Popular Earnhardt close to contract extension (AP)
CONCORD, N.C. (AP)Dale Earnhardt Jr. remains as popular as ever in the stands. Car owner Rick Hendrick remains a fan, too. Minutes after a popular vote gave him the last spot in Saturday nights NASCAR All-Star race, Earnhardt acknowledged hes had discussions with Hendrick Motorsports about extending his contract past 2012. Weve been talking on the phone a little bit, seeing what we think, and I am excited to be where I am, Earnhardt said. From my heart, its an amazing organization and just great, great people. Earnhardt has just one victory, in 2008, since teaming with Hendrick. Thats also the only year hes made the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship in the No. 88 Chevrolet. But a crew chief change following a miserable 21st-place finish in the standings last year has changed Earnhardts fortunes some. While Earnhardts winless streak is at 104 races, hes currently fourth in the Sprint Cup standings. Weve still got a lot of things that wed really like to accomplish on the race track, Earnhardt said. If I get the opportunity to stick around, Im definitely excited about that. Weve just been talking about it, hopefully, I dont think well have any trouble working things out. Earnhardts 10-year exemption into the All-Star field for winning the non-points event in 2000 ended this year. He raced in the preliminary Sprint Showdown, where the top two finishers qualified for the big race, but finished sixth. It didnt matter, as a majority of the record 2.4 million votes gave Earnhardt the final spot in the 21-car field. I know my fans worked pretty hard, and it meant a lot to them, Earnhardt said. I appreciate the help. NOW THATS A BIG TV: Tony Stewart was hoping to avoid watching television while he worked Saturday night. It was hard not to gaze at the debut of what Charlotte Motor Speedway bills as the worlds largest high definition TV. Its massive, Stewart said. At approximately 200 feet wide and 80 feet tall, the 165,000-pound Panasonic TV was installed over the past few months. It rises 110 feet above the track along the backstretch on a 500,000-pound steel frame. The TV is about 30 percent larger than the big screen Cowboys owner Jerry Jones installed at the teams new stadium, which had been the largest HD screen. Jerry Jones has not called, track president Marcus Smith said Saturday. The track tweaked the Cowboys a bit by inviting former Dallas star Ed Too Tall Jones to the topping-out ceremony in March. Kasey Kahne got a look at the screen as he watched the preliminary Sprint Showdown, posting on Twitter that the view was unreal. So cool to watch, he added. BOYS, RACE CLEAN: Bobby Allison, who will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Monday, was involved in one of sports most famous fights. That doesnt mean hes a fan of NASCARs new policy, Boys, have at it. There have been several on-track incidents this season, the most recent involving Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick that landed both on probation. I never thought it was supposed to be, Boys, have at it, Allison said Saturday. I always thought you should race hard and close, but be fair and clean. Allison, David Pearson, Ned Jarrett, Bud Moore and the late Lee Petty will be part of NASCARs second Hall of Fame class. Allison, the 1983 Winston Cup champion, won 84 races including three Daytona 500s. But Allison, his brother, Donnie, and Cale Yarborough are also remembered for famously came to blows following the 1979 Daytona 500, the first race televised live flag-to-flag. Recently the press and even some competitors have said theres a time to get even, Allison said, but I think you should race clean and hard. BURNOUT: Kasey Kahne created plenty of smoke, but didnt hit the wall or catch his car on fireso he was worried. I dont know if I can win this deal, Kahne said. Turned out, viewers liked Kahnes performance well enough to give him the win in Pennzoils unique burnout competition before the All-Star race. Kahnes tire-spinning performance on the frontstretch garnered 38 percent of the vote from fans texting their favorite driver. Joey Logano, who hit the wall before producing an impressive cloud of smoke, and Kyle Busch, who worked his car so hard it caught fire, finished with 31 percent each. Thats what they tell you to do, to come out here and burn it to the ground, Busch said. I took that literal. Kahne received $10,000, which will he will donate to his own foundation, which helps chronically ill and disadvantaged children. Its great to make some kids smile, he said. LUG NUTS: Driver Greg Biffle followed through on his promise when he asked in the drivers meeting if Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvicks probation was in effect for the non-points race. After hearty laughter from crew members and fans, the answer came from NASCAR officials: yes. Country singer Brad Paisley attended the race to unveil a video for his hit single Old Alabama that includes NASCARs Darrell Waltrip, Jeff Gordon and Rick Hendrick. New York Jets QB Mark Sanchez and Carolina Panthers free agent running back DeAngelo Williams attended the race. Asked by a fan if he was going to remain in Carolina, Williams replied, I hope so, man. Williams teammate, left tackle Jordan Gross, was a judge for the burnout competition.
Heat hope to shrug off loss, even series (AP)
DEERFIELD, Ill. (AP)There wasnt much else LeBron James(notes) could do other than shrug it all off and vow to perform better in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals. Game 1 certainly didnt go well for the Miami. With James and Dwyane Wade(notes) struggling, and the Heat getting beaten badly on the boards, Chris Boshs(notes) 30 points werent enough to bail out the Heat in the opener. The top-seeded Chicago Bulls won 103-82, and now have a chance to grab a commanding lead when the series resumes Wednesday night at the United Center. Weve been able to bounce back this year no matter if its been the regular season or the postseason, James said. Learn from mistakes in the previous game and then move on. Weve done that. Were looking forward to the challenge, were excited about tomorrows opportunity to be here and try to steal homecourt. If they dont get more from James and Wade, the Heat wont get that chance and a 2-0 deficit more daunting then it sounds. The Bulls never lost more than two in a row on their way to a league-leading 62 wins and their first conference finals appearance since the second championship three-peat 13 years ago. They swept three close games from the Heat during the regular season and are off to a good start in this series. James and Wade came in on a surge, only to have the plug pulled against one of the leagues stingiest defenses. Coming off back-to-back games with 35 and 33 points against Boston in the semifinals, James scored just 15 in the opener while hitting 5 of 15 shots. He couldnt shake Luol Deng(notes) or active big men like Taj Gibson(notes) and Joakim Noah(notes) helping out. Wade didnt have much luck, either, after averaging 30.2 points against the Celtics. He finished with 18 pointssix in the second halfand the Bulls broke it open down the stretch on their way to a lopsided victory. I think weve got to play better, said Deng, who scored 21 points. I really do. We played really well. If you look at the final score, we won by a lot, but it really wasnt that kind of game. It really wasnt. It was tied at the half. They had the lead at some point in the third quarter. So theres a lot of things weve got to get better at. He saw too many fastbreaks in the early going, some sloppy ball handling. League MVP Derrick Rose(notes) committed three of his four turnovers in the opening minutes but had none in the second half, and in many ways, it was a textbook performance by a team that held opponents to a league-low 43-percent shooting. Sure, Miami hit just over 47 percent of its shots, but other than Bosh (12 of 18), no one else really stepped up and Miami often looked out of sync. There was too much isolation, not enough ball movement, patience. Then again, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau pointed out Miamis ball movement often comes out of isolation. Miamis been a good ball-movement team all year, he said. They have players that when the ball comes back to them, they can go one-on-one. Thats what makes them so dangerous and tough to guard. Sometimes, your best ball movement comes off isolation because you have to commit two defenders to the player, and once the ball moves, now youre getting wide open shots or easier shots. James said: You got be patient. Its harder to attack on the front side of their defense because they load on the strong side. Youve got to be able to get the ball from one side to another and then attack their defense. They got a lot of length and athleticism. And they dont allow many second chances. No team outrebounded opponents by a wider margin than the Bulls at 5.74 per game. They owned the Heat on the boards during the regular season and did it again in Game 1, to a 45-33 tune. They grabbed 19 offensive rebounds to just six for the Heat and outscored them 31-8 on second-chance points. Miami could go with a bigger rotation and activate Zydrunas Ilgauskas(notes) and Erick Dampier(notes), but they would be sacrificing athleticism. Its not about bigger bodies, its about wanting the ball, Bosh said. Collectively, as a team, we have to do good job of keeping bodies on those bigs. Containing the screen and roll with D-Rose and just going our job like we know we are capable of. Weve done it all season, we just have to capitalize tomorrow. NOTE: Its no surprise that Gibson got, oh, a few messages after his eyebrow-raising dunk on Wade in Game 1, one of two slams that had people buzzing about the young forward afterward. How many? Too many, Gibson said. I turned my phone off. I just wanted to move on.
Video: Listen to “His Name Is Dirk,” your new Mavericks anthem
After Sunday’s obliteration of the Lakers to finish a surprising sweep, the Mavericks are the toast of the NBA. They’re now the favorites in the West and may even win the championship to exorcise the demons of 2006. It’s a great story, and one worthy of your respect. Like heroes of antiquity, the Mavs deserve to be commended in song. That’s why the German DJ and producer Flula Borg, a current resident of Los Angeles, created the song “His Name Is Dirk,” an ode to what makes Dirk Nowitzki great. At least that’s the case if you think Dirk wears a woman’s wig, “plays good like an iPod,” and is the German Moses. Since everyone believes those things, this song is sure to be a hit. Oh, and Flula gets bonus points for singing it all in broken English. Eat your heart out, Klaus Meine. You’re not your country’s finest musician anymore. (Video via TBJ)
Barcelona clinch Spanish league
Barcelona clinch their third Spanish La Liga title in a row with a 1-1 draw at Levante.
Who will the Packers host in the NFL’s Thursday night opener?
The NFL schedule will be released sometime in the next few days, labor agreement or not. One of the biggest questions ahead of the release is who the Green Bay Packers will face in the traditional league’s Thursday night season opener. Shutdown Corner looks at the chances for the eight teams who will visit Lambeau Field this year and assigned completely arbitrary percentages to all the possibilities: 8. Detroit Lions — The Lions haven’t played in primetime since 2002. Recent news that the team’s nabbed a nationally televised appearance in the preseason was greeted with excitement in the Detroit area, so getting the league’s marquee regular season spot may be a ways away. WAYS away. Chance: 0% 7. Denver Broncos — Unless John Fox announces that John Elway will return to play quarterback and Tim Tebow will play all the other 21 positions on the field, don’t expect to see the Mile High crew in Lambeau. Chance: 0% 6. St. Louis Rams — Pros: Surprise 2010 playoff team, next potential quarterbacking star, underrated running back. Cons: Are St. Louis Rams. Chance: 2% 5. Minnesota Vikings — In theory, this should be a zero. But in theory, communism works and Brett Favre would have stayed retired the first time. Chance: 3% 4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — There’s going to be one team that gets too many primetime games based on last year’s late-season push. (See: Cleveland Browns, 2008; San Francisco 49ers, 2010.) My bet for this year is the Bucs. Chance: 3% 3. Oakland Raiders — Of course, it could be the Raiders, too. We give them the slight edge here because of the team’s national following but not too much of one because showing Al Davis on live TV might be considered an FCC violation. Chance: 5% 2. Chicago Bears — One of the top rivalries in football, a rematch of last year’s competitive (if slightly boring) NFC championship game and a golden opportunity to show countless replays on Jay Cutler casually standing on the sideline. It’s a perfect opener for the NFL and NBC except for one thing: Since the tradition of the defending Super Bowl champions hosting the Thursday night opener began in 2004, a divisional matchup has only been featured once (in 2008, when the New York Giants played the Washington Redskins). Chance: 42% 1. New Orleans Saints — A matchup of the last two Super Bowl champions, each of which are helmed by marquee quarterbacks, would be a nice way for the NFL to start the process of healing after the lockout. If the game is half as good as it sounds, that process should last all of three hours. Chance: 45%
NFLPA announces lineup for Rookie Debut
With the lockout ongoing, and the draft less than three weeks away, the NFLPA has put together its own series of draft-week events that will not actually conflict with any of the league’s usual draft programming. The events will be in Times Square, Broadway, Harlem, and on Wall Street. As the PA put it in a press release, “The series of events is a celebration of legacy of past, present and future football players coming together to honor those making the journey from prospect to professional.” A number of draft prospects will be involved, including Prince Amukamara, Marvin Austin, Adrian Clayborn, Marcell Dareus, Nick Fairley, Blaine Gabbert, A.J. Green, Mark Ingram, Julio Jones, Cameron Jordan, Ryan Kerrigan, Corey Liuget, Von Miller, Rahim Moore, Cam Newton, Patrick Peterson, Robert Quinn, Aldon Smith, Daniel Thomas, and J.J. Watt in other words, a good percentage of anyone’s projected first round. In addition, several current and former NFL stars will participate, including Charlie Batch, Cornelius Bennett, Dwayne Bowe, Sam Bradford, Ahmad Bradshaw, Roger Craig, Zak DeOssie, Eric Dickerson, Eddie George, Marshall Faulk, Felix Jones, Maurice Jones-Drew, Dustin Keller, Brandon Marshall, Kevin Mawae, Willie McGinest, Brian Mitchell, Warren Moon, Sean Morey, Shaun O’Hara, Ray Rice, Tony Richardson, Takeo Spikes, and Mike Vrabel. The activities, which will run from the evening of April 28 to the early morning of May 1, will include several celebratory dinners and receptions, a long media availability session, and a “Let Us Play” fitness and skills clinic in Harlem. There was some talk that the NFLPA might put together events to conflict with the draft, and several rumors that draft boycotts might be organized in line with the current labor dispute, but public opinion was swift and clear it’s bad enough that you guys can’t figure out a new CBA; taking away any aspect of the draft will not reflect favorably on anyone.