3

Consecutive games in which Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr. has hit leadoff home run

Eric Fisher’s weekly column about a variety of topics. This week Eric serves up opinions on Carson Wentz’s NFL debut, they chances of Donovan McNabb and Brian Dawkins being inducted into the Hall of Fame, and Allen Iverson’s Hall of Fame speech.

There are many interesting storylines to follow during the Eagles’ season, not the least of which is the development of second-year quarterback Carson Wentz. Gordon Glantz evaluates the Eagles at each position as he previews the 2017 season.

Gordon Glantz lists seven Eagles whose performance could make the difference between a 6-10 and 10-6 record.

Archive for the ‘NASCAR’ Category

Rough year for Hendrick Motorsports

Posted by Eric Fisher On July - 27 - 2018 ADD COMMENTS

It wasn’t too long ago that Hendrick Motorsports was the dominant organization in NASCAR. Jimmie Johnson was winning championships, Jeff Gordon was challenging Johnson, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the most popular driver in NASCAR. For good measure, Kasey Kahne was usually in Chase contention.

Times have changed. With six races remaining until NASCAR’s playoffs, none of the four Hendrick Motorsports drivers has a postseason berth sewed up.

The names have changed since Hendrick’s heyday. Johnson is still in the fold, but the rest of the lineup consists of rising star Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman and rookie William Byron.

None of the Hendrick drivers has a win this year, which is something they would like to change Sunday (2:30 p.m.) at the Gander Outdoors 400 at Pocono Raceway. A trip to Victory Lane would virtually assure each Hendrick driver of a playoff berth.

It’s possible to qualify for the Chase without winning a race. Drivers in the top 30 with wins automatically qualify for the playoffs. If there aren’t 16 winners, which will be the case this year due to Kevin Harvick (6), Kyle Busch (5) and Martin Truex Jr. (4) dominating the NASCAR circuit, the top drivers in points round out the playoff field until it reaches 16.

Entering Sunday’s race at Pocono, Hendrick drivers Johnson, Elliott and Bowman occupy the final three berths in the playoff field. Byron is five spots outside of a playoff berth.

Johnson has what appears to be a comfortable 97-point cushion. But Johnson knows that no lead is safe. A “did not finish” (DNF) or two could put Johnson on the playoff bubble. Elliott, with a 95-point cushion, is in similar position to Johnson. Bowman is in the final playoff position, 28 points ahead of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and 29 ahead of Paul Menard.

Byron, the fourth member of Hendrick Motorsports, is 95 points behind Bowman. Like Ryan Newman (74 points behind Bowman), Daniel Suarez (94 behind) and Jamie McMurray (98 behind), Byron probably needs a win in one of the six remaining races to qualify for the playoffs. It’s unlikely any of these drivers will qualify via points. Chris Buescher, one spot behind Murray, qualified for the playoffs last year with a rain-shortened victory at Pocono and, obviously, would like to do it again.

If Stenhouse, Menard or any of the drivers in the preceding paragraph – and you can throw AJ Allmendinger (25th place) and Kahne (26th) into the mix – win at Pocono or one of the five following races, it reduces the number of playoff berths available for drivers trying to qualify through points.

The possibility that a driver might win for the first times this season highlights how precarious the situation is for the Hendrik drivers.

The idea of a NASCAR playoff without Johnson is almost inconceivable. But Johnson only has two Top 5 finishes this season. By contrast, Elliott has five Top 5 finishes.

It’s been an uncharacteristically poor year for Hendrick Motorsports. But the year could get worse if they don’t hang on to the final three playoff berths.

Points at a premium as second half begins

Posted by Eric Fisher On June - 2 - 2018 ADD COMMENTS

At the midpoint of NASCAR’s regular season, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick have dominated the action. Harvick has won five of the 13 races. Busch has won four, giving him a 67-point lead over Joey Logano. Harvick, with two “did not finishes,” is in third place.

The consequence of having two drivers winning nine of the first 13 races is that it’s likely that points will play an important role in determining the 16-driver playoff field.

Only six drivers, including Harvick and Busch, have wins this season. Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer, Logano and Austin Dillon have reached Victory Lane, virtually guaranteeing them spots in NASCAR’s playoff. That leaves 10 playoff spots to be achieved either by victory or through overall points. The likelihood of Busch and Harvick not winning any more races is slim, so the points part of the equation will be particularly important.

The next opportunity to earn a victory or pick up points is Sunday’s Pocono 400 (2 p.m.). Obviously, a victory would be ideal, but moving away from the points cut line, to borrow a golf term, is also important.

With Dillon in 19th place, outside of the top 16, the cutoff spot for points is 15th place. If the season ended today, the playoff field would include the six drivers with wins – five of whom are in the top 16 – and the 10 winless drivers with the most points.

It seems too early to watch the standings, but this year it may be appropriate. Entering Sunday’s Pocono 400, Chase Elliott and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are tied for the final playoff berth. They are only three points behind Alex Bowman, who replaced Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 car. More importantly, they are 33 points ahead of the next closest driver, which is Paul Menard.

Drivers such as Menard (17th place) must begin to close that gap with Bowman, Elliott and Stenhouse Jr. or else they won’t have any option for making the playoffs other than to win a race.

Closing the gap is even more imperative for Daniel Suarez, Jamie McMurray and Ryan Newman. Suarez is 18 points behind Menard, which leaves him 51 points behind Elliott and Stenhouse. McMurray and Newman, both of whom qualified for the playoffs last year, are 65 and 66 points, respectively, behind Elliott and Stenhouse. If they don’t start closing that gap, they could find themselves desperate for a victory in the final races before the playoffs begin.

Kasey Kahne is another driver from last year’s playoffs who is in danger of missing the postseason this year. He trails Elliott and Stenhouse by 110 points.

An important thing to remember is that if one of the drivers outside the top 15 wins a race, the “cut line” will move up. For example, if Newman picks up a win, the last driver in on points will be Bowman, leaving both Elliott and Stenhouse (based on current points) on the outside looking in.

On the other side of the cutline, Jimmie Johnson is in 12th place, only 31 points above the current playoff cut line. Johnson could resolve this issue with a victory. If he doesn’t win a race, however, he certainly doesn’t want to get close to the wire with a narrow cushion in the standings. An ill-timed crash or engine trouble could knock the 7-time NASCAR champion out of the playoffs if he doesn’t establish a cushion above the cut line.

Meanwhile, the top 11, which includes winless drivers Brad Keselowski (4th place), Kurt Busch (6th), Denny Hamlin (7th), Kyle Larson (9th), Aric Almirola (10th) and Ryan Blaney (11th), appear fairly safe. But a victory Sunday at Pocono would make them feel much more comfortable as NASCAR kicks off the second half its season.

Brian Dawkins' Hall of Fame speech