The shortest offseason in sports comes to a close as on sunday we start the 2014 NASCAR season with the running of the great american race, the Daytona 500. The super bowl of stock car racing gets the season underway sunday, and just like any restrictor plate races, its very unpredictable. So here is five drivers who have the best chance of winning sunday and three drivers who could surprise a lot of people.
Expect To Win
Matt Kenseth, 20 Home Depot/Dollar General Toyota- Joe Gibbs Racing
Last season Kenseth had arguably his best complete season in his career, winning a career high 7 races in 2013. The only thing he couldn’t win was a championship. He hopes to have similar success in 2014 starting with the Daytona 500. In last years 500, Kenseth looked to have the car to beat until his engine blew, resulting in a DNF. Matt already has one win in this Speedweeks in the duel races, so Matt will have one of the cars to beat in the 500.
Kevin Harvick, 4 Budweiser Chevy- Stewart/HAAS Racing
Harvick’s runner up finish in his duel race may have been disqualified due to his car not meeting the right measurements in post race inspection, but that doesn’t mean that car wont be just as fast on sunday. Harvick is making his first start in the 500 for his new team at Stewart/HAAS Racing and has been fast all through Speedweeks so he will move up through the pack with relative ease. Also Harvick has been known to just show up at the front towards the end of any race at Daytona.
Kurt Busch, 41 HAAS Automation Chevy- Stewart/HAAS Racing
Running for his 4th different team in four years, this may be Kurt’s best chance of returning to championship form. The former series champ now has his best equipment in years and is has shown this week, finishing third in his duel and starting 8th. This could be Kurt’s best and last real chance to capture the great american race.
Denny Hamlin, 11 FedEx Toyota- Joe Gibbs Racing
After a rough 2013 season which for a good amount of it had Denny in a hospital for a collapsed vertebra, Hamlin has started this season the best way possible, winning the Sprint Unlimited and his duel race. Hamlin and the rest of the Joe Gibbs cars have been fast all week so most likely one of them could find themselves in victory lane on sunday. Hamlin can complete the Daytona trifecta with a 500 win.
Jimmie Johnson, 48 Lowe’s Chevy- Hendrick Motorsports
Last years series and 500 champion is a threat everywhere he goes and even with a back up car for this years 500, Johnson should be competitive as always. As long as Johnson can avoid the big one and stay alive till the end he will be a threat for another Daytona 500 championship to add to his already impressive resume.
Austin Dillon, 3 DOW Chevy- Richard Childress Racing
Dillon already has a ridiculous amount of pressure on him, taking over the legendary number 3 car for his grandfather Richard Childress. But now after winning the pole for the 500 it adds more on the young driver. He has the talent and the equipment to win and the media explosion that would happen if Austin could take the number 3 back to victory lane at Daytona would make any NASCAR fan happy.
Danica Patrick, 10 GoDaddy.com Chevy- Stewart/HAAS Racing
Speaking of possible stories that could rock the NASCAR world, imagine if Danica won the biggest race of the year. Well crazy things can happen at Daytona and all it takes is to be in the right place at the right time for a driver to get the biggest win of their lives. Danica has good equipment and with past Daytona 500 and Sprint Cup Champions around her in Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick, she has as good a chance as any to become the first women to win the 500.
Brian Scott, 33 Whitetail Chevy- Richard Childress Racing
OK so this one may be a bit far out but this team has been fast all week. Finishing 5th in his duel race and qualifying 12th for the 500 shows that Scott can race in his 33 Richard Childress Chevy. Hey crazier things have happened.
I knew this day was coming, but I still wasn’t prepared.
On Wednesday, the captain of the New York Yankees Derek Jeter announced that the 2014 season would be his final, ending one of the greatest careers in MLB history. The face of the Yankees for almost two decades will walk away from the game he loves and will be the final player from the World Series dynasty still playing, cutting all ties from the Yankees golden years. For me its the final connection to the Yankees I grew up with.
Growing up in the 90′s, Derek Jeter was the Yankees for me. Watching him along with Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte, creating what would come to be known as the “Core Four”, they became synonymous with championships for me. Winning 4 championships out of 5 years and making it back to the fall classic in 2001 and 2003 set a early example in all of their young careers making them young leaders on the Yankees. But even with older players and conflicting egos over the years, everyone knew that Jeter was their leader. He just had that aurora around him from day one. The type of player everyone he competed with and against had to respect and work towards becoming like. A constant professional. And he had the toughest market to play in wrapped around his finger.
Looking on my Facebook timeline and my Twitter feed on Wednesday, all I could see was my friends and family paying tribute to Jeter by bringing up old stories and moments of his that they hold dear to there hearts. Most of them are around the ages of 20-30 so we don’t know the Yankees without Derek Jeter. We all grew up idolizing Derek, wanting to wear the number 2 in little league and play shortstop just like him. He taught us to play the game he loved the right way when others cheated and lied their way to the top.
One of the most impressive things about Derek Jeter to me is how he never let his ego get too out of control and never got into any controversy or trouble. Especially when some of his teammates are Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens, and Jason Giambi. He has always been viewed as the face of baseball the way it should be played. Every game, every at bat he would give 100%, always hustling to first base whether it is into the gap in left center or a short dribbler to third.
Derek will go into the hall with one of the more impressive resumes in MLB history. He’s a five time World Series champion, winning the World Series MVP in 2000, a 13 time All-Star. He’s also won the Silver Slugger Award five times, the Gold Glove Award five times, and the Hank Aaron Award twice. He won the AL Rookie of the Year in 1996 and the Roberto Clemente Award in 2009. He is the all time leader for hits at the shortstop position in MLB history, he is the Yankees’ all-time career leader in hits (3,316), games played (2,602), stolen bases (348), and at bats (10,614). He also is the only Yankee to reach the 3,000 hit club and was the Yankees 14th captain in their storied history. Quite the career indeed.
As productive as he was on the field, he was just as an impact off the field serving as one of the best ambassadors for the game during the Steroid era, arguably one of the darkest periods in any professional sport in some time. Serving as the face of baseball for years and one of the few consistently great players who remained clean during the games ramped drug abuse among players. Jeter created the Turn 2 Foundation, a charitable organization, in 1996, to help children and teenagers avoid drug and alcohol addiction.
Derek Jeter has been my favorite player for as long as I’ve watched baseball. Watching him and the Yankees play in the playoffs year after year, racking up championships and making mesmerizing plays seemingly every game has been a privilege for me. For not just Yankee fans but for all baseball fans, make sure you really watch every at bat, every across the body jump throw, every moment Derek gives us this year and fully enjoy it because we only have a small number of them left.
Moments like his walk off home run in game 4 of the 2001 World Series against Arizona crowning him “Mr. November”, or like the flip play against Oakland in the 2001 ALDS, or Derek diving into the crowd to catch a foul ball against Boston. Derek has given millions of baseball fans countless memories they can take with them the rest of their lives and showed us how the game of baseball was suppose to be played.
Simply put, Derek Jeter is everything a Yankee and a ball player should be.
1. Houston- Teddy Bridgewater QB Louisville
2. St. Louis*- Jadeveon Clowney DE South Carolina
3. Jacksonville- Blake Bortles QB UCF
4. Cleveland- Johnny Manziel QB Texas A&M
5. Oakland- Sammy Watkins WR Clemson
6. Atlanta- Jake Matthews OT Texas A&M
7. Tampa Bay- Anthony Barr OLB UCLA
8. Minnesota- Derek Carr QB Fresno State
9. Buffalo- Greg Robinson OT Auburn
10. Detroit- Darqueze Dennard CB Michigan State
11. Tennessee- Khalil Mack OLB Buffalo
12. NY Giants- Cameron Erving OT Florida State
13. St. Louis- Taylor Lewan OT Michigan
14. Chicago- Louis Nix DT Notre Dame
15. Pittsburgh- Ha Ha Clinton-Dix FS Alabama
#16. Baltimore- Mike Evans WR Texas A&M
#17. Dallas- Stephon Tuitt DE Notre Dame
18. NY Jets- Marqise Lee WR USC
19. Miami- Cyrus Kouandjio OT Alabama
20. Arizona- C.J. Mosley OLB Alabama
21. Green Bay- Jace Amaro TE Texas Tech
22. Philadelphia- Calvin Pryor FS Louisville
23. Kansas City- Davante Adams WR Fresno State
24. Cincinnati- Justin Gilbert CB Oklahoma State
25. San Diego- David Yankey OG Stanford
26. Cleveland^- Cedric Ogbuehi OT Texas A&M
27. New Orleans- Antonio Richardson OT Tennessee
28. Carolina- Allen Robinson WR Penn State
29. New England- Cyril Richardson OG Baylor
30. San Francisco- Jason Verrett CB TCU
31. Denver- Brandon Scherff OT Iowa
32. Seattle- Jordan Matthews WR Vanderbilt
*- From Washington
^- From Indianapolis
#- Coin Flip To Decide Picks
Super Bowl XLVIII finally gets underway this sunday in New York/New Jersey and the first outdoor Super Bowl in a cold weather city will have the two best teams all year face off. Both the NFC champion Seattle Seahawks and the AFC champion Denver Broncos have played in bad weather this season so they should be prepared for anything the weather could throw at them.
Making their 7th Super Bowl appearance, the Denver Broncos bring their record setting offense to the big game lead by league MVP Peyton Manning who is trying to get his second ring and first with Denver. Of course one of the most criticized outdoor, cold weather players in Manning would play in the first outdoor, cold weather Super Bowl. Peyton can silence a lot of his critics with a W on sunday. Making only their 2nd Super Bowl appearance is the Seattle Seahawks and their shut down defense. All the talk about the Seahawks has been around Richard Sherman and his post game comments after the NFC championship game but there is more to the Seattle defense than just Sherman’s great play.
The big matchup this sunday will be between the Broncos historic offense against the league leading Seattle defense. Can the Seattle secondary contain Peyton Manning and his multiple weapons at his disposal. Peyton is having one of his greatest seasons in an already impressive career and will be by far the best quarterback leading the best offense the Seahawks have faced all year. The only way the Seahawks have a real chance to win is by containing that lethal Denver offense.
One of the match ups that has not been talked about is the Seattle offense against the Denver defense. Russell Wilson has not performed very well this postseason relying mostly on the great play by the defense and the running game led by Marshawn Lynch. Russell Wilson cannot be a game manager in this game he needs to come out early and establish the passing game against a stout Denver defense so Beast Mode can be unleashed. Percy Harvin has to be a factor in this game on both offense and in special teams.
Seattle will get out early first running behind Lynch and Wilson will get off to a good start, but the Denver offense will answer finding small holes in the Seattle defense. Peyton will be his usual efficient self but will throw at least one interception but the Denver defense will get at least two turnovers from Seattle. Denver will take the lead and hold off a late Seattle surge and get Peyton his second ring in a close, great game.
Denver 34, Seattle 31
New England @ Denver
Well we’ve seen this before. Once again Peyton Manning and Tom Brady will face off with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. Only difference is the new location for Peyton as the Broncos are one win away from realizing the dream they installed when they signed Peyton. Of course the always resilient Tom Brady and the New England Patriots stand in their way in the matchup that we all wanted to see. In their first matchup this year it was a close victory by the Patriots that was a special teams mistake from being a possible tie after the Broncos blew a 24 point lead. This sundays entry into the Manning vs Brady story will be a close one as usual especially now that the Broncos defense has to pay extra attention to the Patriots running game after last week they ran all over the Colts. I think being so close to the promise land and after the disappointment last year the Broncos will reach the Super Bowl beating the Patriots by a late field goal. Denver 31 New England 28
San Francisco @ Seattle
Similar to the AFC Championship Game, the NFC Championship Game has the matchup that we all wanted to see. The third meeting of the NFL’s newest, greatest rivalries, the Seahawks and the 49ers. This game has me torn. On one hand I picked the 49ers in the beginning of the year to win the NFC and go to the Super Bowl. On the other hand, I like the Seahawks this year more and of course the game is being played in Seattle with their crazy 12th man which will swing the game towards the Seahawks. The Seahawks need Russell Wilson to have a better game than he did against New Orleans and more like the previous match up this year at home against San Francisco, so I think he will have a great game and will lead the Seahawks to New York against the Broncos in the Super Bowl. Seattle 27 San Francisco 20
Baltimore’s Joe Flacco was bragging in the off-season that he was the best quarterback in the NFL and no one took him seriously. Well, he tried to prove it against Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos with his impressive last-minute, 70-yard throw to Jacoby Jones for the touchdown knocking out the Denver Broncos out of the playoffs with a 38-35 double overtime victory last Saturday. A desperation pass on a third-down play with just 41 seconds left in regulation.
They don’t have timeouts left, and they were trailing by 7 points, Joe Flacco let loose the ball to a sprinting Jones down the right sideline into double coverage. Safety Rahim Moore attempted to knock the ball by jumping in the air, and Tony Carter tried to stop it but instead Jones caught it easily for a 70-yard touchdown to tie the game and force overtime. Flacco had 18 of 31 passes for 331 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
We may not agree about Joe Flacco being the best quarterback in the NFL, but in this game his was better than Peyton Manning who had 3 touchdown passes and 2 interceptions.
San Diego @ Denver
The magical run for San Diego continues this week in Denver against a Bronco team that the Chargers have beaten in Denver this year which should give them plenty of confidence this week. Still, they are going up against one of the greatest offenses in the history of the game lead by the all but certain MVP Peyton Manning who is putting together one if not his best season to date. The fact than San Diego did go into Denver and beat the Broncos will keep Denver focused on the final prize and not look over the Chargers. Denver won’t have a repeat of last year against the Ravens and get past San Diego with relative ease. Denver 37 San Diego 20
Indianapolis @ New England
Well we’ve seen this matchup before in the playoffs, but this one will have a very different feel to it. Not Brady vs Manning, but now Brady vs Luck. After their improbable comeback win against Kansas City last week, the Colts head outside to play the 2 seed New England Patriots why now know no lead is safe when facing the Colts. The Colts have not had the best luck (no pun intended) when playing in New England and I expect this weekend to be no different. Brady and the Pats do what the Chiefs couldn’t do and put the Colts away for good. New England 28 Indianapolis 19
New Orleans @ Seattle
How many times have you seen the Lynch run this week? I think my count is up to at least 15. We can only hope for a moment as memorable as that one this week when the Saints play the Seahawks. The last meeting between these two teams was less than a spectacular contest so lets hope we get a better game than a 34-7 blowout by the Seahawks. While I do believe the game will be closer than the previous meeting, I think the result will be the same with the Seahawks defeating the Saints. Seattle 26 New Orleans 17
San Francisco @ Carolina
San Francisco is riding high after their last second win last week in Green Bay and look to go 2 for 2 on the road this postseason when they play Carolina whose leader and heisman winner Cam Newton is making his first playoff appearance after winning the NFC South. San Francisco is biting at the bit to return to the Super Bowl and winning their last six games makes them one of the hottest teams in the NFL, facing Carolina who are winners of 11 out of their last 12 including a tight 10-9 victory over the Niners in week 10. I think the experience of the 49ers will prove to be the difference maker this week and they will meet Seattle next week with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. San Francisco 31 Carolina 26