Sports The Indiana Gazette Sunday, July 1, 2007 — C-3 Franchitti cruises at Richmond RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Pole-sitter Dario Franchitti led all but nine laps and held off Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon with the help of a late caution Saturday night, giving the points leader his first IndyCar Series victory at Richmond. Franchitti, whose position in the standings got him the top starting spot when Friday night’s qualifying was rained out, gave up the lead only twice, and even then it was during pit stops under caution. His victory was sealed when a late caution allowed him to conserve fuel, and he pulled away with ease on a restart with six laps to go. Scott Dixon was second and moved to second in points, 65 behind. Dan Wheldon was third and Tony Kanaan fourth, and they now share third, 72 points behind Franchitti. The race was the ninth of 17 scheduled, essentially the halfway point of the season. Harvick holds off Edwards for win LOUDON, N.H. (AP) — Kevin Harvick held off a late challenge by Carl Edwards to grab his second NASCAR Busch Series victory of the season Saturday at New Hampshire International Speedway. The two-time Busch champion, who had not won since the opening weekend of the season when he swept the Busch and Nextel Cup races at Daytona, picked up his 28th career Busch victory. Juan Pablo Montoya was running in fifth place when he and Clint Bowyer collided on lap 165 of 200 on the 1.058- mile oval, bringing out the last of six yellow flags in the race. Matt Kenseth, who wound up third, took the lead with a two-tire stop during the ensuing caution period. Harvick, who led a dominating 166 laps, was second when the race restarted for the last time on lap 172. But Harvick easily drove into the lead halfway through that lap and stayed out front the rest of the way. Destroyers,Crush win playoff games TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Matt Nagy threw for five touchdowns and then ran one in himself with 7 seconds left to give the Columbus Destroyers a 56-55 playoff win Saturday over the Tampa Bay Storm. The Storm’s Seth Marler missed a 56-yard field-goal attempt with 3 seconds left. He earlier missed an extra point after Tampa Bay took a 55-49 lead with a minute to go. Brett Dietz threw for 315 yards and six touchdowns for the Storm. KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — John Dutton threw for 253 yards and five touchdowns to lead the Colorado Crush into the next round of the Arena Football League playoffs with a 49-42 win over the Kansas City Brigade on Saturday. Kansas City’s Raymond Philyaw completed 36 of 52 passes for 321 yards. Blues sign Tkachuk to two-year deal ST. LOUIS (AP) — The St. Louis Blues signed center Keith Tkachuk to a two-year contract on Saturday, one day before he would have become an unrestricted free agent. The Canadian Press reported that the deal was for $8 million. Tkachuk, 35, had seven goals and eight assists with the Thrashers after 20 goals and 23 assists for St. Louis. The 6-foot-2, 225-pounnd center needs 27 goals to reach 500. BRIEFS From Gazette wire services Continued from Page C-1 “If we were to go into the Chase right now, we’d be 40 behind,” Hamlin said. “We feel like we’re running well enough, we could make that up if we run the same way that we have all year. We would just like to start closer to those guys.” The race today, the 17th of the season, should provide Hamlin a good chance to narrow the gap. The flat, 1.058-mile New Hampshire oval is very similar to the Phoenix track, where Hamlin appeared to have the fastest car through most of the race in April. Hamlin led 70 laps and was out front when he was caught speeding entering pit road on lap 99 of 312. He was sent to the rear of the longest line, dropping him to 30th. But Hamlin charged back to finish third. Gordon won that race and Tony Stewart, Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate and a two-time Cup champion, finished second despite leading a race-high 132 laps. But that’s the way it has gone for the Gibbs drivers this season — close, but no trophy. “The first thing you have to do is make the Chase,” said Stewart, who barely missed the postseason last year but is currently is sixth in the points. “You always want to win, but this year wins mean more.” “Yeah, it’s frustrating to come close and not win. We’ve led a lot of laps and we should have won races, but that isn’t good enough. Top-10s or top-five finishes aren’t even good enough any more.” Today’s race will be the eighth of 16 events this season for NASCAR’s new Car of Tomorrow, which also competed in Phoenix. The Hendrick drivers have dominated the COT races, with Gordon winning two, Johnson two and teammate Kyle Busch one. Despite his strong showing in that race, Hamlin was openly critical of the COT after the Phoenix race. But his opinion on the car that will race the entire 2008 Cup season is slowly changing. “It is still a little early to tell how successful this whole thing is going to be,” Hamlin said. “I think, for the most part, it is evolving better than I thought it would. ... “I think it is really starting to speed up. You are starting to see the other teams starting to catch up a little bit. I think that is going to make, obviously, better racing.” As for his season thus far, Hamlin laments lost opportunities, like Phoenix. “We definitely should be even with those other guys right now, but that doesn’t matter,” Hamlin said. “We’re going to start a little behind (in the Chase) unless we start rolling off some wins. Even if we don’t, though, I think we can still overcome it.” “We feel like we’re sitting in a decent spot right now when it comes to the Chase. To sit there and say we’re going to be happy with a top-three-or-four finish, we are. But not as much as we would a win, obviously, but for a lot different reasons than just a victory.” Upstart Hamlin seeking victories NASCAR NOTEBOOK New chiefs taking over By MIKE HARRIS AP Auto Racing Writer LOUDON, N.H. — Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson will both have a new voice in their ear during today’s NASCAR Nextel Cup race at New Hampshire International Speedway. The Hendrick Motorsports teammates are beginning a six- race stint without crew chiefs Steve Letarte (Gordon) and Chad Knaus (Johnson). Both were suspended for six weeks and fined $100,000 in the aftermath of their cars failing inspection last week. In both cases, the deep Hendrick team — with more than 500 employees to choose from — decided to name the car chiefs on Gordon’s No. 24 Chevrolet and Johnson’s No. 48 as interim crew chiefs. Jeff Meendering will take over on top of the pit box for Letarte and Ron Malec will do the same for Knaus, while also continuing to go over the wall during pit stops in his role as tire changer. “We all have to step up a little bit and it’s going to be hard to replace a crew chief by me just stepping up and saying ‘I’m crew chief’ because I still have other jobs to do on the car and all my guys still do their normal jobs, which we do 100 percent every week,” Malec said. “It’s going to be a disadvantage to us for sure. “I’ve talked to my guys and they’re all behind me 100 percent on their decision to make me the crew chief and we still have a lot of support from other team members, other (Hendrick) teams.” Meendering said the biggest challenge for him in his new role is dealing with the media. “We’ve got so much depth in our organization,” he said. “We’ve beefed up our track support a little bit, brought a few extra guys with us and I think it’s going to be just as smooth as it’s ever been.” For the drivers, the biggest change will be in their communication with the pits. “It’s just getting used to dealing with somebody else on the radio,” Gordon said. “It’s all about communication when you’re trying to fine-tune the car. It’s about giving good information and getting good feedback from one another and just building the chemistry and that’s something that Steve (Letarte) and I did immediately. “We had great chemistry and so now I have to do that with Jeff Meendering and, so far, it’s gone very well. I mean he’s very in tune with what goes on with this team, with our setups, and he and Steve are really close so they can communicate a lot with the preparation coming into the weekend.” SPEED CHART Having new crew chiefs certainly hasn’t slowed down Johnson and Gordon. Those two, along with rookie Juan Pablo Montoya, led the way in the final practice Saturday. Johnson was fastest with a lap of 127.102 mph, followed by Montoya, winner of last Sunday’s road race at Sonoma, at 126.897 and Gordon at 126.783. Also among the fastest on Saturday were Kevin Harvick at 126.761, Clint Bowyer at 126.694, Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart, both at 126.505, and pole-winner Dave Blaney at 126.479. GAINING GROUND Toyota officials were buoyed by the manufacturer’s first Nex- tel Cup pole. Dave Blaney, driving for Bill Davis Racing, got it done Friday, winning the top spot for today’s race and giving the Japanese auto maker one of its few bright spots of a frustrating first year in NASCAR’s top series. “For Toyota, it’s another step in our process of slow gains that we’re making every day,” said Andy Graves, senior manager for Toyota Racing Development in NASCAR. “Hopefully, it will provide some momentum for all of our organizations as we get ready to move into the second half of the season.” Graves said he got congratulatory phone calls from people who work for Toyota and its teams and even from competitors. “It does add some credibility to our entire program and the direction we are headed,” Graves said. “Sometimes, when you’re making small gains each day, it’s hard to measure where you are. But seeing our first pole is obviously a great achievement and shows that we’re definitely headed in the right direction.” HE SAID IT “Don’t know, don’t care. We don’t do that kind of stuff, so we don’t have to worry about it.” Penske Racings’ Ryan Newman, when asked about the penalties handed out to the Hendrick Motorsports teams. JEFF GORDON JIMMIE JOHNSON MARIA SHARAPOVA pumped her fist after she won a point in her match Saturday against Ai Sugiyama at Wimbledon. ANJA NIEDRINGHAUS /Associated Press Sharapova beats rain, opponent at Wimbledon By HOWARD FENDRICH AP Tennis Writer WIMBLEDON, England — Maria Sharapova just wanted it to end. Raindrops were falling, her opponent was complaining, and Sharapova suddenly encountered some trouble as she tried to close out her third- round match at Wimbledon. Showers wiped out most action at the All England Club on Saturday, and it was drizzling when 2004 champion Sharapova finally finished her 6-3, 6-3 victory despite the animated protests of No. 26- seeded Ai Sugiyama that it was too slick to play. “I was starting to get agitated. I saw the rain in the middle of the second set, and I knew, if it keeps going, obviously the grass is going to get wet,” Sharapova said. “I didn’t want it to be too dangerous to play out there. But it worked out well in the end.” Well, for her, anyway. There was, not surprisingly, a different take on things from Sugiyama, whose best showing in 15 Wimbledon appearances ended with a loss to Sharapova in the quarterfinals three years ago. “It was very wet at the end,” Sugiyama said. “Last two games were really slippery.” In the only other singles match completed, defending champion Amelie Mauresmo beat No. 28 Mara Santangelo of Italy 6-1, 6-2 in 57 minutes to reach the fourth round. Seven men’s and women’s singles matches were suspended in progress, and seven men’s matches were postponed entirely until Monday — when the forecast calls for more precipitation. The two-week tournament traditionally takes the middle Sunday off, and while rain-created backlogs in the past forced organizers to schedule matches on that day — most recently in 2004 — the referee’s office announced Saturday that wouldn’t be necessary this year, even though five of six days so far have been interrupted. So three-time champion Venus Williams could have not one but two sleepless nights pondering her second-set struggles against 71st-ranked Akiko Morigami of Japan. Williams won the first set 6-2 but was trailing 1-4 in the next when play was halted. The winner meets Sharapova for a quarterfinal berth. In other matches carried over to Monday, French Open runner-up Ana Ivanovic, No. 5 Svetlana Kuznetsova, No. 11 Nadia Petrova, No. 12 Elena De- mentieva and No. 14 Nicole Vaidisova each was up a set. No. 7 Tomas Berdych took the first set of the only men’s match that got under way. Among those who didn’t play a point in their third-round matches Saturday: three-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal and 2002 Wimbledon winner Lleyton Hewitt. “These kind of days, you don’t (want) to burn too much energy, because you could (be) ready to play at 1 (p.m.), but go on the court at 7 at night,” Mau- resmo said. “If you spend the whole day stressed out, thinking, ‘I’m going to go in five minutes,’ this could be a very long day and you could be exhausted in the end.” While the starts of her match and Sharapova’s were delayed about two hours, and action on smaller courts was pushed back twice as long, rain sent umbrella-toting spectators scurrying to souvenir shops. With no competition, a family of five ducks — a mother and her ducklings — hung out at Court 5 until an animal care organization was summoned to move them to a sanctuary south of London. Fans were kept abreast of the meteorological outlook by announcements over loudspeakers around the grounds. After one update, the disembodied voice intoned: “We appreciate your patience on this frustrating day.” When play was called off for the day at 6:55 p.m., the voice closed by noting: “Once again, we share your frustration with the British weather.” Sugiyama was rather disappointed by the way things wrapped up against Sharapova on Court 1. With Sharapova serving at 5-3, 40-love, she wasted her first match point by double-faulting. Still one point from victory, the reigning U.S. Open champion ended an 11-stroke exchange by hitting a backhand that a line judge called long. Chair umpire Lynn Welch overruled — and a replay showed the ball was clearly in. “It’s the third call that the guy, you know, got wrong,” Sharapova said. “You look at him, and he’s wearing sunglasses. He loses all credibility at that point.” Before they replayed the point, Sugiyama complained to Welch that the match should be suspended. Welch climbed down to check the turf, then ordered that they continue. Eager to finish, Sharapova blew another chance by putting a forehand into the net, but converted her third match point with a forehand that gave her a 30-8 edge in winners. As the tarp was pulled over the court, Sharapova hopped out of harm’s way, and Sugiyama resumed her discussion with Welch. “It’s her decision,” Sugiyama said later. “I couldn’t really refuse to play.” Asked to consider what it might have been like to be in Sugiyama’s shoes in that situation, Sharapova replied, “I try not to step in anyone’s shoes, because I’m usually not their size.” The 6-foot-2 Russian served as well as she has all tournament, reaching 114 mph and winning 34 of 47 points on her serve. It was a strong sign of improvement in her troublesome right shoulder, which needs about 2½ hours of treatment each day, including acupuncture, massage and ice. “You name it, I do it,” Sharapova said. Mauresmo’s serve was right on target, too: She hit 11 aces. Playing serve-and-volley tennis more than half the time, she won the point on 10 of 11 trips to the net in the first set. “For me,” Santangelo said, “she and (No. 1 Justine) Henin are the ones who can aim for the title.” Cycling needs a clean Tour de France By JEROME PUGMIRE AP Sports Writer PARIS — Cycling cannot afford another doping scandal, and desperately needs a clean Tour de France winner this year. With few big names left, the race has an unpredictable feel to it — not just in terms of who will wear the yellow jersey, but who and how many might get caught doping between the July 7 start and the July 29 finish. “Cycling must not only get its credibility back, but even more its dignity,” Tour director Christian Prudhomme said. “It is a romantic sport which must be dignified. There are cyclists, managers, sponsors and organizers fighting for its dignity.” Ivan Basso and Floyd Landis are among the many riders either fired, suspended or under investigation for doping who won’t be at the starting line in London. Others are trying to clear their names in time for the prologue near Trafalgar Square. “Doping is the enemy of cycling and the enemy of the Tour de France,” Prudhomme said. “Doping brings a certain absence of suffering, which is at the opposite of the cycling myth.” On the eve of last year’s race, nine riders — including 1997 Tour winner Jan Ullrich and 2005 runner-up Basso — were kicked out after being implicated in a Spanish doping investigation called Operation Puerto. More than 50 cyclists were implicated because of their alleged ties to Eufemiano Fuentes, a doctor accused of running a blood-doping clinic in Madrid. Basso received a two-year doping penalty from the Italian cycling federation in mid- June and has said he accepts the punish- ment. Basso confessed to “attempted doping,” though he said he never actually went through with it. Landis tested positive for synthetic testosterone at last year’s Tour and his case is now before an arbitration panel. Of the nearly 200 riders in this year’s race, only Alexandre Vinokourov is considered a genuine favorite. The Kazakh rider is a dashing attacker. The wiry cyclist thrilled spectators along Paris’ Champs-Elysees on the final day in 2005, when, after attacking Lance Armstrong in the mountains, he still found the energy to win the final stage with a flourish. Five of Vinokourov’s teammates on Team Astana withdrew from last year’s Tour because of Operation Puerto, and Vinokourov had to pull out because a minimum six riders are needed for a team to compete.
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