Johnson's sandbagging in All-Star race irritates fans
It didn't take teams very long to figure out their best shot at winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup All-Star race would be in the first 20 laps. What few predicted, though, was that the new format would encourage drivers to take it easy for portions of Saturday night's $1 million race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Now fans are upset winner Jimmie Johnson essentially sandbagged for 60 or so laps before turning it up for a final charge to his third All-Star race victory.
"Everybody knew if you could win that first segment, you could control the night," said Johnson, who indeed won the first of four 20-lap segments.
Under the format for this year's race, the winners of each of the first four 20-lap segments lined up 1-through-4 for the mandatory trip down pit road. Once there, it was a race to simply be the first drivers to get back on the track for the final 10-lap sprint to the finish.
So Johnson claimed the first segment, then faded to the back of field for next three segments. Matt Kenseth joined him at the rear after winning the second segment, and although Brad Keselowski was reluctant to follow the same strategy, he also went to the back when his team insisted it was the best strategy after the third segment.
"Obviously there was a debate whether or not to run hard or conserve your stuff," Keselowski said. "I hate conserving race cars. They're meant to run hard. I just wanted to make sure that everybody on my team was on the same plan, and they were. So I've got to do what they tell me."
It wasn't all that popular for race fans, who seemed nonplussed by the three-wide racing through the pack that accentuated several of the opening segments. Instead, many seemed annoyed that Johnson, Kenseth and Keselowski had no incentive to race once they won their segments.
Johnson, who claimed "when the rules came down, every crew chief in the garage area realized the importance of that first segment," was reluctant to criticize the latest All-Star race format. It was the eighth change to the format since the race was created in 1985.
"That's going to be tough for me to knock the system after how our night went because it just worked out exactly how we'd hoped," he said.
But NASCAR has long touted its All-Star event as the only one in professional sports where the participants actually try hard, and Saturday night managed to discredit that theory.
Stenhouse wins third straight at Iowa
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. led for 209 of 250 laps and won the NASCAR Nationwide race at the Iowa Speedway on Sunday, his third straight win on Iowa's short oval. Stenhouse, who won both races in Iowa in 2011, picked up his third victory of the season and extended his lead in the points chase to 28 over Elliott Sadler, who was second. Michael McDowell was third, followed by rookie Austin Dillon and Kurt Busch.
Danica Patrick failed to finish for just the second time this season. Travis Pastrana's third career Nationwide race ended roughly 50 laps from the finish because of an electrical issue.
Darrell Wallace Jr., held his ground in his first career start in the Nationwide series, finishing ninth after starting eighth.
Carpenter qualifies to fill Indy 500 field
Ed Carpenter became the 33rd driver to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, assuring race officials they will have a full field for the May 27 race. Minutes later, Charlie Kimball became the fourth driver to crash on the 2.5-mile oval in two days.
When Kimball's car got below the white line going through the first turn on the hot, slick track, the back end of the car spun and took Kimball into the outside wall. The car bounced off, then slid down the track and rolled to a stop on the inside of the first turn.
Kimball climbed out and did not appear to be seriously hurt.
Three drivers — Carpenter, Bryan Clauson and Oriol Servia — crashed during Saturday's qualifying.
Bat Cats' Littrell, Henderson earn honors
Kentucky sophomore left-hander Corey Littrell was named one of the top 25 pitchers in the nation when he made the College Baseball Hall of Fame NCAA Pitcher of the Year watch list.
The Louisville native is 8-1 with a 2.64 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 851⁄3 innings this season. He is 6-1 with a 2.93 ERA in Southeastern Cononference play.
Also, after leading Kentucky to a school-record 41 wins during the regular season, Coach Gary Henderson was named the Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year by SEbaseball.com.
■ The Louisville softball team's best season in program history came to an end with a 4-0 loss to Michigan in the finals of the Louisville regional. The Cards finished the season 55-5.
"It was a tough battle today," Louisville Coach Sandy Pearsall said. "We hit the ball extremely well today. We hit it right at them but we hit it hard. If some of those would fall I think the outcome would have been different."
Dufner wins Nelson on 25-foot birdie putt
Jason Dufner made a 25-foot birdie putt on the final hole Sunday in Irving, Texas, for a one-stroke victory at the Byron Nelson Championship, his second win in three weeks. Dufner's winning putt wrapped up a closing 3-under 67 for an 11-under 269 total, one ahead of Dicky Pride.
Dufner got his first PGA Tour win three weeks ago at New Orleans. Pride, whose only PGA Tour victory in a 20-year professional career came in 1994, was at 10 under after a par-saving 22-foot putt at No. 18 after hitting his drive into the water.
Matt Kuchar, who won The Players Championship a week earlier, shot 70 and finished at 276 in a tie for 15th.
■ Azahara Munoz beat Candie Kung 2 and 1 on Sunday to win the Sybase Match Play Championship, a title that was set up when Morgan Pressel was penalized for slow play while in control of their semifinal match in Gladstone, N.J. Pressel appeared to take a 3-up lead with a par at the 12th hole. But before she could tee off on No. 13, tour official Doug Brecht informed her that she had violated the tour's pace of play rule and lost the hole, dropping her lead to 1-up and changing momentum. Munoz, a former Arizona State star from Spain, then rallied to beat Pressel 2 and 1.
■ Nicolas Colsaerts handled fierce winds to top Graeme McDowell and capture the World Match Play Championship in Casares, Spain, on Sunday. Colsaerts won a slow final 1 up for his second European Tour title and earn a winner's check of $900,000.
Coyotes defeat Kings to avoid sweep
Shane Doan scored two goals, Mike Smith made 36 saves in his third playoff shutout, and the Phoenix Coyotes avoided playoff elimination with a 2-0 victory over the host Los Angeles Kings in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals on Sunday.
Ray Whitney and Antoine Vermette had assists for the Coyotes, who escaped a series sweep by snapping the eighth-seeded Kings' eight-game winning streak in front of long-suffering fans denied the chance to celebrate Los Angeles' first berth in the Stanley Cup Finals since 1993.
The last word
So can I'll Have Another win the Triple Crown? Steve Cauthen, who was a fresh-faced, 18-year-old jockey who rode Affirmed into history, says the colt can deliver. Cauthen said:
"It's like three title fights in five weeks. You are taking on the best around. With Affirmed, he alway s did the right thing. He didn't waste any energy. And when it came down to a battle, he thrived on it. This horse looks like he's got that fighting spirit. He likes a game, and he wants to win, and he can't wait to get another battle."