Tony Stewart headlines new nominees for NASCAR Hall of Fame
By JENNA FRYER
AP Auto Racing Writer
Wednesday, March 13
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart headlined the six new nominees eligible for induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Stewart joined Neil Bonnett, a popular member of the “Alabama Gang,” two-time Xfinity Series champion Sam Ard, former Daytona 500 winner Marvin Panch, short-track racer Jim Paschal and mechanic Red Vogt as the new nominees.
Kirk Shelmerdine, crew chief for four championships with Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt, was dropped from the ballot after only one year. There are 20 nominees and five are elected each year.
NASCAR also announced three new nominees for the Landmark Award given for outstanding contributions to the sport. It meant Janet Guthrie was eliminated from the list after one year.
Guthrie was the first woman to compete in the Indianapolis 500 as well as the Daytona 500, and her sixth-place finish at Bristol Motor Speedway in 1977 is shared with Danica Patrick for the top finish by a female in NASCAR’s top series in the modern era.
Three new nominees were added to the Landmark Award list and they were Edsel Ford II of Ford Motor Co., Pocono Raceway founder Dr. Joseph Mattioli and Mike Helton, the first non-France family member to be named NASCAR President.
The 24-person nominating committee includes eight NASCAR executives, as well as Lesa France Kennedy, who is listed among 13 track owners and operators with voting power.
Full AP NASCAR coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NASCAR
Oakley calls Knicks owner a ‘bully’ for fan altercation
By DAN GELSTON
AP Sports Writer
Wednesday, March 13
Former New York Knicks star Charles Oakley says team owner James Dolan is a “bully” for threatening to ban fans from Madison Square Garden.
Oakley, a longtime NBA enforcer and rebounding machine, said Dolan was wrong to mouth off at a fan who told him to sell the team during a loss at MSG.
Oakley knows as well as anyone what it’s like to get ejected from the Garden, not just by the refs. His criticisms of the team and management have led to a strained relationship with the organization. It boiled over in 2017 when he was arrested after an altercation with security officials after they told him to leave his seat at the arena near Dolan. Oakley was cleared of misdemeanor assault charges last year.
“He just tries to bully everybody and it just don’t make sense,” Oakley told The Associated Press on Monday.
Oakley was angered by Dolan’s reaction after New York lost on Saturday and a fan yelled at the owner to “sell the team.”
“You really think I should sell the team?” Dolan said on video run on TMZ . Dolan asked the fan if he wanted to come to any more games, called him “rude” and told him to “enjoy watching them on TV.”
Dolan called for security, though it’s not clear whether the fan has been actually been banned from games.
“Our policy is and will continue to be that if you are disrespectful to anyone in our venues, we will ask you not to return,” the Madison Square Garden Company said in a statement.
Oakley wasn’t having it from Dolan.
“He just bullies people because he has money and power,” Oakley said.
The 55-year-old Oakley played for the Knicks from 1988-98, helping them reach the NBA Finals. He attended games a few times a year, buying his own tickets because he was no longer comped or invited to official team functions. But his relationship with the franchise was frayed even before the 2017 altercation that included him hitting one security guard in the face and shoving at least one other before he was dragged away and handcuffed.
Dolan lifted Oakley’s ban from MSG shortly after meeting with Oakley and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. Oakley said nothing was really settled in the meeting.
Oakley said there was little reason for any reconciliation with Dolan.
“Why would I want to do it with someone who had me dragged out of the Garden for no reason,” Oakley said Monday. “Why would I want a relationship with him? I told him I wasn’t happy.”
The Knicks are 13-54 and in last place in the Eastern Conference and have been one of the worst teams in the NBA over the last 20 years.
“I’m allowed in 29 arenas except the Garden,” he said. “They’ve said we’d retire your jersey, they’ll do this. But you think I want my jersey hanging outside the Garden? They can still see it. But you just dragged me outside the … Garden.”
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Jokic hits buzzer-beater to lift Nuggets over Mavs 100-99
By MICHAEL KELLY
Friday, March 15
DENVER (AP) — Luka Doncic’s emphatic dunk capped a great night for the Dallas Mavericks rookie. Nikola Jokic topped him and saved the game for the Denver Nuggets, earning him some support in the MVP race.
Jokic hit a falling, one-handed shot as time expired to lift the Nuggets over the weary Mavericks 100-99 on Thursday.
The big man rescued Denver after the Nuggets trailed by 12 early in the fourth quarter. Jokic finished with 11 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists, hitting all four of his field goals in the fourth — including the game-winner.
“That’s what we need him to do. He’s been doing it for us all year,” teammate Paul Millsap said. “He’s got my vote for MVP, for sure.”
Doncic led Dallas with 24 points. He had a go-ahead dunk with 5.8 seconds left and was fouled, but missed a free throw that would have put the Mavericks up by two.
“I should have made that free throw,” Doncic said. “I feel like I let my team down.”
Denver called a timeout and drew up a play for Jokic. He drove to the right of Dwight Powell, stopped and thought about a fadeaway, but the shot wasn’t there.
“I felt like he was going to block it, so I just go to the right hand and throw it somehow. And the ball went in,” Jokic said. “Powell played really good defense. He was right there but I made a lucky shot.”
It spoiled a gutty effort by the Mavericks. The team was scheduled to leave Dallas on Wednesday afternoon, but Denver International Airport canceled flights in and out due to poor weather, forcing the Mavericks to fly in on Thursday morning. The team left Dallas at 8 a.m., arrived in Denver at 9 a.m. and nearly pulled off the upset before Jokic’s clutch shot.
“Luka made a great play to get the lead, and they hit as difficult a shot as you’re going to hit to win a game with no time left,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said.
Millsap finished with a season-high 33 points for the Nuggets (45-22), who strengthened their hold on the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference after holding Dallas to 10 points in the fourth quarter. They lead the surging Houston Rockets by 3½ games with 15 to go.
Jalen Brunson had 20 points and Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 17 for the well-traveled Mavericks.
Dallas looked like the team with more energy, building an eight-point lead in the first half and ending the second quarter on a 13-2 run to take a six-point lead at the break.
Denver came out strong in the third quarter, but the Mavericks responded with eight straight points and led by as many as 12.
The Nuggets used a 12-2 run in the fourth to get to 93-91. Jokic, who was 0 for 4 from the floor in the first three quarters, hit a layup to get Denver within a basket. Millsap tied the game at 95, and a free throw by Jokic with 1:06 left gave the Nuggets a 98-97 lead.
Brunson missed a baseline jumper, but a Denver turnover with 20.3 seconds left gave Dallas the ball and set up the final sequence.
Mavericks: F Kristaps Porzingis was with the team a day after taking part in his first 5-on-5 practice. Porzingis, acquired from New York on Jan. 31, has not played since tearing his ACL last season.
Nuggets: Torrey Craig was out with a left shoulder sprain sustained Tuesday night. Craig was hurt in the last 20 seconds of mop-up time. … F Trey Lyles was active after missing nine games with a left hamstring strain.
Carlisle has spent more than three decades in the NBA as a coach or player, but the Mavericks’ flight being pushed back to Thursday morning because of the blizzard was a new one for him.
“In the modern era of private planes or charters, I’ve never been with a team that this has happened,” he said.
“It was a different kind of day, for sure. It’s a very unusual situation. Some people got some photos from the air of rows of cars slid out all over the place. It must have been a crazy day (Wednesday).”
Mavericks: Host the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday night.
Nuggets: Wrap up their three-game homestand against Indiana on Saturday night.
More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Miami QB Ryan Tannehill traded to Titans for draft picks
By STEVEN WINE
AP Sports Writer
Friday, March 15
MIAMI (AP) — Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been traded to the Tennessee Titans in a deal that also involves draft picks.
The Dolphins sent their sixth-round pick this year to the Titans for a fourth-round choice in 2020 and a seventh-round pick this year.
Tannehill’s departure from Miami had been expected. He became the Dolphins’ starting quarterback as a rookie in 2012 and has still never taken a postseason snap.
His contract was to balloon to $18.7 million in base salary this year, and he would have counted $26.6 million against the salary cap. His agent tweeted that as part of the trade, Tannehill signed a one-year deal with the Titans.
Tannehill is expected to replace Blaine Gabbert as the backup to Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota.
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL
51 women sue USOC for failing to stop Nassar abuse
By EDDIE PELLS
AP National Writer
Friday, March 15
DENVER (AP) — Fifty-one women are suing the U.S. Olympic Committee, its board members and a number of former high-ranking officials for failing to prevent their abuse at the hands of imprisoned sports doctor Larry Nassar.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in federal court in Denver, details abuse dating to the late 1990s. One of the victims was 8 years old.
Most contend that because they were young and sexually inexperienced, they were not aware they were being abused at the time. Some became aware when other victims began telling their stories at Nassar’s 2018 sentencing hearing for child pornography and sex abuse. Others acted after the release of a report in December that detailed the USOC’s slow response to sex-abuse cases.
The lawsuit alleges the USOC violated Title IX and the constitution by not acting promptly and more forcefully.
The USOC said the federation would have no comment on pending litigation. The governing body has tried to remove itself as a defendant in a number of other similar lawsuits, contending it should not be held legally responsible for Nassar’s crimes. Those lawsuits include USA Gymnastics as defendants, but this one singles out the USOC, which is based in Colorado Springs.
The lawsuit outlines abuse by six other coaches, and the USOC’s slow response to it, though most plaintiffs say they were abused by Nassar.
Many of the plaintiffs’ claims in this lawsuit are similar to those of other victims: Often their parents were present during the examinations but Nassar positioned himself in a way that they could not see what was happening.
One plaintiff described gasping and looking over at her mother when Nassar touched her inappropriately, and Nassar responded by saying “Sorry, cold hands.”
In addition to compensation, the plaintiffs are asking for institutional reform at the USOC. Virtually all the top executives — including the chairman, CEO and sports performance director — have left voluntarily or been fired since Nassar’s sentencing in January 2018.
Thiem edges Federer in 3 sets to win Indian Wells title
By BETH HARRIS
AP Sports Writer
Monday, March 18
INDIAN WELLS, Calif. (AP) — Roger Federer came out playing like his legendary self. Dominic Thiem needed a set to adjust to what he was seeing across the net.
Thiem went on to beat Federer 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 and win the BNP Paribas Open on Sunday, denying Federer a record sixth title in the desert.
“It just feels unreal what happened,” Thiem said. “He’s such a legend.”
Thiem trailed 4-3 and 5-4 in the third set before breaking Federer with a forehand winner to go up 6-5. Thiem served out the two-hour match that ended with yet another error from Federer, a forehand dumped into the net.
Federer was in the final for the third straight year and lost for the second year in a row. He was beaten in a third-set tiebreaker by Juan Martin del Potro last year. Federer won his 100th career title in Dubai recently.
Thiem had lost in his previous two ATP Masters 1000 finals. But the 25-year-old Austrian’s solid serve held up against Federer as it had throughout the tournament.
Thiem was broken just four times out of 61 service games in the tournament. He didn’t lose serve during his semifinal win over Milos Raonic, facing only one break point in that match.
Canadian teenager Bianca Andreescu upset Angelique Kerber 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 to win the women’s title.
Thiem and Andreescu earned $1.3 million each.
Federer and Thiem had split their four previous meetings, but Federer had won both of their hard-court matches without dropping a set.
He cruised through the first set in 36 minutes while getting broken for just the second time during his run to his ninth appearance in the final. But Federer broke back in the next game and served out the set.
“The way he was playing the first set was unreal,” Thiem said. “I had to get used to it.”
Thiem earned the only break of the second set in the fourth game, going up 3-1. Federer won just two more games in the set.
Both players were on serve in the third set until Thiem collected the only break. Federer tried consecutive drop shots that Thiem retrieved for crosscourt forehand winners before the Austrian hit a winning forehand to lead 6-5.
“He did very well when he got up to the ball, stayed calm, made the shot,” Federer said.
Federer won just one point on Thiem’s serve in the final game.
“Just came up against somebody who was on the day a bit better when it really mattered,” Federer said. “I have been in these positions so many times that I get over it very quickly.”
Federer advanced to the final after rival Rafael Nadal withdrew before their semifinal match because of knee pain. Thiem also benefited from a walkover, reaching the semis when Gael Monfils withdrew with an Achilles injury.
Andreescu, an 18-year-old Canadian, became the first wild-card winner and second-youngest to claim the title in tournament history.
“The fricking champion of Indian Wells,” Andreescu said. “It’s crazy.”
She overcame nerves, fatigue, arm and leg issues in the final set to earn the first title of her fledgling career.
Andreescu won on her fourth match point when Kerber netted a backhand. She broke Kerber three times in the third set, rallying from a 3-2 deficit to take four of the final five games.
Andreescu dropped her racket near the baseline and fell on her back, her legs in the air as she covered her face in disbelief. After getting up and exchanging kisses with Kerber, the teen bent down and kissed the sunbaked hard court and dropped to her back again, her arms and legs splayed, before grabbing her head.
Born in Canada, she later moved with her parents to Romania, where she first started playing tennis.
Kerber was the last of five seeded players that Andreescu knocked off in her seven matches.
“When she had the chances, she just go for it,” Kerber said.
The Canadian followed in the footsteps of Naomi Osaka, who was a little-known 20-year-old when she won the title last year. Osaka used it as a springboard to win titles at the U.S. and Australian opens while ascending to the No. 1 ranking in January.
“No pressure,” Andreescu said, joking.
She’s projected to rise 36 spots to No. 24 in the WTA Tour rankings on Monday.
Kerber, ranked eighth, remains without a title since winning Wimbledon last year.
She was a crowd favorite, with fans waving Canadian flags and chanting “Let’s go, Bianca! Let’s go” in the second set.
They clearly enjoyed Andreescu’s fearless style of play. She alternately outpunched opponents from the baseline, tossed up high-arching shots and unleashed well-time drop shots — usually during the same point.
A smiling Andreescu was quick to correct a reporter.
“It’s not moonballing,” she said. “It’s just hitting heavy to her backhand with more spin. We’re not under 12 here.”
Her most dominant win during the 12-day tournament came in the quarterfinals, a 6-0, 6-1 rout of two-time major champion Garbine Muguruza. In all, the teen knocked out four Top 20 players.
Leading 2-1 in the third, Andreescu took a medical timeout and had a trainer massage her tight right shoulder and arm.
Kerber won the next two games, breaking Andreescu to go up 3-2.
Appearing tired and nervous, Andreescu called for her coach, who urged her to make Kerber play every point.
She did just that.
Andreescu won the next three games, ripping off powerful forehands while winning nine straight points during one stretch, including a 40-love service game.
“I just fought till the end because physically I wasn’t feeling too well,” she said.
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Bengals release oft-suspended LB Vontaze Burfict
By JOE KAY
AP Sports Writer
Monday, March 18
The Bengals stuck with linebacker Vontaze Burfict through all his troubles, including a hit to Antonio Brown’s head that led to a playoff loss. They finally released him on Monday after a season of below-average performance.
During seven seasons with Cincinnati, Burfict was repeatedly suspended by the NFL for egregious hits and violating its policy on performance-enhancers. He was fined regularly for hits that crossed the line, most notably the one to Brown’s head that helped the Steelers rally for an 18-16 playoff win in the 2015 season.
Through it all, the Bengals stood solidly behind the linebacker and gave him contract extensions. His significant fall-off in performance last season led them to finally cut ties.
“As we continue to build our roster for the 2019 season, we felt it best to give both the team and Vontaze a fresh start,” new Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “Vontaze has been a good player here — the team appreciates that, and I know a lot of fans appreciate that — but our focus is on the future.”
Burfict, 28, was suspended for the first four games last season for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancers, his third straight season with a suspension. A hip injury and concussions limited him to seven games with only 33 tackles, no sacks and no interceptions, by far the worst performance of his career.
Owner Mike Brown and former coach Marvin Lewis had defended Burfict through all his misdeeds, while he still made an impact on the field. Lewis was fired after a 6-10 finish last season, the Bengals’ third straight losing season, and now Burfict is gone, too.
Nobody was willing to draft him out of Arizona State, where he repeatedly drew personal foul penalties. Burfict wrote a letter to NFL teams, and the Bengals — known for giving troubled players extra chances — brought him aboard for the 2012 season.
He was their best defensive player and one of the league’s most controversial players, often in the middle of scrums and shoving matches.
In 2015, he missed the first six games while recovering from knee surgery and, in his return, led the Bengals to a 16-10 win in Pittsburgh. His tackle on Le’Veon Bell resulted in the running back tearing a knee ligament, adding fuel to the rivalry.
During their first-round playoff game at Paul Brown Stadium, Burfict’s hit on Brown moved the Steelers in range for the winning field goal in the final seconds. Cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones also got a 15-yard penalty after the play, making it an easy kick.
The NFL suspended Burfict for the first three games in 2016 as a result of his numerous egregious hits, including the one on Brown. The Bengals defended him and stuck with him.
Burfict was suspended again for the first three games in 2017 for an egregious hit during a preseason game. He got a three-year contract extension during the suspension, a sign of the Bengals’ attachment to him.
During his career in Cincinnati, Burfict had 8½ sacks and five interceptions. He made the Pro Bowl in 2013.
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