HAMPTON, Ga. — Kyle Busch completed a 5-for-5 sweep of what might be his final season in the Xfinity Series with a late recovery at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Saturday.
Busch finished 0.550 seconds ahead of Jeb Burton for his 102nd Xfinity victory and 222nd overall in NASCAR’s three national series.
Busch took the lead after pushing Daniel Hemric on a restart with six laps remaining. Busch appeared to be trying to give Hemric, his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, a helpful push on the restart but instead Hemric lost control and hit the wall.
“I just wanted to hit him forward and straight but turned him sideways a little bit,” Busch said, adding the incident made the victory “a little somber.”
Busch has hinted that this might be his final season in Xfinity. He repeated that plan Saturday, saying he didn’t plan to return to Xfinity “as far as what’s going to happen right now.”
Busch added “Never say never, but this is it.”
Busch won the first two stages in Atlanta before needing to reclaim the lead following a final restart.
One week after Hemric had a runner-up finish to Busch, he was on the verge of his first career win before spinning on a restart when pushed by Busch with six laps remaining.
Hemric took the lead on the final stage after Busch won the first two stages.
Busch has 102nd Xfinity victories and 222 overall in NASCAR’s three national series.
Noah Gragson was third, followed by Justin Haley and Ty Dillon.
NASCAR only allows Cup Series drivers, including Busch, to compete in five Xfinity and five Truck Series races each year. Atlanta was Busch’s fifth and final Xfinity event — and fifth win — of 2021.
Before the race, Busch tweeted “Let’s go out w one more.” It appeared to be another sign he doesn’t intend to return to the Xfinity Series next season.
Busch raced as if determined to make sure he departed Xfinity on top. He raced to the lead from start, led every lap of the first stage and also won the second stage after briefly falling behind Gragson.
With 17 laps remaining, Carson Ware’s crash into the wall caused a caution, sending leaders to the pits. On the restart with 11 laps remaining, there was another crash when Kyle Weatherman appeared to lose power and fell back quickly from the lead pack.
Busch will start second, behind Chase Elliott, in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series event, the final race before the Atlanta Motor Speedway track is repaved and remodeled.
Austin Dillon finished 11th as a late fill-in for Michael Annett, who was unable to drive the No. 1 Chevrolet due to a nagging leg injury. Dillon started at the back of the field. Most NASCAR Cup drivers were not at the track, but Dillon arrived early for Sunday’s race and was available for the substitute role.
One of Dillon’s first radio communications was a question asking for the name of his spotter and crew chief.
Heat forced C.J. McLaughlin to leave his 66 Toyota about halfway through the final stage.
Sources: Phils add RHP Walker for 4 years, $72M
A day after reaching a blockbuster deal with shortstop Trea Turner, the Phillies add to their rotation with one of the top pitchers left on the free agent market.
Walker joins Philadelphia after one of the strongest seasons of his career in 2022, when he started 29 games for the New York Mets and posted a 3.49 ERA, 2.6 bWAR and a 1.19 WHIP in 157 innings pitched, striking out 132 batters while walking 45.
The 30-year-old righty served as a dependable back-of-the-rotation starter for the Mets throughout the course of the season before declining his $7.5 million player option for 2023, taking a $3 million buyout to explore free agency. The Mets declined to offer a qualifying offer to Walker.
Walker previously underwent Tommy John surgery in 2018 and missed the entire 2019 season. His 2022 campaign marked his most successful on the mound since undergoing treatment on a partial tear of a UCL in his right elbow.
Walker is the second pitcher to leave the Mets’ rotation, after Jacob deGrom signed with the Texas Rangers. New York subsequently responded by signing Justin Verlander to a two-year, $86 million deal.
Pirates win 1st MLB draft lottery, right to pick first
The Pittsburgh Pirates secured the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s draft on Tuesday, during Major League Baseball’s first ever draft lottery. The next five picks, respectively, went to the Washington Nationals, Detroit Tigers, Texas Rangers, Minnesota Twins and Oakland Athletics.
MLB and the MLB Players’ Association agreed to a draft lottery in the new collective bargaining agreement, whereby the 18 teams that did not reach the postseason would vie for the first six selections. Odds, based on 2022 winning percentage, ranged from 16.5% (for the Pirates, Nationals and A’s) to 0.2% (Milwaukee Brewers).
The A’s went in tied for the best chance at the No. 1 overall pick and finished with the No. 6 selection. The Twins took an even bigger step in the other direction, starting with the 13th-best odds and ultimately picking fifth.
The Nos. 7 to 18 picks in next year’s draft – slated for July from Seattle, site of the next All-Star Game – will be slotted by reverse winning percentage, followed by how teams finished in the postseason (the World Series-champion Houston Astros, for example, will pick 30th). Rounds 2 through 20 will navigate entirely in reverse order of winning percentage and postseason finish.
We will select 1st overall in the 2023 MLB Draft! pic.twitter.com/fHNpobdFGM
— Pittsburgh Pirates (@Pirates) December 7, 2022
MLB placed more picks up for grabs than any other major spot in its first draft lottery. Only the first four picks of the NBA’s draft are attained through the draft lottery. In the NHL, it’s just the first two. The bottom three teams were all given the same odds for the No. 1 overall pick in an effort to disincentivize tanking for the worst record. Large-market teams (defined as those who do not receive revenue sharing) are prohibited from entering the draft lottery in back-to-back years; small-market teams can’t enter it three straight years.
MLB Network announced the results of the lottery inside a ballroom from the Hyatt hotel that is staging this year’s Winter Meetings, with executives from the 18 eligible clubs sitting at nearby tables and outfielder-turned-MLB-executive Raul Ibanez reading the results. But the process took place hours later, when a collection of sealed balls arrived in a suitcase and 1,000 four-number combinations were assigned to the 18 teams (the higher the odds for the No. 1 overall pick, the more combinations assigned to the team). Bill Francis, who helps run the MLB Draft, selected the six four-number combinations that determined the order. PricewaterhouseCoopers oversaw the process.
The top three players in next year’s draft, based on rankings from ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel in July, are: Wyatt Langford, a center fielder from Florida; Jacob Wilson, a shortstop from Grand Canyon; and Max Clark, a center fielder from Franklin Community High School in Indiana. This will mark the sixth time the Pirates select first overall. They did so as recently as 2021, selecting catcher Henry Davis out of Louisville.
Haniger to Giants; 3 years, $43.5M, sources say
The San Francisco Giants agreed to terms with outfielder Mitch Haniger, the team announced Tuesday, filling a hole in the Giants’ outfield as they continue their free agent pursuit of American League MVP Aaron Judge.
The deal is for three years and $43.5 million and includes a player opt-out after the second year, sources told ESPN’s Jeff Passan.
Haniger, who turns 32 later this month, has posted star-caliber numbers in the two seasons he has been healthy, but has struggled with injuries throughout his major league career, most of which he spent in Seattle. With the Mariners last season, he hit .246/.308/.429 with 11 home runs and 34 RBIs in 57 games, helping propel the team to its first playoff berth in two decades.
One season earlier, Haniger showed the sort of talent that led the Giants to consider a multiyear deal at $14.5 million a season. He hit 39 home runs, good for fifth in the AL, and drove in 100 runs while posting 3.9 Wins Above Replacement over 157 games, according to Baseball-Reference.
The Giants’ offseason began with outfielder Joc Pederson accepting a $19.65 million qualifying offer. It continues with Haniger and could include Judge, who last year spent a majority of his time in center field but has played most of his career in right. Along with Haniger and Mike Yastrzemski, Judge could be part of the outfield while Pederson spends most of his time at designated hitter.
Long a fan favorite and leader in Seattle, Haniger joined the Mariners in November 2016, when Arizona — which drafted him in the first round of the 2012 draft — traded him along with Jean Segura for infielder/outfielder Ketel Marte and pitcher Taijuan Walker.
Haniger immediately produced for Seattle, putting up an OPS of .843 in his first season. His best year came in 2018, when he played 157 games and hit .285/.366/.493 with 26 home runs and played well above-average defense in right field.
The next season, in 2019, Haniger suffered a ruptured testicle after a foul ball took an unfortunate carom. The injury kept him out for the remainder of the season, and he missed significant time with back and core injuries, not playing in 2020.
His 2021 return was hailed in Seattle, where Haniger helped steer the Mariners to the cusp of the postseason with a bevy of clutch hits. He’ll now slot into the middle of a Giants lineup that ranked 11th in baseball in runs scored but lost three-quarters of its infield — first baseman Brandon Belt, shortstop Brandon Crawford and third baseman Evan Longoria — to free agency.
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