After low-key celebration, Junior focused on Sonoma
Turns out the victory party for Dale Earnhardt Jr. wasn't much of a party at all. Earnhardt snapped a 143-race winless streak at Michigan International Speedway, then celebrated at home in North Carolina with friends and family.
"It was good, we went home and some of the family and my friends were there, and we just stood around and talked about the win," Earnhardt said Tuesday. "We played some music, it was a pretty good time."
It was hardly the wild party people expected from NASCAR's most popular driver, who was unaware of reports the nightclub he owns in downtown Charlotte gave away free drinks for an hour after Sunday night's win.
"That's cool," he said, laughing.
Next up for Earnhardt was his first celebration at Hendrick Motorsports since the organization began marking wins with the ringing of a victory bell throughout the shop. Earnhardt has been with Hendrick since 2008, when he won his only other race with the team — at Michigan four years to the day of Sunday's victory. He said he's never been present when any of his teammates rang the bell.
Once that's over, it will be full focus on Sunday's race at Sonoma Raceway, where Earnhardt has always struggled. In 12 career starts, his average finish is 22.2 and he's led just nine laps on the winding road course. His career best finish is 11th, done three times.
He's set modest goals for this weekend with crew chief Steve Letarte, and is anxious to get on with his summer with return trips to Daytona, Pocono and Michigan looming ahead.
"I've kind of got to reel it in a little bit because of Sonoma, I ain't never had a top-10 there," he said. "I told Steve, 'Let's try to go get a top-10, if that's first place or ninth place or whatever, let's just concentrate on going there to get a personal best. And then I think we can move on from that, whatever that result may be."
But, there's a part of Earnhardt who isn't ready to write off a good day at Sonoma just yet.
Statistically, the start of his season is one of his best ever in the Sprint Cup Series. He's the only driver to complete every lap, and leads the series with 12 top-10s through 15 races.
"There are stats I'm not used to bragging about," he said. "I have to pinch myself just about after every race."
His consistency, coupled with the dominating win at Michigan, now has him mentioned as a serious threat to win the Sprint Cup championship. Earnhardt has never won a Cup title, and hasn't challenged for one since his six-win season in 2004, which he considers the strongest year of his career.
He laughed Tuesday at the sudden buzz over his title chances, which have been validated since Sunday by everyone from current points leader Matt Kenseth to NASCAR president Mike Helton. Earnhardt said he'll have his hands full with defending champion Tony Stewart, teammate Jimmie Johnson, and Roush Fenway Racing drivers Kenseth and Greg Biffle.
"I think everybody was just kind of drunk with excitement after the race," he said. "Some of my buddies that I race against, Matt and Mr. Helton, everybody was just excited about the end of the race. But I do think we can put our name in the hat. I don't think we are the top team, you've got to look at probably Tony, Jimmie, and Biffle and Matt. ... But we are going to be in the Chase, and we're going to go after it."
Defending champ tied for State Am lead
Patrick Newcomb took the first step toward successfully defending his Kentucky State Amateur golf title by firing a 3-under-par 68 in Tuesday's opening round at The Cardinal Club in Simpsonville.
Newcomb, who just finished his junior year at Murray State where he earned all-Ohio Valley Conference honors, eagled the par-4 sixth hole to highlight his day. Newcomb won the 100th State Am at Kearney Hill Links last year.
Three other players with college experience — Jared Flanery (Morehead State), Tyler Mitchell (UNC-Charlotte) and Taylor Riggs (Eastern Kentucky) — also shot 68s on Tuesday.
Former Lexington Christian golfers Hunter Frazier and Hunter Stewart opened with 69s, as did Tyler McDaniel, who earned Mr. Golf honors after his freshman season at Clay County last fall. McDaniel had an eagle on the par-4 ninth.
The 54-hole tournament continues Wednesday and concludes on Thursday.
■ UCLA sophomore Patrick Cantlay announced during a news conference Tuesday at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Conn., that he is turning professional. The Travelers Championship, which begins Thursday at TPC Highlands, will be the first professional event for Cantlay, who was the top-ranked amateur in the world.
Cantlay has entered eight PGA events as an amateur and has made the cut in all but one.
HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
Franklin County hires basketball coach
Franklin County hired Tommy Johnson to be its boys' basketball coach. He replaces Scott Chalk, who left the Flyers to become coach at Paul Laurence Dunbar. Johnson, 30, played high school ball at Frankfort. He was an assistant at Lafayette last season. Before that, he was on Chalk's staff at Franklin County for six years.
■ Two Tates Creek girls' basketball players signed with Division I schools: Oney Harrison with St. Bonaventure, and Katie Pippen with Eastern Kentucky.
■ Asbury signed six area baseball players: Mitchell Watson, Landon Skaggs and Kyle Sieberts of Tates Creek; Dallas Murphy of Lexington Christian; Connor Byrne of Scott County, and Brandon McGuire of Madison Southern.
Collins to speak at 1972 team reunion
Philadelphia 76ers Coach Doug Collins will be the keynote speaker for the 1972 Olympic basketball reunion banquet on Aug. 25 at the Griffin Gate Marriott in Lexington. Collins, a starting guard on the 1972 team, will join his former teammates two weeks after serving as NBC's basketball analyst for the 2012 Games. The reunion will take place Aug. 23-26 in Central Kentucky and include both public and private events.
EUROPEAN SOCCER CHAMPIONSHIP
England, France advance to quarterfinals
England and France advanced to the European Championship quarterfinals on Tuesday in Poland.
England striker Wayne Rooney returned after a two-match ban to score in the 48th minute and secure a 1-0 win over Ukraine, a result which eliminated the Euro 2012 co-hosts. Ukraine was denied an equalizer when the Hungarian match officials ruled Marko Devic's 62nd-minute shot had not crossed the line, despite replays indicating it had.
France progressed as Group D runner-up despite being beaten 2-0 by Sweden, which lost its first two matches.
The last word
Chad Ochocinco made a quiet debut with the Miami Dolphins, on and off the field. First he made a few nice sideline catches, then took a subdued approach in his first interview since signing with the Dolphins last week. Even though he's never been shy about making predictions in the past, Ochocinco declined to proclaim himself the No. 1 receiver on his new team:
"I was never good with math, so I'm not good with numbers, either."
Ochocinco spoke for 1 minute, 43 seconds before saying he had answered all the questions anyone might have. He finished with:
"I love you. Enjoy the show."