the fourth quarter. If Gore is out for the remainder of the year, the development of Johnson and Adams (74 yards) should be an intriguing subplot to keep an eye on.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

NASCAR: Austin Dillon ends a victory drought, steals another playoff spot

A bold decision from Dillon and teammate Tyler Reddick allowed Richard Childress Racing to recapture NASCAR glory at Texas Motor Speedway.

How ’bout that cowboy?

Once known for his array of cowboy hats in the garage area, Austin Dillon took home a long-awaited in Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Dillon and rookie teammate Tyler Reddick united to create a one-two finish for Richard Childress Racing.

“Having Tyler right there to work with, he has a teammate that he’s really working good with,” team owner Richard Childress said afterward. “To see both those guys racing for the win, I was hoping they didn’t wreck each other. It was pretty cool to see RCR in the front.”

RCR is perhaps best known for winning six NASCAR Cup Series titles with Dale Earnhardt in the No. 3 Chevrolet. On Sunday, Dillon piloted the same car to victory lane for the first time in 88 races. Their previous victory came in the 2018 Daytona 500 and Sunday saw them sweep the top spots for the first time since October 2011 (when Clint Bowyer held off Jeff Burton to win the fall Talladega event).

Dillon, the grandson of Childress, has driven the No. 3 since 2014. His Chevrolet is the first to adorn the No. 3 since Earnhardt’s passing at the end of the 2001 Daytona 500. Sunday marked Dillon’s third win in the car, having previously won two of NASCAR’s crown jewels. He also won the 2017 Coca-Cola 600 via fuel mileage.

“Sports are sports. You got to have someone you don’t like,” Dillon said of fans’ perception of him. “Maybe it’s just my background, where I come from.  But I got a lot of people that love me, too.  It doesn’t bother me at all really. They can either get on the bandwagon and love me. It’s okay. It’s part of sports. Haters are going to hate sometimes, but we’ll be all right.”

Both Dillon and Reddick hovered in the middle of the pack for most of the 334-lap event. Reddick worked his way back from two laps down by the time the final, 124-lap stage rolled around. Ryan Blaney had won the first two segments, lasting 107 laps each, en route to leading a race-best 150 circuits. It appeared the race would come down to Blaney and Denny Hamlin as green flag pit stops cycled through, but Quin Houff’s accident with 28 laps set up a chance for teams who stretched their fuel runs (last pitting at circa lap 220) to pit under easier circumstances.

With Blaney, Hamlin, and other contenders still a lap down before the pit cycle was complete, both Reddick and Dillon enacted bold strategies for the finish. Reddick took fuel only, while Dillon opted only for left-side tires. The fresher wheels allowed Dillon to move ahead of his teammate and build a sizable lead.

Two separate incidents (both involving Hamlin) brought out the yellow flag twice, forcing Dillon to undergo the restart process all over again. He was able to re-establish his lead on each occasion while Reddick held off hungry contenders like Joey Logano and Kyle Busch. With the win, Dillon more or less clinched a spot in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. Logano came home third while Busch and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top five.

A surprise winner rose to the occasion in the final laps for the second straight week, following up rookie Cole Custer’s win at Kentucky Speedway last weekend. Reddick and his No. 8 Chevrolet are currently 14 points behind Jimmie Johnson for the final postseason spot.

The NASCAR Cup Series will enter the second half of its 36-race season with the Super Starter Batteries 400 on Thursday night at Kansas Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Race Notes

  • Harvick made his 700th Cup Series start on Sunday, becoming the 18th driver to do so and second on the active circuit (joining Kurt Busch). He ironically began his Cup career at RCR in 2001, taking over for Earnhardt after his passing (in a rebranded No. 29 Chevrolet). Harvick leads the point standings by 91 points over Blaney at the midway mark.

 

  • The red flag came out on lap 220 for a multi-car wreck that ended the days of Custer, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Ryan Preece. Martin Truex Jr. also sustained heavy damage.

 

  • Kyle Busch and Timmy Hill each partook in all three national series events at Texas this weekend. Busch in fact won the Xfinity and Truck races on Saturday, but had the former win revoked after his No. 54 Toyota failed postrace inspection (runner-up Austin Cindric was granted the win). Hill’s best finish was 17th in the Xfinity event, but he was honored by the speedway for winning the O’Reilly Auto Parts 125, part of the eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series held during the coronavirus-induced pause.

 

  • Hendrick Motorsports had a brutal day at Texas, with only Chase Elliott (12th) finishing the race. Johnson hit the wall and finished 12 laps down in 26th while William Byron’s day ended early after wrecking with Ty Dillon (Austin’s brother). Byron is two points behind Johnson for the final playoff spot. Alex Bowman, locked into the playoff after winning at California, crashed with Hamlin late in the race and finished 30th.

 

  • Pole sitter Aric Almirola led 35 laps and finished 10th, extending his streak of top decalogue finishes to seven.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

NASCAR: Denny Hamlin wins shortened, fiery Darlington finale

A rare foray into weeknight racing produced fireworks for NASCAR, whose Cup Series event on Wednesday ended in rain and controversy.

The NHL and NBC may have abandoned the concept, but the NASCAR Cup Series apparently ensured that “Wednesday night rivalries” were alive and well in the most recent stage of their return at Darlington Raceway.

Wednesday’s Toyota 500 ended in a literal storm, as Kyle Busch clipped Chase Elliott’s No. 9 Chevrolet with 28 laps to go, sending Elliott’s car into an inside wall. The caution flag emerged, but as the skies opened up after eight laps under the yellow, the active leader Denny Hamlin was awarded the victory. Hamlin’s No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team brings home their second trophy after winning the season-opening Daytona 500 in February.

“I just love the racetrack. It’s one of my favorites, certainly in my top two or three,” Hamlin said in a postrace conference call hosted on Zoom. “I think it’s a driver’s racetrack. I think the driver can make up a little bit of maybe what his car doesn’t have with moving around the racetrack, different lines, throttle, and brake application. There’s a lot of things that a driver can do to make his performance better at this type of racetrack. That’s why I like it so much. Really from my very first start here in the Xfinity Series back in 2004, I just took to it quickly. We’ve had a ton of success ever since. It’s been a lot of fun.”

Hamlin took the lead from Elliott at lap 197 of the event, which was scheduled to go 228 circuits (500 kilometers at the 1.366-mile egg-shaped track), as one of several drivers who decided to remain on the track after the penultimate caution came out for a Clint Bowyer spin caused by a downed right rear tire. He was one of two cars (the other being the No. 21 of Matt DiBenedetto) that opted to stay out on the track while Elliott, Busch, and the rest of the lead lap cars pitted. Hamlin and DiBenedetto (who wound up finishing ninth) were working with tires that were just younger than ten laps old, pitting under another a prior caution accounting for a Matt Kenseth spin.

When the race got back to green, Hamlin held off a furious to challenge and avoided the carnage behind him. Rain was a constant threat all week (postponing an Xfinity Series race scheduled for Tuesday and delaying the Cup’s start time by two hours) and it finally made itself known with 20 laps to go. The competitors were brought to pit road and Hamlin was awarded the win after a brief attempt to wait the precipitation out.

After he received word of his victory, Hamlin revealed a humorous facemask adorned with the image of his smiling face. He certainly has reasons to be happy after the 39th Cup Series win of his career and his third at Darlington.

“(The mask) covers my face, covers everyone’s face. You’re kind of like, you really don’t get any sense of any emotion,” he said. “(I needed) to find someone that can paint me a happy face and a sad face. It depends on how the race finishes. We only had happy masks today, so I guess it was a sign that we didn’t need the sad one.”

Hamlin’s win, however, was overshadowed by the antics between his fellow Joe Gibbs teammate Busch and Elliott of Hendrick Motorsports. After Elliott emerged from his downed machine, he displayed his middle finger to Busch at the latter’s No. 18 Toyota was running his caution laps. Busch was later confronted by the No. 9’s crew chief Alan Gustafson. The longtime Hendrick employee previously served as Busch’s crew chief for three seasons when he drove the No. 5 Chevrolet during his first years at the Cup level (2005-07).

Busch took responsibility for the incident afterward. While he stated that he would reach out to Elliott and denied he spun him out intentionally, he mentioned that the incident was part of a normal racing experience.

“I’ve known him since he was 12 or 13 years old, been racing with him ever since then, late models, super late models, trucks, Xfinity cars, all that sort of stuff. Obviously I just made a mistake, misjudged the gap, sent him into the wall. That was entirely unintentional. Yeah, I mean, I’ll definitely reach out to him and tell him I’m sorry, tell him I hate it that it happened. All I can do. That doesn’t change the outcome of the night.”

“I can say whatever I can say. I’ve never been a very good politician anyways. His fan base is going to have the hatred to me anyways. I just deal with what I got to deal with. Rowdy Nation will have my back and we’ll go after it after that.”

Busch finished in the runner-up spot behind his teammate Hamlin. Kevin Harvick, who won the first half of NASCAR’s Darlington doubleheader in their return from a coronavirus-induced pause on Sunday, finished third, while Brad Keselowski and another JGR driver, Erik Jones, rounded out the top five.

This week’s Darlington doubleheader in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina was the first stage of NASCAR’s return, replacing previously scheduled events at Chicagoland Speedway and Richmond International Raceway. One more event will be run at Darlington this week, as the postponed Xfinity Series race will take place on Thursday (12 p.m. ET, FS1). Cup action returns to Darlington for the Southern 500 on September 6, the first race of the postseason.

The NASCAR Cup Series returns on Sunday in the form of the Memorial Day weekend tradition known as the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway (6 p.m. ET, Fox). Such a race is NASCAR’s longest at 600 miles and will be the first part of a similar doubleheader format enacted at Darlington.

Race Notes

  • The race was one of heartbreak for Bowyer, who swept the first two stages of the race and led the most laps (71). His spin relegated him to a 22nd-place finish.
  • Harvick maintained his lead in the Cup Series point standings, leading sixth-place finisher Joey Logano by 34 points.
  • Hamlin’s third win at Darlington made him the 14th driver to earn at least a trio of Cup Series triumphs at the track, which hosted its first NASCAR race in 1950. David Pearson leads all drivers in Darlington wins with 10, while Hamlin is tied as the active leader with Jimmie Johnson.
  • Ryan Preece sat on the pole thanks to a 20th-place finish in Sunday’s event, as NASCAR, in an effort to limit on-track activity to a single race day, inverted the top 20 finishers in Wednesday’s starting lineup. Preece’s final slot wasn’t as desirable, as engine woes relegated him to the final spot of 39th.
  • Rookie John Hunter Nemechek was one of the more uplifting stories of Sunday, coming home ninth in his No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford. However, he brought out two cautions within the first ten laps, putting him six laps off the pace and into a 34th-place finish.
  • Not all news was bad on the rookie front. Christopher Bell posted a career-best Cup Series finish of 11th in the No. 95 Toyota of Leavine Family Racing.
  • All four Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota finished in the top ten, as Martin Truex Jr.’s No. 19 took the final spot.

For full results, click here

For full Cup Series standings, click here

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags