From Comcast SportsNetDAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Danica Patrick's talking about challenges that lay ahead, Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon aren't saying whether they have patched their differences, and Brad Keselowski is eager to defend his Sprint Cup title.That's right, the start of another NASCAR season is just around the corner.Patrick said Thursday that she does not plan to race in this year's Indianapolis 500 because she wants to concentrate on her first full-time season on NASCAR's highest level of competition.Bowyer brushed aside questions about whether he and Gordon have made up in the months that have passed since a fight between the two drivers' crews broke out after Gordon intentionally wrecked Bowyer the week before last season's finale."Who cares? Really, who cares?" Bowyer said, addressing the media on the first day of testing of NASCAR's new "Gen 6" cars at Daytona International Speedway. "Apparently, you guys do way more than we do. I can promise you that."Keselowski is still riding high after capturing his first Sprint Cup championship in 2012. He was the first driver on the track for the start of three days of testing in preparation for next month's Daytona 500, even if he wound up running fairly low on the speed charts."I am not happy not being fast. I can tell you that, but you try to put it in perspective of how much work is yet to be done over the next month or month-and-a-half," Keselowski said. "Being first on the track ... is our little way of needling the competition to say that even if we aren't fastest we are going to be the first ones on it."Patrick, who announced on her Facebook page in November that she and her husband, Paul Hospenthal, are divorcing after seven years of marriage, also skipped the Indy 500 last year.Instead, she ran in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on the same day, which is what she intends to do again.Patrick is coming off her first full season in NASCAR, a year in which she ran full Nationwide schedule and 10 Sprint Cup Series races after leaving IndyCar."The team and I decided to focus on (Sprint) Cup. It's going to be plenty of work as it is, and it's going to be important for me running for the championship full-time for the first time to really keep myself focused with the Cup car," Patrick said. "But If I do do the Indy 500 moving forward, it will be with Go Daddy."She said her 2013 schedule also could include some Nationwide series events, although she has not yet signed a deal with a racing team or sponsor."I'm not sure if that's completely set. There have been some reports that have come out about running for Turner, and we're definitely talking to them trying to figure it out," Patrick said. "We're definitely working on that, but there's been nothing signed yet, and the exact dates and the sponsor has yet to be confirmed for all that."Essentially, the Daytona testing marks the end of the offseason for drivers.There's more testing next week in Charlotte of the cars NASCAR is counting to improve racing and re-kindle fan interest, with Speedweeks at Daytona to follow. The Daytona 500 kicks off the Sprint Cup schedule on Feb. 24."Everybody is super excited about this race car and what it brings to our sport and the identity that it brings back to passenger cars you see on the roads. ... They're certainly cool looking," Bowyer said.Bowyer declined to say whether reports that he and Gordon spent time together on a yacht on New Year's Eve."I think he was on that same boat. There were a lot of other people on that boat. It was a big time being had," Bowyer said at one point.When asked if the drivers had spent any time bonding, Bowyer responded: "Yeah, we held hands and walked off the boat, discussed the past year and enjoyed ourselves throughout the whole vacation. That was the one person that I definitely wanted to take vacation with. Yes, I could not wait to get there for that very reason. Is that what you wanted me to say?"For his part, Gordon confirmed he and Bowyer saw each other on the boat while attending what he described as the "party of the year" thrown by entertainer P Diddy in St. Barts. NASCAR driver Kevin Harvick also was there."We were just hanging out and having a good time, and on walks Bowyer and Harvick and a couple of other folks," Gordon said. "I don't know. It was a great New Year's. I enjoyed myself very much."But did they leave as friends?"I don't remember seeing him leave the boat," Gordon quipped.Well, did they at least speak to each other?"We talked," Gordon replied. "I had a great New Year's."Meanwhile, Patrick said she is looking forward to the challenge of running a full Sprint Cup challenge and reiterated it will be important to maintain realistic expectations of what she might be able to accomplish as a rookie."I think it's very difficult at this point in time to put sort of numbers to exactly where I should be finishing," she said. "I think you can look at a little bit of what happened last year as a bit of a baseline as to expectation levels and definitely areas that need work."But it's a new year; it's a new car and a lot of stuff changes. ... I think we just need to get started on the season, get these first few races out of the way and then start to create some baseline for what we are expecting and what we are shooting for."Everyone is shooting for what Keselowski has -- the championship.For him, he said it's "slowly soaking in" what it's like to be a Cup champion and the "some of the doors that open up, whether it is people showing you more respect or opportunities to do different events you may never have had before.""To me that is the most fun and more honoring moments of being a champion. I really look forward to seeing how those open up," Keselowski added. "The great thing that separates winning a championship from winning a race is that you are a champion for a whole year. I feel like I won a race, but you get to celebrate it for a whole year. That is a really good feeling."
The opening round of the IHSA football playoffs is loaded with great opening week games. Here are some Chicagoland matchups, from 8A through 4A, that have the potential to be very good “under-the-radar” type of games to watch this weekend.
No. 26 seed Maine South (6-3) at No. 7 seed West Aurora (9-0), Friday 7:00 p.m.
Many will look at this matchup and assume that perennial 8A power Maine South will just overpower West Aurora. But not so fast, my friends. The Blackhawks and head coach Nate Eimers feature a team loaded with talent and speed, including the Cross twins: senior RB/DB DaQuan Cross and senior RB/DB DaVion Cross. This game has the potential to be a high-scoring affair.
No. 25 St. Rita (5-4) at No. 8 Rockford Auburn (8-1) Friday 7:30 p.m.
This is easily one of the most intriguing matchups in the opening round of 7A. Why? Auburn and head coach Dan Appino’s Knights feature a huge offensive line and a strong running game. Also, the Knights never play outside of the NIC-10 conference until state playoff time. St. Rita had an up-and-down season, yet no one will ever accuse the Mustangs of not being battle-tested. They have Chicago Catholic Blue credentials and have non-conference wins over Rich Central and Marmion — two playoff teams.
[MORE PREPS: IHSA Football Playoffs First-Round Matchups]
No. 11 Lakes (6-3) at No. 6 Grayslake North (7-2) Friday 7:00 p.m.
Both hail from the Northern Lake County conference and despite Lakes’ 31-14 win over Grayslake North on Sept. 9, the Eagles are the lower seed/road team this week. Look for another terrific game here. It's always very difficult to beat the same team twice in the same season.
No. 9 Rich Central (6-3) at No. 8 Woodstock North (6-3), Friday 7:00 p.m.
Rich Central might have one of the state's biggest offensive lines, which includes senior OL/DL Caylon May (6-foot-3, 290 pounds). Woodstock North looks to run the football behind senior RB Casey Dycus. Everybody in the Thunder program continues to be excited, stemming from last week's 23-22 win over Rock Falls. Woodstock North blocked a potential game-winning field goal attempt in overtime to secure the win and a state playoff bid.
No. 12 Wheaton Academy (6-3) at No. 5 Aurora Central Catholic (8-1), Friday 7:00 p.m.
Wheaton Academy hit a rough patch in its Metro Suburban Blue slate and lost three straight games to playoff teams (IC Catholic Prep, Riverside-Brookfield and Glenbard South). The Warriors are undoubtedly battle tested. However, Aurora Central Catholic's only loss came to Ridgewood (7-2) who won the Metro Suburban Red. Expect a packed house in Aurora on Friday night for, likely, a back-and-forth game.
CLEVELAND – Kyle Schwarber walked into the Progressive Field interview room at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, becoming the biggest Game 1 story at the World Series. He didn’t have a hit all season – and hadn’t played for the Cubs in almost seven months – but there was his name in the No. 5 spot in the lineup against Corey Kluber and the Cleveland Indians.
“Once I hit that line, a lot of emotions will come pouring out,” Schwarber said. “I’ll probably cry at some point today. It was a long road, but once we step in between those lines, it’s game time. I’m going to be locked in. I’m going to be ready to go (and) try to win this.”
It’s hard to overstate how much the Cubs love Schwarber’s energy, presence and powerful left-handed swing, from the time they saw his hard-charging style and football mentality at Indiana University. Theo Epstein’s front office drafted him fourth overall in 2014 – at a time when that almost looked like a reach for a designated hitter with an unclear defensive future behind the plate or in the outfield.
Instead of sending him to Arizona, the Cubs also allowed Schwarber to rehab in Chicago and remain a part of the team after undergoing major surgery on his left knee in the middle of April, making him untouchable in any trade talks, even as the New York Yankees dangled game-changing reliever Andrew Miller, who now looms as another World Series X-factor in the Cleveland bullpen.
After getting a better-than-expected progress report last week from Dr. Daniel Cooper – the head team physician for the Dallas Cowboys who reconstructed his ACL and repaired his LCL – Schwarber went full speed ahead.
“I called Theo right away and I was like: ‘Hey, I’d love the opportunity to try,’” Schwarber said. “Knowing that I had the opportunity to try and get back, it would kill me deep down inside if I didn’t. And I knew going into it there were no guarantees.
“I didn’t want the media attention. I didn’t want any of that. I did it for my teammates. I did it for me, too. That’s the competitor in me.”
After playing in the Arizona Fall League in front of about 100 fans on Monday, Schwarber flew on a private plane from Mesa to Cleveland, where he could change franchise history with one big swing, the way he drilled five homers during last year’s playoffs and became a Wrigleyville folk hero.
“It’s going to be a complete 180,” Schwarber said. “You know you’re going in front of a packed stadium here. It’s going to be awesome. That’s what we live for as baseball players. We live to feed off that, especially since we’re in such a hostile environment here in Cleveland.
“I love that. It’s going to be great for our team. We’re in for a really hard-fought battle.”