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Schuchart’s Thrilling 2019 Knoxville Nationals Run

Published in Racing
Saturday, 28 March 2020 06:07

CONCORD, N.C. – David Gravel took the glory of the 2019 NOS Energy Drink Knoxville Nationals win, but Logan Schuchart stole the show at Knoxville Raceway.

The Hanover, Pa., driver was a stealth agent among the crowd hunting his target. While Gravel drove away with the lead, Schuchart weaved through traffic almost undetected. If you took your eye off of him for a second, you’d find him five spots further up the field upon your next viewing.

By the end of the prestigious 50-lap event, Schuchart charged his way from 22nd to second. It was a fun challenge, he said… Only once the race was over.

“It’s a tough job as it is,” Schuchart said. “Making it harder on yourself isn’t really helping the nerves or stress level.”

But once achieved, he was never more excited to finish second in such dramatic fashion.

“It’s exciting for the fans,” he said. “It’s exciting to come from that far back.”

Fans can relive that excitement and hear Schuchart discuss it on Saturday during the DIRTVision#DVWatchParty presented by NOS Energy Drink. Starting at 6 p.m. (ET) DIRTVision will broadcast three of the best sprint car races from Knoxville Raceway, with race winners and key players providing commentary on the race.

“Knoxville has been really good to us since going there,” Schuchart said. “We’ve had some bad runs, too. But always really liked going to Knoxville. But this year I feel like we really broke through with being a top-notch car… When you have a good car in one of our biggest races it makes you excited to go back. Definitely a lot of high expectations from the racing world this year.”

And while Schuchart’s hard charger run in the Nationals will be one of his most notable performances, he has an impressive history of racing his way from the back of the field to the front of the pack.

In 2017 and 2019, Schuchart was the driver who came from the furthest back in the field to win a race. He charged from 19th to win the 2017 event at Keller Auto Speedway and charged from 14th to win the 2019 Patriot Nationals at The Dirt Track at Charlotte.

He is cool under pressure in big events, too. Along with his 22nd to second run at the Nationals, he charged from 20th to fourth in the 2017 National Open at Williams Grove Speedway and powered from 12th to second in the 2019 Kings Royal at Eldora Speedway.

In the last two years there have more 10 races that he’s gained 10 or more spots in a race. He also won the KSE Hard Charger of the Year Award in 2017.

When faced with having to race from the back of the field, Schuchart said the key is to “use your head and pick your marks and pick your times to take shots as far as passing people instead of forcing the issue.” Doing so helps him keep his momentum and swiftly secure each pass.

“You want to go where the person in front of you isn’t,” Schuchart said. “That being said, you want to do it in a timely manner where you’re not pushing the issue too hard. You’re still keeping the car under yourself at the same time. It’s definitely a fine line.”

There are several drivers he’s raced with for so long know that, he said, he has a pretty good idea of where they prefer to run on the track. That knowledge also helps him cut through the field in rapid time when needed.

Schuchart and his Shark Racing have learned what it takes to rise from the bottom since they entered the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series full-time in 2014. Their first year was all about survival, hoping to make it to each race. Now they’re one of the top teams in the Series. Schuchart won a career high eight races in 2019 – doubling his career win total – and added another victory to his resume at the season opening DIRTcar Nationals this year. He is currently two points behind points leader and reigning champion Brad Sweet.

While he’s had several big wins in his career, Schuchart said his second place run at last year’s Knoxville Nationals feels like a win to him – it also paid more than any race he has won. To him, Knoxville is a special place.

“I always like going there because of the atmosphere,” Schuchart said. “To go to Knoxville (Iowa), knowing it holds the Nationals and how passionate all of the people there are about Sprint Car racing made me a huge fan of Knoxville in itself.”

“The racetrack I always thought was a great race track. It produces two to three lines of racing. You can start in the back and still come up through at Knoxville. That’s somewhat rare to find at half mile race tracks. I always thought it was a great racetrack to race at…The way the track is set up, you can run the bottom and make up a lot of time on somebody. You can gain five, six car lengths in one corner. But you can also lose five to 10 car lengths in one corner if you miss your marks. That’s what I think makes Knoxville pretty unique and why you see some of the great racing you see at Knoxville.”

SHR Crew Chiefs Offer Their Take On iRacing

Published in Racing
Saturday, 28 March 2020 07:00

KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – “When the winds of change blow, some people build walls and others build windmills.” This is an ancient Chinese proverb, and it’s particularly apt when it comes to NASCAR and its embrace of iRacing.

With the entire sports world shuttered to combat the spread of the coronavirus, NASCAR – the 72-year-old purveyor of ground-pounding speed – has found its windmill in iRacing, specifically, the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series.

The eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series is an exhibition esports series featuring a collection of actual racecar drivers from the NASCAR Cup Series, NASCAR Xfinity Series and NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series. It kicked off last Sunday at the virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway and it is a multi-week series emulating the original 2020 NASCAR Cup Series schedule.

It has been an unabashed success, with the series’ second race taking place this Sunday at 1 p.m. EDT at the virtual Texas Motor Speedway with live coverage on FOX.

Last Sunday’s eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series race at Homestead was the single most-watched esports event in U.S. history. The race drew 903,000 viewers on FS1, besting the previous high of 770,000 viewers when Mortal Kombat aired on The CW in 2016. The race was the highest-rated broadcast on FS1 since mass postponements of sporting events began on March 15. During the race, the #ProInvitationalSeries was the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter in the U.S.

But while the drivers have been hands-on in this endeavor, what do their crew chiefs think? In the real world, they’re always hands-on, with an assortment of tools occupying their hands regularly. But in the sim world, they’re bystanders.

“The iRacing event that took place at Homestead last weekend was quite revolutionary, not only for our sport, but for all sports in general,” said Mike Bugarewicz, crew chief for NASCAR Cup Series driver Aric Almirola and the No. 10 Smithfield team of Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR). “It gave us something to do and something to watch on Sunday, and it gave the drivers some seat time. While it’s not perfect to what the real world is, it still forces them to make a call from a crew chief’s perspective. Not every call is so easy.”

SHR’s Johnny Klausmeier, crew chief for Clint Bowyer and the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 team, provided an example.

“The most interesting thing to me was the tire strategy with the guys taking none, two or four tires. It seemed very realistic, especially at Homestead-Miami Speedway where you have a lot of tire fall off. Guys could get their track position, but after 10 laps, the tires were wearing out and they were shuffling around, moving and jockeying.

“As a crew chief, I wanted to put my hands on things and work on the car. So, it was different for the drivers to be able to just instantly change things and make the car different on the computer. It was neat and a great show for the fans.”

While the racecar is obviously important, the track is the other key element. Rodney Childers, crew chief for Kevin Harvick and SHR’s No. 4 Busch Light team, was impressed with how real a track’s idiosyncrasies were detailed in iRacing.

“The racetracks are really accurate, with the bumps and the features and all of that stuff,” Childers said. “From a visual side of things, it’s probably very beneficial for the drivers.”

One of those drivers is Chase Briscoe, pilot of the No. 98 HighPoint.com/Ford Performance Racing School Ford Mustang for SHR in the Xfinity Series. Briscoe’s crew chief, Richard Boswell, believes the time his driver spends on iRacing makes him better in general.

“Laps are laps, regardless of what car it is or what type of simulator it’s on,” Boswell said. “The repetition of seeing the markers at certain tracks and feeling the bumps is a great way to stay sharp. Of course, there’s the added advantage of Chase having a motion rig where he can get a more realistic feel for each track, not just in the steering wheel but in his seat.

“I sure am glad my driver is spending this time wisely. I know when we finally get back to racing, he will be as ready as anyone. So will his team!”

Boswell, like everyone in NASCAR, is eagerly awaiting the resumption of real racing, but he has embraced the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series and the newfound time at home.

“This is a great way to keep fans connected to our sport considering the difficult times our country is facing. I applaud FOX, NASCAR, iRacing, the sponsors and all of the folks who have participated in bringing this event to our homes. Even my little girls were excited to see some sort of racing on TV. The only difference was they could root for their favorite driver, Chase Briscoe, with daddy instead of without him.”

K1 RaceGear By Ryan Bowers Back With USMTS

Published in Racing
Saturday, 28 March 2020 08:00

COLUMBUS, Minn. – Returning for a second season as the official suit of the USMTS, K1 RaceGear by Ryan Bowers Motorsports will be rewarding competitors in the Summit USMTS National Championship fueled by Casey’s throughout the season.

A partner with Ryan Bowers Motorsports, K1 RaceGear was born in 2003 with the philosophy of offering products to their customers that they themselves would be proud to use. At K1 RaceGear, they are racers too, and understand the value of buying quality racing products at a reasonable price.

K1 RaceGear by Ryan Bowers Motorsports will offer multiple contingency awards for USMTS competitors, including a $100 product certificate at every USMTS race to the top-finishing driver that fails to qualify for the main event, plus padding the year-end points fund for all racers.

At several events throughout the season, K1 RaceGear by Ryan Bowers Motorsports will have a booth at the track to display their top-of-the-line merchandise and measure drivers for proper fitting-something they will be doing for the Casey’s Crew competitors this year.

At several events throughout the season, K1 RaceGear by Ryan Bowers Motorsports will have a booth at the track to display their top-of-the-line merchandise and measure drivers for proper fitting.

K1 RaceGear by Ryan Bowers Motorsports offers a product line constructed of SFI Manufacturer Certified materials, most of which are built with double layer DuPont Nomex III to provide maximum safety and protection. If you are looking for fire-rated racing equipment, including suits, shoes, driving gloves, or under garments, K1 Race Gear should be your first choice.

In addition to their standard range of products, K1 RaceGear by Ryan Bowers Motorsports also offers custom racing suits and gear for you or your entire team, racing helmets by renowned manufacturers such as Bell, children’s products, beautiful race art for your office or home, and a good selection of sportswear brought to you by K1 Speed.

Celta player drives to Denmark despite lockdown

Published in Soccer
Saturday, 28 March 2020 08:38

Celta Vigo winger Pione Sisto broke the government-mandated lockdown in Spain by driving to his native Denmark before informing his team, a source confirmed to ESPN.

The Denmark international was in Vigo doing his confinement but decided, after the Spanish government extended the state of emergency until April 11 to try to curb the spread of coronavirus, to return home.

With no flights available, Sisto, 25, drove by car for approximately 26 hours to cover the 2,830 kilometres.

Once arriving to his destination, Sisto informed Celta of his whereabouts.

A source told ESPN they will resolve the issue internally.

The Spanish authorities have reiterated the importance of not travelling unless it is essential and that fines, starting at €600, will continue to be issues to those drivers that breach confinement with no valid excuse.

Sisto was born in Uganda but moved to Denmark when he was two months old. He has made over 100 appearances for Celta, including 19 in the league this season, since joining the La Liga club in 2016 from Danish outfit Midtjylland.

He made headlines in May 2019 by confirming on social media that he had followed for 21 straight days a diet that consisted only of fruit to feel better.

However, contrary to reports, he was not fined for undergoing the diet, the source said.

Juve chief predicts NBA-style transfer window

Published in Soccer
Saturday, 28 March 2020 08:38

Juventus sporting director Fabio Paratici has predicted that an NBA-style trade system could be adopted by football in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic.

Leagues and tournaments across Europe have been suspended or postponed because of the outbreak and several clubs have expressed concern about what the economic fallout will be as they face losing millions on TV deals, competition prize money and ticket sales.

"There will be lots of trades, a situation that will bring football closer to the NBA," Paratici told TuttoSport.

Barcelona are one of the most high-profile clubs to announce they are cutting the wages of all staff, including players, temporarily to minimise the financial impact of the suspension of La Liga and the Champions League.

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Players at Bundesliga clubs Borussia Monchengladbach, Dortmund and Union Berlin have also agreed to partially or entirely waive their wages in a bid to keep the clubs afloat.

German Football League CEO Christian Seifert warned that warned that "tens of thousands of jobs" are at stake and that more than half of the 36 clubs making up the upper two tiers of German football could be erased from the landscape.

Juve's Paratici took a different view, however, and said that some clubs will emerge from the situation in good shape.

"It's also likely that some of the clubs, for example in Germany, may benefit from the overall situation of crisis as they have a more solid economy than others," he added.

The pandemic has already made big money summer transfers seem unlikely.

Sources have previously told ESPN that Manchester United are now optimistic Paul Pogba will remain at the club past this summer as they doubt any club can afford the midfielder.

It says everything about Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's rollercoaster year as Manchester United's full-time manager that the coronavirus crisis has come at a bad time for the Norwegian, just weeks after he was begging for the start of the winter break.

The shutdown has halted a run of 11 games unbeaten in all competitions, including 29 goals scored, two conceded, nine clean sheets, two victories over Manchester City and one against Chelsea. In a statement issued to season ticket holders on Friday, United said "the club fully supports the collective intent to complete the Premier League, FA Cup and the UEFA club competitions." It is because they have much left to play for. But just two months ago that looked unlikely.

At the end of January, Burnley -- looking nervously over their shoulder at the relegation places -- came to Old Trafford and left with a comfortable 2-0 win. It came three days after a chastising, if expected, 2-0 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield and contributed to a run of five defeats in 10 games. There have been plenty of times when supporters have wished to "end the season now" -- particularly after defeats to West Ham and Newcastle, the draw at home to League One Rochdale and another humiliating afternoon at bottom side Watford in December.

Now, though, a year on from his appointment as permanent boss on March 28 2019, Solskjaer is slowly beginning to win them round. If self-interest plays a part, more than half the league could find reason to argue that this season should be declared null and void. United would not be one of them, even if it did mean effectively petitioning for Liverpool to win the title.

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The numbers from Solskjaer's time in charge at Old Trafford do not really make sense. After taking over from Jose Mourinho in December 2018 as caretaker, he guided United to 14 wins from his first 17 games, only to follow that with a run of just two wins from 12 to end the season. He has masterminded away wins at Manchester City (twice), Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal but has also lost at home to Cardiff, Burnley and Crystal Palace.

Crucially, even during low moments, Solskjaer has kept the majority of players onside. David De Gea went through a disastrous run of form at the end of last season but Solskjaer kept faith. The show of solidarity was a big reason behind the Spain international finally committing his long-term future to the club in September.

While Mourinho would often put pressure on injured players to make themselves available -- one first-teamer's family was once sent scurrying around Miami's sports shops looking for a pair of boots having been told to abruptly end his holiday to play in a meaningless preseason friendly -- Solskjaer has taken the opposite approach. He has been keen to get missing men back but final decisions have been left to the individuals, the idea being that a player who wants to play is far more useful than one who does not.

Solskjaer has taken the same approach with his transfer business. United's pursuit of Paulo Dybala in the summer was swiftly dropped over concerns the forward was only interested because his future at Juventus looked bleak. Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez were both allowed to leave without being replaced because they did not want to be there. Morale in the squad has been prioritised over everything else. Short-term pain has been deemed worth it for long-term gain.

Privately, United tell scouts and agents they want to sign players who are "respectful, humble, arrogant and have an 'X factor'" and, under Solskjaer, they have got decisions right. Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Daniel James, Bruno Fernandes and Odion Ighalo have all been successes -- a rarity for transfer dealings post-Sir Alex Ferguson. Maguire and Fernandes, in particular, have added much needed leadership in the dressing room. Maguire is already club captain just eight months after his move from Leicester City, while Fernandes has been key in raising standards on the training pitch.

Where last season a sloppy pass might have been met with a shrug at best, it is now greeted with a fierce blast. It is part of the culture Solskjaer is trying to build. Former United defender Rio Ferdinand tells a story about being intimidated during his first United training session despite arriving as the most expensive defender in the world and while Solskjaer has been more relaxed than Mourinho in some areas, he has tried to foster a cut-throat atmosphere on the pitches at Carrington. He is happy for teammates to kick each other in training and arguments over whether a ball was in or out are welcomed rather than frowned upon.

Solskjaer has ruled with an iron fist in a velvet glove. Jesse Lingard has been supported through what has been a difficult year away from football but the United manager has not shied away from difficult decisions and, occasionally, that has meant the England international watching games from the stands. More new players will arrive in the summer -- predominantly a revamp of the forward line after improving the defence last year -- and Solskjaer is prepared to be ruthless to make room in his squad.

His biggest decision may well be what to do with Paul Pogba. Solskjaer wants the best players at Old Trafford but he is set on building a squad committed to United and will not sacrifice the harmony of the group for an individual.

Solskjaer knows better than most that 11 unbeaten games and fifth in the table does not constitute success at a club the size of United but there are signs, however small, that the plan he has stuck to rigidly is working. A year on from his appointment as permanent boss there is genuine hope he is getting it right. The next step is to turn into something more tangible.

OXFORD, Miss. -- On Wednesday, someone sent me a video clip of a quarantined Italian man playing the keyboard on his small terrace and a neighbor a building or two down joining in on saxophone. There are lots of these videos and stories floating around, a reminder of the real beauty Italians can find in the midst of nearly any disaster. Maybe that's what happens when you've been rising and falling for thousands of years. I read about an opera singer belting out an Andrea Bocelli classic while her neighbors smiled and swayed.

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Right now, I am supposed to be getting ready for a reporting trip to Naples, Italy, to write about the history of triumph and corruption in the club Argentine legend Maradona made famous. My flight was scheduled to land Wednesday. Instead I am home. We are on Day 12 of lockdown as I write this, one of the longest stretches at home for me since I started working for ESPN nearly 15 years ago. Long ago, in what feels like another life, I briefly lived in Florence and fell in love with Italian soccer -- especially Gabriel Batistuta and the Fiorentina team he captained. That fascination has never left me, so whenever my editors need a story on Serie A, I try to volunteer.

Every day since I canceled my trip, I've thought about Italy. Followed the news and checked on friends. Oddly enough, I've found myself longing for a night at the restaurant I love most in Rome, a place called Matricianella, which does all the classic Roman pastas just perfectly. The last time I was in Rome to cover the eternal derby, I ate there two nights in a row. There's a waiter I always request. His name is Gianni. I've found myself wondering this week what's happened to him, and to his family, wondering what kind of world is going to be waiting on us once all of this finally ends. I travel a lot for work, which I love, but I am also prone to real bouts of homesickness. That's been true for as long as I can remember. My self-defense strategy over the years has been to make restaurants all over the world little outposts of home. People come to me sometimes for restaurant tips when they're traveling, and I think I'm pretty consistent in saying I have three favorite restaurants in the world: D'Chez Eux in Paris, Clancy's in New Orleans and Matricianella in Rome. I like pointing people to these places for the same reason I find myself returning to them: The ritual is something we can share, no matter the distance between us, and feel connected.

The other night, I got online and found a recipe for the Roman standard Amatriciana and prepared it the best I could, sitting down and eating it with a bottle of Italian wine that normally would have been saved for some special occasion -- although I'd argue that imagining the world before the virus and being hopeful about the return of that world is as special an occasion as there is right now. It was the kind of wine Gianni would have sold me, for about 50 euro more than I'd planned on spending, all of us grinning as he popped the cork.

The restaurant is closed until further notice. It's hard to imagine. Few countries revel in communal living more than Italians, whether it's reading the pink-colored sports page over an espresso with all the other old men, or sipping beer at sunset in a park by the river, or staying late into the night at taverns where both the game and a pot of tripe are on. In Italy, as in many parts of the United States, sports and food are perhaps the two most important ways to celebrate your home. You know: I don't just tailgate at the Steelers game but I bring my deep fryer so my sandwich can be topped with french fries as God and Chuck Noll intended. I don't just go cheer on AS Roma but I go eat pizza with my family in Testaccio after -- because Julius Caesar and Francesco Totti. That's how we announce, to anyone who is listening and perhaps most of all to ourselves ... I am from here!

This is a letter from the great quarantine.

I got two pieces of information Wednesday that have torn down the facade of acceptance and calm I've been putting up about the virus. The first was a wire story link that detailed how investigators had identified a soccer match held in Milan as "game zero" in the Italian outbreak. Two days after the game, the first case of locally transmitted COVID-19 was found in the country, and now it has the highest death rate in the world. As an employee of ESPN, I am acutely aware of the lack of sports right now, which is especially worrisome to me mostly because sports provide one of the few acres of common ground in a country where we too often give in to what divides us. The "game zero" news made me realize that the absence of sports was actually vital right now, and it made me question how the function I value most in it might survive this strange hiatus.

Like sports, I've always felt restaurants were a point of intersection, and on the food television show I make for the SEC Network, I find that to be true over and over again. People who agree on little else agree that collard greens are awesome, you know? Maybe that's why I found myself so shaken by the second piece of news I got: A beloved chef with whom I shared an agent, and many common friends, died in New York City of the coronavirus. His name was Floyd Cardoz, and he was a brilliant cook, a fearless and successful businessman, a husband, a father and someone who was an honorary member of the Oxford, Mississippi, mafia.

So much is being lost with each passing day: money, freedom, time and, most important, lives. The world we inherit from our former selves -- in a few months, or as many as 18 months -- will feel different. It will be different, diminished by the absence of lost friends and places. I guess Wednesday was the first time I fully accepted all that, fully felt it. My neighbor Ray came to my house the night before. We sat 6 feet apart and had a drink on my porch before saying goodnight. Normally we'd watch a Braves game on mute.

Stadiums and restaurants, once places of communion, are now places closed by this virus for who knows how long. Serie A was one of the first European leagues to cancel games, and I don't know when it will start again, or when all sports in general will start again, or when we might be able to visit our parents, or sit in a restaurant with strangers who are more to us than threatening disease vectors. It might be a very long time. I checked in with one of the well-dressed public relations men who work for AS Roma. He told me he and his family were finding joy wherever they could.

"We are Italians," he told me, "and forced to stay at home, we do our best in the kitchen."

That's one of the first times I can remember hearing an Italian refer to himself as Italian. For its relatively short history, Italy has barely been a country at all, still spiritually and quasi-functionally a collection of city-states. People from Rome, for instance, tend not to call themselves Italian. They are, proudly and fiercely, Roman. Even the national team wears blue, a remnant of a previous monarchy, instead of the green, white and red of the country's flag. Sometimes I think there are more Italian flags in Philly than in Milan. So it surprised me last Friday when I read about how a lot of Italian radio stations played the national anthem at the same time and Italians all over the country stopped to sing. The virus seems to be pulling Italy closer together, even in the midst of all this hurt.

The most remarkable day I've ever had on the road was in Italy two years ago. The captain of Florence's soccer team, Fiorentina, had died suddenly in his sleep at 31. The city held his funeral in the old church that had also held the funerals of Michelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli. My flight landed an hour or so before the service, and I went straight to the piazza around the church, where mourners and fans were arriving. What happened next remains the most moving expression of civic pride and unity I've seen in the world of sports. Maybe only a place as good at hating as an Italian city-state could be capable of such love.

Thousands of people packed the square.

The Fiorentina fans started recognizing familiar faces coming up a side street and walking up the old marble steps of the church. It was the hated Juventus team, which had traveled all night from a game in England to make the funeral, and when these people in the square put it all together, they let out a roar I can still hear. It's been two years and 16 days and I just got goose bumps again merely remembering it. Later, a priest told me they could hear the crowd inside the church. Juve's Gigi Buffon, then the national team keeper and perhaps as much as anyone the keeper of the essence of Italian identity, looked out and waved in gratitude.

When the funeral ended, I followed fans to a local trattoria, where they gathered around a table and sang the old songs from the terraces. I won't ever forget that restaurant, either, tucked into the corner of one of those covered food markets lined with produce vendors and fishmongers and butchers hacking away at big porterhouse steaks. Later that night, writing on deadline with the glorious time-zone advantage, I sat at a table in a local restaurant where I'd been dozens of times before, sipping wine and eating a plate of pasta, feeling as close as I'd ever been to the real reason we love sports. Honestly, I felt like I'd traveled the world for years, going to games and practices and talking to athletes in cars and helicopters and planes, and here, finally, I saw it all distilled. I felt euphoric, in the way only sports can make you feel. I hope that feeling isn't one of the things that doesn't come back.

The news reports keep telling us we are two or so weeks behind Italy, so following life there is sort of like looking into the future. A few days ago, I got obsessed with finding Gianni, the waiter at that Roman restaurant I love so much. I wrote Paolo, a reporter I've worked with a lot who is based in Turin, and asked him to call around for me. It took him a day, but he found Gianni.

"I live alone," Gianni said, "but I'm frightened of loneliness."

He's 61 and single and has been waiting tables at Matricianella for 26 years. He loves making Amatriciana. His mother taught him that to cook, first you must use the heart. Only then can you use the pan. Like a lot of people, he's been stuck at home cleaning, reading books and cooking. We are all going to be fat alcoholics when this thing is over. Gianni said I wasn't the first quasi-regular customer to come looking for him. The other day, a diner from France called and they lifted each other's spirits.

I wanted to know about Rome. I wanted to know the truth.

How bad was it and was there hope?

"Rome?" Gianni said. "Now is a strange and unreal city. It feels like the silence before a snowfall. I see terrified people. Nobody talks or smiles, but I think it's wrong. My mother -- she was a partisan woman -- used to say that only death hasn't got a solution, because at the end of a tunnel you may find the light. That's my philosophy, and I'm trying to extend it to other people. At the end of this period it could be like after the war. We should start again with humor, going step by step. Yes, we will face some problems because of fear, but we should spread optimistic messages, recovering our self-confidence and respecting the rules. Nature told us to stop, because we mistreated it, we should leave to the kids a best world. I think that also inside bad moments you may find a good message. We should be more kind with our people, with our neighbors. I am a real optimist, like Scarlett O'Hara, 'We will think about it tomorrow.' Italy is the most beautiful country in the world and we will get through this."

There are many isolated days left. Many scary days. At least two of my friends have it, one in New York and one in L.A. One friend is worried his daughter has it. Another friend's dad needs to start chemo, but the oncologists are worried about getting him safely into a hospital. One of my daughter's former babysitters has it. I think I'm going to try to channel my inner Gianni -- to be optimistic, to be brave and to find the beauty. Someone else came up with this line, but Italians have always been notoriously bad at the prose of life while being great at the poetry. I think I'll make Amatriciana again. Instead of using the internet recipe, I got the genuine article from the owners of Matricianella in Rome. It's printed below, so you can make it too. Maybe I'll find some classic old Serie A game to watch once the pasta is done. I'm thinking Fiorentina-Inter, 1997, Batistuta versus Ronaldo. Maybe if you read this, and make the recipe, and find your own game to watch, this shared ritual will briefly connect us.

Here is the recipe, in metrics because it comes straight from the owners:

Amatriciana (serves four)

400 grams bucatini pasta

300 grams pork jowl

100 milliliters red wine

1 kilogram peeled tomatoes

100 grams pecorino cheese

Salt, pepper, chili pepper and olive oil to taste

Take a big pan and put inside some olive oil, half chili pepper and pork jowl. Brown it all using a high level of fire. Simmer the jowl with red wine until reduced. Whip the peeled tomatoes and put them in the pan. Cook for about 40 minutes until it starts to boil.

In the meantime, take another pot and fill it with water, turn on the fire and wait until the water starts to boil. Add some salt and cook the bucatini pasta for a few minutes (the best way is to taste it to control the cooking). The bucatini pasta should be al dente.

Drain the bucatini and put it in the pan with the tomatoes and jowl, add pecorino cheese and cook until creamy.

Add pepper before serving.

Andre Russell is one of the most valuable players in T20 cricket, and now his West Indies team-mate Dwayne Bravo has likened the Jamaican to "our Chris Gayle, our Brian Lara" in T20Is. Bravo's praise came in the wake of Russell's impactful return during the two-match T20I series in Sri Lanka, which was also the first series he played for West Indies since being ruled out of the 2019 World Cup due to an injury.

West Indies won the series 2-0 with Russell playing a big hand, scoring 35 off 14 balls in the first T20I and 40 off 14 in the second. The latter was, in particular, a whirlwind knock as Russell packed six sixes to add to the four he hit in the first match, enough to fetch the Player-of-the-Series award.

"He's the best in the world," Bravo, who was part of the West Indies side, said in praise of Russell in a chat with Trinidad-based radio station I955 FM on Friday. "It's the same I used to say of Chris Gayle when Chris Gayle was in his prime - we are happy to have him representing us, we didn't have to come up and bowl against him in an international match. It's the same with Andre Russell. Andre Russell now is our Chris Gayle, is our Brian Lara, in the T20 format. He is the superstar."

The Sri Lanka T20I series was Bravo's second in the West Indies dressing room after he came out of retirement this January for the home T20I series against Ireland. That series was Bravo's first international assignment after 2016, the last time he had played for West Indies.

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Despite being the defending T20 World Cup champions, West Indies have been inconsistent in a format where most of their players have become household names. Last November they lost 2-1 to Afghanistan the T20I series played in India. Another 2-1 defeat followed immediately in the T20I series against India. In January this year, they bounced back in the final game of the three-match T20I series against Ireland to level the series 1-1 with one game washed out. Then they started the Sri Lanka tour losing the ODI series 3-0 before winning the T20I series.

According to Bravo, the team management, led by captain Kieron Pollard and head coach Phil Simmons, had acknowledged that there was a lot of work to be done with West Indies preparing to defend their title in the T20 World Cup, scheduled for October-November in Australia this year. Bravo said the team had set itself the bigger goal of making West Indies once again the "dominant" team in world cricket.

"Prior to that [T20I series in Sri Lanka], we weren't really consistent as a team over the years in T20 cricket," Bravo said. "With the 3-0 loss in the ODI series, we T20 guys had a chat among ourselves along with the management and made a pledge that we want to start back winning series. We said we wanted to be back being the most dominant team in the T20 format.

"We have produced some of the best players in the world and when we are together in the same team, we have to stamp our authority, and to get the cricketing world to respect West Indies cricket again and especially West Indies' T20 team. We said, 'All hands on deck, let's start with this Sri Lanka series and make sure we send the message.' Yeah, that's what we did."

Bravo said the depth of talent in the West Indies T20 set-up could be gauged from the fact that he, despite being the most experienced player in the squad, had to bat at a position he had never batted at previously. "When the coach wrote the batting line-up, I was down to bat at number nine. I said to the guys, 'This is the first time I've ever been in a T20 team and I'm down to bat at number nine.'

"Putting all egos aside, I'm happy with that because at the end of the day, I accept the fact guys like Rovman Powell and Fabian Allen and [Shimron] Hetmyer, the talent and the ability they have to hit the ball, I'm just happy to be like that - father-figure, mentor, guide, to allow these young boys to go out there and showcase their talent to the world. All of us are on the same page, no egos in the dressing room, one common goal to just win cricket games and dominate."

England captain Heather Knight has signed up to be a National Health Service (NHS) volunteer during the coronavirus outbreak.

Knight only returned from Australia, where she led England to the semi-finals of the Women's T20 World Cup, 10 days ago and is now living under the UK's lockdown rules with her boyfriend in Bristol.

She revealed in her BBC column that she had volunteered for the scheme that will see people support the health service by delivering food and medicine, transporting patients to appointments and making calls to those in isolation.

"I signed up to the NHS's volunteer scheme as I have a lot of free time on my hands and I want to help as much as I can," Knight said. "My brother and his partner are doctors, and I have a few friends who work in the NHS, so I know how hard they are working and how difficult it is for everyone."

More than half a million people signed up when the volunteer programme was announced on Wednesday. The following day, people from around the country took a moment during the evening to applaud the NHS from their residences.

"Standing on our doorstep, joining in the #ClapForCarers was incredible, and getting involved and volunteering will help even more," Knight said.

"I'm going to get the car out as I've volunteered to transport medicine, and also speak to people who are self-isolating. If someone is home alone, you can ring them up and chat. They have had so many people sign up."

The ECB, meanwhile, has indicated that it could consider installing coronavirus checkpoints and isolation units at grounds, as it examines the possibility of resuming cricket behind closed doors this summer.

Steve Elworthy, the ECB's director of events, said games would need take place inside a "sterile" environment, likely with fewer than 500 people in the venue. "So it's how you test them at the gate, the isolation units that you have to put in," he told the Guardian. "These are considerations we are thinking about."

There are deals to be found in NFL free agency's bargain bin. It's just a matter of finding them.

That's what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did with Shaquil Barrett last year. They paid a discount price -- one year, $4 million -- for a part-time player who flourished in a new system and larger role, leading the NFL in sacks in 2019 with 19.5.

Who is next season's Barrett? That's where the data comes in. We're using the quantitative tools at our disposal -- many of them powered by NFL Next Gen Stats data -- to try to figure out which of the many small- and medium-money contracts doled out by teams this offseason will look like a steal a year from now. Value today leads to wins in the fall.

Here are five players the numbers love at their relative cost.

Vic Beasley Jr., OLB, Tennessee Titans

The deal: One year, $9.5 million

Why the numbers say this is a value deal: There's a pretty decent chance that the Falcons' secondary was the real culprit behind Beasley's low sack totals over the past couple of seasons. He had eight last season, and five in each of the previous two, after recording 15.5 in 2016.

But Beasley's pass rush win rate (PRWR) -- an ESPN Stats & Information metric powered by NFL Next Gen Stats player tracking -- ranked 15th among qualified edge rushers last season, just one spot below Yannick Ngakoue with a very similar double-team rate. A year ago, Beasley ranked fifth in the same category (while Ngakoue was 27th).

To me, this says a one-year, high-upside $9.5 million risk flier on Beasley is absolutely worth it. While the situations aren't exactly the same -- Beasley is a former first-round pick with a 15.5-sack season under his belt and is being paid more -- if anyone is most likely to pull off a Barrett-style breakout on a one-year deal this season, it's Beasley.


Maliek Collins, DT, Las Vegas Raiders

The deal: One year, $6 million

Why the numbers say this is a value deal: Though Chris Jones was far and away the defensive tackle prize of the offseason, from a pass-rushing perspective our metrics indicate that Collins was the next-best bet. The former Cowboy ranked fourth in pass rush win rate among defensive tackles last season. But what makes that particularly impressive is that he did so on a Dallas defense that didn't blitz a ton, so he was double-teamed at an above-average rate compared to his defensive tackle peers.

This plot hammers home the point: Collins was at roughly the same PRWR level as Arik Armstead and Quinton Jefferson but was doubled more than either of them.

Though he had only four sacks last season, he did have seven sacks created -- a stat in which we attribute credit for a sack to the player who earned the first pass-rush win on the play rather than the one who finished the sack. Only 12 other players had three-plus more sacks created than sacks last season.

Of course, pass rushing is only a part of the equation for a defensive tackle, but at one year and $6 million, Collins is an easily identifiable bargain even looking at just pass-rush ability. And the cherry on top is that Collins is reuniting with Rod Marinelli in Las Vegas after playing so well under the former Cowboys defensive coordinator last season.


Brian Poole, CB, New York Jets

The deal: One year, $5 million

Why the numbers say this is a value deal: Based on NFL Next Gen Stats' completion probability, Poole allowed minus-98 air yards over expectation (CAYOE) last season, which trailed only Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson for best among cornerbacks -- and it was the best overall among slot corners.

Watching his targets defended, there were times when he got lucky and earned credit on plays that he deserved to lose on. Specifically, there were at least three occasions against New England when he was beaten by Julian Edelman but the veteran Patriots wide receiver either dropped the ball or Tom Brady's pass was off target.

Even with that, Poole's strong CAYOE number seems like a good sign. But that's also all it is -- a good sign and nothing definitive. We're still in the nascent stage of being able to quantify defensive backs with player-tracking data. CAYOE is quantifying only part of a corner's performance. For example, not attracting a target can also be a positive sign for a corner. And early indicators are that metrics like these for corners are, at best, weakly correlated with future performance in the same statistic (and we're not the first to determine this). On the other hand, we're also working with a limited sample of data, going back to just 2017.

Still, there are other circumstantial pieces of evidence that suggest Poole's 2019 season could have been a real breakout. His Pro Football Focus grade, a qualitative measurement, concurred that he had a strong 2019. And his CAYOE improved every year from 2017 to 2019. He was in the fourth season of his career, and it was his first on a new team.

We might not know exactly how predictive past cornerback performance is for the future, but taking a very cheap bet on a player who played well in the same defense last season seems like a wise move.


Bryan Bulaga, OT, Los Angeles Chargers

The deal: Three years, $30 million

Why the numbers say this is a value deal: This is more money and a higher-profile deal than the rest on this list. But locking up a high-end tackle for three years and $30 million is a bargain (and Los Angeles can get out of the deal at two years and $19 million, too).

Bulaga ranked 11th in pass block win rate (PBWR) last season but was fourth in 2018. In both of those seasons, he received a below-average amount of double-team help. The downside is age (31) and an injury history, but the upside is he's an absolute proven commodity at right tackle.

Bulaga's average of $10 million per season is tied for just 21st among tackles (despite an ever-rising salary cap), per OverTheCap.com. So all things considered, this is a nice deal for the Chargers.


Alex Lewis, G, New York Jets

The deal: Three years, $18.6 million

Why the numbers say this is a value deal: The Jets strike again with another bargain re-signing. Perhaps PBWR's most contrarian take was that the Jets' offensive line was not particularly bad last season. No one is denying that Sam Darnold was under fire, as his 35% pressure rate was third-highest among qualifying quarterbacks.

But Darnold also held the ball for a long time (2.91 seconds, the fifth-highest rate in the league). And that's how we end up with a disparity between Darnold's under-pressure rate and the Jets' No. 16-ranked pass block win rate, which is based on blocking performance in only the first 2.5 seconds. In other words: Darnold or the Jets' offensive scheme is mostly to blame for the high pressure rate.

So back to Lewis, who was part of the more-solid left side of the Jets' line. He ranked 12th in PBWR among guards and second among guards in the last year of their contract, behind only New England's Joe Thuney (who was assigned the franchise tag by the Patriots). It was an improvement from the season prior, but he was still pretty solid in 2018, too. With Baltimore that season, he was a roughly average pass-blocker.

All the Jets are paying is $6 million to find out if Lewis really broke out in 2019. If it wasn't a true breakout, that's all they'll have paid him on this contract. But if it was, they have effectively two club options for roughly $6 million more per year to reap the rewards.

Paul Sabin contributed to this story.

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