Texans' Watt named Daytona 500 grand marshal

By Sports Desk February 11, 2019

Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt has been named the grand marshal of the 2019 Daytona 500, NASCAR announced on Monday.

Watt is the first NFL player to serve as the grand marshal for the NASCAR Cup Series season-opening race, scheduled for Sunday.

"I am honoured to have the opportunity to serve as grand marshal for this year's 'Great American Race'," Watt said in a statement.

"The Daytona 500 is a truly iconic event with a rich history, and I am very much looking forward to taking in the action up close and personal this year."

Watt will tell the drivers to start their engines for the 61st Daytona 500. His charity work, which includes the $41million he helped raise for Hurricane Harvey relief, was a large factor in why he was selected as the 2019 grand marshal.

"We're ecstatic to have a person who has shown to be not only an incredible athlete, but also somebody who has done so much for communities in need," Daytona International Speedway president Chip Wile said. "J.J. is one of the best players currently in the NFL and now he's going to be our grand marshal for 'The Great American Race.' It's a spectacular pairing."

Watt will be front and center as Hendrick Motorsport team-mates William Byron and Alex Bowman, the reigning Daytona 500 pole winner, will start from the front row of this year's race.

Related items

  • NFL training camp 2019: NFC South preview NFL training camp 2019: NFC South preview

    The NFC South had its fair share of issues and controversies last season, which could be the chips on shoulders to drive teams to fight for a Super Bowl this time around.

    Clearly, the New Orleans Saints are still stinging from that no-call against the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship. But also, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lacked discipline, the Carolina Panthers imploded in the middle of the season and the Atlanta Falcons' litany of injuries caused them to finish the year as average as a dry toast.

    However, it's a new campaign and NFC South teams have the talent to get far in the playoffs. Drew Brees looks as healthy as ever at 40 and has a steady offense under him in New Orleans, while the Bucs have a new coach in Bruce Arians to freshen things up.

    The Falcons have to be healthier this year and can count on the return of safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen, while the Panthers' receiving corps should be solid with a refreshed Greg Olsen and free agent acquisition Chris Hogan.

    Here is what to expect from the NFC South in 2019:

     

    TEAM ON THE RISE:

    Atlanta Falcons

    Last season was a disaster for the Falcons. The team was plagued by injuries, especially along the offensive line, which made quarterback Matt Ryan an easy target (he was sacked a whopping 42 times).

    This season, most of the injured starters are back, and if the team can remain healthy, they can match the pace the Saints have set in the division.

    On the defensive side of the ball, Grady Jarrett just came to terms on a new deal and Deion Jones has returned from a foot injury. The Falcons also re-signed Adrian Clayborn, who sacked Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott six times in 2017 but spent last season with the New England Patriots.

    Barring any injury setbacks, a healthy Falcons team could get back to their 2016 level, when they won the NFC.

    TEAM ON THE DECLINE:

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Yeah, yeah. This one seems too easy. Despite getting an elite coach in Arians, there are still some issues with the Bucs that are too much to overlook.

    Quarterback Jameis Winston is a key factor – the 25-year-old has been plagued with off-field issues and inconsistent play that saw him benched last season for Ryan Fitzpatrick.

    Many think Arians can fix Winston, but Winston has barely improved during his time in the league.

    Combined with poor defensive play and subpar safeties, Arians might need a couple of years to rebuild this team.

    ROOKIES TO WATCH:

    Erik McCoy, C, Saints: New Orleans traded up to get McCoy in the second round of the draft, with the team wanting to bolster an offensive line that was top-tier last season. Unless McCoy struggles in training camp and preseason or gets injured, he's expected to be a starter and make an immediate impact. He's already impressed at OTAs and received a lot of first-team reps. He could anchor a line that will make it difficult for any defense to get to Brees.

    Devin White, LB, Buccaneers: White was selected with the fifth overall pick, and the Bucs hope he can help begin to solve their defensive woes (27th overall in 2018). White has speed and agility, evidenced during his time at LSU. Could he hold the key to making the Bucs a formidable defense? He will work under Todd Bowles, who joined Tampa Bay as the defensive coordinator and is known for his love of blitzing. The Buccaneers will likely hit the ground running with White and use his talents starting in Week 1.

    PLAYER SPOTLIGHT:

    Christian McCaffrey

    McCaffrey impressed in his second NFL season (1,098 yards rushing, 867 yards receiving, 13 TDs), and there's no reason he won't be poised for success again this year. He has also become the team's primary back, with Cameron Artis-Payne and Elijah Hood being re-signed as cover and the team drafting Jordan Scarlett and signing the undrafted Elijah Holyfield. McCaffrey will need his backups' help to ensure his health, but expect him to surpass 2,000 combined yards this season.

    KEY INJURIES:

    Cam Newton, shoulder: The Panthers quarterback was shut down at the end of last year because of a nagging shoulder injury and underwent surgery in the offseason. He's altered how he throws to keep his shoulder healthy and hasn't participated in minicamps as he continues rehab. Will Newton look like his old self by the end of training camp, when the regular season rolls around?

    Marcus Davenport, toe: The Saints defensive end's rookie season was derailed by a toe injury, and he later admitted he never fully recovered. Flash forward to 2019. Davenport is expected to complement Cam Jordan in the Saints' pass-rush scheme. He's had a full offseason for his toe to recover from a procedure and the heat is on for him to help turn the Saints defense, 14th overall in 2018, into something more formidable.

  • NFL training camp 2019: NFC North preview NFL training camp 2019: NFC North preview

    The NFC North might just be the strongest division in the NFL.

    It was the Chicago Bears who surprisingly took the division title in 2018 as the league's stingiest defense helped first-time head coach Matt Nagy make an immediate impact.

    The Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers took steps back but, given the wealth of talent on the two teams, it would not be surprising if either or both made deep playoff runs this time around, while most of Chicago's roster remains intact.

    Here is the outlook for the NFC North heading into training camp:

    TEAM ON THE RISE

    Green Bay Packers

    Surely the only way is up for a Packers team coming off back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1992? Aaron Rodgers will have extra motivation to prove it was former coach Mike McCarthy and not the quarterback that was the problem in Titletown. The defense already had a fine young core in Jaire Alexander, Blake Martinez and Kenny Clark. Throw in first-round picks Rashan Gary and Darnell Savage, and free-agency acquisitions Za'Darius Smith, Preston Smith and Adrian Amos, and Mike Pettine's unit has top-10 potential.

    That, coupled with some typical Rodgers magic, should be enough for the Pack to get back on track under new coach Matt LaFleur.

    TEAM ON THE DECLINE

    Detroit Lions

    The other NFC North teams enter the 2019 season all with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations, leaving the Lions as the odd ones out. Detroit finished 6-10 in Matt Patricia's debut campaign — losing seven of nine before a meaningless Week 17 clash with Green Bay — and the dip may get sharper in 2019. 

    Patricia's old-school methods reportedly rubbed some the wrong way and the murmurs of discontent will only grow louder if Detroit cannot get off to a good start, with the Los Angeles Chargers, Philadelphia Eagles, Kansas City Chiefs, Packers and Vikings all on the schedule in a tricky opening six-game stretch. Then there is quarterback Matthew Stafford, who threw for a paltry 3,777 yards across 16 starts in 2018. At 31, he is running out of time to prove he can take the next step.

    ROOKIES TO WATCH

    T.J. Hockenson, TE, Lions: Former Patriots defensive coordinator Patricia saw in New England how a do-it-all tight end can transform an offense and Detroit drafted Hockenson eighth overall in the hope he could have a Rob Gronkowski-like impact in the Motor City. Only one Lions receiver — Kenny Golladay (1,063 yards) — accrued more than 517 receiving yards in 2018 and Levine Toilolo (263 yards) led all tight ends so Hockenson should provide an immediate upgrade.

    David Montgomery, RB, Bears: Having traded Jordan Howard to the Eagles before the draft, Chicago moved up in the third round to pick Montgomery, an elusive back seemingly more suited to Nagy's offense. Tarik Cohen will once again provide the pizzazz outside the tackles but Montgomery can do plenty of damage inside for a team that had the sixth-most rushing attempts in 2018. If Kyler Murray doesn't live up to the hype, Montgomery might walk, or run, away with the Rookie of the Year prize for a Bears team likely to lean on the rush again given Mitchell Trubisky's limitations.

    PLAYER SPOTLIGHT

    Kirk Cousins

    He was supposed to be the man to push the Vikings over the hump but Minnesota missed the playoffs in 2018 after reaching the NFC championship game in the campaign before. Cousins begins the second season of a three-year, $84million, fully guaranteed contract desperate to prove he can be spectacular, and not just steady, and Minnesota has to find a way to better protect a QB who was sacked 40 times in 2018. In Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, Cousins has arguably the best wide receiver tandem in the NFL. If the offensive line can hold up, he has no excuses.

    KEY INJURIES

    Dalvin Cook, knee and hamstring: Cousins' life will become a lot easier if Minnesota's star running back can stay healthy. Cook has missed 17 games over his first two seasons in the league but has flashed plenty of ability in his time on the field. The Vikings brought in Gary Kubiak to aid their offense this season and Cook figures to thrive in his zone-blocking scheme if he can put his injury troubles behind him.

    Kerryon Johnson, knee: Rookie Johnson snapped Detroit's 70-game streak of not having a 100-yard rusher, and he might have become their first 1,000-yard rusher since Reggie Bush in 2013 had a knee injury not ended his campaign prematurely. Heading into his second season, the Lions need Johnson to pick up where he left off as he will be the focus of the ground attack in an offense that might be one of the more run-oriented in the entire NFL.

  • NFL training camp 2019: NFC East preview NFL training camp 2019: NFC East preview

    The NFC East has seen a lot of movement during the offseason, including huge contract news at the defending division champions the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants losing Odell Beckham Jr.

    Let's not forget the murkiness surrounding the Washington Redskins' quarterback situation, and whether Carson Wentz will manage to stay healthy throughout the season for the Philadelphia Eagles.

    The Cowboys play a more difficult first-place schedule in 2019, while the Eagles look to return to the form that made them Super Bowl champions two seasons ago.

    Here's the outlook for the NFC East heading into training camp:

     

    TEAM ON THE RISE:

    Dallas Cowboys

    Are the Cowboys back? They went 10-6 last season to win the division as wide receiver Amari Cooper burst onto the scene in Dallas after he was acquired from the Oakland Raiders. The Cowboys went on to win a playoff game for the first time in four years.

    But after a wild-card win over the Seattle Seahawks, they lost in the divisional round to the Los Angeles Rams, keeping the relative heat on coach Jason Garrett.

    Defensive end Demarcus Lawrence – who has 34 sacks in five NFL seasons – was signed to a massive five-year, $105million deal, and the team has promised quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott new contracts. How that plays out could affect the season, on the field and off it. 

    The team also promoted Kellen Moore to offensive coordinator after a successful season as the team's quarterbacks coach. All the pieces are there for success – the Cowboys simply need to execute.

    TEAM ON THE DECLINE:

    New York Giants

    The Giants have been on the slide, and this year isn't going to be any different.

    As previously noted, they ended up trading Beckham to the Cleveland Browns after their relationship soured and included defensive end Olivier Vernon in that deal. Also, Landon Collins left for the Redskins. 

    The Giants also pained their fan base when they drafted a quarterback in Daniel Jones with the No. 6 pick in this year's draft but said they still plan on using the ageing Eli Manning, 38.

    Essentially, the Giants will have a lot to prove because of their offseason decisions, and in a competitive division, there is no room for error.

    ROOKIES TO WATCH:

    Dwayne Haskins, QB, Redskins: The team's quarterback situation was in crisis mode last season – Alex Smith suffered a horrifying leg injury that might have derailed his career, and backup Colt McCoy went out a short time later with a broken leg. The Redskins were smart in drafting Haskins out of Ohio State, and apparently he's impressed in offseason work. Technically Case Keenum, who was traded to Washington, is slated to be the starter, but if he flounders in his first couple of starts, the job could belong to Haskins.

    Daniel Jones, QB, Giants: How will the Giants use Jones? Many were perplexed over why he was taken so early in the draft, even though the Giants said they planned to use Manning for at least another season. If the Giants are subpar for the first few games, will Jones be subbed in? Or will he sit the entire season as Manning, whose QB rating has dipped the past three seasons, tries to recapture his Super Bowl touch? How the Giants handle their QB situation will be worth watching.

    PLAYER SPOTLIGHT:

    Jordan Howard

    The Eagles struggled running the ball last season, finishing 28th in the league, after Jay Ajayi was injured and had to rely heavily on the receiving corps to get things done. That looks to change this season, with the team getting Howard from the Chicago Bears. Before last year, Howard was part of an explosive ground attack in Chicago, running for more than 1,000 yards in 2016 and 2017, but last season new Bears coach Matt Nagy's offensive scheme didn't use him as frequently. Given the need to give Wentz a break and protect him from further injuries, Howard will need to step up and prove to be a productive and reliable back.

    KEY INJURIES:

    Derrius Guice, knee: The Redskins running back didn't even get a chance to play last year after he tore his ACL in preseason, and a reported hamstring injury causes questions as training camp rolls around. Guice downplayed the hamstring tweak, but the real test will be when he takes the field for his first game. Will he be able to blaze through defenses like he did at LSU?

    Carson Wentz, back: The Eagles quarterback said he was almost 100 per cent before June's minicamp after he went down late last season with a fracture in his back, but it marks the second season in a row that Wentz has missed the playoffs due to injury. The question remains if Wentz can remain healthy for an entire season. Without safety net Nick Foles as backup, Wentz will need to be the one to lead the Eagles to the playoffs.

© 2018 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.