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NASCAR Countdown: 8 Drivers On The Move

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NASCAR Countdown: 8 Drivers On The Move

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

Silly Season, A.K.A. NASCAR’s version of free agency, is typically pretty wild. But there was something about this offseason that seemed a little extra silly. With drivers and teams more and more dependent on sponsorship than ever, most deals came together pretty late.

As NBC Sports Washington continues the countdown to the Daytona 500 (Sunday, February 16 at 2:30 p.m. ET on FOX), let’s break down eight of the biggest drivers who have new homes for the 2020 season and possibly beyond.

8. Hailie Deegan

2019: No. 19 Toyota in K&N Pro Series West for Bill McAnally Racing

2020: Ford’s newest development driver, No. 4 for DGR-Crosley in ARCA Menards Series

Being touted as the next big thing and a possible savior of the sport may be too big for some 18-year-olds. But not Hailie Deegan.

She’s embraced the spotlight with not only a winning personality and social media game, but also winning race cars. Following her second season in what’s now known as the ARCA Menards Series West, she scored two wins and was due for a new contract.

Ford Performance stepped in and signed Deegan, daughter of X-Games legend Brian Deegan, to a developmental deal that’ll see her compete full-time in the ARCA Menards Series this season with some possible Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series starts on the horizon.

7. John Hunter Nemechek

2019: Full-time Xfinity with GMS Racing, select Cup for Front Row and Trucks for NEMCO

2020: Full-time Cup with Front Row Motorsports in No. 38 Ford, replacing Matt Tifft

For a guy that has scratched and clawed his way through the ranks despite having a well-known and famous last name, John Hunter Nemechek has done pretty admirably thus far.

Despite not winning a race in the Xfinity Series last season, he qualified for the playoffs and wound up substituting for the ailing Matt Tifft at Front Row Motorsports. His fill-ins went so well that the organization decided to sign him on full-time for 2020 as Tifft recovers (seizures).

6. Daniel Hemric

2019: Full-time Cup with Richard Childress Racing in No. 8 Chevrolet

2020: Part-time Xfinity with JR Motorsports in No. 8 Chevrolet

I’ll say it: Daniel Hemric wasn’t ready for racing in the Cup Series. But RCR being behind the eight ball didn’t help him by any means. Only one top five and two top 10s in 36 starts is eye-popping in a negative way for a guy who was in the Xfinity Championship 4 in 2018.

But hopping back down to Xfinity in top notch equipment may be the best thing for Hemric. He hasn’t won a national series race in his career, and the reigning Cup Series Rookie of the Year will now have a better shot than ever at snapping his streak in the 21 chances afforded to him.

5. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

2019: Full-time Cup with Roush Fenway Racing in No. 17 Ford

2020: Full-time Cup with JTG-Daugherty Racing in No. 47 Chevrolet

After six full-time seasons and two wins at Roush Fenway Racing, it was time for a change of scenery for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (and his mullet). He said he was blindsided by the move, and I’m sure he was blindsided by this quote from usually quiet team owner Jack Roush, too.

“I look forward to having cars that are more similar for both drivers that we can develop from race to race by not having so many wrecks,” he said. And in fairness, he’s right. Stenhouse Jr. failed to finish five races last season due to crashes, and spun in a handful more.

A move to JTG is a lateral one at best. We’ll see if RSJ can make the most of what he’s got.

4. Daniel Suarez

2019: Full-time Cup with Stewart-Haas Racing in No. 41 Ford

2020: Full-time Cup with Gaunt Brothers Racing in No. 96 Toyota

It was somewhat surprising that a driver of Daniel Suarez’s caliber was still on the market as late as the final week of January. Especially when you consider he has multiple millions of dollars in sponsorship to bring to the table, which, let’s face it, is the main factor in all of this.

Talk around the garage was that his sponsors (Coca-Cola and ARRIS) wanted to see the 2016 Xfinity Series champion in the Cup Series, where he scored five top fives and narrowly missed out on the postseason in 2019. So that’s what he did.

The move is questionable long-term, though. Gaunt Brothers Racing has never run a full schedule and is working around the clock to get things in working order for a 36-race slate. But NASCAR needs Suarez, a popular Hispanic driver, at the forefront of the sport. The sanctioning body, as well as Toyota, are working closely with GBR to ensure maximum success is achieved.

3. Chris Buescher

2019: Full-time Cup with JTG-Daugherty Racing in No. 37 Chevrolet

2020: Full-time Cup with Roush Fenway Racing in No. 17 Ford

Even Chris Buescher himself will tell you his 2016 rain-shortened win at Pocono was more luck than anything. But since then, he’s done nothing but reinforce the narrative that he may as well be the most underrated, low profile, bordering on class-A driver in NASCAR.

Originally on a loan from Roush to Front Row (and then JTG), Buescher is now back “home” and has completed an essential trade with Stenhouse Jr. with JTG and RFR. Paired with veteran Ryan Newman, Buescher and “Rocketman” may bring a much-needed jolt back to the historic organization that once put all five cars in the playoffs.

2. Christopher Bell

2019: Full-time Xfinity with Joe Gibbs Racing in No. 20 Toyota

2020: Full-time Cup with Leavine Family Racing in No. 95 Toyota

Though the aforementioned Deegan may be viewed as a possible “savior” of the sport, Christopher Bell is the future. The most highly-touted and highly invested in prospect of all-time is still under the Joe Gibbs Racing banner, though driving for Leaving Family Racing.

Following two stellar Xfinity seasons that fell short of a championship, Bell’s No. 95 camp will have increased support from JGR and Toyota, making it a distinct possibility that the rookie may wind up qualifying for the playoffs by putting the team in Victory Lane for the first time ever.

1. Matt DiBenedetto

2019: Full-time Cup with Leavine Family Racing in No. 95 Toyota

2020: Full-time Cup with Wood Brothers Racing in No. 21 Ford

The (unofficial) people’s champ, Matty D, finds himself in the best position he’s ever been in his career: with a historic team, an alliance with Team Penske and a car capable of winning.

He’s never really had a car capable of winning. Sure, we had last year’s summer race at Bristol where Denny Hamlin broke all our hearts and snatched the win from DiBenedetto, but it showed that “Guido” is a wheelman. He’ll get a legitimate chance to show that furthermore in 2020.


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

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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.”