Closest NASCAR Cup ever, who won?

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Closest NASCAR Cup ever, who won?

From Comcast SportsNet

HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP)Tony Stewarts third NASCAR championship was much different his first two.

It was historic.

Stewart became the first driverowner to win a championship since Alan Kulwicki accomplished the feat in 1992. Kulwicki overcame a huge deficit over the final six races. Stewart claimed his third title by becoming the first driver to clinch the championship by winning the season finale.

Its an honor to be in the same category with Alan Kulwicki, Stewart said. But Alan did it all on his own. Ive got a great co-owner with Gene Haas, and (general manager) Joe Custer helped put all this together with (Hendrick Motorsports owner) Rick Hendrick.

Stewart won Cup championships in 2002 and 2005 while driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. He stepped out on his own in 2009, teaming with Haas for financial support and getting engines from Hendrick, and delivered the ultimate prize in just his third season.

Stewart became the ninth driver in NASCAR history to win three of more championships, a list that includes Lee Petty, Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough.

Ive got the best team in the business and its just awesome, Stewart said. Im so grateful to be able to do this for Gene. Hes invested so much in the sport, and for him to have the faith in me to do this, it just takes a lot to do what hes done and Im glad I could get it done for him.

CAREER LOW FOR 5-TIME: Jimmie Johnsons problems in the season finale left him with his worst career finish in the Cup standings.

Johnson, who won the previous five championships, had engine problems early in Sundays race at Homestead-Miami Speedway and later got spun by David Gilliland.

He ended the race six laps down, finished 32nd and dropped to sixth in the final points. He had never finished lower than fifth since his rookie season in 2002. He also ended the year without a pole for the first time in his 10 full seasons.

He was eliminated from title contention at Phoenix last week, but came to Homestead hoping to end the year on a high note. Instead, he endured all sorts of problems.

Internal engine parts seemed to be the biggest culprit.

I started getting some warning signs on the way into the pits that it was an internal situation and those internal parts were trying to find a way out, Johnson said. So we are out of the points(was) trying to finish in the top fivebut if we can get on the track and get going, other guys have some trouble, maybe we can get something going there. Just disappointed.

Sad way to end the season, but it is racing. We will come back next year.
SPONSOR NEGOTIATIONS: Sprint is deep in negotiations with NASCAR to continue title sponsorship of its top racing series.

The current 10-year deal with NASCAR expires at the end of the 2013 season, but talks on an extension have been ongoing on and Steve Gaffney, vice president of corporate marketing for Sprint, was pleased with the negotiations.

Were really hopeful well have some good news to announce soon, Gaffney said during Sundays season finale.

The deal began in 2004 with Nextel, which was eventually acquired by Sprint. The series was re-branded the Sprint Cup Series in 2008.

NASCAR chief marketing officer Steve Phelps acknowledged renewal talks are progressing.

We continue to have discussions, and both parties are interested in continuing the relationship, Phelps said.

Gaffney said Sprint has been thrilled with the title race between Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart, and felt the last month has increased interest in NASCAR.

Its been the perfect amount of rhetoric, Gaffney said. The talk has been just right, not too over the top, and its been an exciting time to follow the series. We couldnt be more excited with how things developed and got to this finale.
NO BUSCH BASH: Brothers Kyle and Kurt Busch both made the Chase for the championship, and Kyle even opened NASCARs 10-race title bout atop the standings.

But neither contended.

Kurt finished 11th in the final standings, one spot ahead of Kyle, who was suspended by NASCAR at Texas. Their positions at the bottom of the standings means neither will be eligible to participate on the stage during the season-ending awards ceremony in Las Vegastheir hometown.

Ive never been so disappointed in my life, Kurt Busch said. I think I missed a race once my rookie year and this almost tops that.
PRESIDENTIAL GUESTS: Michelle Obama and Jill Biden visited NASCARs season finale.

The first lady and the vice presidents wife were on hand to honor military troops and families and recognize new commitments by companies planning to hire and train veterans and military spouses. It was part of their Joining Forces program.

The women received a standing ovation at the pre-race drivers meeting. Obama said NASCAR has been amazing in terms of its support, not just today but every day for military families.

These military families are amazing, Obama said. Days like this just remind them that they do have a country that cares and appreciates what they do, and it means so much to them.

Obama and Biden went from the drivers meeting to a barbecue for military families. They later served as grand marshals for the finale, delivering those famous racing words: Gentlemen, start your engines.

Manaea felt 'little sharp pain', but status of shoulder not immediately known

Manaea felt 'little sharp pain', but status of shoulder not immediately known

ANAHEIM — Sean Manaea is hopeful his left shoulder injury isn’t serious, but the A’s likely won’t have a full read on the starter’s condition for a couple days.

As of Wednesday night, no MRI was scheduled after Manaea left after just two innings of an eventual 8-5 defeat to the Los Angeles Angels with tightness in his shoulder.

“I felt it a little bit in the bullpen,” Manaea said. “I thought it was just one of those days where it took me longer to warm up, and that just wasn’t the case. It’s just really unfortunate.”

Just as the A’s are about to welcome Kendall Graveman back to the active roster Thursday, when he starts the series finale at Angel Stadium, and just as it appears Sonny Gray might be ready to come off the disabled list following one more rehab start, the A’s are hoping they don’t see Manaea subtracted from their rotation for any period of time.

Manager Bob Melvin said it was the top of Manaea’s shoulder that was bothering him.

“The velo was down, and it didn’t make sense to have him keep pitching,” Melvin said. “But we won’t know anything probably for a day or two, how he feels.”

Once he started throwing in the game, Manaea said he felt “kind of a little sharp pain. I mean, it’s nothing serious. I’ve dealt with it before and it only took me a few days to get back on the mound. To me, I’m not really worried about it.”

The pitcher added that he experienced a similar situation with his shoulder while a minor leaguer in Kansas City’s organization, toward the end of spring training, and he missed minimal time.

Things didn’t get better for the A’s (10-11) after Manaea exited, as they struck out 13 times and played sloppy defensively in dropping their third in a row. Catcher Stephen Vogt couldn’t handle Ryan Dull’s glove flip to the plate on a seventh-inning squeeze play, ending a streak of six errorless games for Oakland, but Melvin can live with occasional physical misplays. More problematic were occasions when right fielder Matt Joyce and center fielder Jaff Decker both seemed caught by surprise to see Angels runners take off for an extra base. Whether it was a lack of communication from infielders or the outfielders themselves needing to be more aware, the A’s can’t afford those kinds of mistakes.

“As a group, we can’t let that happen,” Melvin said. “We talk about it in advance meetings the way these guys run the bases. It’s not something we can do and expect to beat this team.”

Added Vogt: “We were on our heels quite a bit. This was obviously not the prettiest baseball game we’ve played.”

Morse, Arroyo stun Dodgers, lift Giants to thrilling comeback win

Morse, Arroyo stun Dodgers, lift Giants to thrilling comeback win

SAN FRANCISCO — This spring, Hunter Pence briefly tried to cut back on his coffee intake. The experiment did not last long for a player who is pure caffeine on and off the field, but even Pence is occasionally in need of more than a large cold brew. 

Pence tried to stay upbeat throughout a sluggish start to the season, but around him was a clubhouse in need of energy. Christian Arroyo walked through the door on Monday. Two days later, Michael Morse arrived.

“That’s quite an energy jolt,” Pence said of Arroyo. “Morse, it’s been an energy jolt as well.”

The two recent River Cats sent a pair of jolts through a stadium that was sold out for the 499th consecutive time. Arroyo hit a two-run homer in the seventh, his first in the big leagues. Morse went deep in the eighth for his first big league hit in two years and first homer as a Giant since the 2014 NLCS. 

Pence is close friends with Morse and and admirer of Arroyo, the 21-year-old who has taken a locker a few feet away. He made sure neither jolt went to waste, hitting a walk-off sacrifice fly in the 10th to give the Giants a thrilling 4-3 win they hope they can build on.

“That was a shot in the arm,” Morse said.

The big slugger was just that earlier Wednesday. Morse agreed to terms on a minor league deal at Pence’s wedding last winter and he was on track for opening day before a hamstring injury. He was so excited by Wednesday’s call back to San Francisco that he beat Bruce Bochy to the park. The manager tried to lower expectations before the game, telling reporters that Morse would not be a regular starter, especially in left, where the Giants have watched a black hole open. 

Morse was here for the late innings, for the moment when Bochy looks at him and says simply, “Get ready, Mo.” For most of Wednesday’s game, it looked like that big moment wouldn’t come. Alex Wood took a no-hitter into the sixth but he was pulled in the seventh by a Dodgers staff trying to protect his arm. Sergio Romo entered and soon faced a kid who was 19 the first time he walked into Romo’s clubhouse. 

“He’s been doing the same thing in the big leagues with good results for a long time,” Arroyo said. 

Arroyo got the slider that’s always coming, low and away, and he drilled it deep to left-center. He hit only three homers last year but Giants management felt the 36 doubles at Richmond showed a developing power bat. The strength has come quickly, and the ball carried into the first row of seats. 

“I looked up and saw the ump waving and I was like, ‘I’ve got to slow down,’” Arroyo said, smiling. “I tried to slow down and take it all in.”

As Arroyo crossed the plate and looked to the sky, his family shared hugs — without spilling a nacho — in a section overlooking the home dugout. The ballpark roared. A 3-0 deficit had been nearly erased. 

“Now it’s a one-run game,” Bochy said. “Anything can happen.”

Even by that standard, Morse’s blast was improbable. This is a player who didn’t have a hit last season before being sent home by the Pittsburgh Pirates. A player who, at 35, was having a poor spring before he announced to a reporter one day that he was going to hit a homer -- and then promptly did. On a rehab assignment over the past week, Morse had a .250 average and no homers, but he insisted to general manager Bobby Evans that his swing was ready. 

Evans believed, and Morse rewarded him with a moment that had everyone in the park throwing it back to 2014. Just as in the deciding game of the NLCS against the Cardinals, Morse was sent up as a pinch-hitter in the eighth. Sidewinding Pat Neshek was replaced by fire-balling Pedro Baez, but the approach was the same. 

“Swing hard,” Morse said. “Just in case you hit it.”

Baez kept pumping fastballs and Morse turned on one at 97 mph. He raised his arm the same way he did three years ago, an inning before Travis Ishikawa’s heroics. 

“I’m not going to lie,” Bochy said. “I was thinking about that game against St. Louis.”

All the Giants were. 

“You kind of just sit there and shake your head a little bit because it was very similar to his last homer here,” Posey said. “Even his excitement out of the box was similar.”

Morse said he didn’t intend to strike the same pose. 

“I was like, ‘I hope I didn’t strike out and I’m just running around the bases,’” he said, laughing. “It was cool, man. Not only for me, but for the team.”

For four innings, the surging bullpen made sure the homers would not be a fun footnote to another loss. Gorkys Hernandez kicked off the winning rally in the 10th with a single. He was pushed along by a stolen base, walk and bunt. Pence stepped in with no outs and engaged in one of the strangest battles of a career full of them. 

Ross Stripling, a starter with a deep repertoire, kept pumping 94 mph fastballs up near Pence’s eyes. Pence swung through one, fouled off five, and took three more for balls. Only one of the pitches he saw was in the strike zone. In the dugout, Posey shook his head in amusement. 

“It was kind of hard not to laugh,” Posey said. “He’s probably the only guy who can do that.”

Some Giants couldn’t hold the laughter in, even in a tense spot.

“He had that ‘Thou shall not walk’ going in that at-bat,” Bochy said. “He probably expanded as much as I’ve ever seen. If he would have walked it would have gone down as one of the more amazing walks with all the balls he swung at.”

On a night full of so much energy, a walk would have been an anticlimactic ending. Pence, who had been expecting a curveball the whole at-bat, lofted a 10th fastball deep enough to left to score Arroyo and send the Giants streaming out of the dugout. 

Arroyo, the youngest of them all, went sprinting across the infield. Morse followed, and soon he had Pence wrapped in a hug. Hours earlier, he had promised that at the very least, he would bring energy to the clubhouse. He delivered more than anyone could have imagined.

“To do that is one of those special moments that can change a season,” Pence said. “It was electric ... Morsey being Morsey.”