Edwards back in spotlight, alone atop Chase standings
Carl Edwards spent six-plus months under scrutiny for scouring the job market and looking for the best possible deal. His free agency dominated the NASCAR rumor mill all summer.
Then a funny thing happened: Edwards signed a contract extension with Roush Fenway Racing, and nobody paid any attention to him at all. His days of peace and tranquility are over.
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Edwards gutted out a fifth-place finish in Sunday's race at Kansas to claim sole possession of first in the standings for the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. With six races remaining, he holds a one-point lead over Kevin Harvick with five-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson sitting four points back.
It's the first time in eight weeks that Edwards has been the points leader, a position he held for 16 of the 26 "regular season" races. Edwards is the only one of the 12 Chase drivers to notch a top-10 in each of the first four Chase races, and he's shown an ability to overcome every obstacle thrown his way.
Two weeks ago at Dover, his first speeding penalty of the season dropped him to 28th in the field, and he recovered to finish third.
At Kansas, the wrong setup put him in trouble early — something Edwards recognized in the opening laps of the race. Crew Chief Bob Osborne set out to make the needed changes, work that required a lengthy stop on pit road and dropped Edwards as far back as 25th. He was two laps down at one point, in danger of a horrific day at his home track, until late cautions put him in position to pull out a miracle. Edwards seemed as surprised as anyone when he crossed the finish line in fifth.
"I cannot believe we finished fifth; it feels like a win," he said. "That is the most we have done with a car that wasn't capable of winning, ever."
Next up for Edwards is Saturday night's race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where he won the $1 million All-Star race back in May. It was his only Cup victory at Charlotte, where he's winless in 13 previous points-paying races. In fact, the track has not been all that good to Edwards, who has one finish above 12th in his last six Cup races.
So there was no time to celebrate Sunday's achievement. The moment Osborne saw Edwards after the race, they immediately began their strategy for Charlotte.
"That is the first thing Bob and I talked about when he got over to the car, making sure we don't make the same mistake at Charlotte," Edwards said. "That place has been a little difficult for us. We have been very hit-and-miss there."
Novosel, Schimmel on Wooden watch list
Notre Dame and Connecticut landed three players each among the 30 women on the John R. Wooden Award's pre-season watch list.
Notre Dame's Natalie Novosel (Lexington Catholic), Skylar Diggins and Devereaux Peters and UConn's Tiffany Hayes, Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley were selected for the list chosen by a poll of national women's college basketball media voters.
Louisville's Shoni Schimmel also made the pre-season list.
■ Indiana men's guard Maurice Creek had surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon, his third significant injury in three years with the Hoosiers. It's not clear how long Creek will be out. He missed most of his freshman season with a broken left kneecap. In January, he was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his right kneecap and did not play again. Creek has played in 30 games at Indiana, averaging 11.5 points and shooting 37.1 percent from three-point range.
■ Florida men's forward Cody Larson was reinstated just days after settling his probation-violation case. Gators Coach Billy Donovan said Monday that Larson is back with the team and eligible to play this season. A judge in Sioux Falls, S.D., gave Larson two additional years of probation Friday and reinstated his 120-day suspended sentence. The punishment came after Larson reached a plea deal last month on a misdemeanor trespassing charge stemming from an incident in April. He was arrested and charged with trying to break into a car in St. Augustine, Fla.
■ Rutgers forward Kadeem Jack will have surgery on his right foot this week and likely be out for three to four months. Scarlet Knights Coach Mike Rice said Monday that the redshirt freshman from Queens, N.Y., was injured during a pre-season workout.
California Flag 3-time Morvich winner
California Flag defeated Excessive Passion by a half-length on Monday to win the $100,000 Morvich Stakes for the third time at Santa Anita. Ridden by Patrick Valenzuela, California Flag ran 6½ furlongs on the turf in 1:11.91 as the 6-1 third choice.
It was California Flag's first victory since August 2010 at Del Mar. The 7-year-old gelding had won the Morvich in 2008 and '09, and he now has four wins in six races on Santa Anita's turf course.
Trainer Brian Koriner had said that if California Flag didn't run well, he would probably be retired. Afterward, he was noncommittal about whether the gelding would run in the Breeders' Cup Sprint that he won in 2009.
"We'll talk about it. We didn't know what to expect," Koriner said. "He's a nice old horse. It's just nice to see him back, and people can quit criticizing (for running him at seven)."
The victory, worth $60,000, increased California Flag's career earnings to $1,219,825, with 10 wins in 24 starts.
Another Breeders' Cup prospect emerged Monday when trainer Bob Baffert's Secret Circle won the $71,340 Jack Goodman Stakes by 5¼ lengths while running 6 furlongs in 1:08.27 under Rafael Bejarano. "I'm sort of half-shocked the way he ran," Baffert said. "He doesn't show that in the mornings. It's amazing. That's a fast horse."
Baffert's immediate goal is next month's $500,000 Juvenile Sprint at Churchill Downs, a new race on the Breeders' Cup card.
Elusive Pearl takes Belmont feature
Elusive Pearl won the $100,000 Pebbles Stakes for 3-year-old fillies on Monday, beating Hessonite by 21/4 lengths on the turf at Belmont Park.
In charge right from the start, Elusive Pearl held a comfortable lead throughout and led by five lengths at the top of the lane.
Ridden by Ramon Dominguez and trained by Michael Trombetta, Elusive Pearl ran the 1 mile over the firm course in 1:36.61 for her fourth win in seven starts.
The last word
The Arizona Cardinals' fourth consecutive loss, a 34-10 drubbing by previously winless Minnesota, was the team's worst performance of the season. With a bye week ahead, there is no shortage of work to be done. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said of his 1-4 team:
"There's nothing that I can say that's going to make anybody feel better. We have to show it on the field. It's easy to say that we're working at it, and we are. Our guys are working. But we're not making the plays on the field. We're leaving a lot of things out there that could help us win games."