Well, my preseason No. 5 and No. 7 picks were eliminated in the premiere of Survivor: Game Changers last week — and I don’t know whether that’s good or bad.
On the one hand, they were clearly threats to win — and were taken out. But it looks kind of dumb for me, since I had them ranked so high.
Here’s how I see the game heading into Week 2, with players ranked in order of best chance to win it all:
1. Zeke (Last week: 1). I’m sticking with Zeke at the top for now, but it’s probably wishful thinking. But his social game is great, he can make friends quickly and there’s no reason for people to view him as a threat early in the game.
2. Varner (Last week: 8). He didn’t do anything special in Week 1 except keep the target on others, and that’s exactly what could help him make it far this season. Why would someone get rid of him at this point? As long as he doesn’t play too hard — which is always a possibility with him — he could have a decent chance.
3. Andrea (Last week: 13). She was almost invisible in Week 1, which makes me like her chances of getting far this year. If she can duck while the bullets are flying early, maybe she can work some magic late in the game.
4. Troyzan (Last week: 12). I started looking at Troyzan differently almost right away. He seems much wiser now and also won’t be taken seriously enough for people to want to vote him out. That could be an interesting combination.
5. Malcolm (Last week: 3). It’s so dangerous to put Malcolm this high, because he’s surely a massive threat. The others need to get him out quickly, and if they don’t, he’s going to be around for a long time.
6. Cirie (Last week: 9). People recognize her as manipulative, but as long as Sandra is around, she won’t be the scariest player in that category. Maybe that will buy her some time.
7. Sierra (Last week: 14). You start to get the sense this could be a season where the biggest targets and threats get removed quickly, and Sierra is an under-the-radar player for the most part. That could pay off.
8. Ozzy (Last week: 10). He’s already so visible, which has to be worrisome. A guy like Ozzy needs to stay out of the spotlight as much as possible so he’s not targeted right away.
9. Sarah (Last week: 15). Tony’s departure could help her, since she won’t have any connection to someone who was clearly untrustworthy. If she makes the merge, you never know.
10. Hali (Last week: 18). OK, so I was REALLY down on Hali coming into the season, but her comments last week were impressive. She seems to be taking a smart approach so far, and I can see her making more of a run than before.
11. Aubrey (Last week: 2). It seems like she’s quickly been labeled as a dangerous player and the others speak openly about that, which will hurt her chances in the long run. She could become a quick target and get taken out.
12. J.T. (Last week: 11). I almost feel like this is too high for him, since a good point was raised already: Why would they give a former winner another $1 million? I don’t have a great sense of how he’ll play yet.
13. Caleb (Last week: 17). I like how he played Week 1, but still don’t feel great about his overall chances — especially since he already lost a meat shield in Tony and now could become a target earlier.
14. Michaela (Last week: 6). I’m disappointed with how Michaela presented herself in the first episode. I thought she’d perhaps play more of an under-the-radar game this time after learning from her first experience, but she can’t hide her emotions and frustrations. That’s not a winning formula.
15. Debbie (Last week: 19). She can’t change who she is. Again, it’s good TV — but not good gameplay.
16. Brad (Last week: 20). I liked how he approached the first few days, and I may have been too harsh in saying he had no chance. But I still think he’s an abrasive guy at times, and how many people are really going to want to work with him?
17. Tai (Last week: 16). It seems like the other players like Tai (of course), but he’s just not someone they’re going to strategize with. As such, he’ll stay around for weeks — maybe make it to the end — but they won’t give him the money.
18. Sandra (Last week: 4). These players are WAY too smart to sit there and not recognize what Sandra is doing. She’s absolutely an incredible player and last week proved once again why she’s won the game twice. But surely, all these “game changer” players recognize a threat when they see one, and there’s little chance she’ll be able to make it to the end based on that.
Each week, I’ll ask the same 12 questions to a different NASCAR driver. Up next: Dale Earnhardt Jr. of Hendrick Motorsports. (Note: This interview was conducted at Atlanta, so the reference to punching a driver had nothing to do with the Las Vegas fight.)
1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?
For a long time, it was all ability, low effort. Now I think it’s 50-50.
2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards have all retired in the last couple years. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours?
You know, I’ll be honest with you — I’d probably steer them toward the new guys. I’m on the backside of my deal, so for the health of the sport, I think it’d be awesome if they grabbed onto (Ryan) Blaney or Chase (Elliott) or somebody like that. They’re going to be successful and are going to be around a long time. That would probably be better for everybody.
3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?
The hardest part of my job away from the racetrack is probably appearances that are out of market, which means anything Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. Like (before Atlanta), we flew to Florida on Wednesday and then we did an appearance in Texas on Thursday and then we came (to Atlanta). It just eats up an entire day.
The appearances themselves are fun. Just the travel — we had a 100-knot wind going out to Texas. It took us three hours to get there, do the appearance and then come home and it’s 5:30, you know? You leave at 9 in the morning. So the travel, I guess. You kind of would like to be home during the week, but you’ve got to be doing these appearances.
4. A fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?
After I’m done eating. Once they see me put my utensils down, I’m fair game.
So if you have a bite of food in your mouth, maybe hold off?
Yeah, it’s probably going to piss off whoever I’m having dinner with more than me. I don’t like people talking over my food. Like if you’ve got a plate of food in front of you and somebody comes over and talks over your shoulder? I don’t like my dog even being near me when I’m eating, breathing all over my plate. It’s just gross.
They’re raining spittle down on your food.
There is the possibility! In all likelihood, they are.
5. What’s a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage?
Well, I think there needs to be more effort to market Chase, Blaney, Bubba Wallace. They’re doing a great job with Suarez, but they need to really get these guys in front of not only the NASCAR fans, but more mainstream media (like) Rolling Stone.
Blaney did Watch What Happens Live (the Andy Cohen show on Bravo) before I did, which is certainly outside the NASCAR world. Those are great things for those guys, because they’re carrying the torch, man.
And they have the personalities. They’re so funny, you know? And they’re good guys. They’re not brats. They all have great personalities, and if NASCAR is going to return to its peak, that’s where it’s going to come from. Those guys, they’re going to be the ones driving when that happens. (The NASCAR marketers) need to start putting the funding and the marketing behind those guys and get people to know them.
6. Who is the last driver you texted?
Let me see. (Pulls out phone.) Jimmie (Johnson), Kasey (Kahne) and Chase. We’re on a GroupMe (chat on a texting app). We were talking about running a four-mile run tonight.
And you’re thinking of doing that?
Yeah, I ran three at home yesterday. So it shouldn’t be too hard. I don’t run the pace they run though. Jimmie and Chase are in the 8-minute mark but I’m not even close.
So you can do a 5K now?
Yeah. Sure! I could. Yeah, that’d be great. I should try one.
Anyway, that’s the last group. I guess that’s too obvious.
7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?
Yes! Yeah, I think certain guys — Spencer Gallagher… OK, you laugh. I think he’s certainly entertaining when he’s doing his interviews. He’s got a great outlook and approach to racing and is very cavalier about it, but at the same time, he’s competitive.
I talked about Blaney and Chase. Those guys are hopefully going to utilize their personalities to market themselves. There is a point when you’re an entertainer, you know? You get up and do those Q&As, and you’ve got to be funny and witty and interact with the audience. When you’re in the car, I don’t think you’re much of an entertainer. But outside of the car, you are an entertainer many times during the week.
8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?
Well, that’s a good one. If they’re much, much younger than you, you can totally flip them off. If they’re the same age as you or have ran more than four or five seasons, you cannot flip them off.
I flipped off Shawna Robinson once in practice, and she wrecked me in the race. She never said she meant it on purpose, but she was very upset with me in practice.
You hear about Rusty Wallace and all those other guys — you get flipped off, especially by someone younger than you? You just go on attack mode. You lose your mind. So it’s a very seldom-used expression on the track and there’s some etiquette there on when to use it and when not to use it.
9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?
You certainly do remember the guys that tend to race you not as hard. I think you race people how they race you. Other than that, you don’t really keep a mental note of it. There’s guys that are really, really hard to pass — (Ryan) Newman’s probably at the top of that list; if you asked everybody who is hardest to pass, they’re going to say Newman. But he’s a great guy. We’re pretty decent friends, to be honest with you.
But then there’s guys like Mark Martin that never raced anybody hard — at least in the first half of the race. A lot of give and take there. And when he’d come up on you, you’d kind of return the favor.
10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?
Jay-Z and Beyonce. When he invited us to Monaco to be in their video with Danica way back, about freakin’ 10 years ago, we had dinner with them. Lot of fun. Had some beers and goofed up and joked around quite a bit. They’re very down to earth.
Did they seem like normal people?
They were incredibly normal. Beyonce said I reminded her of her uncle with my honesty. I guess I’m super honest. Amazing compliment.
11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?
My disposition. Be a happier person more consistently. Not get bummed out or frustrated or aggravated so easily.
I don’t know. You say that, but lately…
I’m hanging onto it. Yeah. See, I got this being out of the car. I sort of worked on myself a little bit, so I’m trying to hang onto it. But this racing can piss you off, so I don’t know how long it’s going to last.
12. The last interview was with Garrett Smithley. He wanted to know what advice you’d give to yourself as a rookie driver that you would do differently now.
There’s a lot of things I didn’t know or didn’t do well. I would have spent more time in the hauler working on the car with Tony (Eury) Sr. and Tony (Eury) Jr. They weren’t the chattiest guys, but I certainly would have been much, much more involved in what went on between practice and qualifying, and what went on between qualifying and Saturday practice and all that.
I would walk up to the car just as they were firing the motors. Nowadays, I feel bad if I’m not here 30 minutes early, talking to Greg (Ives) and seeing what the plan is. And then when we get done running, I hang around until Greg seems to be bored with me.
When I was racing as a rookie, I’d get out of the car, say five words to Tony Jr. and run into the bus and play video games the rest of the day until it was time to go get in the car for qualifying (with) like 10 cars to go. I didn’t have my head on straight. Everything had been handed to me in a sense to where I didn’t appreciate how much I needed to be working for this — and how much that would have made a difference. I didn’t think it would or even know it would. I certainly have learned a lot.
Do you have a question for the next driver?
If you could punch any driver in the face, who would it be? Has anyone ever asked that question?
No, but I kind of want to use it on the 12 Questions permanently next year.
(Laughs) Well, if it gets a really good answer, maybe you move it. Kind of like the specials at dinner, if it’s really good, they put it on the menu.
Yeah. The middle finger question came from Landon Cassill.
There you go!
And (the face punch) doesn’t have to be because they made you mad on the track. Just maybe you don’t like ‘em.
They could just have a punchable face.
A punchable face, yeah. Who’s got a punchable face? There you go. Ask it that way. And you might actually get an honest answer. Who has the most punchable face? (Laughs)
Each week, I’ll give some race analysis through a post called the Top Five — notable storylines from the just-completed event. Typically, this will be posted as soon as possible after the race — but my site has been crashing for the past couple days, so I was unable to post anything new! My apologies for the delay.
Get ready for the mixed messages
It will be fascinating to see how NASCAR reacts to the Kyle Busch/Joey Logano incident.
In one respect, NASCAR probably has to give Busch a slap on the wrist (probation or small fine) to say, “Hey dude, you can’t go up to someone and just punch them.”
But on the other hand, this is exactly what NASCAR wants! You know NASCAR is going to use it in all sorts of promotional aspects heading into Phoenix and beyond, so it’s hypocritical to penalize Busch while also profiting from it.
That’s been how NASCAR has operated for years, of course, dating back to the 1979 Daytona 500 (the drivers were fined for that famous fight, even though it put NASCAR on the map).
With the addition of Monster Energy, though — which has openly advocated for drivers to mix it up — can NASCAR really fine Busch with a straight face?
If so, he shouldn’t pay it.
Finish saves a ho-hum race
The sun was pouring into the press box during the first stage, and — combined with a food coma from lunch and the expiration of my morning coffee buzz — I almost started to nod off.
You can yell at FOX all you want (There’s great racing through the field, they’re just not showing it!), but the truth is the entire field was running single file for a long stretch in both of the early stages.
At one point, a reporter (who shall remain nameless) shouted, “Whoa!” We scanned the track for trouble, didn’t see anything, then turned to the reporter with puzzled expressions.
“A pass in the top 12!” he said.
Though the crazy finish with Brad Keselowski’s problems and the post-race fight salvaged the day, there are now legitimate concerns about the racing following the first two 1.5-mile tracks of the season. Both Atlanta and Vegas weren’t as exciting as their 2016 editions — especially Atlanta — and it makes you wonder what’s up with the much-anticipated lower downforce package.
Phoenix probably isn’t going to be an amazing race — it’s just not the most action-packed track after restarts — but Fontana should be, since it’s become one of the best circuits. If not, there will be much head-scratching going on within the industry.
Martin Truex Jr. closes it out
Every time I thought about the new points system heading into the season, I thought of Martin Truex Jr. He was so dominant at times last year, and then he got into the Chase and — well, you know what happened. But if he had the playoff points under the current system, he might have made it to Homestead.
So with that in mind, it was interesting to see Truex get the maximum seven playoff points (which, remember, are bonus points that carry over all the way through Phoenix). Prior to this system, a win was only worth three bonus points — and those could only be used in the first round.
“That really would have helped us last year,” Truex said. “We ran so good and led so many races, and always didn’t get the finish we probably deserved or thought we should have gotten, and so it’s cool to get rewarded for running good and pushing hard and being up at the front of the pack more consistently than other guys.”
With one great race, Truex now has more bonus/playoff points than he’d have for two wins last year. That’s really going to add up for some of the top drivers, and it’s going to make the chances of some fluke elimination in the early rounds much less likely.
Kyle Larson is having a fantastic start
Don’t sleep on Larson this year — and I’m not just talking wins, but the championship.
Dating back to the Phoenix race last fall, Larson has finished third, second at Homestead, 12th at Daytona, second at Atlanta and now second at Las Vegas.
“Super happy with how our season has gotten started,” he said. “Way better than where I’ve ever started a season.”
It seems like things are really clicking for Larson, who isn’t taking himself out of races with some of the mistakes he made in the first couple seasons.
When you combine Larson’s results with consecutive top-10s for Jamie McMurray, there’s a lot to like about Chip Ganassi Racing right now. Both cars appear to have the speed to be contenders in many weeks this season.
Keselowski the early title favorite
I just said not to sleep on Larson (see above) for the championship, but the favorite at the moment has to be Keselowski.
He won Atlanta despite having to make an untimely pit stop with a loose wheel, then won the pole for Las Vegas and was certainly either the best car (he was about to win, after all) or the second-best all day.
Keselowski said he didn’t know what happened to his car in the last couple laps, when he suddenly lost power (and if he did know, he was keeping it close to the vest). But either way, the overall speed is there and Team Penske seems to be extremely strong (Keselowski’s teammate Logano is the only driver with top-10 finishes in all three races).
It’s still very early, of course, and many things can and will change in the coming weeks. But if you’re looking for the NASCAR equivalent of a 25-day weather forecast, it’s looking bright for Keselowski.
After Kyle Busch crashed at the end of Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, he quickly exited his car on pit road and started walking with a purpose toward the other end.
Without having seen the replay, I didn’t know where Busch was going or who he was mad at, but I figured he might want to have a chat with the responsible party.
So I pulled my phone out, and then this happened:
Logano stayed and spoke to reporters after the fight was broken up, telling the media Busch didn’t land any punches (the video is inconclusive on that, although there were no obvious marks on his face).
“I don’t run from conflict,” Logano said of the confrontation. “You just talk about it, but he wasn’t in a talking mood. He was in a fighting mood, I guess. Typically, you can handle this stuff like men and talk about it. You don’t have to fight, but whatever.”
Logano said he’s never had any previous problems with Busch and added the two have “always raced really well together.”
“We’ve never had an issue,” he said. “But I guess that’s over.”
Busch was gone by the time I got to the infield care center, but during a brief FOX interview, he indicated the bad blood may not be over.
“I got dumped,” he said. “He flat-out just drove straight in the corner and wrecked me. That’s how Joey races, so he’s going to get it.”
I’m playing DraftKings this season and will be posting my picks here each week. Disclosure: If you want to play and sign up using this link, DraftKings will give my website a commission.
Last week’s results: Played the $1 entry “Happy Hour” $20,000 payout game and finished around 15,600th out of 23,500. Won $0.
Season results: $1 wagered, $0 won in two contests.
This week’s contest: Welp…I was going to play a $3 contest, but it wouldn’t allow me to do that since I’m in Nevada (and DraftKings isn’t allowed here). So I’m playing a free contest where I can’t win any money. Edit: Still playing a free contest, but @Kid67y told me about one that has prize money. Link is here if you’re in my situation.
My picks for Las Vegas ($50,000 salary cap):
— Kevin Harvick ($10,700). He’s my pick to win after dominating Atlanta and starts 19th — giving him a high ceiling for positions differential.
— Brad Keselowski ($10,400). You all gave me feedback last week that said I needed a “dominator” in my lineup — and you were right. That would have been Harvick. I think it could be Keselowski this time, so he’s in.
— Ryan Newman ($7,800). Newman starts 21st but was 10th-fastest in 10-lap average for final practice, so I like his chances of being able to move up for a top-15 finish.
— Ryan Blaney ($7,400). What’s not to like here? Starts third, fastest in 10-lap average for final practice and a good value overall. Yes, please.
— Erik Jones ($7,100). The rookie was the class of the Toyotas last week before fading at the end. After qualifying eighth and finishing 12th in 10-lap average for final practice, he could have another good run — and is pretty cheap, to boot.
— Ty Dillon ($6,500). I needed a value pick to make this lineup work. The Richard Childress Racing-related cars haven’t looked as fast as they did at Atlanta, but he starts 24th and might be able to improve on that.
I’ve had the biggest smile on my face while walking around Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend — and not just because I’m happy to be covering another NASCAR race.
There’s another reason why I’m so pumped: It’s the first time I’ve been back to the track since attending Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC) with my wife last year.
EDC was one of the most fun experiences of my life. We’ve become huge dance music fans, and many of our favorites played EDC last June — Martin Garrix, Zedd, Marshmello, Alesso, etc. And really, the whole atmosphere — the lights, lasers, fireworks, confetti and 135,000 happy people — was really something to see. Take it from me: You don’t need to be on drugs or whatever to enjoy it.
But wow, it looks SO different for NASCAR weekend. I’ve been coming to LVMS for races since 2006, and seeing how it was set up for EDC compared to how it looks normally was really wild.
If you ever get a chance and like EDM even a little bit, do whatever you can to attend EDC.
Here’s a few pictures comparing how the track looked for EDC and how it looks during NASCAR weekend (all photos were taken by me):