KANSAS CITY, Kan. — John Hunter Nemechek chased down Carson Hocevar over the final laps at Kansas Speedway on Friday night, passing him as the white flag flew and Hocevar ran out of fuel in his last-gasp chance at advancing in the NASCAR Truck Series playoffs.
Hocevar coasted across in second place but needed the win to advance. Nemechek’s late pass allowed Christian Eckes to sneak into the final playoff spot, while three-time series champion Matt Crafton also was eliminated.
Hocevar’s team gambled with strategy by going to the pits early in the final stage, putting him in front with about 30 laps left but on tires that were much older than just about everyone else. And when Nemechek got fresh tires, the No. 4 quickly began tracking Hocevar down, biting away about a second per lap during a long green-flag run to the finish.
Chandler Smith and Enfinger had already clinched their places in the next round of the playoffs with wins earlier in the round, leaving six spots up in the air as the series made its second trip of the year to Kansas.
Nemechek, who was sixth in the spring race, was nearly unbeatable from the moment he unloaded, setting the pace during practice and earning the pole. He then cruised through the opening 30-lap stage to earn enough points to clinch his spot in the next round, then held off Ty Majeski again to win Stage 2 under caution.
Zane Smith also clinched his playoff spot after the first stage while Majeski wrapped up his after the second.
Everybody on pit road was left doing some tricky math when the race resumed with 65 laps to go: Ben Rhodes could clinch a spot by finishing 10th or better, Stewart Friesen could do the same with a top-20, and Eckes, Hocevar and Crafton found themselves in what amounted to a three-way fight for the final berth in the round of eight.
Eckes wound up getting the final playoff spot by three points over Hocevar and 10 ahead of Crafton.
Sources: MAC votes to accept UMass as member
The University of Massachusetts is set to join the MAC in all applicable sports for the 2025-26 school year, sources told ESPN on Monday.
UMass is an independent in football but plays in the Atlantic-10 in basketball and the vast majority of the school’s other sports. UMass’ hockey program will remain in the Hockey East as the MAC does not have a hockey league.
The MAC presidents voted to invite UMass on Monday, as the school had already formally applied to the league. The timing of an announcement is not known, but UMass is set to accept and finalize the details of the arrangement in the near future. Once a school formally applies in conference realignment, there’s usually an understanding that they will be accepted and enter that league.
UMass had also been engaged with Conference USA, per sources. Ultimately, the MAC made more geographic sense, and it also houses more of the sports that UMass offers. UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford made clear in recent comments that joining a league was a priority for UMass.
The move of UMass to the MAC will leave Notre Dame and Connecticut as the lone independents in college football, with Army set to join the American Athletic Conference in the upcoming season.
In basketball, the news is a jolt to the Atlantic 10 Conference, where UMass has had a home since 1976. UMass’ Final Four appearance in 1996 is the only Final Four appearance in Atlantic 10 history. (Three other A-10 teams — VCU, Loyola Chicago and George Mason — have had Final Four appearances, but these all came prior to joining the league.)
UMass will request to stay in the Atlantic 10 as an affiliate member for men’s and women’s lacrosse only, according to a source.
UMass has some familiarity in the MAC for football, having played four seasons in the league from 2012 to 2015. UMass eventually declined full membership in the MAC, which was part of the contract, and led to the school’s departure.
The move brings the MAC up to 13 teams and will open speculation as to whether the league will add a 14th member for balance. There had been discussions about Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky back in 2021, per sources, and those schools would again top any speculative lists.
UMass will play its final season as a football independent this year, and its schedule includes five current MAC members. The Athletic first reported the MAC’s vote on UMass.
Dodgers trade Margot to Twins, add Hernández
After shopping Margot, 29, in recent days, the Dodgers struck a deal to send the Twins the outfielder and shortstop prospect Rayne Doncon for shortstop prospect Noah Miller. The Dodgers also will send cash to help cover the $12 million owed Margot — $10 million this year and a $2 million buyout on a $12 million club option, a source told ESPN.
Hernández, who emerged during a six-year stint with the Dodgers and returned to Los Angeles in a trade last July, had considered a number of other teams before the trade paved the way for another stretch with the Dodgers.
Now 32, Hernández underwent double hernia surgery in the offseason but is expected to be ready around opening day. Hernández hit .262/.308/.423 in 54 games with the Dodgers last year, more in line with his career numbers than his .222/.279/.320 line with the Twins and .222/.291/.338 showing in an injury-pocked 2022 with Boston.
Margot, an eight-year veteran, had been traded to the Dodgers with right-hander Tyler Glasnow in December. He will help relieve Byron Buxton in center and joins a reigning American League Central champion lineup that is deep in bats. Margot hit .264/.310/.376 with four home runs in 336 plate appearances for Tampa Bay last season and is regarded as a slightly above-average defensive center fielder.
The swap of shortstop prospects sends Doncon, who signed with the Dodgers for a little under $500,000 in January 2021, to Minnesota while Miller, the 36th pick in the amateur draft that year, heads to Los Angeles.
Doncon, 20, hit .216/.283/.368 in Low-A last year and can also play second and third base. Miller, 21, slashed .223/.309/.340 in High-A and is considered a well-above-average defensive shortstop.
Sources: Iowa State to promote Mouser to OC
Iowa State is set to promote Taylor Mouser to offensive coordinator, part of several staff moves for the offense after Nate Scheelhaase left for the NFL, sources told ESPN on Monday.
Mouser has served as Iowa State’s tight ends coach since 2021 and added an assistant head coach title in 2023. He has been part of coach Matt Campbell’s staff in various roles, on and off the field, throughout Campbell’s tenure with the Cyclones.
Mouser will replace Scheelhaase, ISU’s offensive coordinator in 2023, who recently left to become the passing game specialist for the Los Angeles Rams.
Iowa State also is set to hire Tyler Roehl as running backs coach and assistant head coach, sources told ESPN. Roehl spent the past five seasons as North Dakota State‘s offensive coordinator and was the top internal candidate for NDSU’s head-coaching role. He recently left to become offensive coordinator at Tennessee State.
Jake Waters, who last week was promoted to running backs coach, instead is set to handle the quarterbacks, according to a source. Wide receivers coach Noah Pauley will serve as ISU’s pass game coordinator, and offensive line coach Ryan Clanton will be run game coordinator for the 2024 season.
Mouser served as a graduate assistant under Campbell at Toledo (2015) and Iowa State (2016) before becoming ISU’s assistant director of scouting.
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