J-Hill’s Two Minute Drill

Opinion

Hello again, and welcome to another edition of The Drill. It’s race season once again, so in the spirit of raceday being a little over 24 hours away now, let’s start our engines up and take a look at what the world of sports has to offer for our amusement this week:Race Day In Daytona -The fifty-third annual Daytona 500 takes place tomorrow at noon, a race that pits the best drivers in the Sprint Cup Series against each other in what many consider to be the Super Bowl of stock car racing. The week building up to the big race, commonly referred to as Speedweeks, can be very informative to the casual fan, and this year’s edition has been no different. Four undeniable facts that need to be taken into account for this year’s race are:

The Fords are For Real – It’s always seemed like Chevrolets have been the cars to beat down in Daytona, but this year it really looks like the Fords will have something to say about that. Qualifying showed that they were full of speed, as two Ford cars made the front row in Roush Fenway Racing teammates Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle and six Fords made up the top ten. While the Gatorade 125s on Thursday shifted the number of Ford cars starting from the top ten to just four, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Ford family reels in their second straight Daytona 500 victory, the first time the manufacturer has pulled off this feat in the race’s history.

Another Upset is Possible – Last year’s incredible win by rookie Trevor Bayne in just his second career Sprint Cup Series start was a Cinderella story, but it’s very possible that we could see it happen once again. Daytona is such a breath-taking race for both the fans, crews, and drivers because a majority of the success boils down to timing; if you can time a pass just right, you can go from an unknown kid from Knoxville, Tennessee to a rising star in NASCAR, which is what Bayne went through one year ago. Three darkhorse drivers that could wind up taking home the Harley J. Earl Trophy are Dave Blaney in the #36 Ollie’s Bargain Outlet Chevrolet for Tommy Baldwin Racing, Marcos Ambrose in the #9 Stanley Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports, and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. in the #6 Ford EcoBoost Ford for Roush Fenway Racing.

Clint Bowyer May Have a Long Season – NASCAR’s silly season was full of several big changes, but from what I’ve seen so far the driver who may have a rough first season with his new team is Clint Bowyer in the #15 Five-Hour Energy Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing. Bowyer left Richard Childress Racing after the team failed to secure a sponsor for the entire 2012 season, but the struggles of his new team so far may prove that leaving RCR was a huge mistake. Bowyer’s car has looked a bit out of its league so far in Speedweeks, leading to the Emporia, Kansas native to start the 500 from the 30th starting spot. Bowyer will probably stick close to veteran teammate Mark Martin in this race, and although a good run is possible at this restrictor-plate race, I predict a long season for the #15 team.

Two-Car Tandems Are Dead – The two-car tandems that dominated the races at Daytona and Talladega are long gone thanks to the banning of drivers being able to communicate directly with each other on the radio and because of changes in the way the cars are cooled, leading to the pack racing that these races made famous for so many years. While both of these factors are equally important, the cooling issues need to be watched out for on Sunday. Several drivers complained about high temperatures in the engine during the Gatorade 125s, which should scare crew chiefs throughout the garage because that race was 140 laps shorter than the big race. NASCAR made the changes to ensure that the hooking up of just two cars that many fans found very boring wouldn’t be an issue, but with the changes have brought in even more drama in the biggest race of the season. I expect drivers throughout the field to complain about possible engine problems and for fans to see plenty of water shooting out of the relief valves on the right side of the cars as the race progresses.

With all of this in mind, my pick for this year is a first-time winner of the race, which would be the seventh straight time that a driver would pull in to Victory Lane in the season opener’s race for the first time. Tony Stewart, who has won practically every race at Daytona besides the Great American Race, sees his luck change this year, as the forty-year-old edges out Greg Biffle and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. for the win.

Manny Makes a Comeback – It appears that Major League Baseball has not witnessed Manny Being Manny for the last time, as the twelve-time All-Star signed a minor league contract with the Oakland Athletics that would reward Ramirez $500,000 if he makes the club’s roster. Despite the fact that Ramirez would have to serve his 50-game suspension for failing a second drug test, Athletics general manager Billy Beane, made famous by the movie Moneyball, has made a gamble that is definitely worth attempting. The A’s haven’t made the playoffs since 2006, and 2012 doesn’t look very promising given the fact that the team plays in the same division as the Rangers and the Albert Pujols-led Angels. If Ramirez winds up surprising everyone and making a significant contribution to the A’s this year, Beane looks like a genius; if he’s a bust then Beane sells some tickets and tallies it up as just another move that didn’t pan out.

Braun Battles MLB – The Curious Case of Brewer Braun took another strange turn in the last forty-eight hours, as the NL MVP’s 50-game suspension for a failed drug test was overturned due to a mishandling of the sample that Braun provided. It seems that the sample Braun provided, which showed a high level of testosterone, had not been properly stored and delivered according to MLB’s rules; MLB requires samples to be delivered to FedEx on the day it is provided, but Braun’s sample wasn’t delivered until two days later. Although the collector said he left the sample in a “cool, dry area” in the meantime, procedure had clearly been broken, leaving the test to be thrown out and Braun’s suspension revoked. You can say that Braun got off by a technicality in this situation and that the results still taint his previously clean status, but I disagree due to his press conference on Friday. From my point of view, Braun looked completely honest behind the microphone, and it really does seem like he is ready to just move on with his career;however, this won’t be an easy task, and you can expect Major League Baseball to continue to support their testing policies (which basically screams “Braun is guilty!”) and for fans around the league to heckle Braun like never before once the season starts.

Falcons Defenders Defecting? – As we inch closer and closer to the NFL Draft, free agents across the league are evaluating their situations and deciding whether or not they will test the waters of the market or return to their 2011 team. The Atlanta Falcons have several free agents, but two that the team looks in danger of losing is veteran defensive end John Abraham and middle linebacker Curtis Lofton. It appears that the team is determined to both spend their money carefully and use its franchise tag on cornerback Brent Grimes, which makes it apparent that they aren’t necessarily going to through ridiculous offers at these two defenders. I’ve always enjoyed watching both of these players, and although Abraham has been the only player Atlanta has had in recent memory who could get to opposing quarterbacks consistently, I believe that losing Lofton will be more damaging in the long run. Lofton, who has played four years with the Falcons and racked up 87 solo tackles in 2011, has been one of the best defenders for a Falcons squad that has struggled on that side of the ball, and losing Lofton would mean that second-year player Akeem Dent would take over the position. Losing these two players would definitely be a disappointing start to the offseason for Atlanta, but overhauling a roster on a lackluster defense could ultimately prove to be beneficial in the long run.

Hawks Hurting – Remember when the Hawks were playing great and looked to be one of the biggest surprise teams in the Eastern Conference? Well, for all of you who blinked, that’s definitely not the case any more. After holding a 16–6 record through January 31st, Atlanta has had a frustrating February, posting a disappointing 4-8 record including an absolutely embarrassing 99-82 loss to the Jeremy Lin-led New York Knicks, a game in which the Hawks looked like they were playing the role of the Washington Generals in a Harlem Globetrotters game. Atlanta has played its last few games without leading scorer Joe Johnson, who has been out due to a left knee injury, but having issues at this magnitude in this month really makes no sense other than just it being due to the wear and tear that comes with playing in the NBA (playing without Al Horford definitely doesn’t help, either). Currently holding a 5 ½ game advantage over the first team out of holding a playoff spot at this point in time, I predict that the Hawks will turn it around; However, if March mimicks February in any form or fashion, we could find Josh Smith and Company sitting on the outside looking in.

Sports Quote of the Week

“It was bigger than Mule Day.” – NASCAR driver Sterling Marlin describing the celebration in his hometown of Columbia, Tennessee when he won the Daytona 500 back in 1994. Columbia is known as the “mule capital of the world” and holds a big celebration each April.

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