Newman edges Stewart to win at Loudon, NH

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Newman edges Stewart to win at Loudon, NH

LOUDON, N.H. (AP) -- Ryan Newman held off his boss and teammate Tony Stewart to win his first race of the season at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday.

Newman won from the pole and became the 13th different winner in 19 Sprint Cup races. Newman and Stewart made it the first front-row start for Stewart-Haas Racing in qualifying Friday and they went 1-2 again when it mattered on race day. It was a banner weekend for SHR, and Newman and Stewart hope they've positioned themselves as Chase for the Sprint Cup championship contenders.

"This was a perfect weekend," Stewart said. "Just an awesome day for Stewart-Haas. We just needed one day where didn't have something stupid go wrong."

It was a pair of near-flawless runs for the drivers as they gear up for a championship run. Newman won for the first time since April 2010 in Phoenix and Stewart earned only his second top-five of the season.

Newman became choked up after the race as he dedicated the victory to the military, friends and relatives.

"We knew we were capable of it," he said. "We were so close so many times this year."

Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and five-time champion Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top five.

Johnson and Jeff Gordon, who finished 11th, both rallied from major setbacks for strong finishes. Kyle Busch, who started the race as the points leader, had tire issues, was forced to the garage and finished 36th.

With some of the top drivers scuffling, Newman and Stewart stayed out in front down the stretch. Newman led 119 of the 301 laps and won his 15th career Cup race.

Only seven races remain until the Chase field is set. The top 10 drivers automatically earn a spot. Two spots in the Chase will go to the winningest drivers ranked between 11 and 20.

Newman is in eighth place.

"It puts us in a lot better position that's for sure," he said.

He's the latest new face in Victory Lane for 2011. The 13 different winners match the total from last season.

Newman was at home in New Hampshire's Victory Lane. He also won the Modified Tour race Saturday.

-- The Associated Press

Celtics expectations at a new high in Stevens' fourth season

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Celtics expectations at a new high in Stevens' fourth season

WALTHAM, Mass. – As Amir Johnson made his way to the podium during the Boston Celtics’ Media day on Monday, he didn’t waste any time addressing the biggest change from last season this time.

For the first time under fourth-year coach Brad Stevens, the Celtics have  expectations – high expectations – for the upcoming season.

“A lot of expectations I hear around here,” Johnson said. “'Celtics got this,'  'Celtics got that!' Talk to me!”

Well he’s right.

The expectations are at a level we have not seen under Stevens, and its players like Johnson and his play that have helped fuel such speculation.

Vegas lists Boston as one of a handful of teams whose over/under win total is over 50. 

Last season the Celtics were 48-34 which was tied for the third-best record in the East.

Arguably Boston’s greatest strength last season was their depth; the kind that seemed to have a serviceable player at every position times two (or in some instances).

While Boston’s depth this season isn’t any greater in terms of quantity, the quality of Boston’s starters and backups is indeed of a higher grade which is why defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers are the only team at this point that’s without question better than the Celtics.

Being a team that’s expected to be among the top teams in the East is new for this crew. In fact, you have to go back to the days when Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were around to find another time when Boston was thought of so highly in the Eastern Conference.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens is well aware that there’s an increased level of external support that believes his team will be among the top squads in the NBA.

But he also recognizes his team’s best path towards success is to remain true to who they are and what they do best.

When asked what success for the Celtics will look like this season, Stevens was succinct in his response.

“My expectations never change,” Stevens said. “It’s all about getting better tomorrow, making sure we’re as good as we can be. That’s’ a very simple, boring process but that’s the way that I go about it. The results take care of themselves.”

After winning just 25 games during his rookie season, Stevens-coached teams in Boston have increased their win total each season.

So the growth both he and the Celtics as well as their fan base are seeking, has been pretty obvious.

And while most of the players tried to be as non-committal as they could on what would a successful season look like, Jae Crowder left nothing to the imagination when he laid out what a good season in his eyes looked like.

“Our first goal was to make it to the playoffs,” Crowder said. “We’re beyond that point now.

Crowder added, “Success is home court advantage going into the playoffs, getting past the first round. Two years in a row we got the same result. We have to progress from that. That’s what we’re shooting for.”

Being one of the hunted will be a new experience for the Celtics, one that Danny Ainge is excited about this season.

“We expect our team to be better,” said Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations. “We expect each of the players to be better. We have a lot of guys that are not yet in their prime that are moving in that direction. I do expect it to be better.

Ainge added, “You can have some goals with numbers but overall there’s a lot of factors in determining success. We want to be better at the end of the year than we are at the beginning of the year, however good we are at the beginning of the year. We want to compete against the best teams.”