Sports briefs: Sept. 24

September 24, 2012 

NASCAR New Hampshire Auto Racing

Denny Hamlin's win was his fifth of the season. "I knew that we had the winning car," he said. "It's all those other things that you can't control that can keep you out of Victory Lane."

BRIAN CZOBAT — AP

NASCAR

Hamlin wins in New Hampshire, Johnson takes lead in Chase

Denny Hamlin stepped out of his car, pointed into the air and took a mighty swing of an invisible baseball bat. Like Babe Ruth did before him (or so the legend goes), Hamlin had called his shot.

The top winner in NASCAR's regular season earned his series-leading fifth victory of the year Sunday in Loudon, N.H., backing up a tweet of "We will win" with a mistake-free and dominating run at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in the second event of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

"You don't want to sound too cocky, but I knew what we were capable of," said Hamlin, who was 32nd in qualifying after his crew put the wrong pressure in his tires. "I know we made a couple of big mistakes, but I said we were fast enough to make it up and we did."

It was the 100th career victory for team owner Joe Gibbs, who also won three Super Bowls as the coach of the Washington Redskins. And it came with a little teamwork, too, when Kyle Busch slowed down to help suck some debris off the front of Hamlin's car and propel him to victory.

"As fast as he was, he could have gone to the back of any car and pulled that off," said Jimmie Johnson, who finished second and took over the Chase lead. "I kind of thought he would be the guy to beat and he certainly was. We are second-best."

Johnson will head into Dover, Del., one of his top tracks, one point ahead of Chicago winner Brad Keselowski, who was sixth Sunday. Jeff Gordon, who was the last man to qualify for the Chase, was third.

"We had a great race car," said Johnson, a five-time NASCAR season champion, "just not an amazing car like the No. 11 did here today."

Hamlin improved to third in the Chase, seven points behind Johnson, despite a tumultuous week that began with him running out of gas in Chicago and continued when his crew used race pressure instead of qualifying pressure in his tires on Friday. Hamlin also had problems with his crew here in July, when confusion during a tire change dropped him into traffic and left him scurrying to get back to the front of the field.

"He was the class of the field from the time we unloaded," said Clint Bowyer, who finished fourth and is tied for fifth in the Chase. "I don't know what they figured out, but they figured it out in a big way."

■ Though he never had a car to contend for the victory, Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe salvaged a solid, sixth-place finish.

Keselowski started 15th and methodically drove his way up into the top five, with the aid of a quick two-tire call on a late green-flag pit stop.

"That's respectable," Keselowski said. "We'd like to be just a little bit faster than we were today, but this is what a championship team does. They take weekends where they're not the best and make something out of it."


Golf

Lewis takes Navistar LPGA Classic

Stacy Lewis is starting to feel right at home in Alabama, savoring everything from the Bermuda grass to the comfort of the familiar low-budget hotel where the staffers greet her by name.

Lewis won the Navistar LPGA Classic on Sunday in Prattville, Ala., for her third LPGA Tour victory in five months and second in the state, closing with a 3-under 69 to beat defending champion Lexi Thompson by two strokes.

Lewis parred the final two holes after a 12-foot birdie putt on No. 16 gave her the final cushion, and Thompson shot a 66 on The Senator course at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail's Capitol Hill complex.

"Lexi was within one when we got to the 16th green and that's the only time all day I actually knew what was going on," Lewis said. "Making birdie there on 16 was huge to just kind of give me that cushion."

Lewis won in Mobile in late April, edging Thompson by a stroke in that tournament. The former Arkansas star also won the Shoprite LPGA Classic in June.

"It's unbelievable," Lewis said. "Winning never gets easier. It might have looked easy out there but it was hard. Every shot was stressful and on this golf course with one swing you can make a double pretty easy. I had some adrenaline going at the end."

Her previous best at the Navistar was a tie for sixth last year, but she still likes competing in this state.

"I don't know what it is. I don't know if it's the Bermuda grass," Lewis said. "It's kind of what I grew up on in Texas. I love playing these kind of courses where you just have to hit good shots. If you don't hit good shots you're not rewarded. I like that. It's hard, and you can make birdies but you have to hit the shots."


UK sports

Volleyball ends Texas A&M's win streak

Led by the 18th double-double effort of junior Whitney Billings' career, the Kentucky volleyball team ended host Texas A&M's nine-match winning streak with a 5-set victory (25-23, 24-26, 25-18, 20-25, 15-12) on Sunday afternoon. Billings had a season-high 16 kills and 16 digs to go with five aces and six blocks. Senior Ashley Frazier also had 16 kills, including the 1,000th of her career.

"It's (the win) important for confidence," UK Coach Craig Skinner said. "You lose a few and it's hard to feel good about what you're doing."

With the win, Kentucky improved to 7-6 overall and 1-2 in Southeastern Conference play. The Aggies dropped to 10-2 overall and 2-1 in the SEC. UK next hosts Tennessee at 8 p.m. Wednesday. That match will be televised by ESPNU.


Horse racing

Dance Card, Saginaw win Belmont stakes

Dance Card and Saginaw won $85,000 stakes Sunday at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y.

Dance Card cruised in the Belle Cherie for 3-year-old fillies, beating Final Escrow by 71/2 lengths. Ramon Dominguez was aboard for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin as Dance Card extended her winning streak to three in her stakes debut.

Saginaw edged Lunar Victory by a half-length in the Promemade All for New York breds. The 6-year-old gelding earned his seventh win, including four stakes victories, in the eight races since trainer David Jacobson claimed him for $30,000 in March at Aqueduct.


The last word

As cheers from visiting Buffalo Bills fans permeated Cleveland Browns Stadium, the home team left the field in a state of shock. The Browns didn't think they would stumble to a record of 0-3 and the NFL's longest losing streak dating to last year. But that became reality after a 24-14 loss. Special teams ace Josh Cribbs said:

"It's embarrassing for our fans. We don't win games, and they show up, and spend their hard-earned money to see us play. So maybe we need that embarrassment."

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