Montoya opens Chase withrecord-setting qualifying run
Juan Pablo Montoya will have a hard time playing the role of dark horse if he keeps driving like this. The former Formula One star will make his debut in NASCAR's Chase for the championship from the pole after setting a track record at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Friday.
Montoya turned a lap at 133.431 mph on the 1.058-mile oval, breaking the mark of 133.357 set by Ryan Newman in 2003. It's a good way to start the 10-race Chase, but Montoya cautioned it's just a start.
"If it was a 10-lap shootout, I'd say 'Hey, we're pretty good,'" Montoya said.
Montoya will have plenty of company from his fellow Chase drivers on Sunday. Tony Stewart, who won the regular-season title, will start second. Kurt Busch, who started his run to the 2004 title with a win at New Hampshire in the inaugural Chase race, is third. Denny Hamlin qualified fourth, with Carl Edwards fifth.
Busch is only too happy to be surrounded by fellow Chase competitors when the green flag drops for Sunday's 300-lap race. His bid for a repeat title in 2005 ended three laps in when a non-Chase driver knocked him out.
"Your Chase can get ruined pretty early," Busch said.
Martin signs on for two more years
NASCAR championship contender Mark Martin will drive for Hendrick Motorsports through 2011, an easy commitment for a driver at the top of his game. Martin starts the Chase for the championship Sunday as the Sprint Cup Series points leader, a spot he earned through four victories this season.
"That shouldn't come as any big surprise," Martin said Friday of the contract extension. "Who would want to quit?"
Martin, in his 27th season of NASCAR, has repeatedly staved off retirement over the last several years. He ran a partial schedule in 2007 and 2008, and the time off re-energized him. Then came an offer to drive for elite Hendrick Motorsports, and Martin has thrived.
"As long as I can have fun, compete at a high level and have the opportunity to win, I'm going to continue to do this," said Martin, 50. "I'm having a blast, and that's always been most important to me and my family."
Tryson says he and Busch are OK
Crew chief Pat Tryson said his decision to leave Penske Racing at the end of the season has nothing to do with driver Kurt Busch. Tryson is moving to Michael Waltrip Racing next year to crew chief for Martin Truex Jr.
"The reason I came to Penske Racing was because of Kurt Busch, and the number one reason to stay at Penske Racing is Kurt Busch," Tryson said Friday. "So my decision ... had nothing to do with Kurt Busch. I had to do things for me, for my personal reasons. ... For things that I want to accomplish in my career that don't have anything to do with who is driving the race car."
Midshipman returns a winner
Midshipman, last season's champion 2-year-old, returned Friday with a 3¼-length victory over Just Ben in a $49,000 allowance race at Belmont Park in New York.
Making his first start since capturing the Breeders' Cup Juvenile on Oct. 25, 2008, at Santa Anita, Midshipman dueled with Just Ben turning for home before taking charge while drifting out toward the center of the track. The time was 1:15.83 for the 6½ furlongs.
Midshipman was sidelined by a soft tissue injury in his left front leg while winter training in Dubai. The victory in the delayed comeback improved his record to 4-for-5.
Rivers fined, L.T. ruled out
The NFL fined San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers $7,500 for taunting in Monday night's victory at Oakland. Rivers was involved in an incident with Raiders defensive lineman Gerard Warren. LaDainian Tomlinson was ruled out of the Chargers' home opener against Baltimore because of a sprained ankle, just the second time the star running back will miss a start because of injury in his nine-year career.
■ Philadelphia quarterback Kevin Kolb took all the snaps with the first team in practice Friday, and Donovan McNabb is listed as doubtful for Sunday's game because of a fractured rib.
Six hours, a record 78 aces
Radek Stepanek overcame a record 78 aces to defeat Ivo Karlovic in five sets in one of the longest matches in tennis history on Friday, when the Czech Republic took a 2-0 lead over host Croatia in the Davis Cup semifinals.
Stepanek won 6-7 (5), 7-6 (5), 7-6 (6), 6-7 (2), 16-14 in a match that lasted 5 hours, 59 minutes.
"I feel like I was in a 10-round boxing match," Karlovic said. "Everything hurts."
■ Kevin VanDam closed strong on the Alabama River at the Bassmaster Elite Series Postseason, winning the Evan Williams Bourbon Trophy Triumph and earning enough points to overtake Skeet Reese in the Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings. It's the fifth time the Kalamazoo, Mich., native has won Angler of the Year.
■ Cleveland Cavaliers guard Delonte West was arrested Thursday in Upper Marlboro, Md., after officers pulled him over for speeding on a motorcycle while carrying two loaded handguns and a loaded shotgun in a guitar case.
■ The Kentucky women's soccer team and Western Kentucky played to a scoreless tie at the UK Soccer Complex on Friday night in UK's Kentucky Tournament.
The last word
Former head coach and current NFL Network analyst Mike Martz on Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler's attitude in his news conference last Sunday following the Bears' loss to the Packers:
"He just doesn't get it. He doesn't understand that he represents a great head coach and the rest of those players on that team. Somebody needs to talk to him."