Chase Power Rankings: Have the Big Three become The Big Four?

15 Oct

The fifth race of the Chase is over, and that means it's time for Power Rankings! But we're doing things a little differently now that we're in the postseason. It's all-Chasers, all the time. Good job, good effort for those of you that didn't make it, but we've got bigger fish to focus on. We'll be judging who's running well, considering not just finishing position but quality of run, expected potential, and general gut feelings. As always, we hate your guy and are biased against him. Now, enjoy.

Oh, and as for last week's attempt at Mafia names for our favorite drivers ... let us never speak of that one again. Every race season has an Auto Club Speedway, right?

1. Denny Hamlin: This top spot is likely to rotate among the Big Three, and perhaps the Big Four, over the next few weeks. Right now, we're giving the nod to Hambone over Vader, but only by a hairsbreadth. This very easily could have been a big victory for Hamlin, and #11 fans should be pleased with the fact that he didn't seem to enjoy his second-place finish very much. Last week: 3.

2. Jimmie Johnson: Another week, another outstanding run from Johnson. Last year, we were all falling over ourselves at how amazing it was that Carl Edwards was finishing so high week after week. Now we've got three guys doing it. Johnson took the wise approach to fuel management on Saturday night; if he'd run out, he'd have a much higher hill to climb. Last week: 2.

3. Brad Keselowski: Sure, he falls out of the top spot here, but he's still running the show points-wise. This makes next week a key for Keselowski: you can afford to have an off week, but you need to be able to rebound immediately or you're going to get passed like you lost the draft. Last week: 1.

4. Clint Bowyer: Rawhide's rise is one of the more notable efforts of the season, and it'd be a shame if he doesn't get himself into the top crew here in the next couple weeks. Also: his press conferences are joys of (perhaps) Five-Hour-Energy-filled energy. Last week: 5.

5. Kasey Kahne: Decent run for Mr. Kahne at Charlotte, but we all expected a lot more out of him. Eighth place is not enough, sir! Anyway, his chances at a Cup are fading fast, but he's already turned a previously horrid season into a success. Last week: 6.

6. Martin Truex Jr.: True story: Truex wants everyone to mean HIM when they refer to "Junior." (May not be a true story.) Also a true story: this will never happen. But MTJ is establishing his good name all by himself. Last week: 9.

7. Jeff Gordon: Looks like the dream is about over for Jeff. Here's hoping that there's some kind of change in the points system (heresy!) in order to prevent one bad finish from decimating your entire season. Last week: 4.

8. Greg Biffle: All right, good to know that Biffle is starting to validate that first-place regular-season finish. Barring some lost haulers en route to a track, Biffle won't be in this hunt. Still, he's the class of the Roush squad this year. Last week: 12.

9. Matt Kenseth: Um, no offense with that "class of Roush" crack in the Biffle entry, Matt. You done good by winning Talladega, of course, but it's been a tough road these last few months. Hopefully your five-race swan song will go well for you. Last week: 10.

10. Tony Stewart: It's been a rocky Chase all the way around for Mr. Stewart, with the Talladega Monstrosity being the worst of a rough go. But he's getting sponsorship lined up for 2013, which has to be a big relief. Last week: 8.

11. Kevin Harvick: Sooner this season is over the better for Harvick fans. Nothing's working well enough, but nothing's going bad enough for a wholesale change, either. Well, at least he had himself a kid, so the year's not a total wash. Last week: 11.

12. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Salute to Junior for taking the tough path to stepping out of the car this year. Not like he'll miss out on Vegas; the "most popular driver of the year" always ends up there anyway. Last week: 7.

Non-Chaser of the Week: Carl Edwards. Good to see Carl running strong this week. Shame he wasn't able to earlier this year, but if history is any guide, he'll be right back in the mix in 2013.

All right, you're up. Who belongs where? Have your say!

Tags: carl edwards, , , , Greg Biffle, Jimmie Johnson, , , Power Rankings, , ,
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Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth are at the head of the class at Dover

26 Sep

At Dover recently, it's been Jimmie Johnson, then Matt Kenseth and then everyone else.

Johnson is the only Chaser who has a top 10 average finish at Dover, and in the last nine races there, he has four wins and just one finish outside the top 10. (Fun Fact: Carl Edwards actually has a higher average finish than Johnson does at Dover, but alas, he's not in the Chase. And Aric Almirola's average finish is 6th, but the first 2012 Dover race was his first start at the concrete mile.)

Kenseth's run at the top of the Dover scoresheet is pretty impressive too. While he's only got one win to Johnson's four in the last nine races, he's only finished outside the top five once.

How does everyone else fare?

Johnson: The five-time champ's average finish at Dover is 8.5, and those aforementioned four wins in the last nine races include a 2009 sweep and a win in 2011 and this year's first race at Dover. And that one time he has finished outside the top 10 in those nine races was a race that he dominated, leading 225 laps before getting caught out of sequence thanks to an ill-timed caution.

Kenseth: It may be a great chance for Kenseth -- who has an average finish of 11.8 -- to make up some ground on a lot of the drivers ahead of him in the Chase standings. If you're looking for a non-Vader alternative for your fantasy driver lineup, you shouldn't look any further than Kenseth.

Greg Biffle: The Biff's average finish isn't too far behind Kenseth's at 12.2, but his last four races at Dover haven't been very memorable thanks to a pair of 19ths, a 27th and an 11th in June this year.

Jeff Gordon: Original four-time has four wins in 39 Dover starts, and his average finish is 12.3. And while Gordon hasn't been poor at Dover lately, his last top 10 finish came five races ago in the fall 2009 race.

Tony Stewart: Smoke's average finish of 13.4 is inflated by his first 12 starts, which included two wins and 11 top 10s. Since then, it's been a load of "meh" and hasn't finished inside the top 20 in his last four Dover starts.

Clint Bowyer: Bowyer hasn't won at Dover in 13 starts, but has been in the top 10 in his last three starts and has an average finish of 13.5. He was fifth in the summer.

Kevin Harvick: In Cupcake's 23 career starts, he has 10 top 10 finishes and finished second in the summer. In 2011, he was 10th in both Dover races. His average finish is 16.0.

Martin Truex Jr.: Dover is the site of Truex's one and only Cup win in 2007, but since then he's only finished in the top 10 in three races, leading to a 16.4 average finish. Of course, one of those races was earlier this year, when he finished seventh.

Brad Keselowski: In his five Dover starts, Keselowski hasn't finished higher than 12th. But he also hasn't finished lower than 22nd. And that (sort of) leads him to a tidy average finish of 17.0, smack dab in the middle of those two extremes.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Junior won at Dover in 2001, but went eight races between his last two top 10 finishes, a third in 2007 and a fourth in the summer of this year. His average finish is 17.5

Denny Hamlin: A brutal four race stretch from 2007-2009 drags Hamlin's average finish of 20.5 at Dover down, but he hasn't been spectacular there recently either, finishing 16th, 18th and 18th in his last three races.

Kasey Kahne: Kahne has six DNFs in 17 starts, hence his average finish of 21.5. One of his five top 10 finishes at Dover came in in the summer, when he finished ninth.

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Tags: Chaser, , Dover, Fact, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, , , , ,
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Memphis invades Big East country to land Kuran Iverson, Allen Iverson’s highly touted cousin

25 Sep

The most significant aspect of Kuran Iverson's decision to attend Memphis on Tuesday isn't that he's the Tigers' fourth elite commitment for the class of 2013 or even that he's former NBA all-star Allen Iverson's cousin.

What matters most is where he's from.

Iverson is a native of Hartford, Conn., not exactly a traditional recruiting hotbed for a program like Memphis. Now that the Tigers are a year away from making their Big East debut, however, it has enabled coach Josh Pastner to recruit the Northeast in a way he couldn't before.

Landing Iverson is a coup for Memphis even though his game hardly resembles his famous cousin's.

Iverson is a gifted 6-foot-8 forward who creates matchup problems for opponents with his ability to handle the ball on the perimeter and make plays for his teammates. He has yo-yoed up and down recruiting rankings, starting as a top 10 prospect because of his talent, plummeting when analysts questioned his effort and attitude and now rising again back to No. 24 in the Rivals 150 after an improved performance this past summer.

Memphis out-dueled the likes of Florida and Connecticut to land Iverson, who will spend his final year of high school at Fishburne Military Academy (Va.). Iverson joins three other top 100 prospects in the Tigers' Class of 2013: Nick King (No. 37), Markel Crawford (No. 50) and Rashawn Powell (No. 98).

There's no question Memphis will have plenty of talent when it joins the Big East next fall. And while the Tigers' recruiting hotbed will remain the city of Memphis, it looks like they'll be able to raid Big East country for players once in a while too.

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Tags: , cousin, , , Kuran, , talent
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Fred Couples of the U.S. walks up to the 18th green during final round play in the 2012 Masters Golf Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, April 8, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Segar

ATLANTA (Reuters) - Former Masters champion Fred Couples, a 15-times winner on the PGA Tour who is one of the most laid-back figures in the game, has been voted into the World Golf Hall of Fame as part of the class of 2013. The 52-year-old American, whose selection in the Hall of Fame's PGA Tour category was announced on Wednesday, will be inducted on May 6 at the World Golf Village in St. Augustine, Florida. "What a great day for me," former world number one Couples told reporters at East Lake Golf Club on the eve of this week's Tour Championship. ...

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Fred Couples will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in the class of 2013. Couples is a 15-time winner on the PGA TOUR — including victories at the 1984 and 1996 PLAYERS Championships and the 1992 Masters. Want to congratulate Fred? Write a note in the comments section below and we’ll share [...]
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Bob Huggins wants West Virginia’s rivalry with Pitt to continue. Will the Panthers agree?

17 Sep

If West Virginia coach Bob Huggins has his way, the basketball version of the Backyard Brawl won't be on hiatus more than a year.

Huggins said Monday he has told Jamie Dixon he'd like to restart the rivalry as soon as possible, but the Pittsburgh coach has been non-committal. Next season will be the first year since 1918 that the two longtime regional rivals have not faced one-another during the basketball season.

"I've said we're willing to play," Huggins said. "It's a great rivalry. Why wouldn't we play Pitt? You want to talk about the betterment of the student-athlete and doing what's right by the student-athlete? We're talking about an hour and a half drive. We're not talking about flying across the country. It just makes sense. There's not a downside.

"It's great for the fans. The players really enjoy it. You can play the game and be home. There's no problem waking up and going to class the next day. You're not missing class time. All the reasons anyone could give for starting a series or maintaining a series, they're all there. They're all positive."

The future of the hoops rivalry between Pittsburgh and West Virginia has been in doubt since both schools announced last fall they were leaving the Big East. The Panthers will join the ACC next fall and the Mountaineers have begun play in the Big 12 this year.

[Also: Doctors want Billy Gillispie 'stress-free' for 30 days … good luck with that]

Since West Virginia's departure from the Big East was so abrupt, Dixon has said too much of his team's 2012-13 non-conference schedule was already set in stone to consider adding the Mountaineers for next season. Asked by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette earlier this month about restarting the West Virginia series the following season, Dixon neither ruled out the possibility nor seemed especially eager.

"It's something where many factors go into it," Dixon said. "When all of the factors come together and it makes it so we can play, we'll play. There are so many factors involved and they don't just revolve around our program."

What Huggins believes is Dixon's hands may be tied by his administration. The football programs do not have plans to play one-another in the future despite pleas from fans on both sides not to let the Backyard Brawl die.

"When I've talked to Jamie about it, it was kind of like, 'We'll have to see,'" Huggins said. "I don't know how much of it is Jamie's call or not. That's what I think. I don't know either way, but I wouldn't put it all on Jamie. Or even any of it on Jamie."

Pittsburgh and West Virginia have played 184 times since 1904, with the Mountaineers holding a 96-88 lead in the series. The two schools split their final two games as Big East rivals last season, each winning on one-another's home floor.

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Bryce Harper dressed as a female gymnast? The Nationals’ rookie hazing made it so

09 Sep

You've heard of the Fierce Five? Yeah, well meet the Not-So-Magnificent Seven.

Bryce Harper (kneeling) and the rest of the Washington Nationals rookie class were instructed to go for the gold during the team's annual hazing on Sunday, but the group posted less than stellar scores after donning red leotards in tribute to the gold medalists from the U.S. women's gymnastics team. Veteran pitcher Gio Gonzalez posted the evidence on Twitter as the NL East leaders boarded a train — presumably all via handsprings and somersaults — for their series in New York this week.  To borrow a corny joke from Nationals Enquirer, does this make them GymNats?

The Nats have a good history with creative rookie hazing stunts and this will presumably cause less cleanup than when they covered Stephen Strasburg in blue paint and dressed him as Papa Smurf. Can't imagine it's more hygienic, though, especially if they start serving up that cake that Christian Garcia is inexplicably holding.

Big BLS H/N: Larry Brown Sports

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Could elite recruit Jabari Bird’s commitment to Cal have a ripple effect?

06 Sep

As soon as Salesian High standout Jabari Bird announced Wednesday afternoon he'd be attending Cal next season, Bears fans began dreaming of the possibilities he could be the lynchpin for a decorated class.

Could Bird's commitment make Cal more attractive to fellow highly touted Bay Area high school seniors Aaron Gordon (Arch Bishop Mitty in San Jose) and Marcus Lee (Deer Valley High in Antioch)? Is it possible all three could play together for Cal like they have on various summer travel teams during junior high and high school?

"I'm sure it has come up in conversation because they know each other really well," said Lechet Phillips, Lee's coach at Deer Valley. "A possibility? Anything's possible. I'm sure they would love to play together because I've watched them when they do and they smile a lot, they enjoy each other's skill set and honestly they really complement each other. But I think each of them have good relationships with different schools and they'll all make decisions on what's best for them."

The possibility of even two of the three wearing a Cal jersey is tantalizing for Bears fans.

Bird, a 6-foot-6 wing rated No. 20 in his class by, boasts a smooth jump shot, elite athleticism and the ability to finish at the rim. Lee, a 6-foot-9 big man rated No. 15 by rivals, is a gifted shot blocker and rebounder whose offensive repertoire is rapidly developing. And Gordon, a 6-foot-8 forward and consensus top-five player nationally, combines unmatched athleticism with relentlessness going after loose balls or attacking

Lee and Gordon both visited Cal with Bird this past weekend, but Bird still has a lot of work to do to get either to join him in Berkeley. Lee has drawn scholarship offers from the likes of Louisville, Indiana, Duke and Kansas. And Gordon has been thought to be very high on Washington for a while.

"I don't think Marcus had shown a lot of interest in Cal, but they're definitely on his radar now," Bird told the San Francisco Chronicle. "Aaron will make his own decision, but I know he was impressed."

Cal may not have long to persuade Lee to shun some of the high-profile schools recruiting him and remain close to home for college. Phillips said Lee is hoping to take his official visits in the next couple months and make a decision prior to the start of Deer Valley's high school season.

"Mike Montgomery has been really good about having a good relationship with the family," Phillips said. "As a fan of Berkeley basketball, I hope they get a good class. The kids coming out of the Bay Area in 2013 are really good. I can see something special happening nationally with that group."

Tags: athleticism, bird, , Deer Valley, , Jabari Bird, Lechet Phillips, Marcus Lee, , , Valley
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Marte (oblique) to begin rehab stint Tuesday – Starling Marte | PIT

04 Sep
Starling Marte (oblique) is scheduled to begin a minor league rehab assignment Tuesday with Class A State College.
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