I Dig Sports
A combined average audience of more than a million Australian viewers tuned into the weekend double of the WBBL final on Saturday night and Australia's second ODI against India on Sunday evening, a set of numbers made still more notable by the fact neither match was aired on a primary free-to-air channel.
As the Seven network argues ever more fervently that it is due a discount in its broadcast rights fee, the audience of nearly 429,000 for the WBBL decider between the Sydney Thunder and the Melbourne Stars, followed by an average of some 585,000 for the second SCG match between the teams of Aaron Finch and Virat Kohli, have made it patently clear that cricket's broadcast pulling power is anything but waning.
Sunday's figures were a new record for ODI broadcasts on Foxtel, surpassing the 544,000 who tuned into the 2015 World Cup final at the MCG, and behind only the 2011 Rugby World Cup semi-final and final as the highest rating sports broadcasts in the network's entire history.
They are also comfortably the largest figures returned by the subscription network since it won the exclusive rights to broadcast men's ODI and T20I matches in Australia as its A$750 million part of the A$1.2 billion deal with Seven as Cricket Australia's broadcast partners - the same contract Seven is trying every means at its disposal to reduce in value from the A$450 million it signed up to pay.
There was believed to be another flashpoint between CA and Seven over the WBBL final itself, as the governing body was surprised when the broadcaster stepped back from an earlier discussion in which it was believed to be agreed that the decider would take place on Seven's primary channel provided it was contested between major market teams from Sydney and Melbourne. As if to add further murk to the situation, Seven then scheduled the film Frozen, beloved by a young female audience, at the exact same 7pm timeslot in which the WBBL final strove to reach the same market space.
Most of Seven's criticism has been directed at the BBL, which it claims has not delivered value despite costing at least 50% of the total value of the rights, alongside the WBBL, women's internationals and men's Test matches.
But the arguments made by Seven's outspoken chief executive James Warburton - with the backing of the network's multibillionaire chairman Kerry Stokes - existed well before the deal was struck: namely the fact that many of Australia's best players do not take part in the BBL much if at all due to the constraints of the international schedule, including ODI and T20I series such as those currently being played against India.
Much public anger was heard at the time when CA revealed it had allowed these matches to be hidden behind a paywall, with the passive assent of the federal government despite "anti-siphoning" legislation requiring all Australian men's internationals at home to be broadcast free-to-air.
Certainly Foxtel were happy to have secured guaranteed fixtures in which viewers would see the likes of David Warner, Steven Smith, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins showcasing their more expansive and entertaining sides, while knowing there was little guarantee CA would be able to wrangle those same players to take part in the BBL. As of this moment, only Starc of the aforementioned quartet has a BBL deal for this season, and Warner has stated bluntly that he will not return to the tournament until his international days are over.
At the same time, the CA board's decision to chase as much cash as possible from the 2018 deal, to the point of accepting Seven as a partner over Ten - who had successfully broadcast the BBL between 2013 and 2018 - for a difference of just A$2 million a season, has left them in a situation where their current free-to-air partner is chasing discounts that will amount to significantly more than the amount they may have lost by maintaining a relationship with Ten.
Either way, current deliberations between CA, Seven and the Australian Chamber for International and Commercial Arbitration are taking place at a time when the nation's appetite for live cricket could not be much clearer. Only the headline figure of a major event on a prime free-to-air channel is lacking.
Toss New Zealand chose to field vs West Indies
Left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner began life as New Zealand captain, enforced in the absence of Tim Southee, by winning the toss and bowling under grey skies at the Mount Bay Oval.
Scott Kuggeleijn, Hamish Bennett and all-rounder Daryll Mitchell came into the team for the third and final T20I. Santner put his decision down to the possibility of rain, and DLS adjustments coming into play later on in the match.
With the Test series against West Indies due to start on December 3, Southee, Kyle Jamieson and Ross Taylor have travelled to Hamilton to join the Test squad, leaving Kuggeleijn, Mark Chapman and Doug Bracewell as their replacements in the squad.
West Indies made two changes to their XI, with Kieron Pollard reporting that Shimron Hetmyer had suffered a delayed concussion as a result of being pinged on his helmet by a Lockie Ferguson bouncer in Sunday's game. Keemo Paul also made way after a couple of indifferent outings with the ball, and Romario Shepherd and Hayden Walsh made their way into the team.
New Zealand won the first T20I in Auckland on November 27 by five wickets in a rain-shortened encounter, and then rode on the fastest T20I century for a New Zealander by Glenn Phillips in the second match in Mount Maunganui on November 29 to establish a winning 2-0 lead in the series.
New Zealand: 1 Martin Guptill, 2 Tim Seifert (wk), 3 Devon Conway, 4 Glenn Phillips, 5 Daryll Mitchell, 6 Jimmy Neesham, 7 Mitchell Santner (capt), 8 Scott Kuggeleijn, 9 Ish Sodhi, 10 Lockie Ferguson, 11 Hamish Bennett
West Indies: 1 Andre Fletcher, 2 Brandon King, 3 Nicholas Pooran (wk), 4 Kyle Mayers,5 Kieron Pollard (capt), 6 Rovman Powell , 7 Romario Shepherd, 8 Fabian Allen, 9 Hayden Walsh, 10 Sheldon Cottrell, 11 Oshane Thomas
Week 12 in the NFL began with two blowout wins on Thanksgiving. On Sunday, the Falcons followed suit by routing the Raiders in a 37-point victory. The Giants got win No. 4 to move into first in the NFC East, the Titans made a statement in the AFC South and the Patriots kept their dim playoff hopes alive with a last-second field goal. Elsewhere, the Browns escaped an upset scare and the Vikings pulled off a game-winning drive to get by the Panthers.
In the afternoon slate, Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs bested Tom Brady and the Buccaneers and the 49ers earned a division win against the Rams. But the story of the window was the Broncos, who went into their contest against the Saints without a quarterback.
All that and more in Week 12's biggest takeaways from NFL Nation.
Standout performer: Patriots K Nick Folk, 2-for-2 FGs, 50-yard game winner
It's a fine line in football, and Cam Newton was walking it in the fourth quarter of Sunday's win over the Cardinals. His late-game interception could have been the backbreaker that essentially ended the Patriots' playoff hopes. But when the team got a second life after a missed field goal, Newton willed the offense into field goal range with a 14-yard run on third-and-13. That determination was critical, as was a 15-yard penalty on Cardinals linebacker Isaiah Simmons at the end of the play. Had the Cardinals won, the question of whether it was time for the Patriots to turn things over to Jarrett Stidham might have been asked. But Newton's resolve was critical to the final outcome, as the Patriots (5-6) still cling to long shot postseason hopes. -- Mike Reiss
Next game: at Chargers (4:25 p.m. ET, Sunday)
The Cardinals saw their playoff hopes take a hit. But they also saw more of the blueprint to stop quarterback Kyler Murray, who ran for 31 yards in the loss. His inability to make plays with his feet had a clear impact on the rest of Arizona's offense. If the Cardinals want to have success moving forward and possibly make the playoffs, the rest of the offense needs to find a way to make plays when Murray isn't able to. -- Josh Weinfuss
Next game: vs. Rams (4:05 p.m. ET, Sunday)
Standout performer: Titans RB Derrick Henry, 178 rushing yards, 3 TDs
The Titans now hold sole possession of the AFC South lead as they turn their attention to a showdown with the Browns at home next week. Once again, the Titans rode Henry to a big first-half lead, and he finished with 178 rushing yards and three touchdowns. -- Turron Davenport
Next game: vs. Browns (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
The Colts went from being in position to get a grasp on first place in the AFC South and an automatic playoff spot to having an uphill climb to get into the postseason. The Colts' final five games are against Houston (twice), at Las Vegas, at Pittsburgh and versus Jacksonville. The Raiders and Steelers are the only teams with a winning record remaining on Indianapolis' schedule. -- Mike Wells
Next game: at Texans (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
Henry absolutely dominates Colts with 3 first-half TDs
Derrick Henry puts on a show in the first half with 140 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
Standout performer: Falcons DT Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, 5 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries
The Falcons played their best defensive game of the season against the Raiders, forcing five turnovers and producing five sacks. It was the type of defensive effort the Falcons have been looking for over the past few seasons. If they're able to put together similar performances in the final weeks of the season, Raheem Morris has to like his chances of becoming the permanent head coach. -- Harry Lyles Jr.
Next game: vs. Saints (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
The Raiders are not elite, and they are not a playoff team. Getting embarrassed in Atlanta showed the Raiders were not ready on Sunday. The question: Can they avoid a repeat of the letdown that sank their season last year -- a 34-3 loss at a terrible Jets team that dropped the Raiders' record to 6-5 en route to a 7-9 finish -- in 2020? Las Vegas' record after the thumping it took in Atlanta? Yeah, 6-5. And guess where the Raiders play next week? Indeed, at the Jets. "I apologize to the Raider Nation," Las Vegas coach Jon Gruden said after the game. -- Paul Gutierrez
Next game: at Jets (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
Standout performer: Bills LB A.J. Klein, 13 tackles, 0.5 sacks
Buffalo's defense is back. Although the Bills didn't put together a full, four-quarter effort on both sides of the ball, Sunday's win over the Chargers represented their best defensive performance of the season, despite allowing 367 (mostly garbage-time) yards. It was the Bills' fifth consecutive impressive game, after holding Los Angeles to 3-of-15 on third down. And it's a positive sign as they enter an important stretch to close the season. Buffalo's three fourth-quarter turnovers were brutal, but the Bills remain atop the AFC East for at least one more week. "We're 8-3," Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen said. "That's what our goal was entering this game, whatever it takes." -- Marcel Louis-Jacques
Next game: at 49ers (8:15 p.m. ET, Dec. 7)
After just a week of practice (since his serious hamstring injury in Week 4), Chargers running back Austin Ekeler looked great with 14 rushes for 44 yards and 11 catches for 85 yards. But the offense couldn't capitalize on the play of the defense, which provided three takeaways in the second half. -- Shelley Smith
Next game: vs. Patriots (4:25 p.m. ET, Sunday)
Standout performer: Justin Jefferson, 70 receiving yards, 2 TDs
Coach Mike Zimmer's assessment of the Vikings' thrilling win was spot on: Minnesota was "very fortunate" to come away with a victory against Carolina. There have been only a few instances this season when the Vikings successfully clawed back from a deficit and closed out an opponent, after blowing chances to do so against Tennessee and Seattle, which are two playoff-caliber teams. In two of the past three weeks, Minnesota has been able to do it, albeit against lackluster competition in the Bears and Panthers. But that does not diminish what quarterback Kirk Cousins accomplished on those late drives. The two aforementioned decisions weren't pretty, but when it mattered, the Vikings got the job done and kept their playoff hopes alive. -- Courtney Cronin
Next game: vs. Jaguars (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater had a chance to be a hero in his return to Minnesota. He wasn't good enough. Kicker Joey Slye had a chance to be a hero in the final seconds with a 54-yard field goal. He wasn't good enough. The defense had several chances to be heroic in the final minutes. It wasn't good enough. In the end, Sunday's loss to the Vikings summed up this season, in that the Panthers (4-8) aren't good enough to be a playoff contender, and this loss made sure they won't be a factor. "Instead of pointing fingers, I'd rather point the thumb back at me. I'm disappointed in myself and my staff tonight,'' coach Matt Rhule said. -- David Newton
Next game: vs. Broncos (1 p.m. ET, Dec. 13)
Vikings take late lead on Cousins' TD pass to Beebe
Trailing by six with under a minute to play, Kirk Cousins fires a pass to the end zone for Chad Beebe, who reels in the 10-yard touchdown to put the Vikings ahead.
Standout performer: Dolphins CB Xavien Howard, 1 INT, 3 pass breakups
No matter the quarterback, the Dolphins' playoff push will depend on their defense. All season, Miami's D has been key to the team's success, and Sunday's win was another example. The Dolphins' defensive unit got two interceptions, making it 17 consecutive games with at least one takeaway, best in the NFL. The Jets are a bad team, but the Dolphins continue to show they have a playoff-caliber defense. They're just waiting for the offense to catch up. -- Cameron Wolfe
Next game: vs. Bengals (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
Quarterback Sam Darnold returned to the lineup after a two-game absence due to a shoulder injury, but he threw two interceptions and failed to get the offense in the end zone -- another step backward in his 2020 regression. Clearly, the Darnold-Adam Gase marriage has failed, and they won't be together much longer. Darnold could be traded in the offseason, and Gase's days are numbered. -- Rich Cimini
Next game: vs. Raiders (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
Standout performer: Giants RB Wayne Gallman, 94 rushing yards, 1 TD
The Giants snuck out of Cincinnati with a win and a share of first place in the NFC East. Technically, they're in first place because they swept Washington. But Sunday's win didn't come without a price. Quarterback Daniel Jones left in the third quarter with a hamstring injury and was replaced by Colt McCoy. Jones will have an MRI on Monday to determine the extent of the injury. Coach Joe Judge said he was "optimistic" about Jones being back next week based on what he knows about him as a competitor. Jones said he wasn't discouraged and was taking it day by day. He conceded it was "tough to say" at this point if it will be a long-term injury. The Giants (4-7) better hope not. Up next, four teams (Seattle, Arizona, Cleveland and Baltimore) with winning records. The Giants haven't beaten a team with a winning record this season. -- Jordan Raanan
Next game: at Seahawks (4:05 p.m. ET, Sunday)
The Bengals need more from their offense if they want to have a chance at winning another game this season. That means an uptick in production from their quarterbacks not named Joe Burrow. On Sunday, Brandon Allen made his fourth career start and couldn't find a rhythm. He was 17-of-29 passing for 136 yards, one touchdown, one interception and a lost fumble that stifled any hopes of a miraculous comeback. When Burrow was on the field this season, the 2020 top overall pick was able to move the offense effectively. While Allen looked good at times, he wasn't able to do enough to help the Bengals steal a win against the Giants. For the moment, Allen is the best option on the roster. Cincinnati has to hope more reps with the first-team offense for Allen this week will be enough to boost the offense. -- Ben Baby
Next game: at Dolphins (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
Standout performer: Browns WR Jarvis Landry, 143 receiving yards, 1 TD
Though it wasn't pretty, the victory clinched Cleveland's first non-losing season since 2007; the Browns are tied for the second-longest streak of consecutive losing seasons in NFL history. More importantly, the win edged the 8-3 Browns one step closer to ending the longest playoff drought in the league (18 years). Minus multiple key starters, Cleveland's defense didn't make many plays on Sunday. The Browns' defense did, however, make the final one. Safety Andrew Sendejo batted down Jacksonville's passing attempt at a game-tying two-point conversion, and Cleveland escaped Sunday with a victory over the one-win Jaguars. -- Jake Trotter
Next game: at Titans (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
Mike Glennon gives the Jaguars the best chance to win, and he should be the team's starting quarterback the rest of the season. Glennon completed 20 of 35 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns, but most importantly, he drove the Jaguars down the field late and had them in position to tie the game and potentially force overtime. It was the best this offense has looked in more than a month. While losing out and going 1-15 would be the best thing for the franchise's future -- guaranteeing the Jaguars, at worst, the No. 2 pick and a shot at quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence (Clemson) and Justin Fields (Ohio State) -- that's not the way coach Doug Marrone or any of the players are thinking. Go with Glennon over Gardner Minshew II and Jake Luton. -- Mike DiRocco
Next game: at Vikings (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
Jarvis Landry's big day leads Browns to win over Jaguars
Jarvis Landry catches eight passes for 143 yards and a touchdown as the Browns improve to 8-3 with a 27-25 win vs. the Jaguars.
Standout performer: 49ers WR Deebo Samuel, 133 receiving yards
The 49ers seemingly have plenty of reasons to want this injury-ravaged season to end, but they're too proud and too well-coached to call it a year and move on. Sunday's gutsy win against a NFC West rival showed exactly what the Niners are made of and proved, even at partial strength, these Niners aren't an easy out. "What they've gone through all year, but especially these last two weeks, and especially these last 24 hours, I did have a lot of concerns," San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan said. "I can't tell you how proud I am of those guys." At 5-6, the Niners sit a game out of the final playoff spot in the NFC, and though they have an uphill climb to claim it given who they're missing, they're going to be playing meaningful games in December. -- Nick Wagoner
Next game: vs. Bills (8:15 p.m. ET, Dec. 7)
Coach Sean McVay and QB Jared Goff must solve their inconsistency -- which on Sunday included four turnovers -- for good if the Rams want to make a playoff run in a division that has proved to be the NFL's best. The Rams fumbled a chance to gain an edge in the NFC West on Sunday, losing to the injury-plagued 49ers, who have now won four straight against the Rams. Aaron Donald and the Rams' defense forced three turnovers and scored a touchdown, but even that wasn't enough with an offense that stumbled throughout and turned the ball over four times. -- Lindsey Thiry
Next game: at Cardinals (4:05 p.m. ET, Sunday)
Standout performer: Saints RB Latavius Murray, 124 rushing yards, 2 TDs
The Saints' defense was supposed to feast against a Broncos team with zero QBs -- and, wow, did it ever. The Saints set a franchise record with 112 yards allowed and forced three turnovers while winning their eighth consecutive game. But this was no fluke. They have now allowed one total TD over the past four games. It didn't even matter that QB Taysom Hill suffered a big drop-off in his second NFL start, with both Hill and coach Sean Payton stressing that it was an extremely conservative game plan. -- Mike Triplett
Next game: at Falcons (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
NFL football is exceedingly difficult to play without any quarterbacks. With the Broncos using a practice squad wide receiver behind center to go with running backs Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman, they completed all of one pass. Drew Lock, Brett Rypien and practice squad quarterback Blake Bortles were all ineligible to play in Sunday's game due to concerns over COVID-19 contact tracing protocols (quarterback Jeff Driskel tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday). Kendall Hinton, who practiced Saturday as a practice squad wide receiver, was 1-of-9 passing. The Broncos will take very little away from the game and now must hope the three quarterbacks are cleared to practice this week because next Sunday, they are at Kansas City. -- Jeff Legwold
Next game: at Chiefs (8:20 p.m. ET, Sunday)
Standout performer: Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill, 269 receiving yards, 3 TDs
The Chiefs can't trust their defense. After allowing 30 points in each of their two previous games, the Chiefs almost wasted a 27-10 third quarter lead against the Bucs. It was around this time last season when the Chiefs showed dramatic defensive improvement. They've showed no signs of doing the same this year. -- Adam Teicher
Next game: vs. Broncos (8:20 p.m. ET, Sunday)
For three weeks, the Buccaneers have said, "The playoffs start now." But after back-to-back losses, they've shown they can't overcome the league's better football teams. Their lone signature win is still the Week 6 upset of the Packers. As they fall to 7-5 heading into their bye week, they look like a fringe playoff team with an uphill climb ahead to try to win Tom Brady a seventh Super Bowl title. "We go compete with all of 'em, but competing is not enough," outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett said. "We've gotta make the plays. We can't keep being close; we've just gotta make 'em." -- Jenna Laine
Next game: vs. Vikings (1 p.m. ET, Dec. 13)
Mahomes, Hill unstoppable through the air in Chiefs' win over Bucs
Patrick Mahomes shines bright with 462 yards passing and three touchdowns as the Chiefs defeat the Buccaneers 27-24.
Standout performer: Texans WR Will Fuller V, 171 receiving yards, 2 TDs
Deshaun Watson has been playing well for most of the season, but he had perhaps his best game in Thursday's victory. He has now thrown 15 passing touchdowns and no interceptions over his past six contests. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, he is just the fifth different quarterback to post at least that many passing touchdowns without a pick over a six-game span within a single season. In just the Texans' second game of the season on national TV, Watson gave a great pitch for candidates for the Texans' head coach job. -- Sarah Barshop
Next game: vs. Colts (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
The Lions have fired general manager Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia, sending the franchise into a complete reset. Team owner Sheila Ford Hamp said Saturday the losses to Carolina and Houston made it clear change needed to happen. Patricia ends his tenure at 13-29-1, having never won more than two consecutive games in his two-plus seasons in Detroit. It was, frankly, a move that needed to be made. Darrell Bevell will be the interim head coach as the Lions try to figure out who they want to lead their front office and their football team for 2021 and beyond. -- Michael Rothstein
Next game: at Bears (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
Standout performer: Washington RB Antonio Gibson, 115 rushing yards, 3 TDs
Washington running back Antonio Gibson is becoming a dangerous player. His patience and vision have improved every week, and the nation saw what the rookie third-round pick can do on Thursday. Thanks to Gibson, Washington is developing an identity on offense. He has the ability to make big plays, but he also has been consistently getting positive yards on first down of late -- those four-yard gains that might be nondescript but coaches love. Washington has many holes, but it has improved enough to factor into the NFC East race over the final five games, thanks to players such as Gibson. -- John Keim
Next game: at Steelers (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
At 3-8, the Cowboys aren't out of the NFC East race -- but their 41-16 defeat to Washington was crushing in many respects. The day after the death of strength and conditioning coordinator Markus Paul, there was the calf injury suffered by Zack Martin, curious coaching decisions, an ineffective offense and a porous run defense. "All of these things that we're experiencing right now, it's only going to make us stronger," linebacker Jaylon Smith said. "We don't have any quitters. We have fighters in this organization from top to bottom." -- Todd Archer
Next game: at Ravens (5 p.m. ET, Dec. 7)
Rodgers throws four touchdowns, surpasses 50K career passing yards
Aaron Rodgers deals four touchdowns while eclipsing 50,000 passing yards in his career vs. the Bears.
Green Bay Packers 41, Chicago Bears 25
Standout performer: Packers QB Aaron Rodgers: 21-29 passing, 211 yards, 4 TDs
Sunday night's win over the slumping Bears at Lambeau Field once against raised the question: Who's better than the Packers (8-3) in the NFC? Maybe the Saints, who are a game ahead of the Packers at 9-2; but the Saints beat a team without a quarterback -- literally -- on Sunday, and the Packers handled them in New Orleans back in Week 3. There's certainly no one better in the NFC North, where one team (Detroit) just fired its coach and general manager, one (Chicago) has a five-game losing streak and the other (Minnesota) had to win four of its past five just to get back to 5-6. The Packers still get to play the Bears and Lions again and have only one game left against a team currently with a winning record -- the Titans (8-3), in Week 16. -- Rob Demovsky
Next game: vs. Eagles (4:25 p.m. ET, Sunday)
The Bears (5-6) resemble a team headed toward massive offseason change. Chicago might technically still be "in the hunt" for one of three NFC wild-card berths, but coach Matt Nagy's team is way worse than its record indicates. The Bears have lost five straight, and all of a sudden they suffered a crisis of confidence on defense during Sunday night's loss to the Packers. The Bears' D -- the bedrock of the team -- failed to stop the run, pressure Rodgers (zero sacks, zero hits) or cover wide-open Green Bay receivers downfield. Couple that with the expected subpar play of the offense -- Mitchell Trubisky threw three touchdowns but committed three costly turnovers in his return -- and the Bears' season feels like it's spiraling out of control. -- Jeff Dickerson
Next game: vs. Lions (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
CONCORD, N.C. – The DIRTcar Racing season had a bit of everything.
It featured earliest kickoff to the national points season in history, a shutdown period from pandemic restrictions and five first-time national champions.
From the sustained dominant ways of numerous Illinois-born late model heroes to one of the tightest points battles in the stock car division’s history, this season brought the same high-caliber competition in the national and regional points standings that DIRTcar fans have come to expect to a year that so desperately needed some excitement.
With nine wins in 47 races, Brian Shirley was crowned the DIRTcar Late Model national champion by 176 points over Frank Heckenast Jr. – the largest gap of his three national titles.
Of his nine victories in DIRTcar competition, seven were claimed en route to his fourth career Summer Nationals Late Model championship, memorably highlighted by his back-and-forth victory battle with longtime competitor Brandon Sheppard during Arizona Sport Shirts Week No. 4. The two traded Feature wins throughout the week at some of their home state of Illinois’ most prestigious tracks like Fairbury Speedway, Macon Speedway and Fayette County Speedway.
Shirley was also victorious in a weekend sweep of MARS DIRTcar Late Model action at Peoria Speedway back on Aug. 28-29, giving him three wins at the track this season.
With his third championship crowning, Shirley joins Bobby Pierce (’14-’16), Ed Dixon (’94, ’99-’00), Rodney Melvin (’01, ’03-’05) and Rusty Schlenk (’10, ’17-’18) as the only drivers in DIRTcar history to win the Late Model national points title three or more times.
“It’s a pretty big accomplishment,” Shirley said. “We feel pretty good that our team has been as good as it’s been over the last couple of years. We’re just trying to get better and better every day.
“It’s just more dedication, how much heart you put into it, what you’re willing to sacrifice and what you’re willing to go through to come out on top. I feel like we’ve definitely dedicated ourselves to the sport, and it’s a good achievement for me and Aaron [Mitchell] and my guys back home that work as hard as we do.”
After putting on one of the most dominant seasons in DIRTcar UMP Modified history a year ago, Nick Hoffman backed it up with another incredible season of victories in 2020 to become a two-time national champion.
With 22 wins in 44 nights of competition, Hoffman actually surpassed his win percentage from 2019, which was just under .500 (24 wins in 50 starts).
Hoffman was also crowned DIRTcar Summit Racing Equipment Modified Nationals champion in September for the third time in his career. Of the 24 completed races on the Summit Modified schedule, Hoffman was victorious in 12 of them – one short of the record he set last year.
Outside of winning five-straight Summit Modified races during the summer, Hoffman’s year was also highlighted by a weekend sweep of Summit American Modified Series action on Sept. 4-5 at Farmer City Raceway ($2,500) and Fairbury Speedway ($10,000), followed by another $10,000 victory the very next night in Spoon River Speedway’s Plowboy Nationals.
“It set out to be the best I can at whatever I do,” Hoffman said. “In the Modified ranks, I’ve been very successful and been able to win almost everything I’ve wanted to go after.
“There’s still a lot more I want to be able to do in my racing career. I’d like to run a lot of late model races and be successful in Late Models too. We’re working on that, and I’ve had a lot of great opportunities with some great teams to run some late model races, I just need to get out and race some more.”
As one of five first-time national champions, Torin Mettille racked up 11 feature wins in DIRTcar competition to win the 2020 Pro Late Model national championship.
Mettille’s year consisted of weekly visits to Farmer City Raceway (three wins) and Kankakee County Speedway (three wins) on Friday nights, while trips to Shadyhill Speedway (five wins) in Indiana served as his Saturday night starts.
Perhaps his most impressive weekend of the season came in back-to-back nights at Farmer City and Shadyhill on Aug. 21-22, winning both features as part of a five-win month.
With 31 nights recorded, the most of any driver in the division, Mettille finished the season 82 points ahead of runner-up Jake Little. Kyle Cooper, Brandon Eskew and Aaron Heck rounded out the top-five in overall standings.
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LEHIGHTON, Pa. – Keith Hoffman has announced that he will be returning as Mahoning Valley Speedway promoter next year.
Hoffman, who took on the role as promoter at the end of 2019, had conveyed at the close of this season that he was not sure of his immediate plans. However, after deliberating his possibilities over the past few weeks, he has confirmed that he will return as promoter of the track owned by Jack and Rebecca Carlino.
“I’m very eager to get back to business at Mahoning Valley Speedway. I feel we did some great things in our first year especially with the Mahoning Valley Speedway Hall of Fames Series as well as a number of other key promotions such as initiating the Rookie Hobby Stock class and just trying to improve the whole show in general each week,” said Hoffman.
“I’m very grateful for the many compliments and I feel we can really build on the success that we have started.”
Keynote to Hoffman’s Mahoning presence was the introduction of the Mahoning Valley Speedway Hall of Fames Series. The series’ paid tribute to past track icons and the response was overwhelming from both the pits and grandstands.
“The Hall of Fame Series was amazing and it was bigger than we could have imagined,” noted Hoffman.
“I’m happy to say that we will be bringing back the Series for 2021 and we’ve already picked out our five Hall of Fame selections that we will pay tribute to. The 2020 Series’ will be a hard act to follow but we think what we’ll be presenting very soon that everyone will be pleasantly pleased with our next edition.”
Another positive item brought to the table by Hoffman was the Rookie Hobby Stock class which saw double digit car counts each week. The primary intent behind the division was to help ease would-be drivers into the world of stock car racing, many to them moving up from quarter midgets and go-karts.
“The Rookie Hobby Stocks were everything we expected it to be. Watching those young talents progress after each race build their confidence level tremendously and many of them held their own nicely as they slowly worked their way into the regular Hobby Stocks,” stated Hoffman.
Hoffman went on to say that moving forward there will be some tweaks in place for the class but with all good intent.
Keeping downtime to a minimum while maintaining an efficiently run show quickly became Hoffman’s hallmark as well.
“We closed out 2020 with a nice burst of momentum and I feel that we can only continue to get better from what we started. What I saw last year was an extremely enthusiastic fan base and a very dedicated group of racers and that really helped make my decision to come back all the easier,” said Hoffman.
The PGA Tour and LPGA resume this week, with the former competing for the final time in 2020.
The Mayakoba Golf Classic will mark the final event of the calendar year for the PGA Tour, while two more events remain on the LPGA calendar after this week's Volunteers of America Classic (U.S. Women’s Open and CME Group Tour Championship).
Meanwhile, the European Tour will stage a couple of events this week, one in South Africa and another in Dubai.
Here's a look at what's happening in professional golf this week, and how you can watch it:
Mayakoba Golf Classic
Thursday-Sunday, El Camaleon GC, Playa Del Carmen, Mexico
Course specs: Par 71, 7,017 yards, designed by Greg Norman
Purse: $7.2 million
Defending champion: Brendon Todd
Notables in the field: Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler, Brendon Todd, Rory Sabbatini, Will Zalatoris, a-Quade Cummins, a-Austin Eckroat
Tee times: TBD
TV schedule: Thursday-Sunday, 2-5 p.m. ET (Golf Channel)
Volunteers of America Classic
Thursday-Sunday, Old American GC, The Colony, Texas
Course specs: Par 71, 6,475 yards, designed by Tripp Davis and Justin Leonard (2010)
Purse: $1.75 million
Defending champion: Cheyenne Knight
Notables in the field: Jin Young Ko, Sung Hyun Park, Minjee Lee, Ariya Jutanugarn, Jessica Korda, Ally McDonald, Haley Moore, a-Alexa Pano
Tee times: TBD
TV schedule: Thursday-Friday, Sunday, 5-8 p.m. ET (Golf Channel); Saturday, 5:30-8:30 p.m. ET (Golf Channel)
Golf in Dubai Championship
Wednesday-Saturday, Jumeirah Golf Estates (Fire Course), Dubai
Course specs: Par 72, 7,480 yards, designed by Greg Norman
Purse: $1.2 million
Defending champion: Inaugural event
Notables in the field: Martin Kaymer, Danny Willett, Bernd Wiesberger, Marcus Kinhult, Lucas Bjerregaard, Bob MacIntyre, Sam Horsfield, Matthew Jordan, Jordan Smith, Jordan Wrisdale, Thomas Pieters, Thomas Detry
Tee times: TBD
TV schedule: Wednesday, 3-6 a.m. ET (Golf Channel); Thursday, 2-4 a.m. ET (Golf Channel); Friday-Saturday, 1:30-6 a.m. ET (Golf Channel)
South African Open
Thursday-Sunday, Gary Player CC, Sun City, South Africa
Course specs: Par 72, 7,834 yards, designed by Gary Player
Purse: 19.5 million South African rand
Defending champion: Tommy Fleetwood
Notables in the field: Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Dylan Frittelli, Jayden Schaper, Wilco Nienaber, Jaco Van Zyl, Jaco Ahlers, Jaco Prinsloo, George Coetzee, Jbe Kruger
Tee times: TBD
TV schedule: Thursday, 8-11 a.m. ET (Golf Channel); Friday, 6-11 a.m. ET (Golf Channel); Saturday-Sunday, 6-10:30 a.m ET (Golf Channel)
Gustavo Bou scored two goals and Carles Gil continued his excellent postseason with a penalty-kick score as well as an assist, as the visiting New England Revolution defeated 10-man Orlando City 3-1 in Sunday's MLS Eastern Conference semifinal.
After a disappointing regular season where Bou had just five goals and three assists, the Argentina native now has three goals and an assist in the Revolution's three playoff games.
Gil has scored or assisted on five of New England's seven playoff goals after a foot injury limited him to six regular season appearances.
Junior Urso scored just beyond the half-hour mark to cut Orlando City's early deficit to 2-1, a score that held until Bou found the goal for a second time in the 86th minute.
Orlando City hurt themselves in the second playoff game of their history. Mauricio Pereyra earned a red card in the 60th minute after his cleats caught the back of Matt Polster's leg on a sliding challenge. It was the third red card for the Lions in two playoff matches.
Gil's score from the penalty spot put New England in front 1-0 after 17 minutes. Tajon Buchanan drew the foul when he cut into the right side of the penalty area, then cut back toward the goal line and was tripped by Oriol Rosell's extended right leg.
Referee Alex Chilowicz pointed to the spot immediately, and Gil stepped up to convert his second goal of the playoffs, driving a penalty down the middle as goalkeeper Brian Rowe dove to his right.
Buchanan was the source of New England's second goal nine minutes later, again getting free down the right with an overlapping run. He crossed to the near post where Adam Buksa met the ball with a sliding volley that struck the post and bounded across the face of goal, where Bou put the rebound across the goal line.
Orlando cut the deficit in half seven minutes later, when New England failed to clear Nani's long diagonal cross and Urso sent in an easy finish.
Bou put the match away when he raced onto Gil's through ball and slotted a low finish past Rowe.
Coming from Test cricket's first ever concussion substitute, it was perhaps not a surprise to hear Marnus Labuschagne quickly putting up his hand to offer to open in place of the injured David Warner for the third and final ODI against India in Canberra on Wednesday.
That said, Labuschagne's eagerness to slip up to the top of the order from the No. 4 spot he is quickly making his own for Australia in the 50-over game reflected the burgeoning confidence of a home side that have clattered India for scores of 374 and 389 in the opening two games, a product of sound top order platforms to allow Steven Smith and Glenn Maxwell to launch themselves from with something approaching abandon.
On Sunday they were aided significantly by Labuschagne's "read the game" innings of 70, in which he afforded Smith and Maxwell plenty of the strike but also delivered a powerful blow or two of his own as Virat Kohli's tourists lurched to a series defeat in the space of their opening two games of the Australian summer. In that context, it was understandable for any member of the Australian top six to want to move higher up the order, not just for runs now, but also to set down a marker ahead of the Test series.
ALSO WATCH: Full match highlights (Indian subcontinent only)
"Certainly if I got asked to open the batting absolutely it's an opportunity that I would enjoy doing. We'll wait and see how our team shapes up for the next game and see the balance of the side, but yeah I would love doing it," Labuschagne said. "My role at No.4 is just to read the situation of the game and play my role accordingly.
"We had Steve in so when I came to the crease it was just about building a partnership and a bit of momentum with him, and taking a back seat for the start of my innings. When he was dismissed then me and Maxy could play a bit more expansively. It was really nice to be able to do the job at the back of the innings, which is something that I haven't had too many opportunities at. But I definitely think it's very important that I read the game and understand the situation of the game and play accordingly.
"Cricket's a massive confidence game and even though it's a different format, it still gives you a lot of confidence when you're scoring runs consistently and the way Steve and Davey are batting currently, I've got no doubt they'll be able to transfer that into the Test summer. But right now there's still a lot of games to be played before that, we've just got to make sure we finish this one-day series well and then straight into the T20s where we start really well."
Labuschagne has batted alongside Smith in a range of contrasting scenarios already, from the tough conditions in the 2019 Ashes to the short-ball attacks from New Zealand last summer. But he had never seen Smith attack quite so brutally as he did in the two SCG innings, where the second of his 62-ball centuries was achieved dispute a bout of morning vertigo that had left him momentarily doubting his ability to take the field.
"That was one of the best innings I've seen in one-day cricket, not only from Steve but from anyone," Labuschagne said. "I think the way he batted yesterday was superb. It almost felt like he didn't give an opportunity, didn't really take any risk, but he got a hundred off 62 balls.
"When someone's doing that, that's kind of scary. It was really nice to build that partnership with him, 136, it was just nice to keep ticking it over and we were really busy through that middle part when we came together, then towards the back end Steve really took the game on and that's how we got 390. They're two very big scores in the last two games, thanks obviously to Steve."
As for the undoubted contrast between Australia's largely energetic performances and the struggles of India, Labuschagne acknowledged that playing at home and having a portion of the squad present for the early round of the Sheffield Shield was an advantage.
"It definitely helps to have a few games under your belt just to get the pace and the timing of the game from T20s to one-dayers to four-day cricket," he said. "But a lot of these players we're talking about, they've been doing it for a long time, they're not new to the changes of format. I'd be surprised if they didn't shift back into gear very quickly. In say that it's a slight advantage, four out of our top six have been playing Shield cricket and got that rhythm as a batting group."
David Warner is in an 18-day race to be fit in time for the opening Test of the summer against India, after he was formally ruled out of the remainder of the white-ball matches and replaced in the squad by D'Arcy Short, while Australia's vice-captain Pat Cummins is also to be spelled until the opening long-from game at Adelaide Oval from December 17.
The groin/adductor tear Warner suffered while fielding against India on Sunday night at the SCG has not been ruled serious enough to remove him from calculations for the start of the Test series, although he will need to make a rapid recovery given the short turnaround time.
Australia's opening two victories over India made it patently clear how valuable Warner is as a top order batsman in home conditions, forming a platform against the new ball but also scoring freely and setting up an innings for the likes of Steven Smith and Marnus Labuschagne. Australia's' coach Justin Langer said Warner's timely return would be pivotal to the Test team's fortunes, in addition to giving Cummins some time off following his IPL stint and lengthy quarantine.
ALSO WATCH: David Warner run out by direct hit (Indian subcontinent only)
"Pat and Davey are critical to our plans for the Test Series," Langer said. "Davey will work through his injury rehab and in Pat's case it is important all of our players are managed well to keep them mentally and physically fit throughout what is a challenging summer. The priority for both is being fully prepared for one of the biggest and most important home Test Series we have played in recent years, especially with World Test Championship points up for grabs."
Labuschagne said that Australia needed to adapt to a scenario where they would be missing Warner for at least four matches, but he expected the super-fit 33-year-old to make his return for the Test series.
"He's been a massive part of us winning this series and it's not great that we've lost him, but like anything it provides an opportunity for someone else to step up in the top order and make runs," Labuschagne said. "It's unfortunately how the game works, there's always an opportunity for someone else when something like that happens. We hope Davey gets a speedy recovery and he's back as soon as we can get him. He's a very strong character and he'll be back.
"I hope he's back for the Test series, but I'm not a physio or a doctor, so I think for us it's just about being able to adapt. We need to make sure we adapt for this last one-dayer and then if he's not available it provides an opportunity for someone else to step up. That's how we have to play it."
Short had been on standby in Sydney in the event of injury, and comes into the team with the benefit of a couple of Sheffield Shield appearances for Western Australia earlier in the season. It remains to be seen whether he slots straight in opposite Aaron Finch at the top of the order, or the selectors shuffle around their other available options, including that of Matthew Wade.
The uncertainty around Warner's fitness adds further intrigue to debate around the opening spots in the Test team, as the incumbent Joe Burns and the aspiring talent of Will Pucovski wait in hope of chances to wear the baggy green this summer. Labuschagne said that Burns was capable of stepping up to play a more senior role should Warner be absent.
"Joe's averaging 40 in Test cricket so he's certainly established and he's got four Test hundreds, so he's a very good player," Labuschagne said. "Although he hasn't made the runs in Shield cricket he would've liked, he got 99  against Pakistan in the first Test last summer and he negotiated through that new ball period almost every time.
"So he's not far away from a couple of really big scores and I think if he was to step up into that senior opener role, 100% I think he's that sort of player that can step up if the team really needs it."
Meanwhile, allrounder Mitchell Marsh will not join the Australia A squad for the matches against India as he continues his recovery from the ankle injury sustained at the IPL. He will now target a return in the BBL with the Perth Scorchers.
Devon Conway will have a further chance to push his Test claims after being named in the New Zealand A squads to face West Indies A and Pakistan over the next couple of weeks.
Glenn Phillips, who hit a thrilling maiden T20I hundred in the second match against West Indies, will be able to show off his long-form credentials, following his hurried Test debut against Australia in January where he struck an impressive half-century, having been included in both squads.
In the second of the two New Zealand A matches, against Pakistan in Queenstown from December 10, Lockie Ferguson and Jimmy Neesham will have the opportunity for their first red-ball cricket since March although the status of that match may depend on there not being any more positive Covid-19 cases during Pakistan's managed isolation in Christchurch.
"We're delighted to be naming such strong squads to take on West Indies A and Pakistan," selector Gavin Larsen said. "It really does highlight the talent depth we currently have and underlines our intentions to look at a wide group of potential Test players over this NZ A season.
"To have ten Blackcaps included across the two games is a testament to that depth and we know the next tier of players get a lot of out of sharing a changing room with our internationals.
"To have guys in red-hot form like Glenn, Devon and Lockie is a bonus and I know they'll be keen to prove what they can do in the longest form of the game. We're excited to unleash Lockie with the red-ball and see what challenges his extra pace can pose to Pakistan."
Conway has started his international career with scores of 41 and 65 not out in the first two T20Is against West Indies. He has not yet been able to force his way into the Test squad with Will Young the spare batsman.
New Zealand A v West Indies A, December 3-6 Glenn Phillips, Joe Carter, Devon Conway, Tim Seifert, Cole McConchie, Mark Chapman, Dane Cleaver (wk), Doug Bracewell, Nathan Smith, Scott Kuggeleijn, Jacob Duffy, Blair Tickner, Ish Sodhi
New Zealand A v Pakistan, December 10-13 Glenn Phillips, Henry Cooper, Devon Conway, Tim Seifert, Rachin Ravindra, Mark Chapman, Jimmy Neesham, Cameron Fletcher (wk), Doug Bracewell, Lockie Ferguson, Ed Nuttall, Scott Kuggeleijn, Ish Sodhi