Monday, June 18, 2018
Sports

NASCAR story lines focus on Jimmie Johnson, race for Chase

DAYTONA BEACH

Last week's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway marked the halfway point in the NASCAR Sprint Cup season.

With 18 races finished, here are the five biggest story lines to follow with eight races to go before the 10-event Chase:

1. Can anyone stop Jimmie Johnson?

His dominance at Daytona is hard to overstate. Last week, in becoming the first driver to sweep both Cup races there in three decades, he led 94 laps — the most by any winner at a restrictor-plate track since 2005. Johnson not only leads in points (49 ahead of Clint Bowyer) and top-10 finishes (12), but he's also tied with Matt Kenseth with four victories. His No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy is the clear favorite to end his two-year championship drought. "I think that what we've done over the course of the year … probably sends the biggest message that we're buttoned up and ready and in a position to win a sixth championship," Johnson said after last week's victory. "But there's a lot that can take place between now and Homestead."

2. Who will emerge as Johnson's biggest competition?

Bowyer has quietly turned his No. 15 Toyota into one of the top cars in the sport. He finished runnerup in points last year and sits second again after a fourth-place run last week. He needs some wins and bonus points to close the gap with Johnson. Kenseth's four checkered flags make him a contender, and Kevin Harvick is getting hot with eight consecutive top 10s. Don't count out Kyle Busch, who has driven his No. 18 Toyota to two victories and led 984 laps — second only to Johnson (1,020).

3. Will this be the best race to the Chase ever?

Only 44 points separate ninth place from 21st, giving 13 drivers legitimate chances for the final four spots (two guaranteed, two wild cards) in NASCAR's postseason. Those competitors include up-and-comers such as Joey Logano and Tampa's Aric Almirola mixed with former champions Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch. With the money, pride and job prospects at stake, expect high-risk, high-reward driving and a mad dash to the finish.

4. What big names will miss the postseason?

Defending series champion Brad Keselowski is in serious jeopardy. His No. 2 Penske Racing Ford has zero wins and is averaging a ho-hum 16th-place finish, though he has finished in the top two at five of the eight tracks left until the Chase begins. Four-time series champ Jeff Gordon is 14th in points, 12 behind Stewart for the final guaranteed spot. Gordon's No. 24 Chevy is winless with more DNFs (five) than top-five finishes (four). He has only missed the Chase once in its previous nine years but might get shut out this year.

5. Can Danica or Dale Jr. earn a win?

Aside from earning the pole and finishing eighth at the Daytona 500, Danica Patrick has had an uneventful first full Cup season. She's 123 points behind her boyfriend, Ricky Stenhouse, as the series' top rookie, and her best remaining hope for win likely will come in the final plate race, in October at Talladega. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is fifth in the points but still has just one win since the start of 2009. The good news for NASCAR's most popular driver: He's having his best season since 2006, and 17 of his 19 career wins have come at tracks still left on the circuit, including Michigan, the site of his past two victories.

Matt Baker can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.

   
Comments

Sports on TV/radio for Tuesday, June 19

TODAYBaseballOrioles at Nationals7 p.m.MLBRays at Astros8 p.m.Fox Sun; 620-AMMarlins at Giants10 p.m.FSFDiamondbacks at Angels10 p.m.ESPNCollege baseball, World SeriesFlorida vs. Texas2 p.m.ESPNTexas Tech vs. Arkansas7 p.m.ESPNGolfPGA Professionals c...
Updated: 20 minutes ago
Iceland World Cup Fever … catch it!

Iceland World Cup Fever … catch it!

TAMPA — Iceland isn't what it used to be. Literally. The Nordic island country is shrinking, what with global warming. Iceland's glaciers are getting smaller. If you took all that ice and laid it end to end, well, you clearly have nothing bette...
Updated: 1 hour ago
For starters: Rays at Astros, trying to stop a streaking champion

For starters: Rays at Astros, trying to stop a streaking champion

UPDATE, 6:40: Cash said he had a good talk with Hechavarria, and that he understood the situation. Cash said Hechavarria will get to play some, and when he does it will be at short. … RHP Chris Archer (abdominal strain) is slated to throw a bul...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Kevin Kiermaier set to rejoin Rays Tuesday

Kevin Kiermaier set to rejoin Rays Tuesday

CF Kevin Kiermaier is here in Houston and will work out with the Rays today, and said that if all goes well he will be activated on Tuesday.That would be a couple days ahead of his most recent timetable, which had him slated to return to Friday.Kierm...
Updated: 3 hours ago

Captain’s Corner: Tips on targeting American Red Snapper

American Red Snapper (ARS) season opened a few days ago and some types of bottom are holding bigger schools of ARS then other bottom types. The hard bottom areas that most fishermen prefer are holding large schools of ARS, but the fish have yet to m...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Barry Trotz resigns as coach of Stanley Cup-winning Capitals

Barry Trotz resigns as coach of Stanley Cup-winning Capitals

Barry Trotz abruptly stepped down as coach of the Washington Capitals on Monday after failing to agree to terms on a new contract, a stunning move that left the newly minted Stanley Cup champions without a coach with the draft later this week and wit...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Bucs defensive end Will Gholston says ‘no excuse’ for disappointing 2017 season

Bucs defensive end Will Gholston says ‘no excuse’ for disappointing 2017 season

Will Gholston is painfully honest about a 2017 season that wasn't anything close to what he wanted it to be. Ask him about last year, and there are no parentheses in his world to soften what he remembers here."I just played (crappy), completely. That...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Former U.S. players not cool with Landon Donovan championing Mexico

Former U.S. players not cool with Landon Donovan championing Mexico

MOSCOW — Mexico is in the World Cup, the United States is not, and to former U.S. national team star Landon Donovan, American fans without a rooting interest should support their chief rivals.Saturday morning, in a tweet sponsored by Wells Fargo, Don...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Ex-Bucs WR Lawrence Dawsey worked with team during OTAs

Ex-Bucs WR Lawrence Dawsey worked with team during OTAs

The Bucs had four extra coaches during organized team activities last month as part of the Bill Walsh Diversity Coaching Fellowship, including former Tampa Bay receiver Lawrence Dawsey.Dawsey, 50, played for the Bucs from 1991-95, finishing his time ...
Updated: 9 hours ago
As USF-Yuengling bond grows, is SEC’s alcohol stance slowly shifting?

As USF-Yuengling bond grows, is SEC’s alcohol stance slowly shifting?

USF's expanded partnership with Yuengling — including naming rights to the Sun Dome — is only the latest part in an evolving relationship between college sports and alcohol, as my colleague, Joey Knight, wrote on the front page ...
Updated: 10 hours ago