Sunday, June 30, 2013

New England: The Epicenter Of Sports For The Past Week

The last week in June, most of the sports world has been centered around the New England area for the major news stories. Out of the three major things, only one dealt with actual results on the playing surface. The biggest one and the most shocking and sad is the story about Aaron Hernandez and him being arrested for Murder while being an active member of the New England Patriots.  The second one and also off the playing field is the total dismantling of the Boston Celtics for the next couple of years. The final one is the Boston Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup final. Dovetailing onto that story is the fallout coming for the Bruins roster.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Dark Side Of Motorsport

Yesterday was the start of this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, and like I’ve done every year since Speed channel started broadcasting the race here in the States, I stayed awake all night to watch it. It’s normally an exciting event. I’ll cook pork tenderloin in my crock pot just before I go to bed late Friday night so I can serve pulled pork sandwiches for lunch later in the day. Sometimes I’ll have friends visit and watch part of the race, but most of the time I’ll burn up Twitter during the event.

Normally it’s good, solitary fun but this year it wasn’t. For the first time since Jo Gartner lost his life in the 1986 race, we had to deal with death. Allan Simonsen, a driver with the Aston Martin team that regularly competes against Corvette Racing in the GT division at Le Mans, lost his life after a massive accident during the first ten to fifteen minutes of the race.

Early reports on Twitter stated Simonsen was conscious and speaking with rescue crews, but deep down I knew something was amiss. As you can tell from the above screen capture, the roof on Simonsen’s Aston Martin was askew. Which means two things: the driver’s side made a huge impact with the ARMCO barriers on the side of the track, and the frame of the race car was either bent or broken.

Within an hour, we then heard reports that Aston Martin team officials visited Simonsen in the care center and would not disclose whether or not he was conscious. It did not help matters when Speed HD showed images of the destroyed #95 Aston Martin entering the pits on a flatbed – with a blue tarp covering it.

During the third hour of the event, French newspapers ran with the story of Simonsen’s passing but it wasn’t until an hour later when Speed announced it to viewers State side.

I feel this death, like Jason Leffler’s last week (no side head rests) in New Jersey, was preventable. What I found distressing in Simonsen’s case were the trees located behind the ARMCO barriers at that corner. One of them had a large portion of bark missing due to the impact. Why were those trees so close to that corner? Couldn’t they be relocated or removed?

I was also unimpressed with the ARMCO used in this year’s race. It broke so many times during the event I openly wondered if the track was using the same barriers that were used when Steve McQueen filmed his iconic movie during the 1970 race.

There are instances when we can’t do anything to make motor racing safer (Gartner went airborne and hit a telephone pole and several trees in mid-air at approximately 180mph), but there are instances when we can do more to save lives, such as in this case with Simonsen. If those trees weren’t so close to the barriers, he likely would have walked away from this wreck.

Motor racing is always going to be a risky business, but we owe it to today’s and tomorrow’s drivers to give them the best chance to walk away from an accident.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Riding Off Into The Sunset?

First of all, congrats to the Miami Heat. Even though they get knocked for having the worst fans in the NBA, LeBron James and the rest of the South Beach gang proved they were the best team in the league by outlasting my San Antonio Spurs.

Even though Tim Duncan didn’t get his fifth ring tonight, I’m still proud of the way my team hung in there and kept battling the Heat (and Joey Crawford) until the very end. And now that another NBA season is over, it’s time to talk about another end: The Big 3.

Manu Ginobili, the heart and soul of the Spurs championship teams in the middle of the last decade, looked like he was already retired with the exception of his Game 5 performance. It may be time to nudge him out the door like George Gervin was in the mid-80s when that Spurs team’s championship window slammed shut. Manu’s performance this season, and especially this playoff run, hasn’t given anyone confidence he can return to his old form. For a thirty-five year old future Hall of Famer, he’s got a lot of miles on the odometer and looked like the game had passed him by the past two games.

Tim Duncan is not quite ready to retire, but we all know that time is coming closer than we think. It is unrealistic for the Spurs to rely on him for a heavy workload going forward, and it’s time for the team to find another big man to help shoulder the burden of winning fifty games a season and challenge for the championship. I hope he plays forever, but I know that’s not happening. For all we know, he might step away from the game this summer. Whenever the inevitable happens, it’s going to be sad day for pro basketball when the best power forward to ever play the game decides to head back to the Virgin Islands for good.

Tony Parker is a spry 31, but he’s also got a dozen NBA seasons of wear and tear on his body. How much longer can he play at an All-Star level? Will he remain with the Spurs after his latest contract expires? That is the biggest unknown heading into the summer.

For now all I can think of is to tell these great players, “Thanks for the best fourteen years this Spurs fan has ever had following this team,” and also beg them “One more year, please?”

PREDICTION: Manu retires, Duncan and head coach Gregg Popovich return for one more kick in the can, and general manager R.C. Buford reloads this team for one more title run. Then in 2014 the rebuilding of the Spurs begins with the re-signing of Parker and then surrounding him and future superstar Kawhi Leonard with young, quality players.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Tweet Of The Week

You don’t ever walk out on your team during a Finals game. Ever.

2013 Stanley Cup Finals game 4

I would argue that despite the fact the Bruins are up 2-1 in the series, game 4 tonight is as important to them as it is to Chicago.  If Chicago wins, they've tied the series up and go back to Chicago with momentum and home ice advantage, a best of three series with two games in their barn.  And did I say momentum?  Proving that, in fact, the Bruins did not have them figured out and their seeming domination was not that at all.
Obviously if the Bruins win tonight, they're one win away from the Stanley Cup and likely will have continued to frustrate the Blackhawks, get in their heads some more and maybe even make them quit a little.  I think these teams are pretty evenly matched but Chicago hasn't shown up completely.  I'm sure from the Bruins' standpoint, they'd like to keep it that way and make Chicago think Boston has their number and it happenin' this year.
It's 1-1 as we start the 2nd period and I think I'll sit back and watch the game.  Just wanted to share the above thoughts and the great video.  If there's something truly worth adding to this, I will but likely will just leave it like it is.
Well, two worthy updates:  Five goals scored in the second period against the two best defensive teams in the league, Chicago leading 4-3 at the end of 2; but twice the Bruins were down by 2 and scored 1 to get back to within 1; and then a hellacious flurry at the very end with two great chances by the Bruins, the last with about 10 seconds to go when somehow Kelly hit the post standing in front of a open net.  You'd have to see it to believe he hit the post.  That could well be HUGE.
Well, Patrice Bergeron, who has been incredibly clutch throughout these playoffs, ties the score early in the 3rd period.  Here we go again, hockey fans.
Oh my god, what a hockey game.  I hope you're watching this.  Milan Lucic made a horrible play during a 4-on-4.  He has the puck with two Bruin defenders in his end and one Blackhawk.  He makes a backward pass that's intercepted by that Blackhawk and he has to hook him to keep him from being alone on Rask.  In the resulting 5-on-3 Sharp scores to put the Hawks up by one.   But less than a minute later Boychuk ties it up again.  Six minutes to go at this point, tied five each.
Well, starting another OT in this series, 3 out of 4 so far.
Halfway through the first OT period with the Bruins largely carrying the play, Brent Seabrook gets one through Rask on a screen.   We'll see what happens after this.  Series tied 2-2.


Greg Biffle won The Quicken Loans 400, a coveted 1000th win for Ford at a track that is just down the road from company headquarters. This victory falls across the company's sponsership of the three NASCAR racing series, Sprint, Nationwide and Truck. All of Ford's execs were beside themselves that this happened at such an enviable time.
It was Biff's second win in a row at MIS, last year holding off Jimmy Johnson, this year holding off Kevin Harvick by three seconds, followed by Martin Truex Jr in third, Kyle Busch at fourth andTony Stewart getting in the top five for the third time after a dismal start to the season.
Jeff Gordon had another tough race after getting knocked out in the tenth lap by a spinning Bobby Labonte. Gordon finished 39th, one spot behind Kasey Kahne who blew a tire and hit the wall. Dale Earnhardt Jr who won at MIS last June, led for 34 laps but engine problems started and finished his quest for a second win.
Regan Smith won the Alliance Truck Parts 250 coming from his start of  20th, and combining a good race car and good pit strategy, took the lead with 14 laps to go, rookie Kyle Larson brought home second, Paul Menard placed third, Kyle Busch came fourth and Trevor Bayne fifth, which is his third top five in the last three weeks, this includes a win at Iowa last weekend,  marriage seems to be doing the youngster wonders.
Coming up this weekend we have another run at Sonoma for all the NASCAR road course fans, c'yall there.

Monday, June 17, 2013

2013 Stanley Cup Finals Games 2 & 3

I didn't watch but five minutes of game 2.  I was spending time with my sweetie and hanging with me while I watch a championship game that my team is involved in is not going to be relaxing for anyone.  Having blown a two-goal lead to lose game 1 in triple OT made me nervous about game 2, and Tuukka Rask is the reason the Bruins weren't blown out early in that game.  They turned the tables and beat the Blackhawks in just one overtime period..
Thus far tonight (just starting the 3rd period) the Bruins have carried the play by a relatively wide margin.  Rask has hardly been challenged and the warm ice likely kept the Bruins off the score sheet a couple of times in the first period, and that obviously made me nervous.  Many times this season I'd seen the Bruins control play, be unable to score and somehow lose a close one..  But in this one they've managed to score a couple, the first by Paille, he of the game 2 OT winner, with assists from his new line mates Seguin and Kelly; and the second a powerplay goal (finally) by Patrice Bergeron.
Five minutes into the 3rd it is still 2-0 Bruins.  The Blackhawks are putting a little more pressure on the Bruins by pinching in their D more than previous, which is likely going to result in at least one more goal being scored in this game, by who will likely determine the outcome.
Another big moment in this game occurs at the 8 minute mark with Chicago going on the powerplay.    The Bruins, as they have done throughout this series so far, completely shut down Chicago's powerplay, resulting in yet another shotless PP.
Chicago had a good opportunity on an odd-man rush but Patrick Kane shot the puck wide.  Now with six minutes to go the Bruins go back on the powerplay with a two-goal lead.  Then near the end of this PP Krecji hooks Saad on what could have been called a penalty shot (though at least once in the first period a Bruin was hooked down in like fashion without even a penalty called.  So with four minutes remaining Chicago goes back on the powerplay.  This will put the Bruins' defense and stamina to the test as the Hawks have been pushing in desperation and also, with a two-goal deficit, even if they score, Chicago will pull the goalie shortly after this PP ends.
The Bruins kill another powerplay and, as predicted, Crawford is pulled just 15 seconds after that with a face-off in the Bruin zone.  After a very frenetic 60 seconds and one post a melee ensues in the Bruin zone with 10 seconds remaining.  Bickle, who hit the post, trying to wrestle with Chara, and Marchand, of course, with Sharp.  With offsetting penalties and the face-off being outside the zone, looks like the Bruins can at least breath half a sigh.  Well, Chicago still had one decent shot but Rask was equal to the task (been waiting to say that) and give him another shutout in this playoff run.
Final score 2-0.  My three stars -- Paille, Rask and Bergeron.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

In Memoriam: Jason Leffler (1975-2013)

It’s sad when a racing driver dies, but it hurts when it’s someone who’s from the local area. Not many drivers from SoCal make it on the national scene in NASCAR, IndyCar, Formula 1 or even GrandAm or ALMS. In this case, it really hurts because Jason Leffler and I share a birthday but six years apart.

In general, West Coast racers have a chip on their shoulder compared to their counterparts in other parts of the country. There’s a saying that here on the West Coast, “the racin’ ain’t over until the fightin’s over”. Drivers like Ernie Irvan weren’t afraid to mix it up with the best drivers in NASCAR, and some that followed like Kurt and Kyle Busch, Robby Gordon and Kevin Harvick can be real dickheads at times.

On the other hand, Jason Leffler was one of the nice guys. He was a single father who had a look alike five-year-old son he adored, and after a dozen years bouncing around all three major NASCAR series returned to sprint car racing only to have today’s horrific accident take him from us too soon. He raced in the Camping World Truck Series, the Nationwide Series and the Sprint Cup series, including a full season with Chip Ganassi’s team in 2001 as the driver of the #01 Cingular Wireless Dodge Intrepid.

The Hall of Fame sprint car driver and NASCAR driver was only 37 years old. His last NASCAR appearance was last Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Pocono Raceway.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

2013 Stanley Cup Finals -- Game 1

Just a few thoughts during the game and then I'll write a brief comment at the conclusion.
The fact that the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins, both Original Six teams, have never faced each other in the Finals is unbelievable to me.  What are the odds?!  Along that same vein, given that we're talking about two of the best sports cities in America with long, if not rocky, histories, it's at least doubly amazing that this is ONLY THE THIRD TIME these two cities have faced each other in a final of the four major sports.  Granted, the Celtics and Bulls are in the same conference and can't face each other in the final but that still leaves the Red Sox vs the Cubs (over 100 years since they played each other in the World Series, though it did look like it was going to happen in 2003); the Patriots and Bears played each other in the 1986 Super Bowl and now finally the Bruins and Blackhawks.
So it seems fitting to share here CBC's montage regarding the storied histories of these two franchises leading up to this historic series:

To the game:  As I'm writing during the second intermission, I would say Chicago has overall carried the play, having in my eyes anyway more puck possession in the Bruins' end, plus the fact the Bruins have had no power plays and the Hawks have had three, two of those overlapping where the Bruins killed off over a minute and a half of five on three.  When the Bruins got up 2-0 on a goal that Crawford probably should've had, the Bruins had things going their way; but the goal by Saad gave life back to Chicago and it's been tight ever since.
Given that the Bruins have had the lead for most of the game, I think it's important they come away with the win in this one.  Tuukka has been outstanding and the two Bruins goals were scored by Milan Lucic.  That line has continued to be very hot.
On Boston's first power play which occurs well into the 3rd period, Patrice Bergeron scores on a one-timer to put the Bs up 3-1.  Shortlived as young Torie Krug makes a mistake on a cross-ice pass and Chicago made him pay for his mistake.  So two minutes of rest for yours truly and back to a one-goal lead with 12 to play. Chicago's had all of the momentum since that goal and why did the Jets ever let one of my favorite grinders go? (as Johnny Oduja scores to tie it with 7:46 to go.  Bad luck for the Bruins? as it appeared that shot was not quite on goal but hits the skate of Dennis Seidenberg who was not facing the shot). Not looking good for the boys as the over 22k in the Madhouse on Madison are revving up the Blackhawks.
So we've gone, in my opinion, to having Crawford's confidence on the ropes two different times to a tie game.
I've gotta see this again but with a little over three minutes remaining in OT Paille is taken down on a break-away and not only is there not a penalty shot, there's no penalty called.  On first two blushes it sure looks like he was dumped.  Is it a hook if the defender from behind uses the butt-end of his stick to haul down the guy on the breakaway?  Luckily for yours truly I only have a twenty-mile commute tomorrow as we're off to overtime.  I'll publish now and then hopefully be awake to wrap it up at the end.
The Bruins have carried the play in OT, with a big advantage in shots and scoring opportunities, including an open net on a rebound that was kept out by Dave Bollin.  And the Bruins are down a man as Horton is hurt and not on the word yet why, though I limped off during that melee.  Still tied with 3 minutes to go in the first OT.  Even two "A+ chances" from Shawn Thornton don't score and we're off to another OT period.
Well, we're at the halfway point of the second OT and the Bruins look tired, playing without an injured Nathan Horton.  But it's after midnight and I do need to sleep some.  So fill in your own ending, if it ever comes.  I'm going to shut down, turn on the sleep timer on the TV for a half hour and hope for a Bruin win.  The winner of this game gets a huge boost.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

That Was A Clinic

I'm sure there are some out there -- Bruin haters, Penguin apologists and/or those who didn't watch any of the Eastern Conference Finals -- who will say that the reason the Bruins swept the Penguins is because the Penguins didn't play well.  Certainly the Penguins contributed to their own demise but the Bruins are legitimately one of the best teams in the league...they just don't always play like it.
They were definitely clicking on all cylinders for the vast majority of these four games.  Their defense completely and constantly swarmed the powerful Pens, taking them out of their comfort zone and soon exposed their entitlement mentality.  They really felt they were going to just open fire and walk into the Cup Finals without actually playing hockey.  What they encountered was a complete hockey team who plays a complete game.
Were there lucky bounces and non-calls?  Of course, there always are.  There were non-calls in both directions and more often than not you create lucky bounce opportunities.  To me one of the biggest difference makers in this series was not just Tuukka Rask, who did stymie the Pens for the whole series; but it was Tuukka who stymied them in the early stages of the first game when the Pens came out free-wheeling and the Bruins (who are a very good offensive team) tried to play that style with them...successfully, I might add, since they had the lead.  But Clode Julien settled them down, reminded them what kind of team they were; and from that point forward the Bruins tightened the screws down on the Penguins.
Just a few thoughts:  Again, Tuukka was stellar...what more can you say about how well he played.  He gave up TWO GOALS to the best offensive team in the league over four games.  Tomas Vokun should get a lot of credit for the fact the Penguins weren't blown out in games 3 and 4 like they were in game 2.  The Bruins swept the Pens without any stat sheet contribution from their most gifted offensive player, Tyler Seguin.  Again, their defense was tremendous and the future looks bright with the play of Torie Krug, Matt Bartkowski and Dougie Hamilton.  The Bruins organization has proven yet again you can win with depth, hard work and character over a handful of stars.  Hard work, tenacity, hard work, tenacity -- I, at least, love that style of hockey.  I couldn't be prouder of how this team played.
Look at what the Bruins did with their depth so far in these playoffs.  They lost there 2nd, 3rd and 6th best defensemen and successfully played the second round with three rookies.  When Campbell went down in game 3 of the Eastern Finals, they had Kaspars Daugavins, Karl Soderberg, another promising youngster in Jordan Caron and others to choose from to replace him.  Daugavins almost scored the first goal of game 4.
I'm sure I'm overlooking some things (I obviously could single out the many individual contributions from Horton, Krecji, Marchand, Bergeron, Lucic, et al) but I am going to leave you with arguably the most indelible moment from this series, Gregory Campbell playing on a broken leg

I would be remiss to at least not mention how great a game we saw with the double OT game 3.  Regardless of who won, that was an outstanding hockey game.
On to the Cup Finals, where I'll make no prediction other than to say if these Bruins show up there, look out.

Friday, June 07, 2013

“I Just Lost My Lunch, And I Didn’t Even Have Any!”

Two years ago, NASCAR legend Darrell Waltrip took a ride in a V8 Supercar on the Mount Panorama course before announcing the Bathurst 1000 for the States on Speed Channel.

Let this sink in for a moment: DW once drove well over 200+ at Talladega and yet this ride along scared him.


Thursday, June 06, 2013

Bad Things Happen When You’re On The Cover & A Bold Prediction

Many of you may not be aware of it, but there is such a thing as The Sports Illustrated Cover Jinx. It’s not an urban legend. It’s a fact that several high profile athletes have had bad luck occur to them once they’ve been given the cover treatment. Consider some of the eerie things that occurred after athletes were featured on an SI cover, with publication dates included:

  • January 31, 1955 – skier Jill Kinmont was paralyzed from the chest down after a near-fatal accident that occurred the same week she appeared on the cover.
  • February 13, 1961 – figure skater Laurence Owen, as well as the rest of the U.S. Figure Skating Team, perished in a plane crash near Brussels, Belgium two days later.
  • June 7, 1971 – racers Al Unser and Peter Revson were both featured on the SI cover. Unser was hampered by retirements during subsequent races that season. Revson was killed while practicing for the 1974 South African Grand Prix.
  • July 30, 1984 – Steelers linebacker Jack Lambert suffered a turf toe injury that ended his career.
  • June 20, 1988 – boxer Michael Spinks appeared on the cover with the caption “Don’t Count Me Out”. Thanks to a Mike Tyson punch, the referee did exactly that in ninety-one seconds after the opening bell of their fight. Spinks never fought again.
  • December 6, 2000 – racers Dale Earnhardt and his son Dale Earnhardt Jr. shared the cover. Dale was killed two months later on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.
  • September 2008 – Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was on the cover of the NFL Season Preview issue. During the team’s season opener, Brady was lost for the season with a serious knee injury.
  • October 15, 2011 – NASCAR racer Jimmie Johnson had an accident at Charlotte Motor Speedway later that month that ultimately stopped his championship winning streak at five years in a row.
  • February 17, 2012 – Knicks guard Jeremy Lin’s team had their six-game winning streak snapped by the New Orleans Hornets, at the time the second-worst team in the NBA.
  • February 23, 2012 – Lin, after making his second straight cover appearance, went 1 for 11 in a loss against the Miami Heat. The next month he tore the meniscus in his left knee and underwent season ending surgery.
  • May 15, 2013 – Grizzlies guard Mike Conley Jr. and his team were swept by the San Antonio Spurs 4-0 in the Western Conference Finals.
  • June 10, 2013 – The Spurs “Big 3” of Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker appear on this week’s cover.

I know HESPN (that H is for the 30 minutes of coverage ESPN devotes to the Miami Heat during SportsCenter every night) wants the Spurs to lose, but SI has to give my team another obstacle to overcome? I know everyone hates the Spurs, but this is ridiculous.

I’m crossing my fingers Michael Jordan and his 49 SI cover appearances weren’t an aberration.

PREDICTION: Spurs win their fifth NBA championship in six games.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013


Well Tony Stewart (14)  has gotten the monkey off his back and he did it in fine fashion Sunday afternoon. After a very sluggish start, Stewart was back into victory  lane at the FEDEX 400 BENEFITTING AUTISM SPEAKS  and possibly into Chase contention.
Stewart put an outside pass on Juan Pablo Montoya (42) with three laps to go and hold on for his first win in 30 races. With things not going good for Stewarts team which includes Ryan Newman (39) and Danica Patrick (10), this win puts to rest rumors of grumbling within the team, as some reports of crew chief Steve Addington's job being questioned. Stewart was visibly upset about these reports that he said stemmed from the media and not the garage.
Jimmie Johnson drove his wheels off to come from almost a lap down to lead the race but got a black flag for jumping a restart on the 19th lap and put at the back of the field with a drive thru penalty. With the 48 out of the picture, Montoya and Stewart battled for the lead. Jeff Gordon (24) was third followed by Kyle Busch (18) who came fourth and last years champ Brad Keslowski (2) grabbed fifth.
Matt Kenseth (20) and Martin Truex Jr. (56) both had engine problems, with this race TRD  has a dire need to find out why the Toyotas keep losing engines. Pole sitter Denny Hamlin (11) finished 34th after hitting the wall late in the race. the Petty cars with Marcus Ambrose (9) and Aric Almirola (43) both finished, although back in the field. Kasey Kahne (5) finished 23rd.
The Nationwide Series saw Joey Logano win THE 5 HOUR ENERGY 200  for the Penske team, holding off Brian Vickers, Matt Kenseth, Trevor Bayne and Kyle Busch. Busch dominated most of the race leading 72 of the 200 laps, but was 10th in the final restart and pulled off a fifth place finish. Points leader Regan Smith finished 9th. Bayne, who critics have been saying needs to start finishing races came through with a fourth place.
Speaking of Kyle Busch, and this writer likes doing that a lot, he won the Camping World Truck Series, Lucas Oil 200. Matt Crafton was 2nd, followed by Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, and Brendan Gaughan. Pole sitter Darrell (Bubba) Wallace although driving a tough race in the beginning was relegated to 10th place.
My big  query this year is the TRD problem, this has been raising it's ugly head for two years now, and the main problem appears to be a top end valve spring breakdown. This has been known and brought to light for that two years and it isn't getting any better. What the heck is wrong with finding a new vendor, if the steel is dirty and causing the spring to breakdown and fail why aren't the other big name builders having the same problem, just a query but it can't be that hard to find an answer.