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Completions this season by Carson Wentz and Eli Manning

The 76ers apparently have not been completely truthful with the media and the public about Joel Embiid’s knee injury. The shifting explanations, as well as Embiid’s 32-point performance against the Rockets, have raised trust issues with the Sixers.

The value of the 2016 season was to learn which Phillies could be part of the team’s future and which positions require upgrades. Eric Fisher examines which questions were answered during 2016 and what still needs to be done.

Eric Fisher’s weekly column on a variety of topics. This week Eric serves up opinions on expectations for the Eagles’ rookies, the fatal auto racing incident and Rickie Fowler making golf history.

Archive for the ‘NASCAR’ Category

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.

Pocono presents opportunity

Posted by Eric Fisher On July - 28 - 2017 ADD COMMENTS

Many drivers want to follow the example of seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson. But, for now, they will settle for following the example set by Kasey Kahne. Or Chris Buescher.

Who is Chris Buescher? One year ago, he won a weather-shortened race (heavy fog) at Pocono, notching his first career win and qualifying for the season-ending Chase, which is now referred to simply as the NASCAR playoffs. Without his victory, Buescher would not have qualified for the playoffs.

Kahne pulled off a similar feat last Sunday, qualifying for the playoffs by winning the Brickyard 400, his first victory since 2014, a span of 102 races.

There are only six races left before the playoffs begin, so this Sunday’s Overton’s 400 at Pocono Raceway is one of the remaining opportunities to automatically qualify by winning a race.

There are 16 playoff berths available. With Kahne’s victory, 12 of those spots are filled. The drivers who have qualified with victories are: points leader Martin Truex Jr. (3 wins); Johnson (3 wins); Kyle Larson (2 wins); Brad Keselowski (2 wins); Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (2 wins); Kevin Harvick; Denny Hamlin; Ryan Blaney; Kurt Busch; Ryan Newman; Kahne; and Austin Dillon.

Drivers can qualify for the playoffs without a victory if they are at the top of the points race among winless drivers. But each time there is a new winner, it knocks a winless driver out of the playoff field. When Kahne (383 points), who won at Pocono in 2013, won last Sunday, he knocked Clint Bowyer (533 points) out of the playoff field.

The points leader among winless drives is Kyle Busch (673 points), who is only behind Truex (780) and Larson (732). Unless the next six races include wins by four previously winless drivers, Busch is going to make the playoffs. Of course, he would like to remove any doubt by winning one of those races.

Less secure are Jamie McMurray (599), Chase Elliott (588) and Matt Kenseth (566). All are in danger of being pushed out of the playoffs by drivers picking up their first wins of the season. If McMurray, Elliott and Kenseth can’t reach Victory Lane, their hope is that these races are won by drivers already in the playoff field.

Among the drivers on the outside looking in are Clint Bowyer (533); Joey Logano (515); Erik Jones (440); Daniel Suarez (434); Trevor Bayne (386); Dale Earnhardt Jr. (353); Paul Menard (345); Ty Dillon (340); and Buescher (311).

Only Bowyer, who trails Kenseth for the final playoff berth by 33 points, and Logano, who is struggling this year, have a shot at qualifying for the playoffs on points, although one first-time winner in the next six races would make their mountain a much steeper climb. Barring a complete collapse by either McMurray or Elliott, it would be extremely difficult to overtake them during the next six races.

The fan favorite will be Earnhardt, who is retiring after this season. Earnhardt won twice at Pocono in 2014. He would love to celebrate his final appearance at Pocono with another victory.

Buescher, of course, wants to duplicate last year’s performance at Pocono. Jones, in his first full season in NASCAR’s top circuit, would like to improve upon his third-place finish at Pocono earlier this year. The irony of Jones pushing Kenseth out of playoff position is that Jones will be taking Kenseth’s spot with Joe Gibbs Racing next year.

Not winning at Pocono on Sunday doesn’t mean a driver will miss the playoffs. But time is running out as the opportunities to qualify for the playoffs diminish.

R.I.P. Bobby "The Brain" Heenan