by Julian Spivey
Flags flew at half-mast at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. last Sunday during the 60th running of the Daytona 500 just over a three-hour drive north of Parkland, Fla. where 17 students and faculty had been gunned down a few days before in one of the worst school shootings in American history. Parkland victims and survivors were in the prayers of those at the speedway all weekend during the prerace invocations.
Austin Dillon would go on to win the Daytona 500 that day. One of his sponsors is the National Rifle Association (NRA), which thankfully wasn’t on his car that day. Imagine how that would’ve looked. The reigning NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr. is also occasionally sponsored by the NRA. The NRA also is set to sponsor the August race at Bristol Motor Speedway once again this season and has sponsored races at Texas Motor Speedway before.
The sport of NASCAR depends on sponsorship for survival maybe more than any other professional sport in the country, but they can be picky about what brands they allow to associate with the sport. Journeyman racer Carl Long found this out the tough way last season when NASCAR made the driver’s team remove decals for the company Veedverks from his No. 66 car. Veedverks is a hemp vape shop based in Colorado.
NASCAR takes issue with a legal (in Colorado) hemp vape shop but is OK with the NRA – a group that some people refer to as an American terrorist organization.
The same NRA that donated $10,000 to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s four-person varsity marksmanship team, in 2016. Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz was on that team and honed the very skills needed to perpetrate the tragedy at his school. The NRA that seemingly proves time and time again it cares more about the sale of firearms than people killed by AR-15s, which should be used for military purposes and nothing else.
NASCAR has never taken issue with the NRA as a race or team sponsor before, and the topic has come up before. In 2013, just months after 26 people were killed at Sandy Hook in Newton, Ct. the sport announced the NRA would sponsor a spring race at Texas Motor Speedway. NASCAR simply distanced itself from the decision with spokesman David Higdon saying, “Texas Motor Speedway ultimately secured this entitlement sponsor, not NASCAR.” After that season NASCAR instituted a new clause in its sanction agreements stating that it had to approve race sponsors, according to ESPN. Two years later the NRA was back as a race sponsor at Bristol, where it’ll serve as sponsor for a third consecutive year in August. NASCAR didn’t say no. This time they also didn’t comment. NASCAR team owner and NRA Second Vice President Richard Childress did, praising the sponsorship deal. He said: “So many fans are supporters of the NRA. They [NASCAR/Bristol Motor Speedway] made the right decision putting the NRA back in because so many of our fans are NRA members.”
There’s little doubt that many NASCAR fans are NRA supporters, but that doesn’t make it a right decision by the sport or a decision that looks good upon it. I’m sure a lot of NASCAR fans support marijuana, as well. I’m sure a lot of NASCAR fans are also supporters of Playboy magazine, which has been rejected as a sponsor multiple times for not being “representative of the image of NASCAR,” according to USA Today.
Pot and naked ladies aren’t good for the sport’s image, but high-powered machines of death are fine.
NASCAR should reconsider its relationship with the NRA, but it’d be highly surprising if they did. In the last few days many companies have felt the heat from people claiming they would no longer support them if they didn’t cut ties with the NRA. In response companies like Enterprise, Alamo, National and First National Bank of Omaha have already cut ties. Other companies like FedEx, LifeLock, Hertz and Norton Online are being pressured, as well. Nobody seems to be putting any pressure on NASCAR, probably because they view it to be a lost cause. Like I said, it probably would be. But, it’s still worth the fight. Who knows maybe NASCAR will decide to do something just because it’s the right thing to do? They lowered their flags and said they’re prayers in Daytona. But, as long as they’re taking the NRA’s money and giving them a sales boost by placing their companies on their cars, races and tracks they aren’t doing enough.
by Julian Spivey
The final lap of the 60th running of the Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 18 was likely the most controversial final lap of NASCAR’s biggest race since the very first Daytona 500 ended in a photo finish between Lee Petty and Johnny Beauchamp that took three days to declare Petty the winner. With about one mile remaining in Sunday’s Daytona 500 Aric Almirola led the race looking for his second career win and the biggest of his Cup Series career. Suddenly, Almirola was turned into the outside wall by the No. 3 Chevrolet of Austin Dillon, who completed the lap in first place to win his second career race.
Instantly folks were all over social media claiming that Dillon’s crash of Almirola on the final lap of the sport’s biggest race was one of the dirtiest thing they had ever seen in the history of the sport. Somewhat surprisingly though most drivers and NASCAR media who would chime in following the race disagree. They felt the move was either “do-or-die” on the final lap or that Almirola had caused the accident with a block that gave Dillon no other choice, but to drive through him or give up a chance at victory.
I thought the move was the dirtiest thing I’ve ever seen in almost two decades of watching NASCAR. I don’t believe the accident was any fault of Almirola’s (even though he didn’t put a bit of blame on Dillon in front of the cameras). Almirola did throw a block on Dillon on the final lap, but the block occurred multiple seconds before Dillon contacted Almirola. And, the first contact Dillon made on Almirola didn’t cause the wreck either. It’s the second contact he makes, which you can see from the side video replay (at 4:38 in video below), that turns Almirola into the wall and gives Dillon the lead he wouldn’t give back up. The replay looking toward the cars does look a little different, but it doesn’t change my opinion that Dillon dumped Almirola to win the race.
I’m a fan of hard racing and the “rubbing is racing” mentality. I approve of moves like the bump ‘n’ run that can push a car out of one’s way for a pass to win a race. If Dillon had contacted Almirola that caused a wreck as they got closer to the finish line it also would’ve been more OK, in my view. But, the way it happened leads me to believing the move to be dirty.
While most NASCAR media members don’t seem to take issue with anything that occurred on the final lap Sunday I agree with veteran NASCAR journalist Geoffrey Miller, who’s currently writing for himself, when he stated: “Austin Dillon won the Daytona 500 Sunday by wrecking Aric Almirola from the lead on the last lap. That sentence reads sour. But sour is the way it felt.” Miller would go on to write about how whether you feel Dillon was wrong depended on your perspective. It’s a perspective that’s interesting in that many fans, it looked like a majority yesterday, seem to view Dillon’s wreck of Almirola as dirty. Where as nearly all the drivers and media who approached the topic viewed it as “just one of them racing deals.”
If that’s just one of them racing deals than I’m not too sure I like where this sport is heading. But, then again, I haven’t really liked where the sport is heading for some time now. Many, including the recently retired Dale Earnhardt Jr., thought that the controversy and the story of Dillon winning the sport’s biggest race in the No. 3 car that Dale Earnhardt took to Victory Lane 20 years ago would be a huge boost to the sport, something it could really use right now among bleeding television ratings and arguably it’s three most popular drivers – Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Dale Jr. – retiring in consecutive seasons. NASCAR has become a young sport quickly, but it’ll ultimately be the on-track product and the sanctioning body leaving it be more than it has in the last two decades that decides whether NASCAR can boom again. We shall see if Sunday’s last lap boosts the sport next week, but I don’t see it happening because only drew a 5.1 overnight Nielsen rating, making it the least watched Daytona 500 of all-time. It’s hard to grow a sport that people have already tuned out.
by Julian Spivey
16. Clint Bowyer
This is a sign that the NASCAR playoffs probably have too many drivers. Clint Bowyer hasn’t won a race in five seasons and has kind of become a forgotten man, but Stewart-Hass Racing is a good team and surely that streak can’t continue forever.
15. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. surprised many last season winning half of the sport’s restrictor plate races (one each at Talladega and Daytona). He’s never been a threat at any other track, but there’s always a chance he’ll get another plate win and qualify for his second straight playoffs.
14. William Byron
I should’ve learned my lesson picking rookies to make the playoffs last year when Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones made me 0-for-2. But, William Byron, who has dominating the Xfinity and Camping World series the last few years, is driving for Hendrick Motorsports and could have the greatest rookie season in quite some time.
13. Kurt Busch
Kurt Busch, the reigning Daytona 500 champion, is seemingly a lock to get a win almost every season. He doesn’t seem to run up front as much as he used to, but a win will get him in the playoffs.
12. Daniel Suarez
I thought Daniel Suarez would crack the playoffs as a rookie last year and get his first NASCAR Cup Series win. He didn’t. But, 2018 will be the year.
11. Erik Jones
See Daniel Suarez.
10. Ryan Blaney
Ryan Blaney won his first career Cup Series race last year racing for the Wood Brothers to qualify for the playoffs. Blaney moved over to a third Penske Racing team this year and his career should only get better from here. I’m thinking multiple wins for Blaney this year, if the addition of a third team doesn’t hurt Penske overall.
9. Chase Elliott
It’s frankly dumbfounding that Chase Elliott didn’t win a race in one of his first two seasons in the Cup Series and he’s been runner-up seven times, including five just last year. There’s no way he’s not going to break on through to the Victory Lane side this season.
8. Denny Hamlin
Denny Hamlin has won at least one race in all 12 of his NASCAR Cup Series seasons. He’s basically a lock to win a race and qualify for the playoffs every year.
7. Joey Logano
Joey Logano missing the playoffs in 2017 was the biggest shock in NASCAR last season, in my opinion. He won a race at Richmond but had something illegal on the car and the win didn’t qualify him for the playoffs. I’m sure he’ll visit Victory Lane multiple times this year.
6. Kyle Larson
Kyle Larson won a career-high four times in 2017 and arguably had the second-best season in the sport behind champion Martin Truex Jr. I’m not sure he’ll win that many times this year, but he should be a lock for at least one.
5. Brad Keselowski
Brad Keselowski only has one winless season in his career – his rookie season. He’s won at least one race in his last seven seasons. He’s a virtual lock to make the playoffs.
4. Kevin Harvick
Over the last five years or so Kevin Harvick has been the most consistent driver in the NASCAR Cup Series. He’s won a race in each of the last eight seasons. Harvick is also a lock to make the playoffs.
3. Jimmie Johnson
Jimmie Johnson is going for his record-breaking eighth NASCAR Cup Series championship. Johnson has incredibly won multiple races in all 16 of his NASCAR Cup Series season and is arguably the greatest driver in NASCAR history. He’s a playoff lock, but his history in the playoff segments hasn’t always been the greatest.
2. Kyle Busch
Kyle Busch has won a NASCAR Cup Series race in each of his 13 seasons and is seemingly a lock for the playoffs even in seasons in which he breaks both of his legs (he actually won the title that year). Busch is one of the few drivers in NASCAR that can almost seemingly win at will. He should thrive in the playoffs.
1. Martin Truex Jr.
You’d have to be pretty dumb, in my opinion, not to predict Martin Truex Jr. as the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series champion in 2018 for a second straight year. I never thought I’d say this even three years ago, but he, his crew chief Cole Pearn and his entire Furniture Row Motorsports Toyota team is clearly the team to beat in NASCAR today, especially when it comes the 1.5-mile tracks that populate the sport’s schedule.
by Julian Spivey
The 2018 Winter Olympics are underway from Pyeongchang, South Korea and I’m left with a feeling of indifference. And, as someone who tries to be an all-around sports fan I don’t like it.
I’m hoping that this year is the year I finally find at least one Winter Olympic sport or event that interests or entertains me. Over the years I’ve become quite the fan of the Summer Olympics. In 2016 when the games were in Brazil I tried to watch as much of the games as possible, including at least one event from every sport at the games and I was successful. I had a blast doing it. I believe I’m more of a fan now as a 30-year old adult of the Summer games than I was as a bright-eyed child seeing my first Olympic games (the ’96 Atlanta games) as an eight-year old.
But, there’s something about the actual sports and events at the Summer games that seem more interesting or fun to me. The games have sports that I watch on the regular throughout the year anyway like basketball and golf, which I was thrilled was added to the Olympics in 2016. And, unlike the Winter Olympics the Summer games are filled with team sports like soccer, field hockey, volleyball and rugby (also added in 2016) that have more intensity and back-and-forth entertainment value because you have groups of people from different countries going at it. There are also unique Summer team sports at the Olympics like water polo and handball, that I’d likely watch more than once every four years if an American sports network would carry the events (I’d truly like to see this). And, yes, the summer games have individual sports like tennis, table tennis and fencing, but those sports have athletes going against each other mano-a-mano, which adds to the excitement.
In many Winter Olympic events it’s simply an individual going out in the elements and trying to set a winning time. Many of the events don’t feature multiple athletes on the field of play at a time and to me that’s just not quite as interesting. Sure, you have some team sports like hockey, but Olympic hockey is less exciting this year than it has been in many years because the NHL (National Hockey League) didn’t take an Olympic break this year to allow the best hockey players in the world the chance to compete for gold. I don’t have as much interest in watching second-tier hockey players compete for the honor. That makes it feel like it’s less worthy.
There are sports I’m hopeful I’ll find more entertaining and exciting like speed skating, luge and the always seemingly popular curling (though I don’t know anyone who could tell you exactly what’s going on and I always forget as soon as the Olympics are over).
My take on the Winter Olympics has always been the admittedly ignorant “sports don’t belong on snow and ice.” But, I’m hoping this is the year I find something that I can love, even if it’s just for two weeks every four years – like certain Summer games events. When I have free time during the next two weeks I’m going to try to catch as many different events as I can. Hopefully something will pique my interest. Come on Winter games, I’m begging of you.
by Julian Spivey
There have been rags-to-riches stories before in the Super Bowl. Kurt Warner pretty much went from a grocery store bagger to Super Bowl MVP. Doug Williams (the first black QB in Super Bowl history) took over as Washington’s football team starting quarterback after Jay Schroeder was injured and routed the Denver Broncos with a record performance in Super Bowl XXII. So, it isn’t crazy that Nick Foles, a mostly career long backup, led the Philadelphia Eagles to their first ever Super Bowl victory on Sunday night (Feb. 4), but it was certainly surprising that he gave potentially the best offensive performance in the 52-year history of the big game.
Before the 2016 season Foles had considered giving up the game. He was the starting quarterback for the St. Louis Rams in 2015, but the season didn’t go well with him throwing more interceptions than touchdowns and having a 4-7 record in 11 games started. When the Rams, who were moving to Los Angeles, drafted Jared Goff first overall in the 2016 NFL Draft he requested and was granted his release. Right before the 2016 season Foles signed with the Kansas City Chiefs to backup Alex Smith and played for Andy Reid, who has coached him in Philadelphia. He started one game during the season and won it. After the season he signed with the Eagles, who he began his career and played with from 2012-2014, to backup Carson Wentz. It didn’t seem like Foles would play this season as Wentz was having arguably a MVP season leading the Eagles to the best record in the NFC before suffering a torn ACL in week 14. Suddenly the Eagles became Foles’ team and an underdog.
Foles won two of the three games he started at the end of the regular season before leading the team to a defeat of the reigning NFC champion Atlanta Falcons in the playoffs and a dominant 38-7 win over the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship game in which he completed 26 of 33 passes for 352 yards and three touchdown passes.
Getting the Eagles to the Super Bowl was one thing, but there he would have to face the dynastic New England Patriots looking to repeat as Super Bowl champions and for their record-tying sixth championship. Foles matched NFL MVP Tom Brady pass for pass throughout the entire game. He would finish the game with 373 passing yards, while completing 28 of 43 passes and throwing three touchdowns and an interception (that was honestly his receiver’s fault). But, the most amazing play of Foles’ Super Bowl was a touchdown reception on fourth-and-goal in the second quarter on a trick play in which he became the first quarterback in Super Bowl history to catch a touchdown pass. It’s a play that will no doubt go down in history as one of the greatest in Super Bowl and NFL history. Foles would lead the Eagles to a 41-33 victory in a true David over Goliath performance. He was named Super Bowl MVP.
After the game I got to wondering where Foles’ performance stacked up all-time among Super Bowl MVPs and it’s certainly a top 5 all-time performance. It’s right up there with Williams’ Super Bowl XXII performance, Joe Montana’s five touchdown performance in Super Bowl XXIV, Steve Young’s six touchdown (a Super Bowl record) effort in Super Bowl XXIX and Tom Brady’s amazing comeback last year in which he was down 28-3 in the second half and threw for over 400 yards. By the way, Brady threw for a new Super Bowl record 505 yards in a losing effort on Sunday. The fact that Foles could beat a 500-plus passing yard effort from Brady just adds to his MVP-winning performance.
Not bad for a guy who less than two years before considered hanging it up. If I were him right now I might have to consider it again, because even though he’s only 29 it’ll likely never get better for him than this. He might become a starting QB again somewhere (certainly not in Philadelphia), but more than likely it’ll be back to the backup slot.
Foles is a triumphant story of someone going from the bottom to the top. A story that truly makes sports worthwhile.
by Julian Spivey
I know you’re tired of the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. I know this because I’ve heard you say it and I’ve seen you write it about a thousand times since the Patriots won the AFC Championship game almost two weeks ago.
I understand people being tired of the Patriots going to their eighth Super Bowl in the last 17 years, with them having won five of the seven already played, including two of the last three. Americans don’t seem to like dynasties in sports (unless it’s apparently the ‘90s Chicago Bulls) and the Patriots of the last two decades have been the New York Yankees of much of baseball’s run.
But, at some point you have to stop hating on the Patriots for being great and, if not learn to enjoy watching them, at least respect the historic run of Tom Brady, who may be the greatest quarterback in NFL history, and Bill Belichick, who likely has become the greatest coach in NFL history.
Sometimes we don’t know the extent of the greatness we see in sports until it’s gone. And, I understand the Patriots have been great for so long that it feels like they’ll never be gone. But, Tom Brady (though possibly going to be the league’s MVP this season) is 40-years old and Belichick isn’t going to hang around forever (some even believe he might retire after this Super Bowl). I’m certainly not going to write them off after this season (that would be laughable, even though many did it after they won last year and look where they are now), but the odds are this will likely be their final run to the Super Bowl. I understand why some would cheer the end of their run, many sports fans clamor for new blood in championship games, though look how high the ratings typically are for “usual suspects” teams in any sport. But, please don’t be irritated by the Patriots in this year’s Super Bowl. Kick back and enjoy the entirety of the event that the majority of Americans, whether football fans or not tune in for. Enjoy the Snickers and Budweiser and Doritos commercials. Enjoy Justin Timberlake’s halftime show. Enjoy over indulging in chips and dip and those little weenies wrapped in crescent rolls. Enjoy Brady, Belichick and the Patriots too. It’s time to stop taking them for granted. Because greatness doesn’t last forever.