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.

Michal Rozsival, Jordin Tootoo extensions give Blackhawks flexibility at expansion draft

Michal Rozsival, Jordin Tootoo extensions give Blackhawks flexibility at expansion draft

The Blackhawks agreed to one-year contract extensions with defenseman Michal Rozsival and forward Jordin Tootoo, the team announced Tuesday.

Rozsival's deal is worth $650,000 while Tootoo's deal carries a $700,000 cap hit, according to ESPN's Pierre LeBrun.

The move gives the Blackhawks two players eligible to be exposed during this summer's expansion draft.

NHL teams must expose two forwards and one defenseman that have played at least 40 games in 2015-16 or more than 70 in 2016-17, and they must be under contract in 2017-18.

[MORE: The Blackhawks' 9-1 February by the numbers]

Rozsival and Tootoo meet those requirements, which means the Blackhawks can now protect Ryan Hartman, who is also eligible.

They are allowed to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender or eight skaters (regardless of position) and one goaltender. 

Rozsival, 38, has one goal and one assist in 16 games this season, often serving as the team's extra defenseman. Tootoo, 34, has no points in 36 games.

NFL Scouting Combine represents opportunities — good and bad — for Bears

NFL Scouting Combine represents opportunities — good and bad — for Bears

The NFL Scouting Combine convening this week in Indianapolis isn't really the high point of pre-draft assessing being done by NFL teams. Those evaluations have been going on for many, many months — on college campuses, at bowl games — and will go on with Pro Days and selected visits to team headquarters.
 
But what it does represent is two things: a chance for teams to probe for detailed medical information on some 300 potential draftees, and a case study in savvy brand marketing by the NFL that has become its own hot-stove league on steroids (hopefully not literally for any of the participants).
 
Covering the event 25 years ago, representatives of the three Chicago-area newspapers comprised one of the two largest media contingents (the other being New York's) going about the business of football reporting after the sport had largely moved off the sports-front with the wrap-up of the Super Bowl. No TV, no internet, and the Combine operators really didn't want media around for what was set up as a purely team-centric.
 
Now the NFL has created a media event that keeps it in news prominence at what had always been a dormant calendar nadir for pro football, with not only some 1,000 media members and outlets welcome, but also with fans able to attend events like the 225-pound bench press and 40-yard dashes, whose results were once something that reporters dug around for as news scoops.
 
But beyond the observed events, including group media interviews for the majority of athletes, individual draft stocks will be affected by vertical jumps, cone drills and such. And by interviews with individual teams, which are still private. (For now. Somehow, it's not beyond imagination that someday even those will be televised, in an NFL guise of "transparency" or something, but that's for another time.)
 
Strengths, weaknesses and the QB conundrum
 
One annual refrain are the assessments of the overall draft class, what positions are its deepest, its weakest, an evaluation that carries some weight because invitees to the Combine include underclassmen, which the Senior Bowl does not.
 
But a danger within the process is exactly that — the "weight" assigned to results, particularly the on-field ones. On-field evaluations are the best indicators, but the right on-field ones were there on playing fields and now tape, not inside Lucas Oil Stadium this week.

[RELATED - Which direction will Bears go at pick No. 3?]
 
Combine performance has affected drafts rightly and wrongly over the years.
 
ProFootballTalk.com's Mike Florio has made an excellent case for players declining that test for reasons of confidentiality. And frankly, if teams have a problem with a player declining the test, then teams and the NFL need to do a better job of keeping the results in-house, particularly given that correlations between the Wonderlic and NFL success are questionable at best.
 
But some player or players will move up or slip down on draft boards because of drill work. That may be unfortunate for the player, and for the teams.
 
QB or not QB
 
It is at this point that the Combine becomes increasingly relevant to the Bears, or at least to those trying to discern what realistic chances exist for the Bears to address their well-documented areas of need (quarterback, tight end, cornerback, safety).
 
An inherent problem at this stage is the difficulty in arriving at a right decision, particularly at the paramount position. NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock did some checking that illustrates the issue.
 
Between 2007-14, teams selected 21 quarterbacks in the first round. Nine of them are no longer even in the league, and only a handful have achieved something close to the coveted "franchise" distinction: Matt Ryan in Atlanta, Matthew Stafford in Detroit, Carolina's Cam Newton, Andrew Luck in Indianapolis and Joe Flacco in Baltimore. Only Flacco has won a Super Bowl.
 
"It gives a pretty good feel for the 'hit' rate of franchise quarterbacks in the first round," Mayock said on Monday.
 
"My message to NFL teams is, 'you've got to keep trying, keep on swinging.'"
 
Whether the Bears take a swing at a franchise quarterback at No. 3 is still many weeks off. But Mayock didn't endorse making that swing at that point.
 
"I don't have any quarterbacks anywhere near the Top 10," Mayock said. "That doesn't mean I think there's no talent there, because I think there are four quarterbacks that have first-round talent. In my order I had for my initial Top 5, it was [DeShone] Kizer, [Deshaun] Watson, [Mitch] Trubisky, [Patrick] Mahomes. All four of them have holes in their games.
 
"I don't think any of them are ready to start Week 1."
 
More to come over the next week. Make that "weeks."