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NASCAR Countdown: 4 Championship Contenders Come Phoenix


NASCAR Countdown: 4 Championship Contenders Come Phoenix

NBC Sports Washington is counting down big NASCAR moments leading up to the Daytona 500. Be sure to check out our other coverage below.

Since the advent of the modern championship four format in 2014, drivers have adopted the mindset that Championship Four appearances may hold as much merit as a championship itself. Mostly due to the nature of a winner-take-all, title-deciding race.

Here are four drivers that’ll be battling for the Cup Series championship come November.

4. Joey Logano

One year removed from Team Penske failing to put a car in the Championship 4, you’ve gotta believe that’s going to change this season. And why not Joey Logano, now paired with one of the best in the business in Paul Wolfe, to get there for The Captain?

The last three years have been a bit of a roller-coaster playoff wise for Logano, missing them all together in 2017, winning it all in 2018 and coming up just shy of qualifying for the title race last season. But Logano is good for a couple, if not more, wins in 2020. With Martin Truex Jr. having the adjustment to James Small from Cole Pearn, Logano can fill that void from 2019.

After all: it’s about getting hot and winning at the right time, just like March Madness. Logano showed in 2018 that he can do both those things, plus not being afraid to ruffle feathers and be ultra-aggressive when he needs to (i.e. Martinsville each of the last two seasons).

3. Kevin Harvick

Until he shows in consecutive years that he can’t contend for the title, Kevin Harvick will be a perennial championship four driver. And for good reason. Since the advent of the format in 2014, he’s only missed it once, finished third three times, second once and won a title.

Not too shabby, huh? They don’t call him “The Closer” for nothing. Especially with no real worry about a contract to be signed in the off-season looming over his head, Harvick can be focused forward for 2020 and the foreseeable future (through 2023). He and Rodney Childers repeatedly mentioned that they were beginning to hit their stride at the end of 2019. Stay woke...

2. Denny Hamlin

ICYMI: the peak age for a NASCAR driver is 39. How old is Denny Hamlin this year, you ask?

You betcha: he’s 39 this year, has more confidence, bravado, and swag than ever.

Oh, and he still drives for the best team, has the best crew chief he’s had in the last decade and will be working with him for the second straight year. The stars are aligning for the Chesterfield, Virginia native to earn his elusive championship. With the title race being at Phoenix for the first time ever, it could play into his favor as well.

Who won the penultimate race last season at Phoenix? Hint: he’s 39 years old now...

1. Kyle Busch

Although there’s not much to say or explain as to why Kyle Busch is all but a certainty to be in the championship four, let’s run through a few of them anyways.

He’s the defending champion, a two-time champion, has never been more confident, has possibly the current best driver-crew chief duo of Adam Stevens atop the pit box, he drives for the class of the field in Joe Gibbs Racing, he’s won at every track (besides the Charlotte ROVAL) on the Cup Series schedule...need I say more?

Jimmie Johnson is the G.O.A.T. and the best driver of this generation. But Kyle Busch isn’t as far behind as originally thought. Heck, if he keeps this up, he can perhaps rival Johnson’s legacy. A big step would be qualifying for and winning another championship.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s a slam dunk he makes it to Phoenix.


The Rock's cheat day, what the Watt brothers are up to, Marcus Stroman get his reps in

The Rock's cheat day, what the Watt brothers are up to, Marcus Stroman get his reps in

First up in Saturday's round-up of the best sports moments on the internet, everyone is trying to stick to as normal of a routine as they can while at home. Quarantine wasn’t going to keep Dwayne Johnson aka “The Rock” away from his “cheat day”. Have you ever seen french toast this big in your life? 

Next up, the Watt brothers have been staying in shape working out together and they even have a football field coming soon. Check out JJ Watt painting the lines. He says he has a new respect for groundskeepers now. The stage is set for the Watt brothers!

Finally, no bullpen, no problem! Mets starting pitcher Marcus Stroman sets up a makeshift bullpen on his boat dock and it even has a mound. Now that is a beautiful place to get your reps in! 

Stay connected to the Capitals and Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.


Eyes of the tennis world would turn to the Citi Open if hosted this year

USA TODAY Sports Images

Eyes of the tennis world would turn to the Citi Open if hosted this year

With the sports world on pause due to the outbreak of coronavirus, the Citi Open could signal the start of a welcomed new day if it goes on as currently still scheduled later this year. 

This week the ITF, ATP and WTA announced the suspension of all tournaments worldwide through July 13. The suspension includes the iconic Wimbledon Championships in England for the first time since World War II. Without it, players will go at minimum four months in-between competitive tournaments. 

That is where the Citi Open could have more of a mark on the tennis world than usual, assuming the suspension is not extended. The tournament in Washington D.C. would be the first combined event on the tour since play resumed. It would the second ATP 500-level event and the fifth International-level tournament for the WTA.

“It just became an incredible set of circumstances for us to have an unprecedented player field and media, global media attention on us,” managing owner of the Citi Open Mark Ein told NBC Sports Washington. “Our top priority is always going to be protecting people’s health and that is going to be the first objective, but if we can do that and have the event it will be extraordinary.”

Players across the world would be vying for a spot in the tournament to get back in action. It would be one of the prime tournaments for preparation in the Rogers Cup and subsequent U.S. Open.

“The eyes of the tennis world and the sports world, more broadly, would be on Washington and the Citi Open," Ein said. "Virtually every single player is going to want to and need to play. They will have been out of competition for five months, made no prize money, got no ranking points. And I think the entire world would flock here for our event because it would be the first big event.”

Unlike Wimbledon and the other majors, the week-long Citi Open does not require as much long-term event planning. Major decisions on the event won’t have to be made until the beginning of June. Ein notes that they could even push back some of those deadlines later given the circumstances. 

Obviously, the uncertainly makes planning a large event a difficult task. The tournament organizing team though is still hard at work, operating as if the tournament will still be held. 

Players are in the same boat. Since the announcement of the suspension of the tours, players have been in contact with the Citi Open on entry into the field. Already the tournament is known for boasting an incredible crop of players, especially on the men’s side. Last year six top-15 players entered the men’s singles event. On the women’s side, former U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens is a regular, while Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff have also played at Rock Creek Park. 

“Everyone is waiting a little bit longer to see,” Ein said. “But it is very clear that everyone’s going to come here if we’re on.”

But as has been clear in recent weeks, so much can change from now until July 13 and before the start of the tournament on August 1. Ein and the Citi Open, as of now, are optimistic at the opportunity that has presented themselves for the event but reaffirmed that the health and safety of the players and fans are their top priority.

The ultimate decision on whether to have the event would be in conjunction with the ATP, WTA and the city.

“We’ve talked about different ways of modifying the event to account for the extraordinary times we’re living in and we would be flexible to accommodate certain objectives if needed," Ein said. "But, it’s too early to have to think about what those options may be.”