Down Under For Daytona

February 15, 2021

By: Jeff Yoder

G’day Mates 👋

From J.J. Watt’s exit to Daytona’s photo finish and a walk-off eagle at Pebble Beach, it was quite the weekend for American sports. But we’ll get things started with the center of the sports world for the next week ahead — Australia.

Letter Rip!



AUS Open: Survivors Into the Quarter-Finals

Photo: Cameron Spencer / Getty Images

Djokovic Still Alive After Early Struggles; Serena & Osaka Nearing Semi-Final Clash

Week 2 in Melbourne is ready to go! Both singles draws at the Australian Open have seen the field narrowed to eight by 7:00 am (ET) this morning. The biggest stars in the sport are still fighting, including Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka, who are one win away from a semi-final showdown. Novak Djokovic continues to struggle early in matches, but maybe he’s just pacing himself? Rafael Nadal, Simona Halep and Daniil Medvedev are also still alive heading into the quarter-finals. Here’s the latest from Australia, including one surprising run from Jessica Pegula, an unseeded player with an interesting connection to the NFL (see below).

Match Highlights (Men)

(1) N. Djokovic def. (14) M. Raonic (7-6, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4)

(2) R. Nadal def. (16) F. Fognini (6-3, 6-4, 6-2)

(4) D. Medvedev def. M. McDonald (6-4, 6-2, 6-3)

(6) A. Zverev def. (23) D. Lajovic (6-4, 7-6, 6-3)

(7) A. Rublev def. (24) C. Ruud (6-2, 7-6, Ret.)

Match Highlights (Women)

(2) S. Halep def. I. Swiatek (3-6, 6-1, 6-4)

(3) N. Osaka def. (14) G. Muguruza (4-6, 6-4, 7-5)

J. Pegula def. (5) E. Svitolina (6-4, 3-6. 6-3)

(10) S. Williams def. (7) A. Sabalenka (6-4, 2-6, 6-4)

In Action Overnight | See Latest Updates

(1) A. Barty vs. S. Rogers

(5) S. Tsitsipas vs. (9) M. Berrettini

(18 E. Mertens vs. K. Muchova

Additional Storylines

ESPN: 2020 Runner-Up (3) Dominic Thiem Upset in Straight Sets by Grigor Dimitrov

Yahoo! SportsJessica Pegula, Daughter of Bills Owner, Upsets 5th-Ranked Elina Svitolina in Australian Open



Last-Lap Crash Decides Daytona

Photo: Name / Getty Images

Michael McDowell Escapes Chaotic Finish at Daytona 500 For First NASCAR Cup Series Victory

Just how they drew it up… Michael McDowell is your 2021 winner of The Great American Race after a wild finish Sunday night in Daytona. The 500 was delayed more than five hours due to inclement weather, but the restart delivered plenty of drama before a post-Midnight finish. A last-lap crash wrecked virtually the entire field as McDowell swiped the lead before the final caution.

How Daytona Was Won

A massive pileup on Lap 14 included 15 cars before the weather delay, but six of the drivers involved were ready to go for the restart. A relatively clean race continued until Turn 3 of the final lap. That’s when Brad Keselowski tapped the bumper of leader Joey Logano to cause the chaos. Logano went low as Keselowski went high, and McDowell split the gap rounding Turn 4. He didn’t lead the 500 for more than a few seconds. After 357 races over 14 years, McDowell finally won his first NASCAR Cup Series race, and it was the big one.

Final Standings

1. Michael McDowell

2. Chase Elliot

3. Austin Dillon

4. Kevin Harvick

5. Denny Hamlin

Full Daytona 500 Results

Watch: Wild Daytona 500 Finish

Additional Storylines

USA Today: McDowell Emerges With Daytona Victory After Massive Crash on Final Lap

ESPN: Bubba Wallace Starts at Back After No. 23 Car Fails Inspection Twice



A Texas Exodus

Photo: Tim Warner / Getty Images

J.J. Watt Released by Houston Texans in Latest Star Sendoff

Houston sports have been under the microscope in recent months following the exits of superstar athletes like Gerrit Cole, George Springer, James Harden and Russell Westbrook. And while the offseason focus for the Houston Texans has been on retaining QB Deshaun Watson, another Texans star requested a release. Wish granted. J.J. Watt is officially a free agent after 10 years in Houston. Watt was drafted by the Texans in 2011, and he won three Defensive Player of the Year awards in his first five seasons. He’s also the franchise leader in sacks (101), quarterback hits (282), tackles for loss (172), and forced fumbles (25).

Where Does Watt Go Next?

The obvious option is the Pittsburgh Steelers where Watt’s younger brothers, T.J. and Derek, play defensive line and full back. However, ESPN’s Ed Werder reported that a dozen teams have shown interest in Watt, including the Browns, Packers, Cowboys, Patriots, Bears, Titans and Bills.

No matter where he ends up, another major Houston sports star is on the way out.

Additional Storylines

Yahoo! Sports5 Possible Destinations for J.J. Watt

NBC SportsBills WR Stefon Diggs to J.J. Watt: “Just Hear Me Out Real Quick Big Fella”



An Eagle for the Win!

Photo: Steph Chambers / Getty Images

Daniel Berger (-18) Wins Pebble Beach With 30-Foot Eagle Putt on Hole 18

Can you say drama? Daniel Berger sunk a 30-foot eagle putt on the 72nd and final hole of Sunday’s fourth round at Pebble Beach. That putt gave Berger a a two-stroke win (-18) — his fourth career victory and first of 2021. The shot came with Maverick McNealy waiting in the clubhouse at 16-under. Jordan Spieth and Patrick Cantlay were one off the lead until Berger’s momentous putt that gave him a Sunday best 7-under. Berger walked it down with a fist-pump that drew shades of Tiger Woods. A Pebble putt for the ages…

Final Leaderboard

  • D. Berger (-18)
  • M. McNealy (-16)
  • J. Spieth (-15)
  • P. Cantlay (-15)
  • N. Lashley (-14)
  • P. Casey (-14)
  • C. Hoffman (-13)
  • J. Day (-13)

Watch: Pebble Beach Highlights

Additional Storylines Nate Lashley Melts Down After 4-Putt Collapse on 16th Hole

PGA: Daniel Berger Continues Impressive Rise at AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am



Highlights From the NBA

Jazz Streak Continues: Utah topped Miami (112-94) to add to its massive hot streak on Saturday. The Jazz have now won seven straight and 18 of their last 19. Sixteen of those 18 wins since Jan. 1 have been by double digits.

Dame Gets Last Laugh: One of the weekend’s best games was a Blazers-Mavericks matchup that went down to the wire. Luka Doncic had 44 points, but Damian Lillard (34 points) got the last laugh with the game-winning 3 in a Blazers win (121-118).

Nikola’s Nuggets Play Spoiler: The Nuggets ended the Lakers’ seven-game win streak on Sunday night (122-105) thanks to a triple double from Nikola Jokic (23-16-10). It was Denver’s third straight win after an up-and-down start to the season.

KD Wins Return to the Bay: Kevin Durant made his first trip back to Golden State since leaving for Brooklyn in June of 2019. The Nets offense was unstoppable in a 134-117 win. Durant had 20 points in a game where nine Nets players score eight or more.



🏒 NHL: Fleury’s 63rd Shutout

The Vegas Golden Knights blanked the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday (1-0) thanks to Marc-Andre Fleury’s 63rd career shutout (30 saves). The 2021 season has been good to Vegas thanks to their two-goalie rotation in a season with packed back-to-backs. They’re 10-2-1 through the early stage.

🥊 UFC: Usman TKOs Burns to Retain Title

Kamaru Usman is officially approaching UFC legend status. The 33-year-old fighter TKO’d former teammate Gilbert Burns 34 seconds into Round 3 of Saturday’s UFC 258 to retain the welterweight title and claim his 13th straight win.

🏀NCAAM: Creighton Shakes Up Big East

The Big East became the next conference to get a late-season season shake-up thanks to Creighton’s upset bid over 5th-ranked Villanova (86-70). The top seven teams in the conference are separated by 3.5 games with another date between Creighton and ‘Nova on March 3.



🏈 The Great Super Bowl Rings Heist

The box rattles in Costello’s hands as he sets it on the table. Tink-tink-tink. You know the sound? Like a forgotten penny rattling around a dryer? Tink-tink-tink. The three men smile. Those aren’t pennies. (ESPN, SC Featured)

🏀 The 5 NBA Players Most Likely to Be Traded

Hoops heads cannot talk trades without mentioning Lonzo Ball, Bradley Beal, John Collins, Aaron Gordon, Zach LaVine, Kyle Lowry, etc. But all of them seem unlikely to get dealt for various reasons. (Bleacher Report)

⚾️ Off The Spray Charts

Every hitter has tendencies. Some have a knack for lifting the ball in the air and others for keeping it on the ground. Some love to pull the ball, while others frequently go to the opposite field. Here are seven player spray charts you have to see to believe. (MLB)



Lakers’ LeBron James & Kyle Kuzma Warned for Violating NBA Anti-Flopping Policy

(USA Today)

Justin Turner Returns to Dodgers on 2-Year, $34 Million Deal

(Yahoo! Sports)

Daughter of Lombardi Trophy Designer Wants Apology for Tom Brady’s Trophy Toss

(Sports Illustrated)

Former Patriots WR Chris Hogan Enters Name in Premier Lacrosse League Draft

(CBS Sports)

Kyrie Irving Switches to Shooting Guard for Nets, Tells James Harden “You’re the PG Now”

(Bleacher Report)

Yusmeiro Petit & Sergio Romo Reportedly Agree to 1-Year Contracts With A’s

(Bleacher Report)