Kenseth wins pole, Johnson starting 7th in Cup finale
Matt Kenseth and his Joe Gibbs Racing team took a huge step away from their bad performance last week by winning the pole Friday at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the championship-deciding race. Kenseth turned a lap at 177.667 mph in his Toyota to claim the top starting spot for Sunday's race. He called it "a confidence booster" after his 23rd-place finish at Phoenix essentially ruined his title chances.
He was trailing Jimmie Johnson by seven points going into Phoenix and left the race down 28 with just one race to decide the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. But the pole, his third of the season and 11th of his career, is a start toward a big rebound.
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"I think more than morale, it's probably a confidence booster," Kenseth said. "The thing is, Jimmie is so far ahead, that even if he does have a problem we need to be in the front to be able to capitalize on that. This is a good start to that, hopefully get a bonus point right away, get the best pit stall. I think it's important, we need to be up front and try to lead as much as we can and be in the mix at the end."
Whether it's enough remains to be seen. Johnson, who needs only to finish 23rd or better Sunday to win his sixth championship, qualified seventh. He feels good about his situation.
"It's a great position to be in, there's no doubt about it," Johnson said. "It's nice, but it doesn't guarantee anything. I have to run all 400 miles on Sunday and that's really the goal for this Lowe's car."
■ Matt Crafton won the NASCAR Truck Series championship even before the green flag dropped Friday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida. With a 46-point lead over Ty Dillon, all Crafton needed to do was start the 200-mile finale to secure his first series championship in 13 seasons. Sprint Cup regular Kyle Busch won the race, his fifth victory of the season in the Truck Series. And with Crafton crossing the finish line 21st, Busch earned himself the owners' championship.
Hall of Fame lineman McCormack dies
Hall of Fame offensive lineman Mike McCormack died Friday in Palm Desert, Calif. He was 83. During his nearly 50 years in professional football, Mr. McCormack played, coached and held several executive positions, including president of the Carolina Panthers.
Mr. McCormack spent 12 seasons with the Cleveland Browns, helping the franchise win NFL championships in 1954 and 1955. He played with Otto Graham and blocked for running back Jim Brown.
Mr. McCormack later coached the Philadelphia Eagles (1973-75), Baltimore Colts (1980-81) and Seattle Seahawks (1982). He served as president and general manager of the Seahawks. McCormack was instrumental in helping the Panthers land an NFL franchise in 1993 and was the first person selected into the team's Hall of Honor.
Mr. McCormack was a dominant offensive lineman for the Browns. At McCormack's Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Coach Paul Brown called McCormack "the finest offensive lineman I have ever coached."
USA Today named McCormack to its 75th anniversary all-NFL team, listing him as one of the best three tackles in league history.
■ Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson was ruled out for Sunday's game against the New York Jets because of a groin injury.
Stenson leads European finale by a shot
Henrik Stenson moved a step closer to capturing the European money title, shooting an 8-under 64 Friday for a one-stroke lead after two rounds at the season-ending World Tour Championship. He is looking to become only the second Swede in 76 years to win the European title. He was five shots ahead of his Race to Dubai rivals.
"They are chasing me as good as they can, and I know neither one of the guys are going to back down," Stenson said. "So it is better I keep my foot down and my head down and try and keep the momentum going."
Spain's Alejandro Canizares (67) was at 133. Justin Rose, second in the Race to Dubai, and Ian Poulter, who is fourth, lost ground to Stenson. They were in a group at 137.
■ Defending champion Adam Scott grabbed a share of the second-round lead at the Australian Masters, with birdies on his first three holes Friday and two of his final four at Royal Melbourne.
■ Anna Nordqvist and So Yeon Ryu each birdied the final hole for a share of the second-round lead with Pornanong Phatlum on Friday in the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in Guadalajara, Mexico.
■ Robert Karlsson and Kevin Stadler topped the OHL Classic leader board at 12 under when second-round play was suspended because of darkness in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.
Kidd-Gilchrist, Bobcats edge Cavs
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist scored a team-high 16 points to with eight rebounds and the Charlotte Bobcats used a strong fourth quarter to defeat the host Cleveland Cavaliers 86-80.
Kidd-Gilchrist had eight points in the fourth, including a three-point play that gave Charlotte an 81-70 lead with 6:08 remaining.
■ Jeff Teague had a career-high 33 points and 10 assists, Al Horford added 20 points and the host Atlanta Hawks beat the Philadelphia 76ers 113-103.
Brennaman, Stein earn 'Bluegrass' honors
The recipients of two awards that will be presented at the Bluegrass Sports Awards on Jan. 29 were revealed on Friday. The Tom Hammond Award will be given to the longtime voice of the Cincinnati Reds, Hall of Fame broadcaster Marty Brennaman. The Jim Host Sports Business Award will be presented to baseball executive and entrepreneur Alan Stein.
■ Novak Djokovic of Serbia and Tomas Berdych of defending champion Czech Republic did what was expected of them Friday, winning their matches and leaving the Davis Cup finals at 1-1 after the opening day in Belgrade, Serbia. Djokovic beat Radek Stepanek 7-5, 6-1, 6-4 in the first singles. Berdych then defeated rookie Dusan Lajovic 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 on the indoor hard court at Belgrade Arena.
■ The United States men's soccer team was held to a 0-0 draw by host Scotland in a friendly on Friday. It was the first game for the U.S. since completing qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
■ Renee Hurd scored 27 seconds into overtime go give the Lindsey Wilson women's soccer team a 2-1 victory over Cumberland (Tenn.) in the Mid-South Conference Tournament finals at Columbia. Hurd scored off Ayaki Shinada's second assist of the night.
■ Irad Ortiz Jr. rode five winners at Aqueduct on Friday — falling a victory shy of tying the New York Racing Association record. The five-win performance moved Ortiz into second place in the Big A standings with 11 victories, three behind Javier Castellano.
■ A new trial has been ordered for jockey Robby Albarado, who won an appeal in Louisville of his conviction on a misdemeanor assault charge. Albarado was convicted last year of fourth-degree assault and fined $500 in connection with a fight at his home involving his former girlfriend, Carolina Martinez. But Jefferson County Circuit Judge Brian C. Edwards ordered a new trial. Edwards said the prosecutor made an improper comment during jury selection regarding Albarado's marital status when the jockey began a relationship with Martinez.
The last word
Indianapolis Colts Coach Chuck Pagano watched his team fall behind by two scores — again — Thursday and things looked all too familiar. His team was able to rally in the second half for a 30-27 win at Tennessee. Pagano said Friday:
"I'm to the point now where we might as well put 14 on the board before we kick the thing off. And have the guys at least look up there and say, 'We're down 14. We better get going.'"