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Sunday, June 26, 2016

NASCAR Down the Stretch

NASCAR is headed into the home stretch towards the Chase for the Championship.  With the completion of today's road race at Sonoma, there are only 10 races left before the 16-driver field is set for the Chase.  It is time to take a look back at what has happened so far and what to expect as summer turns to fall.

Stewart wins Sonoma 2016
Stewart takes the lead at Sonoma (Crabill/Getty)
Predictions and Chalk.  I don't get a lot of chances to do this, so I'm gonna spend some time tooting my own horn to start this post.  Back when I wrote the NASCAR preview post, I predicted that all four Gibbs teams would make the Chase.  At this point in the season, all four would qualify.  In fact, everyone I mentioned as a strong contender this year would currently make the Chase.

To be fair, though, it's not too hard to make good predictions when there have been so few surprises.  Part of the excitement of the Chase format is that anyone who wins a race is almost assured a playoff position.  This means there is the potential for a surprise someone to jump into the championship picture.  Up to this point this year, the Chase field is made up of the big boys.  Up until today's race at the Sonoma road course, no one was qualified for the race by virtue of a win that would not have otherwise been qualified by points.

Tony Stewart's win at Sonoma was the first win of the year by a driver back deep in the points, but a Smoke win can hardly be considered a shocker.  After all, Stewart is a defending series champ and was only deep in the points because of missing the start of the season with a non-racing back injury.

Kyle Larson 2016
Kyle Larson needs a win in 2016
Looking Ahead.  With ten races left to go before the Chase starts, there are still plenty of chances for an outsider to sneak in and for a solid points guys to nail down a slot with win.  The remaining ten races include a variety of interesting tracks.  Among those ten races are the high banks of Daytona, the Brickyard, the Tricky Triangle at Pocono, Darlington, a re-paved and reconfigured Kentucky and the road course at Watkins Glen.

Among the guys currently on the outside of the Chase looking in who have a strong chance to win and get in are Kasey Kahne, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Larson, Greg Biffle and Paul Menard.  Daytona, in particular, presents an excellent chance for the Hendrick powered Kahne and the super speedway savvy Menard to notch a victory.  If any of those guys nab a win, it could make things very dicey for the likes of fan-favorite Dale, Jr. and sentimental favorite Ryan Blaney.

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Thursday, June 23, 2016

Anniversary Flashback: Baseball, Family and History

anthracite coal region
Baseball that beaned Johnny Pitts in 1898
The anniversary selection for June was the hardest decision of the year.  My two favorite posts that I've ever written were both in June.  Both involved the importance of family and roots in the sports world.  In June of 2012, I wrote a post called Loyalty, Tears and the Joy of Fandom.  In that post, written the night Dale, Jr. broke a four-year winless streak, I discussed the raw emotions that sports engender when they are part of your family's life.

But, after seeking the advice of a few close advisors, I chose a post from June of 2013 called Baseball, Family and History.  This post is a true story about my family in the coal region of Pennsylvania.

I am re-posting this in June in honor of my grandfather Bill "Lefty" Wetzel.

Baseball, Family and History

At a ball field carved out of the coal-filled mountains of Pennsylvania, Johnny Pitts stepped to the plate.  It was the summer of 1898 in Locustdale, PA ... a town that exists solely because of the anthracite veins that run beneath the ground.  Pitts was a small but wiry man.  He spent his weekdays toiling in the mines -- a job he started as a breaker boy at the age of eight.  It was a dark and dangerous existence.  But on this day, the world was bright.

In February, Johnny had married the love of his life, Stella Horbach.  And on this day, Johnny was playing the game that would grow to become America's pastime.  As Johnny Pitts dug in at the plate, his world was bright.  But, in an instant, it turned dark.  Click to read more.

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