Dover gains help Byron, Johnson tighten playoff picture for Daytona finale

first_imgHendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and William Byron described their circumstance on the NASCAR Cup Series playoff bubble as “odd” and “unfortunate,” vying for the 16th and final provisional spot on the postseason grid with the regular season winding down. A points bonanza Sunday for both drivers opens up a greater possibility for both funneling their way in.Johnson finished third in Sunday’s Drydene 311 at Dover International Speedway, rallying from a Stage 2 speeding penalty and benefiting from some two-tire strategy savvy on his final pit stop. That result was one position in front of Byron, who regained his hold on the provisional 16th spot by four points over Johnson.RELATED: Race results | Three drivers clinch berthsBoth Hendrick Motorsports drivers finished among the points-earners at each stage break Sunday, helping them gain ground on Matt DiBenedetto, who ranks 15th in the playoff standings with one regular-season race remaining. DiBenedetto finished 20th and 17th in the weekend doubleheader, finishing in the points in just one stage. He’s now just five points ahead of Byron and nine ahead of Johnson.The 16-driver playoff field will be settled after Saturday’s regular-season finale, the Coke Zero Sugar 400 (7:30 p.m. ET on NBC/NBC Sports App, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Daytona International Speedway. Ten drivers have clinched playoff berths with regular-season wins, and three more clinched on the basis of points after the Dover weekend — leaving three berths to be filled at Daytona.Both Byron and Johnson rallied from different forms of adversity. For Johnson, it was a pit-road speeding penalty Sunday on the 102nd of 311 laps that forced him to drive back into contention from 31st place. For Byron, it was Sunday’s cumulative comeback from a subpar 28th-place Saturday run that helped him keep postseason pace.“It was like a completely different race car and completely different race for us today compared to yesterday,” said Byron, who finished third and sixth at the stage breaks to pad his points cushion. “… As soon as we got the track position, we were able to stay up there. I think we were a little bit behind though since we really didn’t have a notebook from yesterday. I think if we had another race at it, we would run a bit better. Overall, this is good for our Axalta team. Now we’re going to Daytona where it’s going to be insane. I don’t think you can really points race. It’s going to be a race to be as aggressive as you can and hope things fall your way.”A new wild-card winner from outside the top 15 in standings at Daytona would take away another playoff berth on the basis of points, adding another layer of unpredictability for Saturday’s 400-miler to the fickle nature of superspeedway racing.RELATED: Byron discusses best run of 2020 | How playoff picture looks leaving DoverJohnson remained in the picture at one of his best tracks, home to 11 of his 83 career wins. When crew chief Cliff Daniels became the lone gambler among the front-runners by opting for just two fresh tires on the No. 48 Chevrolet’s final pit stop, Johnson briefly vaulted to the lead, lining up outside of eventual race winner Kevin Harvick. Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. slipped by him shortly after the restart, but Johnson was able to keep Byron at bay for third, lauding his crew chief’s strategy play on the team communications on the cool-down lap.“We had a really good car and I really credit Cliff for making that brave call for two tires,” Johnson said. “I think we were one of the fastest cars if not the fastest car over the last two runs, just unfortunately clawing our way back in from losing track position, and we didn’t have the best stop two from the end, so we really just had to gamble. I really appreciate his courage to do that. It netted a better finish. Certainly wish there was more there, but a great couple days here in Dover.”Johnson’s playoff fate for his final Cup Series campaign now rests in Daytona, a venue where he’s won three times — most recently with a season sweep of the track’s 2013 events. Johnson said he’s not overly concerned about the nerves involved, having been immersed in postseason tension in each of his seven title marches.“I’ve been doing this too long to worry too much,” Johnson said. “Championship pressure, thankfully I’ve been through that a bunch of different times. Maybe that’s ‑‑ I guess actually maybe that’s where experience will play through for me this weekend and I’ll be able to keep my head on straight, think, keep my emotions in check and really race with a clear and open mind.”DiBenedetto, meanwhile, was frank about his slide closer to the grasp of the Hendrick pair, lamenting his two midpack finishes at Dover and the possibility of approaching peril of Daytona.“Dover killed us. We were pretty horrendous both days,” DiBenedetto said. “I just tried to make the most of it that we could and it just wasn’t much. It was the perfect storm of really losing a lot of points and having a rough weekend. Going to Daytona. I hate to be negative but if we were going somewhere else I would feel better about it because we have been pretty strong at most tracks aside from here. I have struggled here. Going to Daytona and the Fords are strong but I have ended up at the infield care center the last two years there. We keep getting caught up in everyone’s mess. I am going to sit and hope and pray all week that we can just come out of there clean and make the playoffs.”last_img read more

Official UFC 205 Preview and Predictions

first_img Related TopicsConor McGregorEddie AlvarezFrankie EdgarMiesha TateUFC 205 These picks and previews are brought to you by Vince McKee, the NEO Sports MMA correspondent. UFC 205 is upon us this weekend live from Madison Square Garden. It is a major event with three major titles on the line. Not only that, but it is the first in the State of New York, the last to legalize MMA.This event will truly be a milestone for MMA on its biggest stage. Much like UFC 200, the card is loaded with 10 great fights.Up first is a women’s Bantamweight bout between Liz Carmouche vs Katlyn ChookagianCarmouche has been up and down since entering the UFC back in February of 2013, a one round title fight loss to Ronda Rousey at UFC 157. Since then, she has gone 2-2 with wins over Jessica Andrade and Lauren Murphy, but losses to Miesha Tate and Alexis Davis.There is a bit of a layoff and rust Carmouche will have to deal with as she hasn’t fought since April 2015. I do fully expect her to knock off the ring rust in this one however, with a first round submission over Chookagian.Prediction – Carmouche by knockout in the 1rst. The second bout of the evening is at middleweight and will take place between Tim Boetsch and Rafael Natal. This is the biggest fight of Natal’s 28 fight career. He is a true MMA veteran, but one who hasn’t really left his mark at 21-7-1. Despite the healthy amount of wins he hasn’t secured many of them over bigger named opponents. His biggest wins have come against the likes of Travis Lutter and Uriah Hall, not exactly marquee names. He has losses to the likes of Tim Kennedy, Ed Herman and Robert Whittaker. 15 of his 28 fights have come in the UFC, yet the casual fan doesn’t even know him.Much can be said the same of Tim Boetsch, a veteran of 29 MMA fights, 18 of which have been held in the UFC Octogan. Boetsch was on a 3 fight losing streak and fighting to stay in the UFC back in July when he knocked out Josh Samman to stay relevant.With big wins over Yushin Okami, Kendall Grove, CB Dollaway and Nick Ring, Boetsch has proven he is to be taken seriously. I see him being victorious once again at 205, with a 3rd round knockout over Natal.Prediction – Boetsch over Natal by 3rd round KOThe third and final fight on UFC Fight pass is a great one, between two cagey veterans. Jim Miller is taking on UFC welterweight powerhouse Thiago The Pitbull Alves. The Pitbull was once one of the biggest names in the UFC Welterweight Division, however, that was nearly a decade ago.His biggest win came against Matt Hughes at UFC 85 in June 20008. Since then his career has never been the same, going 4-5 with losses to some of the biggest names in the sport, including GSP, Carlos Condit, Rick Story and Martin Kampan. If Alves has anything left in his career, he will need to show it now.His opponent Jim Miller, had one of the biggest and best start to a MMA career one could ask for. He began his career at 20-3 with losses to only big names such as Gray Maynard, Benson Henderson and Frankie Edgar. Since then it has been a rocky road but he has still managed to knock off such luminaries as Joe Lauzon, Takanori Gomi and Joe Lauzon again this past August. Miller has been a busy fighter as this will be his fourth fight of 2016, and 8th fight in two years.Alves has not fought since May of 2015, and I truly belive that even though the layoff will help him be fresh and all nagging injuries to be healed, he doesn’t have the speed. Power and stamina of years past and Jim Miller will have the right game plan in place to win by decision in this one.Prediction – Jim Miller by decisionUp next we will break down and predict the fights on the Fox portion of the card on free TV.Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1)Kicking of the Fox portion of the card will two top contenders at lightweight colliding when Michael Johnson does battle with Khabib Nurmagomedov. Johnson has been on a tear since competing in the Ultimate Fighter in December 2010. He has bounced back from losses to Myles Jury and Nate Diaz to topple such men as Dustin Poirier, Joe Lauzon, Edson Barbosa and holds the only victory over Tony Ferguson.When Michael Johnson is on his game he is close to unbeatable, but it will be up to Nurmagomedov to take him off of his game on Saturday night. Nurmagomendov is no joke himself, with big wins over former champ Raeal dos Anjos and Pat Healy. In fact, the man is 23-0 and all signs points to him moving to 24-0 and receiving a long-awaited title shot with the win over Johnson.Prediction – Nurmagomendov by knockout in round two.Frankie Edgar is the former UFC Lightweight champion and one of the best pound for pound fighters in the world. He will have his hands full with the lightning quick Jeremey Stephens at UFC 205.Stephens is best known for hitting former lightweight champion Rafeal dos Anjos so hard he made his eyes roll back in his head. Stephens is a student of the game and looks to cash in on the biggest fight of his career against Edgar. This could be the biggest win of his career if he could catch Edgar just right for the flash knockout.What can we say about Frankie Edgar that hasn’t already been said. The man has a heart of a champion and seemingly beats anyone in his path not named Jose Aldo. Even at 20-5-1 and wins against some of the biggest name sin the sports history (BJ Penn, Gray Maynard, Urijah Faber, Cub Swanson, etc) Edgar will need to go on another run if he ever wants another title shot at featherweight. Does he start that latest run Saturday night?Prediction – Edgar by DecisionThe main card may be one of the best of all time as it is loaded with six great fights, three of which are title fights!Kicking off the main card is the former Women’s Bantamweight Champion Miesha Tate taking on the up and coming Raquel Pennington. It isn’t a secret any longer, Penniginton is the real thing and on a hot streak currently. She has won her last three fights and will look to remain on a tear against the former champ.Miesha Tate shocked the world with her come from behind win to win against Holly Holm in March.Since then, she has only fought once,the main event of UFC 200 and was destroyed against Amanda Nunes in under a round.So now we must figure out which Miesha Tate is the real Cupcake. Is it the woman who has been destroyed twice against Cat Zingano, Ronda Rousey twice, and Amanda Nunes. Or is the woman who rattled off five straight wins on to her to the title.Time Will tell, but I smell an upset brewing on this one, and a shocking decision victory for Pennington. Prediction – Decision win for Pennington Chris Weidman vs Yoel Romero is a safe bet that the winner of this bout will become the new number one contender to Middleweight Champion Michael Bisping. Yoel Romero appeared to be unstoppable knocking out foe after foe including such luminaries as Lyoto Machida and Tim Kennedy. But then there is just one hiccup to his 7 fight winning streak, he was popped for PED’s. So, now, all of it gets put into question. USADA revealed that Romero tested positive for ibutamoren, a growth hormone release stimulator.His opponent, Chris Weidman, the hard throwing New Yorker, is the natural fan favorite coming into this one. The hometown boy who has been beloved since knocking off the invincible Anderson Silva way back in the summer of 2013.It is a spicy meatball for sure, Weidman is damn good, no one will dispute that, however at 12-1, Romero is very much the real deal as well. Weidman has not fought since his title loss to Luke Rockhold back at UFC 194 nearly a year ago.Prediction – Weidman gets back to his winning weighs with a split decision victory.At 12-0, UFC Women’s Straweight Champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk is the best pound for pound fighter in the world. There is no doubt in my mind she will continue to prove that with a convincing win over Karolina Kowalkiewicz on Saturday night.Prediction – Jedrzejczyk by first round submissionI truly believe the UFC Welterweight Championship reign of Tyron Woodley will be short and sweet and end abruptly Saturday night against number one contender Stephen Thompson. It is the Wonder Boys time. He has been dominant winning his last 7 fights in a row against the likes of Johnny Hendricks, Rory Macdonald, Jake Ellenberger, Patrick Cote and others. He is 13-1 with his only loss coming to UFC veteran Matt Brown. Not many causal fans of MMA know about Thompson, but they will after UFC 205.Prediction – Thompson by submission in the fifth and final round.THE MAIN EVENT OF THE EVENINGUFC Featherweight Champion Conor McGregor challenges UFC Lightweight Champion Eddie Alvarez for his title only.This one is so hard to pick, because of how badly McGregor looked at select times against Diaz at 170, twice, but how good he has looked against smaller size guys at featherweight. Once again, McGregor has put himself in a situation with everything to gain and almost nothing to lose.Eddie Alvarez is a formidable opponent and a great champion at 155 pounds. He is a former Bellator Lightweight champion, and has knocked off 3 former lightweight champions since entering the UFC. Alavarez holds victories over Gilbert Melendez, Anthony Pettis and his title win over Rafeal dos Anjos.Here is the thing that I think will turn this fight, most men the size of McGregor can’t hit as hard as he can, Alvarez can and will. Can Conor’s chin hold up? Only time will tell.For McGregor, he has been one of the hottest things to hit MMA in many years. In 2016 alone, this will be his 3rd huge fight, and also 4th in a year if you go back to UFC 194 last December when he beat the seemingly unbeatable Jose Aldo in less than 20 seconds.McGregor is 8-1 in the UFC, and at times looks unstoppable. He is more then hype, he is the real thing and great for the sport. This truly is a marquee matchup in every sense of the word.Prediction – McGregor by Submission in the fourth. Agree or disagree? Let me know on twitter at VinceTheAuthor Vince McKeelast_img read more