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Category: Phoenix International Raceway

In what order would you rank the coaches still in the playoffs?

Bill BelichickWriters from around the Tribune Co. rank the four coaches remaining in the NFL playoffs. Feel free to join the discussion with a comment of your own.

Sam Farmer, Los Angeles Times

How should these four coaches be judged and sorted? The one definitely headed to Canton? It’s Bill Belichick. The one with the most recent ring? It’s Tom Coughlin, whose team beat New England in Super Bowl XLII. The hungriest? It’s John Harbaugh, who has gotten his team to the playoffs four seasons in a row. The one who has done the best job this season? It’s Jim Harbaugh, who turned around a franchise that was 6-10 last season and hadn’t made the playoffs since 2002.

Obviously, all four know how to push the right buttons to motivate their teams, and each understands how to build a team for success in January (and maybe February), so ranking them is a little like grabbing names out of a hat. Each fits his particular franchise. So this ranking is based on who has had the most impressive victories in this season’s playoffs: Coughlin, Jim Harbaugh, Belichick, John Harbaugh.

Brad Biggs, Chicago Tribune

It's hard to pick against Bill Belichick in any forum, let alone this one, where his three Super Bowl rings puts him at the top of the list. Tom Coughlin comes next because he also has a championship, defeating Belichick and the Patriots just four years ago.

Jim Harbaugh should be a slam dunk for Coach of the Year awards this season for the quick work he’s done in turning around a rudder-less 49ers organization. But you have to flip a coin between him and his brother John in Baltimore. The Ravens have been a force annually in the AFC North under John Harbaugh. Imagine if the family has a reunion in Super Bowl XLVI -- it will be a terrific storyline.

Dave Hyde, South Florida Sun Sentinel

1. Bill Belichick. He has an elite quarterback, he’s held a weak defense together with gum and baling wire and he's been in this position enough that he merits trust.

2. Jim Harbaugh. He’s transformed Alex Smith into a a real quarterback. He put his best offensive players -– Vernon Davis and Frank Gore -– in position to deliver in Saturday’s playoff. And when New Orleans took the lead –- twice –- in the final few minutes, his team didn’t buckle.

3. Tom Coughlin. He’s old-school tough with the most balanced formula for winning out there. Mainly, he throws the ball with Eli Manning and defends the throw with the rush of a great defensive line.  

4. John Harbaugh. He’s ridden the defense this far, as usual. But the offense hasn’t progressed.


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Photo: Bill Belichick. Credit: Elise Amendola / Associated Press

NASCAR's Kasey Kahne wins in Phoenix; Carl Edwards leads Chase


Kasey Kahne won the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday, while Carl Edwards kept a three-point lead over Tony Stewart in the Chase for the Cup championship battle -- the same gap they had when the race started.

With only one race left on the Cup schedule, all of the other 10 drivers in the Chase for the Sprint Cup title playoff have been officially eliminated, including reigning champion Jimmie Johnson.

Edwards and Stewart will now decide the championship next Sunday at the finale at Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway.

Edwards and Stewart finished second and third, respectively, behind Kahne after swapping the lead between themselves for much of the 312-lap race.

Jeff Burton finished fourth and Stewart teammate Ryan Newman was fifth.

Kahne had gone 81 races without a win, and the victory cameas he is about to leave the Red Bull Racing team for Hendrick Motorsports next season. "It's been a long time coming," Kahne said. "It was a great run today."

In addition, Red Bull has said it's looking to sell all or part of its NASCAR team after this season, so it's unclear whether the team will be back on the Cup circuit in 2012.

Kyle Busch, who started in the rear of the 43-car field, charged as high as third but the engine let go on his No. 18 Toyota shortly after the halfway mark.


Kyle Busch apologetic after losing top sponsor for two races

Sam Hornish Jr. gets first NASCAR victory in Nationwide race

Carl Edwards is not about to panic during Chase for the Sprint Cup

-- Jim Peltz in Avondale, Ariz.

Photo: NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne celebrates his victory in the Kobalt Tools 500 on Sunday with a burnout at Phoenix International Raceway. Credit: Christian Petersen / Getty Images

Tony Stewart leads halfway through NASCAR race in Phoenix


The battle for NASCAR's Sprint Cup title went off as advertised Sunday.

Tony Stewart, who started the day trailing Carl Edwards by only three points in the championship standings, was leading at the halfway point of the Kobalt Tools 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.

But Edwards kept up the pressure, running a close third behind Stewart and second-place Matt Kenseth, who was the race pole-sitter.

Stewart was aggressive from the moment the green flag waved, charging from his eighth-place starting spot to the lead in less than 40 laps of the 312-lap race on the one-mile Phoenix oval.

Brad Keselowski was fourth and A.J. Allmendinger fifth. Kyle Busch, who started near the back of the 43-car field, had climbed to 13th. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was 23rd.

Overall, though, passing proved difficult for the drivers and much of the racing was single file on the newly repaved Phoenix International layout.

This is the next-to-last race in the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup title playoff; the finale is next Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.


Kyle Busch apologetic after losing top sponsor for two races

Sam Hornish Jr. gets first NASCAR victory in Nationwide race

Carl Edwards is not about to panic during Chase for the Sprint Cup

--Jim Peltz in Avondale, Ariz.

Photo: The field takes the green flag Sunday at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway. Credit: Christian Petersen / Getty Images

Race-day preview of NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup in Phoenix


Morning drizzle gave way to partly sunny skies at Phoenix International Raceway as the green flag neared Sunday for the next-to-last race in NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

In the driver introductions for the Kobalt Tools 500, the crowd gave rousing welcomes to Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart, who are expected to decide the Cup title with two races left in the season.

Edwards, seeking his first championship, holds a three-point edge over Stewart, who’s vying for his third title. Stewart is starting eighth in the race, Edwards will start in ninth. Matt Kenseth is on the pole.

Kyle Busch, the polarizing driver who routinely is booed during introductions, got an especially hostile reception following a week in which the driver was heavily penalized for intentionally wrecking a rival a week ago in Texas.

Interstate Batteries has the dominant paint scheme on Busch’s No. 18 Toyota because his main sponsor, the M&M’s candy company, dropped Busch for the last races in response to his actions.

Busch, who has publicly apologized for his behavior, qualified 34th in the 43-car field. But he has to drop to the rear at the start because his Joe Gibbs Racing crew changed his car’s engine in practice Friday.

Look for race updates at


Kyle Busch apologetic after losing top sponsor for two races

Sam Hornish Jr. gets first NASCAR victory in Nationwide race

Carl Edwards is not about to panic during Chase for the Sprint Cup

--Jim Peltz in Avondale, Ariz.

Photo: Crew members push Clint Bowyer's car to the garage Sunday prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway. Credit: Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

Danica Patrick in 8-car crash in NASCAR Nationwide’s opening lap

Danica Patrick was among eight drivers whose cars were involved in a crash on the opening lap of the NASCAR Nationwide Series race Saturday.

Danica2Patrick's No. 7 Chevrolet slammed hard into the Turn 3 wall when the wreck occurred in the Wypall 200 at Phoenix International Raceway. Other drivers collected in the crash included Brian Scott and Reed Sorenson.

Despite heavy damage to the back of her car, Patrick was able to reach the pits for repairs and she was running 34th, two laps behind the leaders, when racing resumed. She had started the race 25th.

Aric Almirola was the early leader in the 200-lap race, followed by Clint Bowyer, Justin Allgaier and Carl Edwards.

There were concerns about the Phoenix track leading into the weekend because the one-mile oval recently was repaved, and drivers said the new surface was exceptionally slick and that passing would be difficult.

— Jim Peltz in Avondale, Ariz.

Photo: Danica Patrick shortly before the NASCAR Nationwide Series race Saturday at Phoenix International Raceway. Credit: Jennifer Hilderbrand / US Presswire

NASCAR's Matt Kenseth wins pole for Phoenix race

Matt Kenseth won the pole position for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in Phoenix, while title contenders Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart qualified in the top 10.

KensethEdwards has a three-point lead over Stewart with two races left in the Cup season. Kevin Harvick is third, 33 points behind, and Kenseth is fourth, 38 points back.

Kenseth, who won the Cup title in 2003, turned the fastest lap in Saturday's qualifying with an average speed of 137.101 mph on the newly repaved, one-mile Phoenix International Raceway. A.J. Allmendinger qualified second at 136.446 mph.

Stewart will start eighth in the 43-car field and Edwards ninth. Harvick qualified 27th.

Kyle Busch, preparing for his first race since he was heavily penalized for intentionally wrecking another driver a week ago in a NASCAR Truck Series race, qualified 34th in the 43-car field.

But under NASCAR's rules, Busch will have to start at the rear Sunday because his Joe Gibbs Racing team needed to change the engine of his No. 18 Toyota during practice Friday.


The conundrum that is NASCAR's Phoenix race

Why NASCAR's Kobalt Tools 500 could hold surprises

Tony Schumacher serves notice at NHRA Finals qualifying

--Jim Peltz in Avondale, Ariz.

Photo: Matt Kenseth during practice Friday for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway. Credit: Jennifer Stewart/US Presswire

The conundrum that is NASCAR's Phoenix race


"This could be interesting."

So summed up driver Kevin Harvick as he previewed Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at the newly repaved, reconfigured Phoenix International Raceway.

As with any repaved speedway, it's unclear how the pack of 43 cars in a Cup race will behave on the new, smooth surface. But the uncertainty is heightened Sunday because it's the next-to-last race in NASCAR's Chase for the Cup championship playoff.

Carl Edwards leads the Chase by three points over two-time champion Tony Stewart, and it's widely thought that they will battle for the title. But Harvick, 33 points behind Edwards and third place in the standings, still has a shot.

Sunday's Kobalt Tools 500 "could be a game-changer," Harvick said, but "in what direction, I don't think anybody knows because we have no clue how it's going to race."

"We know we can all drive around by ourselves and make good lap time and adjust on our cars," the Bakersfield native said. "But how hard it will be to pass when they drop the green flag and everybody's on the race track? We don't know." 

Continue reading »

NASCAR's Kyle Busch: 'No one to blame but myself'


A contrite Kyle Busch, heavily penalized for a retaliatory move on the track a week ago, said Friday that Joe Gibbs did not consider firing him from Gibbs' NASCAR team but that his behavior was "uncalled for" and "disrespectful."

In his first news conference since the incident, Busch told reporters at Phoenix International Raceway that "I'm utmost apologetic" and that "there's no one to blame but myself."

"There’s an opportunity for me to become a better person, to grow, to learn from this and I’m looking forward to those days," Busch said as he sat next to Gibbs. "I’m sure I have lost some respect from my team, with my sponsors, with my peers and I understand those consequences."

There were other consequences after Busch intentionally wrecked Ron Hornaday Jr.'s truck during a caution period in a NASCAR truck race at Texas Motor Speedway.

NASCAR barred the 26-year-old Busch from driving in the Cup and Nationwide races at Texas last weekend, fined him $50,000 and warned him of an "indefinite suspension" if he drove too aggressively again.

His primary Cup sponsor, the M&M's candy company, Thursday pulled its sponsorship for the last two races of the season, including Sunday's race at Phoenix International. There also had been speculation that Gibbs might release Busch.

Busch himself acknowledged, "Was there a point in which I thought, ‘Do I have a ride?’ Of course there was, yeah, I thought about it."

But Gibbs, the NFL Hall of Fame coach, said, "I want to support Kyle" and that "I'm committed to him as a person." He described Busch as a "gifted driver" who made "a bad decision."


M&M's drops NASCAR's Kyle Busch for two races

Why NASCAR's Kobalt Tools 500 could hold surprises

Tony Schumacher serves notice at NHRA Finals qualifying

--Jim Peltz in Avondale, Ariz.

 Photo: Kyle Busch. Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt / Getty Images.

M&M's drops NASCAR's Kyle Busch for last two races

The response to Kyle Busch's on-track retaliation escalated Thursday when candy maker M&M's said it barred Busch from driving the M&M's-sponsored Toyota for the last two races of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season.

Busch1The next race is Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway followed by the season finale at Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway on Nov. 20.

M&M's, a division of Mars Inc., has been a primary sponsor of Busch's No. 18 car but the company said Busch would not drive the car again until next year with "the expectation that no future incident take place."

"Kyle’s recent actions are unacceptable and do not reflect the values of Mars," Debra A. Sandler, chief consumer officer for Mars Chocolate North America, said in a statement.

"While we do not condone Kyle’s recent actions, we do believe that he has shown remorse and has expressed a desire to change," she said. "We believe our decision will have a positive impact on Kyle and will help him return next season ready to win."

Busch's team, Joe Gibbs Racing, said another longtime sponsor of the team, Interstate Batteries, would be Busch's main sponsor for the last two races.

The incident occurred a week ago in a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Texas Motor Speedway. After Busch and Ron Hornaday Jr. -- who was in contention to win the series title -- had bumped earlier in the race, Busch shoved Hornaday's truck hard into the wall during a caution period, a move Busch later acknowledged was retaliation.

NASCAR promptly took the rare step of barring Busch from driving in the Cup and Nationwide races in Texas that weekend, then fined him $50,000, placed him on probation for the rest of the year and warned Busch, 26, that he faced an "indefinite suspension" if he was too aggressive again. Busch later issued a public apology.

Continue reading »

Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Kyle Busch: NASCAR's penalty 'fit the crime'

Dale Earnhardt Jr. said NASCAR's decision to park Kyle Busch for two races and fine him $50,000 for wrecking Ron Hornaday Jr. in a truck race "fit the crime."

Dale1"I like the mentality that they've had over the last year or two with letting us sort of settle things on the racetrack, but there's a line you can't cross," Earnhardt told reporters Tuesday in a conference call ahead of Sunday's Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway.

Earnhardt was referring to NASCAR's so-called "Boys, have at it" policy of letting the drivers settle more of their disputes instead of the sanctioning body.

When asked where the line is that can't be crossed, Earnhardt replied: "I don't really care where the line is. I don't need a firm understanding of what's right, what's wrong, where everything lies. I just want NASCAR to be a sanctioning body that's fair."

Busch was penalized after shoving Hornaday's truck into the wall during a caution period Friday night as retaliation for their bumping earlier in a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Texas Motor Speedway.

NASCAR then parked Busch for the Nationwide Series race Saturday and the Cup race Sunday in Texas. Busch also was fined the $50,000, put on probation and warned that if he committed another foul this season that NASCAR deemed too flagrant, he would be suspended indefinitely.

Busch, 26, issued a public apology to his fans, sponsors, Hornaday and his Joe Gibbs Racing team.

"I know Kyle probably wishes to move past it," Earnhardt said. "I'm sure he's going to learn a lesson from it one way or another. He'll be a better driver and a better person for it in the end."

-- Jim Peltz

Photo: Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage Friday at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas. Credit: Tom Pennington / Getty Images

NASCAR's Carl Edwards says Chase just starting

The top nine drivers in NASCAR’s Chase for the Cup title playoff are so close with seven races left that “it’s still as if we’re just starting the Chase,” driver Carl Edwards said Wednesday.

Edwards is tied with Kevin Harvick in the championship standings after three races in the 10-race Chase and only 19 points separate them from ninth-place Jeff Gordon.

Edwards “It’s going to slowly whittle itself to seven, six, five” drivers and “by the end of the Chase, you’re going to have four guys, three guys going into Homestead [Fla.] with a chance,” said Edwards, referring to the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 20.

Edwards, a driver on the Roush Fenway Racing team, spoke to reporters on a teleconference during the second day of testing at the newly repaved and reconfigured Phoenix International Raceway. The one-mile track hosts the next-to-last Chase race Nov. 13.

The uncertainty of how the cars will perform on the new surface means “there could be some accidents and things happen that we don’t usually see at Phoenix,” said Edwards, known for his signature back flips after winning a race.

“It’s going to be pretty amazing to be the penultimate race and have all those opportunities for something crazy to happen,” Edwards said. “It could shake everything up.”

Now in his seventh full year in the Cup series, Edwards, 32, is still seeking his first championship in NASCAR’s premier division. The Missourian was close in 2008, a year in which he won nine races, including three in the Chase. But he finished second behind Jimmie Johnson, who has won a record five consecutive titles.

“I’m a little more at ease with the whole situation” compared with 2008, said Edwards, who has only one win so far this season but a series-high 14 top-five finishes. “I feel that you learn the most through your failures, not through your successes. I have more true confidence.”

The next Chase race is Sunday at the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway.

-- Jim Peltz

Photo: Carl Edwards does his signature back flip after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series race last Saturday at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. Credit: Patrick Semansky / Associated Press


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