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Jaguars fire GM Caldwell after 10th straight loss

Published in Breaking News
Sunday, 29 November 2020 20:53

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars have fired general manager Dave Caldwell after a third consecutive season of double-digit losses.

Caldwell has been the Jaguars' GM since January 2013 and has presided over only one winning season. The Jaguars are 39-86 in his tenure and have lost 10 or more games in every season under Caldwell except 2017. Sunday's 27-25 loss to the Cleveland Browns dropped Jacksonville to 1-10 this season.

"I've met with Dave Caldwell to express my appreciation for his service to the Jacksonville Jaguars as our general manager," owner Shad Khan said in a statement. "Dave was exceptionally committed and determined to bring a winner to Jacksonville, but unfortunately his efforts were not rewarded with the results our fans deserve and our organization expects. Our football operation needs new leadership, and we will have it with a new general manager in 2021."

Head coach Doug Marrone and his staff will continue to serve the team through the rest of the season. Trent Baalke, the team's director of player personnel, will serve as the interim GM through the end of the season.

The Jaguars have lost 10 straight games after winning their season opener against the Indianapolis Colts. Only the winless New York Jets have a worse record this season.

The Jaguars' 86 losses under Caldwell is tied with the Cleveland Browns for the most in the NFL in that span, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Caldwell had some success in the draft but not as much with his first-round picks. None of them from 2013 to '16 remains with the team. Former executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin, who was fired last December, had the final say on all football matters and was ultimately responsible for the team's drafts from 2017 to '19.

Offensive tackle Luke Joeckel (2013) is no longer in the league. Quarterback Blake Bortles (2014) lasted five seasons and put together a solid 2017 season. Instead of allowing him to play on the fifth-year option, the Jaguars signed him to a contract extension. However, Bortles struggled so badly in 2018 that he was benched and the team decided to move on even though it would cost it $16.5 million in dead money in 2019. He was cut a day after the team signed quarterback Nick Foles to a four-year, $88 million contract.

Defensive end Dante Fowler (2015) was traded to the Los Angeles Rams last season.

Cornerback Jalen Ramsey (2016) -- arguably one of the best defensive players in franchise history -- grew unhappy with management, asked for a trade, and sat out two games with a back injury before he was sent to the Rams in October 2019 for two first-round picks and a fourth-round pick.

Running back Leonard Fournette (2017) was cut this past September.

Caldwell also drafted center Brandon Linder (2014), defensive end Yannick Ngakoue (2016) and linebacker Myles Jack (2016) and was instrumental in signing defensive end Calais Campbell, safety Barry Church and cornerback A.J. Bouye in free agency in 2017. The Jaguars, however, were unable to sign Ngakoue to a second contract and he was traded to Minnesota in August for second- and fifth-round picks in 2021.

The Jaguars also were unable to sign receiver Allen Robinson to a second contract and did not use the franchise tag on him, which allowed him to leave in free agency.

Caldwell was primarily responsible for free agency (Coughlin did have veto power) and while the class in 2017 may go down as the best in franchise history, the past two groups of free agents have been a major disappointment. The Jaguars made Andrew Norwell the highest-paid guard in the NFL (he's now third highest) and he has been average at best, though he's in the midst of his best season. Receiver Marqise Lee has played just six games since re-signing and was released in the offseason.

Other major free-agent disappointments: receiver Donte Moncrief, tight Austin Seferian-Jenkins, linebacker Jake Ryan, tight end Geoff Swaim, and tight end Niles Paul. Nickelback D.J. Hayden and receiver Chris Conley have been the best players signed in the last two seasons.

Even with the success of the 2016 draft and 2017 free agency, the Jaguars just didn't win enough games in Caldwell's tenure. He hired coach Gus Bradley in 2013 to begin a rebuild and the team's struggles the first two seasons (7-25) were expected, but the Jaguars won only eight games in 2015-16 and the team fired Bradley with two games remaining in the 2016 season.

Khan brought in Coughlin in January 2017 and gave him the final say on football decisions, but Coughlin and Caldwell worked closely together to try to build on the team's 2017 success. The 2018 season quickly deteriorated into a disaster after a 3-1 start because of injuries to the offensive line, tight end, and Fournette, who also struggled to stay in shape and ended the season with major questions about his work ethic and maturity.

The Jaguars brought in Foles in March 2019 and gave him a franchise-record $50.125 million guaranteed. Foles -- who had never played a complete season in which he entered the season as his team's unquestioned starter -- got hurt in the first half of the season opener. He struggled when he returned and was eventually benched for sixth-round rookie Gardner Minshew.

The Jaguars were one of the league's worst teams in the second half of the season, losing five games in a row by more than 17 points -- the first time that has happened since the 1986 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Khan gave Caldwell a two-year contract extension through the 2021 season after the 2017 season.

Shanahan upset over suddenness of county ban

Published in Breaking News
Sunday, 29 November 2020 20:53

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers found out that they had become NFL nomads for at least the next three weeks the same way the rest of the world did on Saturday afternoon: via a news conference.

The team was on its plane heading to Los Angeles to play the Rams when word spread that Santa Clara County had announced new COVID-19-related restrictions that put a three-week ban on all contact sports within county lines.

Word spread quickly on social media, and soon, Niners coach Kyle Shanahan was inundated with players, coaches and family members wondering what it means. He wasn't pleased with the lack of a heads-up from the county.

"For us to be heading out here [Saturday] and the relationship we have with them and for our players and coaches and everyone on that plane and our wives to find that out while we're getting on a plane and no one to tell us, it was just extremely disappointing," Shanahan said. "I get it: They made that decision, and we've got to deal with it, but to find that out through a tweet or a press conference, where I have an entire plane coming up to me, I have all wives, everyone's girlfriends, everyone's family members, kids, saying they heard we could be gone for the entire month of December? Are we going to be quarantined for 14 days when we get back?

"That's all we could talk about for the last 18 hours because we got no answers from them. I was just very disappointed."

That curveball left the 49ers spending most of their time in Los Angeles thinking and talking about where they will be for the bulk of the holiday season.

Despite the obvious distraction, the Niners managed to keep their focus on Sunday's game against Los Angeles. The fact that they were able to pull off a 23-20 win against the Rams to stay in the NFC playoff picture left Shanahan beaming with pride.

"I've got so much appreciation for our team and those players, and I'm very proud to be those guys' coach," Shanahan said after the game.

Now, as the Niners turn their attention toward their next game, set for Dec. 7 against the Buffalo Bills on Monday Night Football, they must figure out where they will practice and then where the game will be played.

A league source told ESPN on Saturday night that the team and the NFL had been working through potential contingencies as far back as the preseason, when it was unclear whether the Niners would get the county's blessing to begin training camp at Levi's Stadium.

Two of the options discussed then -- Texas and Arizona -- remain strong candidates to host Niners "home" games, as neither the Cowboys nor the Cardinals have day-of-game schedule conflicts with the 49ers' remaining contests. Arizona was thought to be the most likely destination before the season, but the 49ers are still working through possibilities both in and out of California.

Beyond that, the Niners have to figure out where they can practice. They could create a sort of bubble near wherever they end up playing games, but their preference remains to practice in the Bay Area and fly to their remaining games.

"Everyone has been so committed to this, so the biggest thing for me is just all of us leaving our families," Shanahan said. "We're all humans just like everyone else, and it's a big deal to leave your family for the whole month of December -- a huge deal, as everyone knows. ... We need to find a place we can feel safe and stay because we're not going to be able to go to our homes anymore that are safe. So we're going to have to stay in a hotel or somewhere. So that's where it would start. Second thing is we need a practice field to play on, and then obviously, we need a stadium to play in. I'm not going to be that picky, but we need some obvious things."

Because the Niners' next game is on Monday, it buys them a little more time to firm up plans. Shanahan said the team needs three good days of practice, but because they aren't playing a Sunday game, the on-field preparation doesn't have to begin until Thursday. Still, answers will be needed in the next day or two for logistical purposes.

Based on how this year has gone, the 49ers know it's best to prepare for anything.

"Right now, we don't have a home," running back Raheem Mostert said. "We don't know where we're going to be, and it's up to the organization and the county and stuff like that to figure those things out. As players, we've got to do our job to make sure we protect each other."

Hill, Mahomes combine for record showing in win

Published in Breaking News
Sunday, 29 November 2020 20:53

The game began with quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs seeing something unusual: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were single-covering wide receiving Tyreek Hill early and often.

The Chiefs took advantage to the point that Hill had one of the best receiving games in NFL history before the Bucs adjusted and consistently sent safety help his way.

But by then, Hill was the fifth receiver ever to get 260 yards and three touchdowns and the Chiefs were well on their way to a 27-24 victory that pushed their record to 10-1.

Cornerback Carlton Davis was often the victim on Hill's 13 catches, which gained 269 yards and included touchdowns of 75, 44 and 20 yards.

"I don't think it was necessarily [about] a matchup,'' Mahomes said. "It was man coverage with no one over the top. We don't get that a lot, especially with [Hill] and his ability, and whenever we do, we try to take advantage of it.''

Mahomes had his fifth career 400-yard game, matching the total for all other Chiefs quarterbacks in the franchise's 61-season history. Mahomes, who finished with 452 yards, had 359 in the first half, the most for the opening half in any NFL game in the past 20 years.

Hill had more than half of Mahomes' yards. He leads the NFL with 1,021 yards and 13 receiving touchdowns.

"It feels good, but there's still a lot of work for me to do,'' Hill said. "I'm always looking to get better.

"Carlton Davis is definitely a good player. I've watched film of him throughout the whole season. He's been a baller.''

Hill has been a prolific receiver for the Chiefs since he arrived in 2016 but is on pace for career highs in catches, yards and touchdowns.

"We feel like he's a pretty good matchup with anybody,'' Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. "He's strong, quick and fast, and the quarterback trusts him.

"I would put him against anybody. He's been doing this all year.''

Broncos' Jackson: NFL making example of us

Published in Breaking News
Sunday, 29 November 2020 20:53

DENVER -- Broncos safety Kareem Jackson conceded that the team's quarterbacks made a mistake by not following the league's COVID-19 protocols, but he also said that he believes the NFL sent the Broncos out to play Sunday's game with a practice squad wide receiver lined up at quarterback much of the time as an example to the league's other 31 teams.

The Broncos, with Kendall Hinton at quarterback for just more than half of the team's snaps, lost 31-3 to the New Orleans Saints at Empower Field at Mile High.

"I feel like maybe [the game] could have been moved, but at the same time, maybe the league was making an example of us as far as maybe not doing the things we needed to do in that particular room, that quarterback room,'' Jackson said. "Obviously, the guys didn't follow their protocols, and for [the NFL] to see that, I guess they felt like they had to make an example, so at the end of [the] day, it is what it is.

"... Obviously, it's our guys' fault for not wearing their masks, but at least maybe move the game to the next day or whenever so we're given a fighting chance,'' Jackson added. "[It's] obviously disappointing. I'm not sure why it wasn't moved. I have no clue ... as a competitor, [it is] definitely frustrating.''

Hinton finished 1-of-9 passing for 13 yards with two interceptions as the Broncos gained just 112 yards overall, their lowest output since the team gained 128 yards in a 1992 loss at Washington. Hinton played 24 of the Broncos' 43 snaps on offense, and running backs Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay took direct snaps the rest of the time.

Lindsay left the game in the second half because of a knee injury -- Broncos coach Vic Fangio said he "tweaked his knee a little bit'' -- and did not return. Freeman led the team in rushing, with 50 yards on eight carries.

The Broncos, now 4-7, were in an unprecedented position after Drew Lock, Brett Rypien and Blake Bortles, who is on the practice squad, were removed from Saturday's practice and told to isolate after being designated as "high-risk'' close contacts to quarterback Jeff Driskel, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday.

The Broncos asked the NFL to move the game to Monday or another day so the quarterbacks, who all tested negative this past week, including Saturday's test, could be in uniform. That request was denied. The team then asked if two assistant coaches could be signed to the roster for Sunday's game, and that request was also denied.

"I was disappointed on a couple levels: that our quarterbacks put us in this position, that our quarterbacks put the league in that position. We count on them to be the leaders of the team, the leaders of the offense, and those guys made a mistake, and that is disappointing,'' Fangio said. "Obviously, I haven't done a good enough job of selling the protocols to them when they're on their own ... There was a failing there, and that's disappointing.''

Fangio said the quarterbacks did not follow the mask or social distance protocols properly Tuesday, when they elected to come to the team's facility and meet on their own. Lock issued an apology earlier in the day for his "mistake'' in breaking the COVID-19 mask protocols.

It all put Hinton in the most uncomfortable of positions.

The 23-year-old rookie was with the Broncos in training camp before he was waived when rosters leaguewide went to 53 players early in September. Because there were no preseason games this summer, Hinton's first game appearance of any kind for the Broncos was against the Saints.

"When I got the call, it was pure excitement. Of course, there was nerves and disbelief,'' Hinton said. " ... Coming in, I knew I had no idea of what the speed of the game was like. ... We knew it would be a tough situation, for sure.''

Although the Broncos tried to put a hastily assembled game plan into use with a variety of personnel groupings, it was all a bit of a slog, as they didn't get their second first down of the game until their first possession of the second half.

They punted seven times and scored their only points on a 58-yard field goal by Brandon McManus with 7 minutes, 7 seconds left in the third quarter.

The Broncos' defense did all the heavy lifting it could, as the repeated three-and-outs by the Denver offense kept giving the ball back to the Saints. The 112 offensive yards the Saints allowed Sunday marked the lowest total in franchise history.

Saints quarterback Taysom Hill had just 43 yards passing by the end of the third quarter and 78 yards in the game. The Saints rushed 44 times for 229 yards, with all four of their touchdowns on run plays.

Coach Sean Payton and Hill both said the Saints' game plan changed significantly in the 48 hours leading up to the game, leading to New Orleans' run-heavy offense. Payton credited the defense, the run game and Hill for all delivering with the altered approach.

"We were going to go into a game and call it much differently than we normally would, based on the opponent we were playing and what happened and what changed with the opponent. And I thought we did that," said Payton, who was asked if he sympathized with Fangio under these unique circumstances.

"I think it's tough for all the [teams in different situations]," Payton said. "Look, this is a challenging year. I felt bad for the cardboard fans. It is what it is."

ESPN's Mike Triplett contributed to this report.

Sources: LHP Minor, Royals agree to 2-year deal

Published in Baseball
Sunday, 29 November 2020 20:51

Left-handed starter Mike Minor and the Kansas City Royals are in agreement on a two-year deal that is pending a physical, sources confirmed to ESPN's Jeff Passan.

With the deal, Minor returns to the city where he revitalized his career as a reliever in 2017.

Minor, who turns 33 on Dec. 26, has since become a rotation stalwart, having been traded from the Texas Rangers to Oakland for the stretch drive as the Athletics wrapped up the American League West title last season.

Minor went 1-1 with a 5.48 ERA in his four starts in Oakland after the trade, in which Texas received two players to be named later and international slot money. Overall, he went 1-6 with a 5.56 ERA and 62 strikeouts for both teams in 2020.

His fastball velocity took a step back last season, and his propensity for giving up fly balls was shown in allowing 11 home runs in 56 2/3 innings last season. His average of 17.7 pitches per inning was his highest rate since that of his rookie season in 2010 with the Atlanta Braves.

In nine major league seasons, Minor has a 71-66 record with a 3.98 ERA and 1,048 strikeouts with the Braves, Royals, Rangers and Athletics. He missed the 2015 and '16 seasons after having Tommy John surgery, and he was moved to the bullpen after signing with the Royals in 2017, going 6-6 with six saves and a 2.55 ERA.

The Rangers signed him prior to the 2018 season and moved him back to the rotation, and he delivered, going 26-18 over the 2018 and '19 seasons while earning his first All-Star nod.

The Athletic was first to report the agreement.

Hamilton Tops Crash-Filled Bahrain Grand Prix

Published in Racing
Sunday, 29 November 2020 11:15

SAKHIR, Bahrain – Lewis Hamilton became a four-time winner at Bahrain Int’l Circuit during an incident-filled Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday.

Hamilton took his 11th win in 15 races this season with a relatively comfortable drive, outpacing the Red Bull Racing pair of Max Verstappen and Alex Albon in the end.

The recently-crowned seven-time F-1 driving champion beat Verstappen to the checkered flag by 1.254 seconds, ceding the point only for a brief moment when he pitted from the lead at lap 20.

Other than that, Hamilton was virtually unchallenged en route to his record-extending 95th F-1 grand prix victory.

The race was marred by a pair of wild incidents, none more harrowing than the opening-lap crash at turn three that saw Romain Grosjean’s Haas sheared in half after a horrific, head-on hit into the right-side guardrail.

Grosjean’s car burst into a fireball on impact before the Frenchman clambered out with help from medical workers and course officials. He was later taken to a local hospital for further evaluation, with minor burns and suspected broken ribs, per Haas F1 officials.

That was followed by contact between Lance Stroll and Daniil Kvyat on the ensuing restart, following an hour-long red flag stoppage, which led to Stroll’s Racing Point turning over.

Stroll was also uninjured in his shunt, but his day was over at that juncture.

From there, Hamilton’s drive to victory was smooth as can be, while Verstappen stalked him throughout the race before settling for the runner-up honors.

In parc ferme after the race, Hamilton’s focus was not on his victory, but rather on the safety of the modern F-1 cars and Grosjean’s health in the wake of the wild first-lap crash.

“Today is a reminder for all of us that this is a dangerous sport. It was shocking to see Romain’s accident, and I’m just so grateful that the Halo did its job, and credit to the FIA medical team who were straight on the scene. For Romain to be able to walk away from an accident like that just shows what an incredible job F-1 and the FIA have done in their quest for safety,” noted Hamilton. “Physically it was such a demanding race. Max pushed me all the way and he had a lot of speed today. I was struggling a little bit with the car sliding around, but I just had enough to be able to respond to Max’s quick laps when it mattered.

“I was a little cautious how it would play out at the end of the race once Max pitted, but I’m so thankful to my team because they made the right calls all day on the strategy. What a privilege it is to be able to get another result like this.”

Albon secured the final step on the podium after Sergio Perez, who looked to be set to run third for Racing Point, retired three laps from the finish with a power unit failure.

The McLaren duo of Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz were fourth and fifth, respectively, with AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly crossing sixth.

Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo finished seventh ahead of the sister Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas, who rallied from an early tire puncture to finish eighth.

The second Renault of Esteban Ocon and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc closed out the points-scoring positions in the top 10.

Formula One competitors will return to Bahrain Int’l Circuit on Dec. 6 for the Sakhir Grand Prix, the penultimate round of the 17-race season.

The finish:

Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen, Alexander Albon, Lando Norris, Carlos Sainz, Pierre Gasly, Daniel Ricciardo, Valtteri Bottas, Esteban Ocon, Charles Leclerc, Daniil Kvyat, George Russell, Sebastian Vettel, Nicholas Latifi, Kimi Räikkönen, Antonio Giovinazzi, Kevin Magnussen, Sergio Perez, Lance Stroll, Romain Grosjean.

PHOTOS: The Leftover At 411 Motor Speedway

Published in Racing
Sunday, 29 November 2020 12:00

Five Cars For RMS Racing At Chili Bowl

Published in Racing
Sunday, 29 November 2020 12:15

CEDAR LAKE, Ind. — RMS Racing will return to the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals Jan. 11-16 with a refreshed five-man lineup that is stacked with veteran talent.

Leading the way for the Indiana-based, Toyota-powered organization will be USAC stars Thomas Meseraull and Justin Grant, both of whom will drive full time for the Dave and Matt Estep-owned operation next season.

World of Outlaws sprint car aces Brad Sweet and David Gravel, as well as past USAC national midget champion Spencer Bayston, will fill out the RMS squad for the 35th annual event inside the River Spirit Expo Center in Tulsa, Okla.

Rusty Kunz will crew chief three of the five entries, with Donnie Gentry turning the wrenches for the remaining two cars.

Meseraull will be the senior member of the team, having been with RMS since the operation’s winning debut inside the Southern Illinois Center in DuQuoin, Ill., during the 2018 Junior Knepper 55.

He’ll embark on his third year driving for the Estep family in January and recently celebrated his first points-paying USAC national midget victory in October at Indiana’s Tri-State Speedway.

The San Jose, Calif., native made the Saturday feature with RMS this year, his first time back in the big dance since 2017. Meseraull’s 12th-place finish in January trailed only an eighth-place result from 2016.

“Thomas has been our guy, one of the keys to our team, ever since we started this operation,” said Dave Estep. “As long as we can keep him driving for us, that’s what we want and we’re glad he’ll help lead our team again starting in January at the Chili Bowl. He’s an integral part of what we do here at RMS.”

Grant’s addition to the RMS stable came as a surprise to many, after the Ione, Calif., native won his preliminary night in 2019 driving for Rick Young’s RAMS Racing team in the NOS Energy Drink No. 4a.

A four-time Chili Bowl main event starter, Grant was bounced out of the program in his B main this year and hopes to rekindle the magic he had from 2016-’19, when he made the finale field in four straight tries. He’s been on the Saturday podium twice, finishing third in both 2017 and ’19.

As fate would have it, Estep noted that Meseraull was the one who suggested he bring Grant into the fold.

“It was probably nine months ago that we actually first talked about Justin driving for us,” Estep explained. “We’ve been trying to get this deal together for quite a while and the timing was finally right to make it happen. Thomas was very instrumental in it, because he wanted a driver of his caliber to be able to bounce things and ideas off of to help grow the team. Justin was a name he suggested.

“We’re delighted to bring him on to our team and look forward to finding success with him next year.”

Brad Sweet (1r) will be back with RMS Racing for a second consecutive year in January at the Chili Bowl Nationals. (Frank Smith photo)

Sweet returns to RMS for the second year in a row, with noted open-wheel mechanic Kunz again aiding in the Chili Bowl effort for the two-time defending World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series champion.

From Grass Valley, Calif., Sweet wrapped up his second straight World of Outlaws title on the strength of eight wins in 54 feature starts for Kasey Kahne Racing with Mike Curb. He’s a five-time starter in the Chili Bowl finale, with top-10 finishes in each of those five Saturday feature appearances.

Ironically, Sweet’s car owner — Kasey Kahne — will be competing in the Chili Bowl for the rival Matt Wood Racing organization. Like RMS, Wood’s team is one of the newer superpowers at the Chili Bowl.

Gravel moves over to RMS from the now-defunct FMR Racing team, which closed its doors following the passing of car owner Frank Manafort on Feb. 1.

The Watertown, Conn., pilot recently inked a deal with Big Game Motorsports to run the full World of Outlaws schedule. He has 58 career World of Outlaws feature wins to his credit.

Gravel made his lone feature appearance at the Chili Bowl in 2019, finishing 18th on Saturday night. He landed in a B main this year and finished 15th.

Bayston comes to RMS off his third Chili Bowl feature start, moving over from Hayward Motorsports. The Lebanon, Ind., driver bounced around various sprint car and midget rides throughout the season, finding a home primarily with Reinbold/Underwood Motorsports.

His best Chili Bowl finish was third in 2018 with Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports.

With five well-known names in their stable for this year’s week of competition in Tulsa, Estep is more confident than ever that his team can take home the coveted Golden Driller.

“Our whole goal from last year to this year was to build the experience level on our roster, particularly in Tulsa and we feel like we’ve done that with this group,” noted Estep. “We’re very happy with what we’re bringing to the table and we feel that any one of them could contend to win the Driller.”

The 35th Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals will run Jan. 11-16 inside the River Spirit Expo Center in Tulsa, Okla.

Q&A: NHRA Top Fuel Young Gun Justin Ashley

Published in Racing
Sunday, 29 November 2020 13:00

In his first full season of NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series competition, Justin Ashley enjoyed a successful year.

He earned his first Top Fuel victory on the way to capturing the NHRA Rookie of the Year Award. Ashley took some time recently to reflect on his successful rookie season while also looking ahead to the 2021 season.

Was your rookie season what you expected?

Ashley: “I think my rookie season went according to plan. It met and really exceeded my wildest expectations. Going into the year we wanted to run 12 races and we wanted to give ourselves an opportunity to win at every race, but at the same time we were realistic. We knew that in the Top Fuel category these are the best drivers in the world. These are the greatest teams and they are fantastic at what they do. To be able to go out there and to take the idea from paper to turn it into reality was a dream come true for me. It was more than I expected now that I am able to sit back and take it all in.”

How did the 2020 season make you a better driver?

Ashley: “More than anything else the more seat time you have the more you are going to experience different things. Coming into 2020 I only had very limited seat time in a Top Fuel car. We ran just three races in 2019 and a handful of test laps at the beginning of the season. Over the course of the season certain things would happen whether it was a pedal fest or tire shake or other instances where I would feel something in the clutch. The more laps you make the more you are going to experience different things, so for me it made me a better driver to get the overall experience of running races. I got a better understanding and feel for the race car.”

Biggest surprise of 2020 looking back at the whole season?

Ashley: “I am not sure if surprised is the right word but I was just humbled and taken back by how accommodating and nice all my fellow competitors were. When I look back and think about racing ,you think about the stuff on the track but even more so you remember the off the track moments. You are around your team and the racing community. Everybody in the Top Fuel category welcomed me with open arms. Being the new guy isn’t always the easiest thing. They made that transition for me super easy. A lot of racers went out of their way to talk with me or offer advice.”

What will be your 2-3 main areas of focus in this longer than usual off-season?

Ashley: “It is definitely a longer off season than usual. The longer you are out of the car the more difficult it is. In a lot of ways it is better in terms of being outside of the race car. It gives me the opportunity to focus on my real estate business. It also gives me the chance to focus on the business side of racing which is all about bringing marketing partners on which are a good fit for our program.”

“I am also going to make sure I am in the best physical and mental shape possible. Racing is all about doing the same thing every time. It is about consistency.”

So many people contributed to your success what would you like to say to them?

Ashley: “We had a fantastic rookie year and the truth of the matter is you are only as good as the people you surround yourself with. I think that defines my life. I am very fortunate to have a team and family and sponsors that care about me and support me. When you are out there racing the last thing you want to be thinking about is what is going to happen if I lose. Everyone has been right on top of me having my back and knowing that no matter what the result is we are all in this together. Sponsors like Strutmasters.com, Auto Shocker, KATO really made me feel comfortable as well as MANSCAPED and host of other companies. I can’t put into words the amount of gratitude I have towards my family, this team and my sponsors. The 2020 Rookie of the Year award was not for me it was for our program as a whole. All the people that were involved all season won a piece of this award.”

Do you have any holiday travel plans?

Ashley: “The way I decompress is to go racing. The ironic part is now is when the stress kicks in. I haven’t put too much thought into holiday plans. For me no matter what I do it will be all about family. That will be the top priority for me. I am going to try and spend as much time with my family as I can.”

What are 2-3 goals you have set for yourself for 2021 season?

Ashley: “I am a firm believer in setting goals. We have a long way to go before the start of the season but our goal is to win every race. We want to give ourselves the opportunity to win at every race. That is goal number one. We also have the goal of putting ourselves in the best financial position to do that. On the track we need to be able to perform and off the track we need to be able to give ourselves the right resources.”

Jimenez taken to hospital after Luiz collision

Published in Soccer
Sunday, 29 November 2020 12:07

Raul Jimenez was taken to hospital after being stretchered off the field following a clash of heads between the Wolves' forward and Arsenal's David Luiz in Sunday's Premier League game at the Emirates.

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Commentators on the Premier League world feed broadcast and Sky Sports reported that Jimenez was taken straight to hospital following eight minutes of treatment on the pitch from a team of medics.

Jimenez, 29, was defending a corner when he collided with Brazil international Luiz while attempting to clear the ball at the near post.

Both players immediately felt to the ground, with concerned teammates calling for medical staff to quickly run on to the pitch to treat the two players.

And although Luiz was able to continue after having a bandage applied to cut on his head, Jimenez was placed onto a stretcher by a team of medics and wheeled around the pitch.

Jimenez also appeared be receiving oxygen as he was taken off the pitch and up the tunnel at the Emirates. He was replaced by Fabio Silva, Wolves' £35 million club-record signing from Porto this summer.

Following the match, Wolves' skipper Conor Coady said: "We were massively worried when it happened. We knew straight away it was a horrible clash of heads.

"But we just hope and pray everything is OK. I was at the front just behind him when it happened. It's something we never want to see.

"The most important thing is that both players are OK. But he is with the right people now and that's the most important thing. He is in hospital and by all accounts he is awake and breathing."

The Mexico national team tweeted out a message of support for Jimenez, saying stay strong to one of the country's top international players.

Wolves went on to win the game 2-1 with goals from Pedro Neto and Daniel Podence.

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