Gordon relishing chance to race for another Cup title
With flecks of gray in his sideburns, it's apparent that Jeff Gordon is long removed from those days as a hotshot young driver who seemed destined to win more NASCAR Cup championships than anyone. Heck, not too long ago people were wondering if he was all washed up. But now he's in contention for a fifth Sprint Cup championship.
"I just like the fact that you're talking about that," Gordon said Friday, chatting with a reporter outside his hauler. "That means things are happening for us. It's been so long. I don't know what it feels like anymore to win a championship."
It's been 12 long years, to be exact, since Gordon captured the last of his four titles.
But he heads into Sunday's race at Talladega Superspeedway ranking fourth in the points and hoping to take advantage of a track where the standings can change in a hurry.
"I don't even know if I have the words to describe how much it would mean," Gordon said. "The longer you're in the sport, the more ups and downs you go through, the more meaningful the wins and the championships. Certainly nothing would top that."
He knows he's still a long shot, with Matt Kenseth and teammate Jimmie Johnson holding down the top two spots. Gordon trails Kenseth by 36 points and Johnson by 32 — a lot of ground to make up. The odds that both will suddenly go into a slump is a stretch, to say the least, and Kevin Harvick also stands between Gordon and the top spot. But at Talladega, where restrictor plates lead to tight racing and big crashes, there's always a chance to make a big move — up or down.
If nothing else, the long dry spell has made Gordon realize how much he took all those titles in his 20s for granted.
"Oh gosh, I can tell you I didn't appreciate the first one near enough," he said. "To have what, 11 or 12 years now in between our last one, you better believe I would appreciate it a lot more."
Simpson ahead by 4 shots at Las Vegas
Webb Simpson opened a four-stroke lead Friday in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, taking advantage of perfect scoring conditions at TPC Summerlin in Las Vegas. Making his first start since helping the U.S. win the Presidents Cup, the 2012 U.S. Open champion shot an 8-under 63 to reach 15 under. He had nine birdies and a bogey — on the par-5 16th in his opening nine.
"The ball is really going far," Simpson said. "I was wondering why the scores were so low yesterday morning because I thought the ball might go a little shorter. But the ball was getting out there and the golf course played a little shorter than I thought it would, and I just putted well and kept going.
"There's no wind, no clouds in the sky and it's really quiet, so it's easy to kind of daydream. You've really got to focus on what you're doing and talk to your caddie, at least for me. I talk to him about what we're trying to do here, where we're trying to hit the ball."
J.J. Henry followed his course-record 60 with a 71 to join John Senden, Jeff Overton, Chesson Hadley and Jason Bohn at 11 under. Bohn had a 64, Senden and Hadley shot 66, and Overton had a 68.
■ Bernhard Langer is looking for every opportunity to make up ground on Kenny Perry in the Champions Tour's season point standings. If Langer has a few more rounds like he had Friday at Conover, N.C., there's a good chance he'll be in the running for the $1 million annuity that goes to the season champion.
The two-time Masters champion birdied the final hole Friday for a 6-under 64 and a share of the first-round lead with Anders Forsbrand and Dick Mast in the Greater Hickory Classic. Perry, a Kentucky native, opened with a 68.
"Every little bit helps," said Langer, who trails Perry by 609 points in the Charles Schwab Cup standings with three events to go.
"I was leading the Schwab Cup last year, and Tom Lehman wound up winning. There are a lot of points available, so I'm trying to close the gap so that maybe I can win or have a good finish in the last tournament and maybe win the overall championship."
Langer, a two-time winner this season on the 50-and-over tour, and Forsbrand each had seven birdies and a bogey, while Mast had six birdies in a bogey-free round.
■ Peter Hedblom shot a 3-under 69 to take a two-stroke lead after two rounds of the Perth International in Australia. The Swede, who was at 7-under 137, was two strokes clear of Ross Fisher, who had the lowest round of the day with a 67.
Needing a win to retain his European Tour card for next year, Hedblom said "my golf is strange right now because I hit really good shots and some really poor shots. But my putting has been good. So it's great right now to be leading."
■ South Korea's Amy Yang shot a 5-under 67 Friday to finish in a four-way tie at the top of the leader board after the first round of the KEB HanaBank Championship at Incheon, South Korea. Yang had six birdies — five straight from the par-4 No. 4 — against a lone bogey to finish tied with Katherine Hull-Kirk, compatriot Ju Young Pak and Anna Nordqvist.
UK women's soccer shut out at Florida
The eighth-ranked Florida women's soccer team defeated No. 23 Kentucky 3-0 on Friday night at Gainesville. The Cats had won nine of their 10 previous matches.
"Obviously we are not happy with our performance at all today," UK Coach Jon Lipsitz said. "But let's give credit there to Florida. ... They out-attacked us, they out-defended us, their transition was better than us and there really wasn't an area of the game where they didn't dominate us."
Agent: Gronkowski cleared for Sunday
The long wait for Rob Gronkowski's 2013 debut appears over. The New England Patriots star tight end "has now been cleared by all his doctors to play Sunday in the Jets game," Drew Rosenhaus, his agent, said Friday. Gronkowski's return would be very good news for the Patriots, who have struggled on offense, and bad news for the New York Jets, who would have to find a way to stop the two-time Pro Bowl standout. He was questionable on the Patriots' injury report Friday for the fifth straight week, meaning they list his chances of playing Sunday at 50-50. Gronkowski had off-season surgery on his back and a broken left forearm. But he participated in every practice on a limited basis since the season began, and has watched as the Patriots opened 5-1.
■ Denver Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard (shoulder stinger) was limited all week, but he insisted, "I'm playing Sunday." The former University of Kentucky star missed last week's game after getting hurt at Dallas.
■ Atlanta Falcons receiver Roddy White will miss the first game of his nine-year career on Sunday. The four-time Pro Bowl selection was one of three starters listed as out on Friday's injury report. Running back Steven Jackson (hamstring) and left tackle Sam Baker (knee) also will not play against Tampa Bay (0-5).
The last word
Jockey Julien Couton guided 11-1 shot Tayrona to a win in the Sutter's Mill Purse for 3-year-old fillies by 2½ lengths at Santa Anita on Friday. Trainer Matt Chew said:
"Julien did an amazing job. He said that she's just like a motorcycle, you don't push and you don't pull, you just ride. I am pleasantly surprised. I thought we could win it, or we could be a miserable last."