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.

Stevens on Thomas' groin injury: 'It’s important that he’s 100 percent'

Stevens on Thomas' groin injury: 'It’s important that he’s 100 percent'

There’s no such thing as a good time to have an injury. 

But in terms of Isaiah Thomas being sidelined with a right groin injury and the schedule awaiting the Boston Celtics … this is about as bad a time as you can imagine to be without their scoring leader.

Thomas returned to Boston ahead of tonight’s game at Orlando, marking his first game missed since the 2014-2015 season. 

He suffered a right groin injury in the second quarter of Boston’s 107-106 loss at Houston on Monday. 

At the time, Thomas was optimistic that he would be able to play tonight. But with a day off from practice, the soreness proved to be too much for Thomas to suit up and play tonight. 

While it’s unclear just how severe his groin injury is, the Celtics are likely to be overly cautious (like they are with most injuries) about his return which may result in him missing more games than Wednesday night’s matchup against Orlando. 

“Those things (groin injuries) are a little unpredictable,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens told reporters earlier today. “Especially in this sport, you have to be able to stop and change direction on a dime, especially him. It’s important that he’s 100 percent.”

Stevens is spot-on when he talks about how uncertain a return for Thomas is currently. 

New York’s Kristaps Porzingis suffered a groin injury against the Celtics in a preseason game back in October that didn’t result in anything more than him missing a day of practice. 

It was a different story when Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic suffered a right groin injury last spring (March 7-29) that sidelined him for 13 games. 

The timetable for Thomas’ return to the floor is likely to fall somewhere within those two timetables which would make an already daunting stretch of games even more difficult. 

Following tonight’s game, Boston has 12 games remaining in the month of December with nine being against teams with a winning record. And of the three games against teams below-.500 (Miami twice, Indiana), two of them are on the road. 

Marcus Smart will get start for Celtics for injured Isaiah Thomas

Marcus Smart will get start for Celtics for injured Isaiah Thomas

As expected, Marcus Smart will get the start for the Boston Celtics tonight against the Orlando Magic in place of the injured Isaiah Thomas. 

Thomas, who leads the Celtics (12-9) in scoring (26.0) and assists (6.2) this season, suffered a right groin injury in Boston’s 107-106 loss at Houston on Monday.

Head coach Brad Stevens explained his decision a few minutes ago.

“He’s started a lot of games here in the past as a point guard,” Stevens told reporters. “He’s basically our sixth starter. It wasn’t one that I had to think a ton about.”

Starting Smart also allows second-year guard Terry Rozier to continue in his role coming off the bench. 

Whether he’s starting or coming off the bench, Smart’s production has been consistent. 

In the five games he has started this season, he has averaged 10.0 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game. 

His numbers off the bench are almost identical with Smart averaging 9.6 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.9 assists as a reserve. 

Stevens also mentioned that Amir Johnson would be back in the starting lineup in place of Jonas Jerebko. Earlier in the day, Stevens told reporters the decision to start Jerebko on Monday was strictly because of the matchup with Houston. 

“We have to be able to be flexible in doing that,” Stevens said. “Houston plays four guards. We didn’t feel like we could defend them unless we switch one through four. I thought he (Jerebko) did a pretty good job. This (Orlando) team is different than Houston other than both are super-hot.”

Orlando (10-12) has won four of its last five games in part because of its size, strength and versatility along the frontline which includes Serge Ibaka, Bismack Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic who now comes off the bench. 

And while the Celtics have benefited heavily from the play of their guards, obviously that plan will be amended tonight with Thomas out. 

“He (Thomas) generates a lot in the open offense what we call flow, spread offense,” Stevens said. “So some of those type of things you may not generate at the same rate. But certainly there are other ways that we’ll look to play when he’s not in the game normally, or when we’re trying to play through bigs in the post. You have different ways to play within all your schemes. Hopefully we can play to each other’s strengths and go from there.”