In lieu of a Daytona 500 live blog, here’s a picture of Mark Martin and T.I.

Last year we brought you a live-blogging event of the first and biggest race of the NASCAR season, the Daytona 500. Resources and circumstances preclude similar coverage for this year’s big race, which certainly will be overshadowed by the disastrous crash that resulted in over a dozen fan injuries at the end of yesterday’s Nationwide race, however. Instead, we hope you’ll accept this photograph of pals Mark Martin and T.I. catching up this morning before the race.

We’ll be keeping an eye on developments at the track, so check back here and on twitter for updates.

Nascar’s Next Generation (via WSJ)

Nascar is a sport in need of a tuneup. Attendance has been slipping; viewership has been falling. But Sunday at the Daytona 500, America’s premier form of motor sports will be getting the overhaul it needs.

Daytona, the season’s kickoff extravaganza, marks the race-day debut of Nascar’s “Gen-6” Sprint Cup car, the series’s most innovative overhaul since 2007. … Read More

(via WSJ)

Richard Ben Cramer: A hero missed (via ESPN)

I did not want to work with Richard Ben Cramer.

OK, I did. I adored him as a writer and journalist. I’d devoured his works, from “Joe DiMaggio: The Hero’s Life” to “What Do You Think of Ted Williams Now?” to “What It Takes: The Way To The White House.” The latter had been assigned reading, widely considered one of the greatest political books of the 20th century. The other two I’d bought for permanent placement in my office bookcase.

So yes, of course, I wanted to work with the Pulitzer winner. I had dreamed of working with him on some project at some point in my career. I just didn’t want to work with him on this particular project at this particular time. This one was mine.

What an idiot I was. … Read More

(via ESPN)

New season Monday

Football is underway at all levels, which means that this weekly roundup/preview post is back.

College football’s second week portended less excitement than its opening week, and yet there seemed to be more surprising results this week than last. In particular, two teams with a lot of preseason promise took big hits on Saturday. The Wisconsin Badgers fell out of the Top 25 and fired their offensive line coach after a loss to Oregon State in which the traditional running power generated only thirty-five yards on the ground. Arkansas’ drop from the rankings was even more precipitous, as the Razorbacks lost to Louisiana-Monroe. Michigan, fresh off a no-show against Alabama, nearly lost their home-opener to Air Force, while Clemson nearly doubled up Ball State to stay undefeated, a status they’re likely to carry into their meeting with #5 Florida State in two weeks after facing in-state lightweight Furman this weekend. Michigan State also stayed undefeated with an easy win over Central Michigan, while Vanderbilt fell to 0-2 at Northwestern in a game I attended and more about which I will writehave written.

Robert Griffin III was the star of the NFL’s first Sunday of 2012, while Andrew Luck found himself grouped with more pedestrian rookie QB starters Brandon Weeden and Ryan Tannehill. The always-overhyped Jets turned in the surprise team performance of the day, a 48-28 win over Buffalo. The Lions, who have an official drum line, came from behind to beat the Rams in the last ten seconds of the game, and Peyton Manning returned to form in an ultimately convincing win over Pittsburgh.

Outside of the football world, Serena Williams gutted out a win at the U.S. Open, her fifteenth Grand Slam title, and Jeff Gordon announced that his “absurdly comical mustache” for the NASCAR Chase (i.e., playoffs), which begins this weekend in Chicago.

Juuuuuunnnior!

After four years and 143 races, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s winning drought is over. It ended at the same track where he got his last win, in June of 2008: Michigan International Speedway. Once the rains cleared in Brooklyn, MI, Junior roared out to lead 95 of 200 laps and ran away from Tony Stewart and the rest of the field on the way to a comfortable victory, with speeds topping out at 212 mph along the long straightaway.

The 88 team has been having a good year. After 15 races, they have 11 top ten finishes, 8 of which were top fives, one of which was yesterday’s victory. This win has been a long time coming not only because it has been a long time since Junior’s won, but because he’s run pretty solidly during those four years, and particularly last year and this year, and he seems to have encountered more than his fair share of bad luck. The stretch, while probably longer than anyone would’ve liked it to be, did give Earnhardt the opportunity to show his critics that wasn’t going to lose due to being immature or a bad teammate. It’s been a long time since anybody could legitimately accuse him of being either. (And the persistent immaturity of the Busch brothers certainly provides a helpful foil.)

In the end, though, I feel pretty good saying that the reason Earnhardt Jr. finally broke through and made it back to victory lane was due to the black paint scheme on his Chevrolet yesterday.

We Almost Lost This Jam

What’s that you want? Some new music in this spot with a sports connection and a socially conscious tilt? Fine. Here’s a brand-new video from a current act named after a NASCAR driver that’s hip to sports and modern rock.

Bdoyk turned me onto these guys, and I’m becoming a fan of their personality as much as their music. Their new video, which features scenes from the city they call home, actually is a reworking of a 1977 Gil Scott-Heron bit described as follows:

The most popular cut on the album, “We Almost Lost Detroit,” which shares its title with the John G. Fuller book published in 1975, recounts the story of the nuclear meltdown at the Fermi Atomic Power Plant near Monroe, MI, in 1966. This song was also contributed to the No Nukes concert and album in 1980.

The Tigers almost lost their season opener against Bdoyk’s Bosox yesterday when the perfect-in-2011 Jose Valverde blew his first save opportunity of the 2012 season and ensured that reigning MVP-Cy-Young-winner Justin Verlander didn’t get his first opening-day win in his fifth consecutive attempt, but the home team pulled out the victory in a Gamecast-hindered bottom of the ninth by scoring on the much-touted (be real: what in Boston sports isn’t “much-touted”?) Alfredo Aceves.

Paragraph-long sentences. Hyphens. The Jam:

Paul Newman’s Last Race Car To Be Auctioned Saturday (via WSJ)

A lot of movie stars have gotten into racing cars in their spare time, but few, if any, were as good at it as Paul Newman.

The actor began racing in the early 1970s, not long after starring as an Indianapolis 500 driver in the 1969 film “Winning.” He continued to take to the track until shortly before his death in 2008. In between he amassed a long list of wins and impressive finishes in sports car racing including second place in the classic 24-Hour race at Le Mans, France in 1979.

Now RM Auctions, a company specializing in collectible cars, will offer Newman’s last race car, a 2002 Chevrolet Corvette, this Saturday at its Amelia Island, Fla., sale.

The car, which began life as a Trans Am racer, was piloted to three wins, eight top-five finishes and five poles by racing great Butch Leitzinger during the 2002 season. It has a 346-cubic inch V8 engine under the hood that puts out 700 horesepower.

Newman and his business and racing partner Michael Brockman acquired the car the following year, painted it in Newman’s longtime signature red, white and blue livery and ran it in the Sports Car Club of America series. Newman continued to race competitively, at or near the front of the grid, from 2003 through 2007. He won his last race at Lime Rock, Conn., just about a year before he died.

The auction house estimates the car will fetch between $250,000 and $350,000. However, its connection to Newman could push bids considerably higher.

(via WSJ)
(HT: @telegrphtelegrm)

Big Rain Fire: Matt Kenseth wins the 2012 Daytona 500

Originally scheduled to start on Sunday afternoon, the Daytona 500 eventually finished in the early morning hours Tuesday, when Matt Kenseth took the checkered flag. During that time, the Great American Race experienced a full rainout on Sunday, another rain delay on Monday, and a two-hour red flag on Monday night after Juan Pablo Montoya’s car locked up coming out of the pits on a caution necessitated by David Stremme’s engine blowup (his wasn’t the only one– Jeff Gordon’s blew up too) on about lap 157 and slid into one of the jet dryers that was cleaning the track during the caution. Montoya’s car tore a hole in the jet dryer’s fuel tank before bouncing to the infield and catching fire. As jet fuel poured out of the service vehicle, it too caught fire, and proved challenging to extinguish.

They eventually did, though, and Kenseth won the race when it restarted with forty laps to go, fending off Greg Biffle and a charging Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished second. If this race was any indication of what the 2012 season will be like, we’re in for a long and exciting one.

Potato Moon, “Big Rain Fire” – Carnival (2004)

Mundane Monday

For the first time ever, rain delayed the Daytona 500 such that no laps were run yesterday. NASCAR announced that the race would resume at noon today, although early indications today are that it’s unlikely to start until tonight. (UPDATE: The race will start at 7:02 pm.) A thank you to those readers who joined the thrilling live blog of the rain delay yesterday.

In college basketball, Vanderbilt fell again to Kentucky, this time at Rupp Arena, which is the only place in the SEC where Vandy’s seniors have not won. Not too many visiting teams win at Rupp, though, and the game was a close one. On Saturday night, Michigan State got all over Nebraska, beating them 62-34 in a game in which Draymond Green became just the fourth Spartan ever to record 1,000 career rebounds. Elsewhere in the Big Ten, Wisconsin beat a free-falling Ohio State in Columbus, and Michigan’s Jon Horford is out for the season with injuries.

This past weekend was the NBA’s All-Star Weekend, something I find largely unwatchable. I saw a headline that said that Kobe Bryant broke his nose in the live-action slam dunk contestAll-Star game last night, and apparently LeBron James passed up a shot at the end, which surprised no one.

The NFL draft combine was this weekend as well, and Robert Griffin III ran the forty-yard dash very quickly.