Hamels, 3 Phillies relievers no-hit Braves
ATLANTA (AP) Cole Hamels and three Philadelphia Phillies relievers combined to pitch a no-hitter Monday, beating the Atlanta Braves 7-0 and giving a last-place team a rare reason to celebrate.
Hamels (8-6) was pulled after six innings and seemed fine with the decision. He struck out seven, walked five, hit a batter and threw 108 pitches on a hot afternoon at Turner Field.
Relievers Jake Diekman, Ken Giles and closer Jonathan Papelbon each pitched a hitless inning to finish off the fourth no-hitter in the majors this season.
Clayton Kershaw and Josh Beckett of the Dodgers and Tim Lincecum of the Giants each threw no-hitter earlier this year.
Raiders tab rookie Derek Carr as starting QB
ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) Oakland rookie Derek Carr will start the season opener against the New York Jets, becoming the first Raiders quarterback to start the first game of his rookie season.
Coach Dennis Allen announced Monday that Carr would be the starter for the foreseeable future ahead of Matt Schaub, who struggled in the preseason and has been hampered by a sore elbow.
"We've seen signs of Derek Carr's development from the day he stepped on campus here to where he is at right now," Allen said. "We've seen him grow by leaps and bounds and I think he's ready to accept the challenge."
Schaub was anointed starter after being acquired in a trade from Houston in March but has been outplayed by Carr all summer. Carr solidified the starting job by throwing three touchdown passes and leading the Raiders to the end zone four times in as many drives against Seattle last week.
"It's not an indictment on Matt Schaub at all," Allen said. "I feel very confident in Matt Schaub. I think it says more about we feel Derek Carr is in his progression."
Neither Carr nor Schaub was available in the locker room Monday. Both are scheduled to talk to the media Tuesday.
Carr, a second-round pick out of Fresno State in May, will become the 18th starting quarterback for the Raiders since the start of the 2003 season.
Carr was one of the most prolific quarterbacks in college football last season. He threw for 5,083 yards and 50 touchdowns with only eight interceptions in a spread offense at Fresno State that included many quick screens and almost exclusively shotgun formations.
But he also played one year in college in a pro-style offense under former coach Pat Hill and has made the transition back to that kind of system since joining the Raiders.
Carr played well in the preseason, completing 66.7 percent of his passes with four touchdowns, one interception and a 108.2 passer rating. He showed the strong arm needed to stretch the field, completing 11 of 18 passes more than 10 yards downfield for 234 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Receiver James Jones, who spent the past six seasons catching passes from Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, had high praise for the rookie.
"It didn't surprise me at all," Jones said. "I've been calling him baby A-rod since he got here."
Carr joins his older brother, David, as rookies to start in the season opener. According to STATS, they are the only brothers to do that since at least 1950. David won his debut for the expansion Houston Texans against Dallas in 2002 but never developed into the quarterback the Texans were hoping for when they picked him first overall.
Derek Carr faces a tall task in the opener as Jets coach Rex Ryan's defenses have been tough on rookie quarterbacks. Russell Wilson is the only rookie in eight tries to beat Ryan's Jets in his first start against them, with the eight quarterbacks combining to complete just 48.3 percent of their passes and posting a 61.1 passer rating.
"He's not your typical rookie," center Stefen Wisniewski said. "He's got an NFL quarterback older brother that's been teaching him for years. He understands defenses at a very advanced level more than most rookies would. I think Derek gets way more prepared than most rookies would be."
This marks the second straight season that the veteran quarterback acquired by general manager Reggie McKenzie in the offseason to be the starter has lost the job before the season opener.
Last year, Matt Flynn struggled in the preseason and had a sore elbow before being beaten out for the starting job by Terrelle Pryor. Flynn started one game when Pryor was hurt before being released.
Now Schaub is following a similar pattern.
"He's disappointed," Allen said. "I think any competitor would be. He's handling it like a pro. Listen it's not an easy situation to be in. But he's a real pro. He's been around football for a long time, he understands how things operate. ... He'll be ready when his number is called."
NOTES: Starting MLB Nick Roach did not practice as he recovers from a concussion sustained in the third exhibition game. ... TE David Ausberry was back at practice for the first time since undergoing knee surgery in early August.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL
Houston Astros fire manager Bo Porter
HOUSTON (AP) The Houston Astros fired manager Bo Porter on Monday, saying the dismissal had less to do with the team's 59-79 record than the need for "new direction" and a "united message throughout the entire organization."
Porter was in his second season with the Astros and was succeeded by interim manager Tom Lawless, who worked in Houston's minor league system. Lawless' first game in charge is Tuesday night at home against the first-place Los Angeles Angels.
Bench coach Dave Trembley also was let go.
Porter joined the Astros after working as a third-base coach for the Washington Nationals. The Astros went a franchise-worst 51-111 in his first season for their third straight 100-loss season.
General manager Jeff Luhnow said the decision was not based on "our current level of competitiveness." The Astros entered Monday in fourth place in the AL West with the second-worst record in the league.
"I recognize that our win-loss record is largely a product of an organizational strategy for which I am responsible," Luhnow said in a statement. "Rather, I made this decision because I believe we need a new direction in our clubhouse."
Luhnow refused repeatedly to get into more detail about why Porter was let go as he fielded questions for almost 25 minutes on Monday afternoon. He did say that he had been mulling the move for a few weeks and that he made the final decision on Sunday.
"Once you make a decision it is in everyone's best interest to move it along," he said. "It's easier to wait until the end of the season in some respects, but it's not fair to Bo and it's not fair to us."
Owner Jim Crane said the firing was "not an easy decision to make." It comes following recent reports citing sources who said Luhnow and Porter were not getting along. Luhnow wouldn't address those rumors other than to say that there were "numerous inaccuracies" in the reports.
Porter issued a statement Monday afternoon.
"During my time in Houston I dedicated myself to do everything I could to help this organization win, in the short-term and for the long-term," he said in the statement. "I am proud of what we were able to accomplish in Houston with an organization in transition. I'm gratified we were able to bring some excitement to this city as a result of our improvement from 2013 to 2014."
Starting pitcher Scott Feldman lamented Porter's firing and noted the care and concern he showed when Feldman's father died earlier this season. He said he spoke to Porter on Monday and thanked him for the way he treated him throughout the season and particularly in that difficult time.
"I hope he realizes that he was doing as well as he could given the circumstances," Feldman said. "It's tough to see, but Bo's a strong guy and I'm sure he'll be back on his feet and back in the game whenever he wants to be."
Whoever is hired as full-time manager will be the team's fourth since 2007, not including those who held the job on an interim basis. Luhnow said they hope to hire someone quickly.
"What we will seek going forward is a consistent and united message throughout the entire organization," Luhnow said. "It is essential that as an organization we create an atmosphere at the major league level where our young players can come up and continue to develop and succeed.
"Ultimately, I am responsible for creating that culture, and I will do everything in my power to do so - even when it means making difficult moves like the one we made today."
Porter was the first managerial hiring in Luhnow's tenure, and he was unhappy it didn't work out.
"It is a disappointment in that any time you bring in a new leader of any department ... you hope that the individual is going to be there for the long haul," he said. "In no way did we intend to hire someone for a short-term (transitional) period. As we look forward to the next hire, we're looking for someone for the long haul."
He said many people will help in the hunt for a new manager and noted that Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, who re-joined the team in February as a special assistant following a stint with the Rangers, will be among them.
The firing is the latest development in months of trouble surrounding the Astros that includes being the victim of hackers who accessed team's servers and published months of internal trade talks on the Internet, and failing to reach a deal with No. 1 overall draft pick Brady Aiken.
"It's been a challenging summer for me personally and for us as the Astros organization," Luhnow said. "A lot of things happened not the way we scripted them to happen and we've had to react. That's part of the job."
Lawless was the interim manager at Triple-A Oklahoma City this season when manager Tony DeFrancesco was on medical leave. Adam Everett, who was also working in the minors, will replace Trembley as bench coach.
Djokovic tops Kohlschreiber at U.S. Open
NEW YORK -- Playing mostly mistake-free tennis, top-seeded Novak Djokovic reached the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open for the eighth year in a row - and at a 22nd consecutive Grand Slam tournament overall.
Djokovic, the 2011 champion at Flushing Meadows, made only 19 unforced errors, saved both break points he faced, and breezed past 22nd-seeded Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany 6-1, 7-5, 6-4 Monday.
The last time Djokovic was eliminated before the quarterfinals at a major was a third-round loss to Kohlschreiber at the 2009 French Open. But Djokovic has now won their four head-to-head matchups since then.
Employing his court-covering defensive style to perfection, Djokovic repeatedly forced Kohlschreiber to hit an extra shot, and the German wound up with nearly twice as many unforced errors, 36.
Still, Kohlschreiber - who eliminated the last American man in the field, 13th-seeded John Isner, in the third round at Flushing Meadows for the third straight year - had a chance to make Monday's match far more intriguing. Ahead 5-4 in the second set, with Djokovic serving, Kohlschreiber hit a forehand winner and then forced a rare backhand error at 30-all to earn a set point.
But Djokovic fended that off with what he later called a "really good" forehand passing shot winner to get to deuce, then held serve for 5-all and broke in the very next game to regain control.
"Managed to win that set, which was crucial," Djokovic said.
Next up for the Serb, who reached the U.S. Open final each of the past four years, will be a match against 2012 U.S. Open champion Andy Murray or ninth-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Gronk promises he will play Sunday; Dolphins ready
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Star tight end Rob Gronkowski stood in front of his Gillette Stadium locker Monday and announced he will be playing in the New England Patriots' opener at Miami this Sunday.
Meanwhile, the news hardly caught the Dolphins by surprise.
"I'm super excited," said Gronkowski, who didn't play in any of the four preseason games as he completed his recovery from December right knee surgery. "I won't have to see my teammates grind all week - (I'll) go back out there with them, get in the huddle, break the huddle with them.
"It's going to be an honor to be back out there with my teammates. Super pumped, super excited and just preparing for the game."
The pronouncement came as a bit of a surprise in a locker room not known for players "breaking news."
"Yeah, yeah, I'm just getting it out of the way there," Gronkowski said. "Every single day this week (he would have been asked about returning) - get it out of the way now."
"It just feels good in my mind to know that I'll be out there with my boys, working hard, grinding with them, being out there."
The Patriots are 6-0 all-time when Gronkowski plays against the Dolphins, but Miami has kept him in some check of late. Gronkowski's last two games against Miami resulted in a total of only four catches.
Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said his team was "fully prepared" for a Gronkowski sighting.
"He's an excellent player," Philbin said Monday. "He's been a very very productive player throughout his career. We'll have a good plan in place, but he's certainly an important part of their offense, and a productive part of it. We'll be ready for him, for sure."
Gronkowski, who tore his right ACL and MCL last Dec. 8, is a two-time Pro Bowler and was an All-Pro in 2011. He has 226 catches with 42 touchdowns in 50 regular-season games. Last season, coming off multiple surgeries and an arm infection, he appeared in seven games, catching 39 passes, four for touchdowns, before going down on a hit by safety T.J. Ward, then of the Cleveland Browns.
Asked if he feels ready, Gronkowski said, "Definitely. I feel mentally and physically ready, for sure, no doubt about it."
"Just the way we just worked throughout all camp and the last few weeks, everything's just been going well," Gronkowski added. "There's been no setbacks, just more and more (work) every single day.
"Now I just have to focus on the Miami Dolphins, just keep focusing on getting better and getting stronger."
Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said he's been working under the assumption Gronkowski would be ready for Week 1.
"He's also been a big target for them in the red zone," Coyle said. "If he plays, and how much he plays, we don't know how much that will be, that's not going to change what we do."
Gronkowski says he doesn't expect to play "every single snap" Sunday, but is ready for "whatever the coaches have."
"It's been long and tiring for sure," he said. "But you just got to be patient and everything comes along well. That's the way I've been - just keep working hard and it will all come."
Last week, the Patriots traded veteran guard Logan Mankins to Tampa Bay for tight end Tim Wright, who has been added to provide depth.
"So far, he's been working hard. It's been great seeing him improving every single day, learning everything, and it's always fun with a new guy that wants to work hard," Gronkowski said.
NOTES: WR Josh Boyce, cut Saturday, was one of 10 players signed to the taxi squad, a list that includes DL Charley Hughlett, who is being signed for the second time as a long snapper after the release of Danny Aiken. DE-LB Rob Ninkovich is currently the only long snapper on the roster. ... Also re-signed were DL Jake Bequette, LBs Ja'Gared Davis and Deontae Skinner, S Kanorris Davis, RB Jonas Gray, OL Chris Martin and DB Daxton Swanson. The club also added quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson, last with San Francisco. ... Late Monday, the Patriots announced that they claimed safety Don Jones off waivers from Miami and released offensive lineman Chris Barker.
AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds in Davie, Fla. contributed to this story.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL
Azarenka tops qualifier Krunic to reach US Open QF
NEW YORK (AP) Trailing against a woman trying to become the first qualifier in the U.S. Open quarterfinals since 1981, Victoria Azarenka needed every ounce of experience and skill to advance.
Twice a major champion, and twice a runner-up at Flushing Meadows, Azarenka took four of the last five games Monday night to come back and win 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, ending the surprising, out-of-nowhere run by 145th-ranked Aleksandra Krunic of Serbia.
"Obviously, I didn't have a lot of data on her," the 16th-seeded Azarenka said about her 5-foot-4 (1.63-meter) opponent. "I was a little bit surprised that she's not that tall, and she hits the ball and unleashes her forehand with so much power."
The varied game played by Krunic, a 21-year-old from Serbia, worked wonders earlier in the tournament, when she used her mix of spins and speeds to eliminate two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in the third round, and 27th-seeded Madison Keys in the second.
That run of success, which followed three victories in qualifying rounds, meant that Krunic, as she described it, "started maybe loving myself a little bit more."
"Everybody can hit forehand or backhand or serve," Krunic said. "Yeah, it's more about how you get it all together."
By making it to the fourth round, she earned a check for $187,300 - nearly matching her career take coming in. Asked if she knew what her U.S. Open prize money would be, Krunic replied: "No. I know it's 30 percent tax. That makes me very sad."
Her ranking would have been the lowest for a quarterfinalist in U.S. Open history, although other women - such as 2009 champion Kim Clijsters - have made it that far without any ranking at all because of a lack of activity.
And the crowd showered Krunic with loud support throughout the 2-hour, 19-minute match under the lights in Arthur Ashe Stadium, something she said surprised her.
Azarenka, who lost to Serena Williams in the 2012 and 2013 U.S. Open finals, took a more aggressive approach in the latter stages of the match, pushing forward to win nine of 10 points at the net in the final set.
Azarenka was down 3-2 in that set, but broke to go ahead 4-3 with a backhand winner down the line off one of Krunic's many attempted drop shots.
When the match ended, and Azarenka was pulled aside for an on-court interview, Krunic stuck around so the players could walk off together - the sort of thing that rarely happens at the U.S. Open.
Next up for Azarenka is 17th-seeded Ekaterina Makarova of Russia, who advanced earlier Monday by beating No. 7 Eugenie Bouchard 7-6 (2), 6-4.
Azarenka has won the Australian Open twice and used to be ranked No. 1, but she has struggled during an uneven 2014 because of health problems.
She entered Monday having played 20 matches all season, including one from January to June because of a left foot injury, and only four in the time between Wimbledon and the U.S. Open because of a bothersome right knee.
She bristled at her news conference when a reporter used the word "suffered" while referencing Azarenka's problems.
"You're making it sound like ... I almost died and, you know, there was 10 sharks, and I got attacked, and I survived. And, you know, I saved a dolphin, as well," Azarenka said. "It's not that complicated, really. What I enjoy is to play tennis. To be talking about what happened with my injuries, I mean, it's useless already."
Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich
Murray beats Tsonga in three sets at Open
NEW YORK -- An hour-and-a-half into his stay at the U.S. Open, Andy Murray had to wonder whether it would end quickly.
A week later, the same guy who hobbled through head-to-toe cramps in his first-round match looked strong on a day that was even more hot and humid - and now he's in the quarterfinals. The eighth-seeded Murray beat No. 9-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-5, 7-5, 6-4 in 2 hours, 35 minutes on Monday.
"I don't feel like I'm that far away from playing my best tennis," Murray said.
He hasn't reached a tournament final since back surgery late last year. Coming into the U.S. Open, Murray felt he was playing well but lamented that he was struggling to close out matches.
In a tight one against a tough opponent Monday, Murray won enough crucial points to pull out the victory in straight sets.
Tsonga had three break points to go up 3-0 in the third, but Murray fought them off to swing the momentum. He promptly broke in the next game to get the set back on serve, and then closed out the match with another break.
Murray, who still isn't sure why the cramps struck so early in his opening match last Monday, drank too many fluids this time and gave himself a stomachache.
It was a tough draw for both players - and gets even tougher for Murray, who next faces No. 1 Novak Djokovic. That matchup feels much more like a Grand Slam title match than a quarterfinal, and for good reason. Murray and Djokovic have met five times in major tournaments, with four coming in the finals; the other was a semi.
Tsonga rolled into the U.S. Open full of confidence after beating Djokovic, Murray and Roger Federer in Toronto to win the title. In Tsonga's 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-4 victory over Murray in early August, he was the one winning the key points in a close match.
"Tennis, it's never a straight line. It's always like this," Tsonga said, tracing peaks and valleys with his hand. "So today it was like this maybe at the wrong moment."
Murray hasn't been back to a final since becoming the first British man in 77 years to win Wimbledon in July 2013. He beat Djokovic to clinch that title and also defeated him at the 2012 U.S. Open for the first Grand Slam championship by a British man in 76 years.
"Great memories from that match," Murray said in an on-court interview. "Hope we can play another top-level match."
After beating 22nd-seeded Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-1, 7-5, 6-4 earlier Monday, Djokovic called the prospect of facing Murray or Tsonga a "very tough, tough draw."
Murray, he said, "knows how to play center court U.S. Open where he played some great tennis and we had some great matches."
They went to five sets twice in 2012, in Djokovic's win in the Australian Open semis and Murray's breakthrough victory in the U.S. Open.
"Long games, long rallies, long points, because we do a lot of the same things well," Murray said.
When Murray's ranking slipped after the surgery, it left him vulnerable to this sort of draw: He could potentially play Tsonga, Djokovic, Australian Open champ Stan Wawrinka and 17-time major winner Roger Federer in the last four rounds. Wawrinka beat 16th-seeded Tommy Robredo 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (7), 6-2 on Monday.
Murray may finally be playing well enough to make that run sound plausible.
"It's still obviously a long way from trying to win the tournament," he said, "but it's only nine sets now, three matches. ... Maybe five, six days away from potentially winning another Grand Slam."
Wawrinka pulls away to beat Robredo at US Open
NEW YORK -- Australian Open champ Stan Wawrinka tumbled into the stands, kept calling for the trainer to treat cramping, and still pulled away to reach the U.S. Open quarterfinals.
The third-seeded Wawrinka won 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (7), 6-2 on Monday against Tommy Robredo, who has given him trouble in the past. The 16th-seeded Spaniard had a chance to serve out the first set and had two set points in the third, but Wawrinka rallied both times, and then dominated the final set.
"That's why I'm normally so strong, because I know that I have (a) few lives," Wawrinka said. "Even if I can feel really bad, I always find solution how to get better, how to relax physically, and at the end I was feeling good."
Leading 4-3 in the third, Wawrinka chased after Robredo's overhead and realized he was about to crash into the barrier behind the sideline. Wawrinka hurdled it and landed on some spectators.
He quickly scrambled back onto the court and stayed down on his knees for a few moments. After walking over to his chair, he stretched his right leg, and then rotated it around.
Once play resumed, his movement seemed fine. The trainer had already been working on that leg during changeovers.
Wawrinka, who likes the intimacy of Louis Armstrong Stadium, said he had never crashed into the crowd like that before.
"It was quite a bad fall," he said. "But I'm lucky I didn't have any big problem with that. I was already struggling physically, so was nothing from the fall."
Robredo upset Wawrinka's Swiss Davis Cup teammate, Roger Federer, in the fourth round at Flushing Meadows last year. He came into Monday's match with a 6-2 record in this series, though Wawrinka beat him in Australia in the same round on his way to his first major title.
Frustration started to boil over for Robredo after he failed to capitalize on his chances in the third set. The two players exchanged words, though they wouldn't say later what it was about.
"It's something that can happen in a match," Robredo said.
AP source: Chiefs' Alex Smith agrees to extension
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) When he was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs last offseason, quarterback Alex Smith professed his admiration for coach Andy Reid and his excitement at playing for the storied franchise.
Now, he could have that opportunity for at least four more years.
Smith signed a $68 million extension Sunday to remain with the Chiefs through the 2018 season, a person familiar with the deal told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the team did not disclose the terms of the contract.
Smith, who is due $7.5 million this season, will receive $45 million in new guarantees.
"It was a priority of ours to get this deal done and keep Alex in a Chiefs uniform long term," Chiefs general manager John Dorsey said in a statement. "Alex is a proven leader on and off the field. He is a special individual with a lot of ability and we are fortunate to have him here."
Smith and his agent, Tom Condon, had been discussing an extension for several months, and both sides were hopeful that a deal would be reached by the regular season. But with the Chiefs opening against Tennessee next weekend, time was quickly running out.
"John and his staff along with Tom and his group have worked hard to get this deal done. They've done a nice job," Reid said in a statement. "Alex is a smart, talented football player that has adapted well to our offensive scheme. He also, obviously, has had a tremendous amount of success as a quarterback in this league. We as a team are very happy to have Alex as our quarterback."
The Kansas City Star first reported that Smith had reached an agreement.
The former No. 1 overall draft pick joins a wave of quarterbacks who have recently signed long-term extensions, including the Bengals' Andy Dalton and the 49ers' Colin Kaepernick.
Smith has not played well in the preseason, throwing two interceptions in the red zone in his final outing against Minnesota. But he's been hampered by an offensive line in turmoil, an injury to running back Jamaal Charles that kept him out two weeks of training camp, and a suspect group of wide receivers that will start the season without suspended star Dwayne Bowe.
"I feel good. I mean, I feel great," Smith said last week. "We got some good work, some things to learn from to get better, but I do - I do feel confident in what we're doing."
Smith's deal is important for the Chiefs on other fronts, too.
Now that he's under contract, they can turn their attention toward a long-term deal with Pro Bowl pass rusher Justin Houston. And if they fail to reach an agreement with him, the Chiefs could put the franchise tag on Houston without worrying about losing Smith to free agency.
After arriving in Kansas City for a pair of second-round draft picks, Smith had possibly the best season of his career. He threw for a career-high 3,313 yards and 23 touchdowns against only seven interceptions, even while skipping a meaningless regular-season finale.
More importantly, he took a downtrodden team that had won two games before his arrival to an 11-5 record and the playoffs. Smith threw for 378 yards and four touchdowns in a 45-44 loss to the Colts, setting playoff franchise record with 30 completions and 46 attempts.
Smith's won-loss record the past three seasons is 30-9-1, trailing only the Patriots' Tom Brady, Packers' Aaron Rodgers and Saints' Drew Brees in wins among QBs with at least 30 starts.
Now with a year in Reid's system, Smith thinks he can be even better this season.
"It's always a progression. It's not like we've arrived anywhere," he said recently. "I mean, last year is a great example of where we started the season and where we ended it. Every season is like that.
"There are ups and downs along the way throughout the season, but you've got to continue to progress. You want to be playing your best football as the season goes on and into late in the year. So, you're never just at a place. You're always striving to be moving forward."
Now, Smith knows that he'll be moving forward with Kansas City.
AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley in San Francisco contributed to this report.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL
Tony Stewart's return to race track ends early
HAMPTON, Ga. (AP) Tony Stewart climbed from his battered car, took a big gulp of water, and surveyed the damage.
His night was done.
Not the way he wanted to come back to racing.
In his first event since his sprint car struck and killed a fellow driver, Stewart slammed the wall twice and settled for a dismal 41st-place finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday, leaving him in a must-win situation next weekend at Richmond to make NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
"I wish we could have had a better effort and a better finish for him," crew chief Chad Johnston said. "We'll go on to Richmond and hope we can do better there."
When Stewart pulled his No. 14 car into the garage, he stayed behind the wheel while his crew jacked it up and went to work. A few minutes later, he climbed out, chatted briefly with Johnston, and looked under the hood.
When he realized nothing could be done, Stewart headed through the garage to his hauler parked on the other side. He showed no emotion and didn't say anything as he was trailed by reporters.
"I went into today with some pretty good hopes of finishing well," Johnston said. "It just didn't work out."
Stewart first went into the wall on lap 122 through no fault of his own. Kyle Busch's car drifted high coming out of turn 2 on a restart, catching the front end of Stewart's machine and sending them both into the wall.
The No. 14 headed to the pits for work to the right side, then rolled back onto the track in 21st place.
Fifty laps after the initial problem, Stewart blew a right front tire and slammed into the wall even harder. With sparks flying from the damaged car, he eased it back to the pit lane and went straight to the garage.
It didn't take long to determine the car was beyond repair. He barely made it past the halfway point of the race.
"It was good to see him back," said Mike Arning, a spokesman for Stewart-Haas Racing. "Part of that healing process for him was getting back in the race car. This is what he's done since he was 8 years old. This is his family. He's 43 years old. He's not married. He doesn't have children. It's who he is and what he knows."
Having skipped the last three Sprint Cup races, his team saying he needed time to grieve, Stewart received a big cheer from the crowd when he was introduced in Atlanta. Many fans wrote notes of encouragement on the pavement at the entrance to his garage stall.
"Welcome back Tony."
"Go Get Em Smoke."
Starting 12th, Stewart ran in the top 10 through the early stages of the race, getting as high as fourth though he never seriously challenged for the lead.
"I thought he was pretty strong all weekend," fellow driver Kyle Larson said. "It was cool to see Tony back on the track. ... He's a tough competitor and really fun to race with."
He wound up beating only two other cars in the 43-driver field. The No. 14 was loaded onto the hauler and the crew changed out of their suits, long looks on their faces as their focus shifted to Richmond. Stewart, his racing suit pulled halfway down, headed to his motor home surrounded by security officers and wasn't seen again.
Stewart went into seclusion after his car struck 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr. at a dirt-track race in upstate New York, a case that is still under investigation by law enforcement authorities.
Normally, drivers must compete in every event to be eligible for the championship, but NASCAR granted a waiver to Stewart under a rule intended for primarily for medical issues. Even so, the only way for the three-time Cup champion to qualify for the playoff was to win at either Atlanta or Richmond.
He's down to his final shot.
Whether Stewart makes the Chase or not, he felt like he needed to be with his team to help him cope with Ward's death. In his only comments of the weekend, he said "this is something that will definitely affect my life forever."
"This is a sadness and a pain I hope no one has to experience in their life," he added.
Stewart's fellow Cup drivers welcomed him back.
"Hopefully this is the step in the right direction for what he needs to get better," said Denny Hamlin, who finished third in Atlanta.
Ward was struck after he stepped onto the track to confront Stewart, angry over a collision with the NASCAR star that knocked Ward out of the race. Authorities said Friday that the probe into Ward's death will last at least another two weeks. No decision has been made about whether Stewart will face charges.
But for now, it's on to Richmond.
"We're just taking it one day at a time, one week at a time," Arning said. "This is uncharted territory for all of us."
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Kahne holds off Kenseth to win Atlanta shootout
HAMPTON, Ga. (AP) Kasey Kahne grabbed the lead on the restart following a caution with 23 laps remaining and held off Matt Kenseth in a two-lap shootout to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday night.
Kahne's first win of the season earned him a spot in the Chase for the Sprint cup. Kenseth also qualified for the Chase on points.
Denny Hamlin was third, followed by Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards and Danica Patrick.
Meanwhile, Tony Stewart's much-anticipated return to racing ended a little more than halfway through the race.
Stewart hit the wall for the second time after his right front tire blew out on Lap 172, ending his night with a 41st-place finish.
It was Stewart's first race since the sprint car he was driving struck and killed 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr. in an Aug. 9 race at a dirt track in upstate New York. The fatal wreck is still under investigation.
With only two laps remaining and Kahne holding a solid lead over Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch collided, forcing a caution flag and the first shootout. Harvick, who led 195 laps, had contact with Joey Logano in heavy traffic and hit the wall on the restart, bringing another caution flag and a second shootout.
Kahne, who had four fresh tires, started behind Kenseth and Hamlin on the final restart.
Harvick, who also won the Nationwide Series race on Saturday night, started from the pole and led the first 80 laps.
Logano, who won last week at Bristol, finished 14th.
Stewart's problems started when he went into the wall earlier in the race following a collision with Kyle Busch.
Kenseth began the night fifth in the points race, but not yet locked into the Chase because he had no wins. Kenseth needed to finish seventh or better to secure his place in the playoffs.
After leading the final 159 laps of his dominant Nationwide series win on Saturday night, Harvick resumed his mastery of the Atlanta Motor Speedway track. Starting from his series-leading sixth pole of the season, Harvick led the first 80 laps, giving him a combined 239 consecutive laps led at the track over two races.
Hamlin passed Harvick for the lead after Jeff Gordon, who had been second, blew a tire and slid into the wall on turn 3 on the 78th lap, forcing a yellow flag.
Stewart started 12th and opened strong, moving up to sixth in the first five laps. Driving high on the track, three-wide at times, he made two more passes to move to fourth a few laps later. He fell back to 12th before his first big setback. Busch, attempting to move to the top of the track, cut in front of Stewart, forcing Stewart into the wall.
After two visits to pit row for repairs, Stewart didn't last long. Only 50 laps later, he hit the wall on turn 2 after his right front tire blew. This time he drove his more heavily damaged car to the garage, and his race was over.
Brad Keselowski was fourth when a collision with Josh Wise ended his night with 28 laps remaining.
Ty Dillon, making his Sprint Cup debut, finished 25th.
Harvick had a scare early in the race when a small animal ran across the track in front of his car. He told his crew a cat ran across the track, but later it was discovered to be a squirrel, which was found hiding near turn 3.
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49er Ray McDonald accused of domestic violence
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Ray McDonald was arrested early Sunday on felony domestic violence charges after officers responded to a home in an upscale neighborhood, San Jose police said.
Sgt. Heather Randol, a police spokeswoman, declined to discuss the circumstances that led to McDonald's arrest, saying only that officers had probable cause to take him into custody.
McDonald, 29, was later released from Santa Clara County Jail after posting $25,000 bail.
He wouldn't discuss what happened with television news reporters who approached him after he posted bail.
"I can't say too much, not right now, but the truth will come out. Everybody knows the kind of person that I am," McDonald said. "I'm a good-hearted person."
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced tougher penalties this past week for players accused of domestic violence. The move followed scrutiny over Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice's two-game penalty stemming from his arrest on an assault charge in February.
"The 49ers organization is aware of the recent reports regarding Ray McDonald and we take such matters seriously," general manager Trent Baalke said in a statement. "As we continue to gather the facts, we will reserve further comment."
McDonald has been playing for San Francisco since he was drafted as a third-round pick in 2007.
The incident is the latest blow to what has been one of the NFL's fiercest defenses. On Friday, linebacker Aldon Smith received a nine-game suspension for what the league called violations of its substance-abuse and personal-conduct policies.
Will Power wins IndyCar series title behind Kanaan
FONTANA, Calif. (AP) Will Power won his first IndyCar Series championship Saturday night, finishing ninth in the final race and claiming the season title after a career filled with agonizing misses.
Tony Kanaan won the 500-mile, double-points race under the lights at Fontana for his first victory of the season, but Power drove an intelligent race with just enough aggression to preserve his healthy points lead.
After briefly taking the lead late, Power comfortably held off second-place teammate Helio Castroneves and wrapped up Team Penske's first IndyCar title since 2006.
"That's 15 years of hard work," Power said. "Started taking it seriously in 2000, and that's 15 years of hard work. ... It's just surreal, man. I can't believe it."
Starting from the back after a poor qualifying run, Power patiently picked his way through the field to the front. After a restart with 62 laps to go, the Australian roared into the lead with authority, showing he wasn't about to back into his first title.
With much more relief than elation, Power celebrated overcoming his still-fresh memories of heartbreak in recent seasons. He led the IndyCar points standings heading into the final race in 2010 and 2012, and he led with two races left in 2011 - but he failed to claim the title each time.
"That was one of the hardest races ever," Power said. "Oh my God, I was crying. It just went on and on. I slowly made up position, and it was great. ... I'm so mentally exhausted right now. My hands are numb from holding onto the wheel so tight."
Power's mother and wife watched from the pit area, sometimes turning their heads away in nervousness as the laps wound down and the specter of Power's past loomed.
They didn't need to worry: The pride of Toowoomba, Australia, finally is a champion.
Roger Penske's team completed a dynamic season by claiming three of the top four spots in the overall standings, with fourth place wrapped up by Juan Pablo Montoya, who led the most laps at Fontana.
Power and Penske jointly held up an Australian flag on the victory podium before Power raised the Astor Cup.
"Tonight shows you the strength of the team and what we did all year," Penske said. "What a night. Couldn't ask for anything more."
Castroneves was essentially finished after a drive-through penalty for a pit entry violation with 31 laps to go, sliding out of the groove onto the track on his way into the pits. The penalty paved a championship finish for Power, who has been dinged numerous times this season by pit road penalties.
For the sixth time in his career, Castroneves missed the title despite entering the final two IndyCar races in the top two in the points standings.
"It stings a little bit, but that's what motivates me," Castroneves said. "It's good to be upset when you finish second in a championship. It gives me another reason to come back stronger next year and fix what we can fix to win a championship."
Power beat Castroneves by 62 points for the title. Scott Dixon, the 2013 series champion, ended up third in the standings after a strong finish to the season.
Power struggled in qualifying Friday night, finishing next-to-last in the 22-driver field. Rookie Mikhail Aleshin's frightening crash late in a practice session reduced the field, but it didn't change Power's strategy.
Power intentionally dropped back to last on the opening lap, avoiding any chance of early trouble before attempting to work his way up the field. He moved ahead steadily and cautiously during the first 100 laps, cracking the top 10 with little drama while other teams struggled with downforce and speeding penalties.
Kanaan earned his first victory of the season for his new Target Chip Ganassi Racing team, and the 17th of his career. The Brazilian is the 11th driver to win a race this season, tying the North American open-wheel record set in CART in 2000 and 2001.
49ers' Aldon Smith apologizes for suspension
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) San Francisco 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith has apologized to the organization and its fans after receiving a nine-game suspension from the NFL for a series of off-field legal issues.
In a statement released through the NFL Players Association on Saturday, Smith said: "I apologize to my teammates, coaches, the entire 49ers organization and 49ers fans for not being able to contribute on the field for the next several weeks. Over the last year, I have learned a lot and I'm working hard to grow from my experiences.
"I want to thank my family and friends, my teammates, my union and the 49ers for supporting me during this process. I will be at work daily to participate in all permitted work activities, and to support my teammates, just as they have supported me."
The NFL announced Smith's suspension Friday. The league said in a statement Smith had violated its substance abuse and personal conduct policies.
Smith missed five games last season to undergo treatment at an in-patient facility following his DUI arrest Sept. 20. In November, he pleaded not guilty to three felony counts of illegal possession of an assault weapon, stemming from a June 2012 party at his home.
Smith also was arrested April 13 at Los Angeles International Airport for allegedly making a bomb threat. No charges were filed.
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Change of plea hearing set for Colts owner Irsay
NOBLESVILLE, Ind. (AP) A change of plea hearing has been set for Tuesday for Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, who faces drug-related charges following a March traffic stop.
Hamilton County Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Andre Miksha said Friday that a not guilty plea had previously been entered on behalf of the 55-year-old Colts owner.
Miksha said in an email he cannot "provide any details of - or even verify the existence of - an agreement unless and until one" is filed Tuesday with Hamilton Superior Court or at a later date. Messages seeking comment were left Friday with Irsay's attorney, Jim Voyles.
Irsay was arrested March 16 near his suburban Indianapolis home after he was spotted driving slowly, stopping in the roadway and failing to use a turn signal. Officers said he had trouble reciting the alphabet and failed field sobriety tests.
A police report said an officer believed Irsay to be intoxicated, but not on alcohol. Various prescription drugs were found in his vehicle, along with more than $29,000 in cash.
Irsay was charged with driving while intoxicated and driving with a Schedule I or II controlled substance in his body. His trial had been scheduled for Thursday, but he requested and received a continuance.
Less than 48 hours after his March arrest, the Colts said Irsay had entered a treatment facility. He resumed his duties with the Colts at the NFL draft in early May.
Irsay acknowledged in 2002 he had become dependent on painkillers after several years of orthopedic operations. He said then that he had overcome the problem.
Irsay became the Colts owner in 1997 after the death of his father, Robert Irsay, and a lengthy legal battle with his father's second wife.