7

Scoreless minutes for Trail Blazers at start of Wednesday’s loss to Sixers

Chase Utley played his way into the hearts of Phillies fans with his accomplishments and his attitude. In his first game back at Citizens Bank Park, Phillies fans let Utley know he will always be at home in Philadelphia.

Eric Fisher imagines a place where you can escape all the bad news about the Phillies.

Gordon Glantz explains why, even though he still follows the Phillies, he has barely watched them play this season — and why their inactivity at the trade deadline affirms his stance.

Archive for the ‘NASCAR’ Category

Who will make the cut at Dover?

Posted by Eric Fisher On September - 30 - 2017 ADD COMMENTS

Sixteen drivers enter the Monster Mile in the playoffs.

Only 12 will leave as part of the playoff field.

Sunday is cutdown day for the NASCAR playoffs. Four members of the 16-driver playoff field will be eliminated after the Apache Warrior 400 (1 p.m.) presented by Lucas Oil, the third and final race of the first stage of the playoffs, at Dover International Speedway.

Four drivers have already assured themselves of advancing to the Round of 12. Points leader Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch won the first two races in this stage, and Kyle Larson and Brad Keselowski have clinched a spot in the next round through their points totals.

There is always intrigue about who will win, but the bigger drama at The Monster Mile on Sunday will come from the back end of the playoff field.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Austin Dillon enter Sunday’s race tied for the 12th and final berth in the next round of the playoffs. Ryan Newman is just one point behind them.

Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne are in more dire straits. Kurt Busch is 17 points behind Stenhouse and Dillon. It would take an unusual set of circumstances for him to pass Senhouse, Dillon and Newman, so he probably needs a win Sunday to advance. The same is true of Kasey Kahne, who is four points behind Kurt Busch.

Jamie McMurray isn’t out of the woods, either. He’s in 11th place, just nine points ahead of Stenhouse and Dillon and 10 ahead of Newman. Having been eliminated in the first round the last two years, there is little chance that McMurray will be complacent at Dover.

Only a disaster, such as a race-ending wreck or engine trouble, could knock Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott and Kevin Harvick out of the playoffs Sunday, but they certainly are aware of that possibility.

Complicating matters is NASCAR’s new scoring system, which awards stage points during the race. There are three stages in each race, so drivers toward the back of the playoff field could pick up crucial points by doing well during the first two portions of the race. For Stenhouse, Dillon and Newman, points in the first or second stage of Sunday’s race could be the differences between remaining alive in the playoff race or being relegated to being irrelevant for the final seven playoff races.

Johnson trying to make history

Posted by Eric Fisher On September - 17 - 2017 ADD COMMENTS

Defending champion Jimmie Johnson is shooting for his eighth overall NASCAR title, but he is almost an afterthought as the 10-race playoffs begin.

The focus seems to be on points leader Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch, not on the seven-time champion, who is tied with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the most career NASCAR championships.

Why is Johnson being overlooked? Johnson ranks fifth in points and has three wins this season; however, since winning at Dover on June 4, Johnson has only finished in the Top 10 twice – and both of them were 10th-place finishes. Even though he hasn’t had a good summer, it would be foolish to count out Johnson when evaluating the playoff contenders.

There are 16 drivers in the playoff field. Although the championship battle is no longer referred to as The Chase, it remains a 10-race competition, with four drivers eliminated after every third race. The first segment, which starts with the Tale of the Turtles 400 on Sunday (3 p.m.), ends at Dover on Oct. 1 with the Apache Warrior 400 presented by Lucas Oil.

Let’s evaluate the championship chances of the 16-driver playoff field. By the way, I correctly predicted 14 of the 16 drivers who would qualify for the playoffs, with my mistakes being not including Kasey Kahne and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. instead of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Joey Logano, whose absence is shocking.

NO CHANCE

Ryan Blaney, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Jamie McMurray. Stenhouse broke through with two victories this year, but both were at restrictor-plate tracks. The only restrictor-plate race in the playoffs is the Alabama 500 at Talladega on Oct. 15, but Stenhouse has to make it through the first stage in order to get there. Blaney is the preseason playoff pick that gave me the most pride. He’s capable of making some noise in the playoffs, but I don’t see Wood Brothers Racing truly being a championship contender against the larger, more established teams. McMurray is in the playoffs for the third straight year, but he hasn’t demonstrated that he can do much once he qualifies.

EXTREME LONG SHOTS

Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, Austin Dillon. It’s only out of respect that Kenseth, a former NASCAR champion, wasn’t included in the “no chance” category. He hasn’t won a race this year. Kahne is only in the playoff field because he won a race. His average finish this season 20.3. Kahne, who still doesn’t have a ride for next season, could drive very aggressively as he attempts to prove his worth. Dillon has a bright future, but his average finish this year (19.5) is only slightly better than Kahne’s.

OLD GUYS

Experience is the only reason that Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch aren’t included in the “extreme long shots” category. Unlike Kenseth and McMurray, Newman and Busch both won races this season. Both Newman and Busch have also been driving fairly well during the final stretch before the playoffs.

YOUNG GUN

Chase Elliott didn’t win a race this year, but, with 14 Top 10 finishes and six in the Top 5, Elliott could be on the verge of breaking through into the upper echelon. He finished 10th overall despite not winning a race. A trip or two to Victory Lane could put him in the championship picture. Chicago and Dover, site of two of the first three playoff races, have been good tracks for Elliott during his short career.

TOP CONTENDERS

Truex, Johnson, Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin. I have expanded the top contenders list from six in 2016 to seven this year. Truex is the points leader, entering the playoffs with a 20-point advantage on Kyle Larson. How can the top two drivers be left out of the top contenders category? Keselowski, Johnson (twice), Harvick and Busch have combined to win the last five championships, so it is wise to include them in this category. Hamlin won at New Hampshire, the second race in the first playoff stage, and won at Darlington during Labor Day Weekend, completing a stretch in which only finished outside the top four twice in eight races.

How will they finish after the 10-race playoffs?

5. Johnson

4. Larson

3. Hamlin

2. Truex

1. Kyle Busch, who didn’t pick up his first victory until July 30 at Pocono, wins his second NASCAR championship in three years.

Every out of Roy Halladay's playoff no-hitter