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Family Fuels Johnson’s Fire & Decision To Step Back

Published in Racing
Thursday, 21 November 2019 15:31

CONCORD, N.C. – Throughout Jimmie Johnson’s nearly hour-long press conference Thursday detailing his decision to retire at the end of next season, there was a prevailing theme throughout: family.

It began when Johnson’s two daughters – nine-year-old Genevieve and six-year-old Lydia – were called to the stage by NASCAR Hall of Fame Executive Director Winston Kelley to introduce their father and his team owner, Rick Hendrick.

It came full-circle at the end of the media availability, when Johnson choked up talking about his racing family and the emotions he has going into his final full-time year of NASCAR Cup Series competition.

In between were a myriad of touching moments, all cementing Johnson’s character, class and commitment as he prepares to chase a record eighth Cup championship one final time in 2020.

Johnson opened the presser by noting that while his decision to retire from full-time racing after 2020 is one that he’s been thinking over for some time, he didn’t actually tell his team about the decision until Wednesday morning, shortly before the news broke to the general public on social media.

That aspect – Johnson’s racing family – was another variation of the word that intertwined itself into Thursday’s proceedings.

“It’s been interesting, because I worked through my headspace before I came to see Rick and spend some time with Jeff (Gordon) … that was all three weeks to a month ago, if not a little longer,” he explained. “Now I’m a little further down the road and so excited to be where I am today and talking about what my plans are. At the end of it all, I’m just very excited and ready to get 2020 started.

“The process has been interesting, telling friends, telling my team and sitting all of them down … people that have worked on the 48 from the beginning,” Johnson noted. “That was probably one of the harder moments I think that I had. When I went to dinner the other night, Cliff (Daniels, crew chief) … I’m not sure he completely thought it was coming out of left field, but I did catch his attention when I mentioned it to him. But it’s been an interesting process and a day that you never really plan for, but it’s here and I’m just thankful to be with family and friends and this man right here (Hendrick) and all that he’s done for my life.

“We’re gonna have a good time this next year, I’m already sure of that.”

Johnson was quick to note that there wasn’t a specific reason that he made this decision to retire at the end of 2020, but that it just “felt right” for him to step back and prepare to spend more time with his family.

“It was just a strong feeling in my stomach, like, ‘wow, this is what I want to do,’” he explained. “So I, of course, talked to (wife) Chandra about it and then some time went on there before I spoke to Rick and Jeff, and then I just thought it through a bit more. But I feel very, very good about my decision and it’s just … it’s time and it showed up, and I feel so fortunate that it showed up to me in that way.

“I’ve talked to greats like Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin, Jeff, Dale (Earnhardt) Jr., and everyone’s had their own journey, and some of those guys set a date and left before their heart really wanted to leave, or with a lot of other athletes, their time is called and they don’t have that opportunity to pick their moment,” he added. “And you know, I feel very blessed and fortunate to have this opportunity.

“When you roll that all up, it just feels right and I’m ready (for that step).”

To continue reading, advance to the next page.

Weather Postpones Start Of Baja 1,000

Published in Racing
Thursday, 21 November 2019 15:43

ENSENADA, Mexico — For the third time in the history of the SCORE Baja 1,000, SCORE race officials have been forced to delay the start of the event by 24 hours to Saturday morning because of inclement weather.

“Ensenada and the surrounding areas of the Northern part of the Baja California peninsula have been inundated with more than four inches of rainfall over the last three days which has forced us, in the interest of safety, to delay the start of the race by 24 hours,” said Jose A. Grijalva, SCORE president and race director. “With the storm having passed through, we want to give our racers the opportunity to pre-run on Friday to make their final preparations for the race.

“The course is rugged enough without all of the rain this week making several parts impassable because of flooding and standing water. We have numerous crews out on the course identifying the worst sections that we will bypass or repair as best we can. This will be one of the most challenging races in the history of the world’s greatest desert race.”

Because of this weather situation, SCORE race officials have moved the pre-race driver/rider meeting to 7 p.m. PT on Friday at the Hotel Lucerna in Ensenada.

Johnson: ‘This Is Not A Retirement From Driving’

Published in Racing
Thursday, 21 November 2019 16:43

CONCORD, N.C. – The 2020 season may be the last time Jimmie Johnson will run the full NASCAR Cup Series schedule, but he is adamant that doesn’t mean he’ll be done racing.

The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, who announced on Wednesday he planned to retire from full-time NASCAR competition following the 2020 season, met with the media on Thursday to elaborate on his decision to retire.

One point he wanted to make perfectly clear was that he fully intends to continue competing once he wraps up his full-time racing career next November at Arizona’s ISM Raceway.

“This is not a retirement from driving race cars. This is slowing down from 38 weekends a year,” said Johnson, a winner of 83 NASCAR Cup Series races during his career. “Nineteen years in Cup and two in the Xfinity Series, plus everything before that. I want a little bit more balance. It’s been a heck of a run and we’re going to keep going.”

Johnson has plenty of experience in other avenues of racing. He started his motorsports career racing dirt bikes before transitioning to racing off-road trucks, which included competing in the grueling Baja 1,000 in Mexico, before he moved to stock car racing in the American Speed Ass’n.

Even during his NASCAR career Johnson dabbled in other forms of racing. He made several sports car starts, competing in the Rolex 24 at Daytona Int’l Speedway on seven occasions with a best overall finish of second twice.

When asked by SPEED SPORT’s Ralph Sheheen what other forms of motorsports he might be interested in experiencing, Johnson said he’s open to anything.

Well, almost anything.

“All options are on the table honestly, except Indy cars on fast ovals,” Johnson said.

“I knew that was not going to happen,” Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick quickly chimed in.

What that leaves is a multitude of options for Johnson to explore. Could he return to the Rolex 24? Could he jump in a dirt late model for the World 100 at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway? What about a run in the Chili Bowl in a midget? What about a return to his roots in an off-road racing truck?

Anything is possible according to Johnson.

“I really look forward to what is going to develop 12 months from now and see what opportunities might be out there. I wouldn’t mind getting dirty again. I know we have a history of off-road racing in the dirt,” Johnson acknowledged. “Lets just kind of wait and see.”

VIDEO: Does Jimmie Johnson Have Any Bucket List Races? from SPEED SPORT TV on Vimeo.

Johnson did note that a number of motorsports’ series reached out to him via Twitter with invitations to compete. He said they didn’t go unnoticed.

“I haven’t talked to anybody, but I saw them all pinging me on social media, like, ‘Hey, dibs, come race here,’” Johnson said. “Even the World of Outlaws sent me a tweet.”

Before he makes any decisions on what comes next after he wraps up his Cup Series career next November, Johnson said it’ll be important for him to take a break and catch his breath for the first time in more than 20 years.

“Most importantly, I feel like I need to take a deep breath and see what kind of comes from there and put my family first instead of racing first for once and take it from there,” Johnson said.

Keefe: Leafs have talent for quick turnaround

Published in Hockey
Thursday, 21 November 2019 14:24

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- New Toronto Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe spent a decent chunk of a 30-minute morning skate on Thursday teaching instead of running drills.

There's a lot for his new team to learn and not much time to do it.

The 39-year-old Keefe is now in charge of the Maple Leafs after veteran coach Mike Babcock was fired Wednesday with the team mired in a six-game losing streak.

Keefe was officially introduced Thursday morning as the 31st head coach in Maple Leafs history. He has a long history with general manager Kyle Dubas, who hopes Keefe is the right choice to help Toronto bounce back from a disappointing 9-10-4 start.

Keefe believes it can be done.

"We've got a lot of talent and the ability to make life hard on the other team in a lot of ways," he said. "Focusing on that, we believe, will produce positive results. Because the players are good enough for that to happen."

Keefe inherits a roster that includes talented forwards like Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner and William Nylander.

Tavares said there were "many mixed emotions" because Babcock was so dedicated and committed to the team. Tavares said the team feels a burden because it hasn't played up to expectations but is "turning the page" and moving forward.

"Sheldon's got a great mind for the game," Tavares said. "We're excited about the energy and the things he's bringing and trying to improve from where we're at."

Keefe will make his coaching debut during Toronto's game against the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night.

Dubas said the franchise must show patience as Keefe, a first-time NHL coach, embarks on the difficult task of taking over a team midseason and trying to quickly turn things around.

Dubas is confident the players understand there will be ups and downs. He's also aware that outside perception might be a little less forgiving.

"It's all part of what makes working and playing in Toronto great," Dubas said. "You can't go anywhere in Toronto without people caring deeply about the team. I read the greatest quote this morning on the way here: 'You can look at it as a burden or look at it as a trampoline.'"

Toronto is a team that needs quite a bounce.

The 56-year-old Babcock went 173-133-45 in his four-plus seasons with Toronto and made the playoffs the past three years, though the Maple Leafs lost in the first round each time. When the team started slowly this season, Dubas and team president Brendan Shanahan knew it was time for a change.

Shanahan flew to Arizona on Wednesday to break the news to Babcock, whom he hired in 2015.

Shanahan acknowledged it was a hard day. Some more hard days may follow as Keefe tries to quickly implement his system, though the franchise is confident it's headed in the right direction.

Keefe was in his fifth season as head coach of the American Hockey League's Toronto Marlies. He was 199-89-31 with the Marlies and helped the franchise win its first Calder Cup championship in 2018.

Several of the Leafs' current players were coached by Keefe when he was with the Marlies, which is the franchise's top minor-league affiliate.

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – When Scott Harrington found himself in contention earlier this fall at the Houston Open, he considered having his wife, Jennifer, fly from the couple’s home in Scottsdale, Ariz., to be with him during the weekend.

The couple ultimately decided to not make the trip and the 39-year-old PGA Tour rookie finished runner-up. After an opening 65 on the Seaside course, however, Harrington might need to consider some last-minute travel arrangements for his wife.

“Maybe, it would just kind of depend where I'm at heading into Sunday or maybe even heading into this weekend,” said Harrington, who was tied for fifth place after Round 1. “We might talk about it. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it. I've got a lot of golf to play.”

Harrington is one of the young season’s most compelling stories. The circuit’s oldest rookie took much of the 2017 season off to stay at home with Jennifer who was battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Jennifer Harrington’s cancer is in remission and Scott earned his Tour card thanks to his runner-up finish at the Portland Open on the Korn Ferry Tour, but there are always reminders.

“We get pretty high anxiety when she gets her scans every six months to make sure everything is still gone. There's a lot of anxiety around that, but the relief when we've gotten the positive news has been huge and it definitely lets me kind of just focus on what I'm doing out here,” said Harrington, who birdied two of his first six holes Thursday.

‘Nobody can touch’ South Korean star S.Y. Kim

Published in Golf
Thursday, 21 November 2019 09:59

NAPLES, Fla. – Sei Young Kim may be the most underrated South Korean star.

With her 7-under 65 Thursday, she took the first-round lead at the CME Group Tour Championship, positioning herself early for a run at the $1.5 million winner’s check, the richest in the history of women’s golf.

Kim, 26, is looking to claim her third LPGA title this year, the 10th of her career.

How good is that among South Korean stars who have played the American-based tour?

Only Se Ri Pak (25), Inbee Park (19) and Jiyai Shin (11) have won more LPGA titles than Kim.

Pak, Park and Shin all won major championships. Kim is still looking for her first. She’s considered the best player in the women’s game today who hasn’t won one.

“I think she’s going to end up winning all the majors,” said Paul Fusco, her caddie. "We talk about it a lot. Maybe she doesn’t win them all, but it’s just a matter of time until she starts winning them. She believes she can.”

This week’s event isn’t a major, but it’s the next best thing with that winner’s jackpot. Kim won the LPGA’s Mediheal Championship at Lake Merced Golf Club outside San Francisco in May on a course set up like a major.

She won in single digits (-7), showing how her game is suited to any kind of setup, whether par’s a good score or birdies are required in bunches. Kim smashed the LPGA’s 72-hole scoring record winning the Thornberry Classic last year. Her 31-under total there was four shots better than the previous tour record, which Kim shared with Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam.

“Yeah, I’m biased, but when Sei Young is on, nobody can touch her,” Fusco said.

Changes to PGA Tour pace-of-play policy to come in 2020

Published in Golf
Thursday, 21 November 2019 10:14

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – The PGA Tour confirmed Thursday that the policy board approved modifications to the circuit’s pace-of-play policy at its year-ending meeting earlier this week.

Although the Tour doesn’t plan to release details of the modified policy until the circuit initiates an “education process with the PGA Tour’s membership,” one source familiar with the changes characterized the adjustments as “not drastic” and more focused on individual players.

The Tour announced a review of the policy in August which included data collected by ShotLink that could help identify problem areas.

The new policy is aimed at avoiding situations where players take an inordinate amount of time to hit a shot, like Bryson DeChambeau at The Northern Trust in August. The plan is to also empower Tour officials to take action if a player is impacting pace of play.

According to the Tour, the revised policy will go into effect in the second quarter of 2020.

Poch leaves note to Spurs: 'Always in our hearts'

Published in Soccer
Thursday, 21 November 2019 15:00

Photos revealed on Twitter show ousted Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino leaving a note thanking his former players.

Ex-Spurs assistant Jesus Perez posted the photos on Thursday which shows Pochettino writing on a whiteboard that read: "Big thanks to you all. We can't [sic] to say goodbye... You will always be in our [hearts]."

The Argentine was sacked on Tuesday with the club hiring Jose Mourinho as his replacement the next day.

The photos are the first public acknowledgement by Pochettino since his sacking.

At his first news conference following his appointment on Wednesday, Mourinho paid tribute to Pochettino and said the outgoing manager will find another top job.

"I have to speak about Mauricio," Mourinho said. "I have to congratulate him for the work he has done. This club will always be his home. This training ground will always be his training ground. The door will always be open for him.

"He will find happiness again. He will find a great club again. He will have a great future."

Pochettino has been previously linked to clubs like Manchester United, Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Bayern Munich -- although none of those jobs would be immediately available.

Mourinho's new deal at Spurs runs until the end of the 2022-23 season. Sources have told ESPN that the deal is worth around £15 million a year.

Tim Southee burst lifts New Zealand after Ben Stokes 91

Published in Cricket
Thursday, 21 November 2019 16:23

Lunch England 329 for 8 (Buttler 29*, Leach 12*) v New Zealand

Tim Southee's three-wicket burst put England on the back foot during an eventful morning session in Mount Maunganui. Having profited from a cautious approach on day one, England's batsmen reverted to type during a middle-order collapse, although an unbroken ninth-wicket stand of 34 between Jos Buttler and Jack Leach did manage to repel New Zealand until lunch.

After a quiet opening, Southee struck three times in 11 balls. Ben Stokes was first to fall, nine runs short of century, and Southee then rounded up Ollie Pope and Sam Curran in his next over. Trent Boult claimed his first wicket of the match to leave England 295 for 8, but Buttler continued to look dangerous as England sought to repair the damage.

The tourists had actually resumed in positive fashion, with Stokes and Pope extending their overnight partnership to 74. Stokes appeared set for his third century in five Tests, picking up regular boundaries as he moved into the 90s, only for Ross Taylor to brilliantly atone for dropping him on day one. With New Zealand having shifted their cordon wide, Taylor had to react instinctively to a chance flying through regulation first slip but clung on one-handed high to his right.

Kane Williamson had initially held Southee back, handing the still-newish ball to Colin de Grandhomme first up. But once Southee had pried out Stokes, he harnessed the conditions expertly to rip through England's middle order.

Operating in the high 120s kph but showing just why New Zealand's attack is so adept when there is a hint of swing on offer, Southee struck twice with consecutive deliveries. Pope, who successfully overturned an lbw decision that went de Grandhomme's way in the third over of the morning, played some eye-catching shots to move past his previous Test best of 28, made on debut against India in 2018, but was lured into flashing at a delivery that left him enough to clip the edge through to BJ Watling.

Curran was then bamboozled by a full inswinger, opting to review despite ball-tracking showing that the delivery would have crashed into middle and leg stumps. Jofra Archer negotiated the hat-trick ball uncertainly, via a deflection for four off his pads, and then fell in the following over as Boult found his outside edge. From the relative comfort of 277 for 4, England had shipped 4 for 18 in 21 deliveries.

With Leach nearly running out Buttler off the first ball he faced, England were in serious danger of folding for around 300. But Henry Nicholls could not manage a direct hit from the covers with the batsman nowhere in the frame, and Buttler hinted at his destructive capabilities a couple of overs later when casually lofting Southee back down the ground for four.

With lunch approaching, he launched Boult high over long-off for six, but with conditions still relatively friendly for batting, New Zealand were the happier of the sides after the morning's progress.

Izzo leaves board after NCAA denies waiver

Published in Breaking News
Thursday, 21 November 2019 11:59

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan State coach Tom Izzo was taught by his mentor, the late Jud Heathcote, to give back to the game by being part of the National Association of Basketball Coaches.

The Hall of Famer is choosing not to do that anymore.

A frustrated Izzo said Thursday that he was resigning from the NABC board of directors after nearly 18 years of service. He said he wanted to focus on his team and family, but he also blamed the NCAA for making what he called "arbitrary decisions" regarding waiver requests, including denying forward Joey Hauser's appeal to play this season.

"Joey did have a strong case and I'm devastated," Izzo said.

Hauser transferred to Michigan State from Marquette in May and requested a waiver from the NCAA to be eligible immediately instead of sitting out the season, per usual transfer rules. The NCAA recently changed its waiver policy to give more undergraduate transfers a chance to become immediately eligible to compete.

"We opened Pandora's box and maybe it will never be shut," Izzo said.

Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields is among the football players who received a waiver to play in 2019 after transferring following the 2018 season. Earlier this week, the NCAA cleared forward Gabe Osabuohien to play at West Virginia this season after approving his waiver request and TCU got a boost when Ohio State transfer Jaedon LeDee was granted a waiver.

Izzo did not reference any specific decision the NCAA has made, but he said the governing body is relying on people outside of the game to make critical decisions.

"Joey didn't come here because he thought he was going to play right away," the coach said. "There was not even any talk about that. But as waivers started to pile up as the summer went on, Joey and his family felt they had a strong case. And I don't really appreciate when some people are getting waivers, and other people aren't.

"All the research I've seen, the consistency and the guidelines for this seem absurd. There's arbitrary decisions being made. And what bothers me the most is they're being made by individuals who don't really understand what's going on in our game."

He said he has tried to be a part of coming up with solutions as part of the NABC, but stepped down from his role because he is fed up.

"I just don't believe I want to be dealing with these problems and banging my head against the wall," he said.

Jim Haney, the longtime executive director of the NABC, said Izzo is not the only coach frustrated.

"There's a lack of trust in terms of the process," Haney said in a telephone interview. "Coaches look at stories about this kid becoming eligible immediately and then find out this kid is not and there's a lot of uncertainty. Tom deeply cares about the game and is a great steward. When his frustration comes to the point that he wants to disengage from the conversation, I think that says something significant."

A message seeking comment was left with the NCAA.

The 6-foot-9 Hauser, who is from Stevens Point, Wisconsin, averaged nearly 10 points and five-plus rebounds last season as a freshman.

The third-ranked Spartans play Virginia Tech next week in the Maui Invitational, where they will also face Dayton or Georgia and potentially No. 4 Kansas.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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