Keselowski gets the jump on Johnson at Avondale, Ariz.
AVONDALE, Ariz. – Kyle Busch set a track record in winning the pole at Phoenix International Raceway, where Brad Keselowski got a jump on Jimmie Johnson in their tight championship race.
Busch ran a lap of 138.766 mph in Friday’s qualifying session to win the pole in his Toyota. It broke the track record of 137.279 set by Carl Edwards in 2011.
Martin Truex Jr. qualified second, and Denny Hamlin was third to give Toyota the top three starting spots for Sunday’s race.
But all eyes are on title contenders Johnson and Keselowski, who are separated by seven points in the standings with two races remaining heading into one of Johnson’s best tracks.
Only it was Keselowski who had the better qualifying effort. He’ll start 14th Sunday, 10 spots better than the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship leader.
Mum’s the word for Stewart, but Harvick is the rumor
AVONDALE, Ariz. – Tony Stewart reportedly has signed Kevin Harvick to drive for his team beginning in 2014.
Stewart, however, would not comment Friday on the report by ESPN.com, which said Harvick signed a multiyear agreement to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing when his contract expires after next season. Asked about the report at Phoenix International Raceway, Stewart said he doesn’t discuss business until he’s got something official to announce.
Harvick is in his 12th Sprint Cup season with Richard Childress Racing. He’s won 18 races but currently is winless on the season and ranked 11th in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship standings.
Bickerstaff will spell Brown, fired Friday by the Lakers
LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Lakers fired coach Mike Brown on Friday after a 1-4 start to his second season in charge.
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak announced the surprising move several hours before they hosted Golden State. Assistant coach Bernie Bickerstaff will coach the Lakers against the Warriors.
L.A. began the season with championship expectations after trading for center Dwight Howard and point guard Steve Nash, adding two superstars alongside Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.
But the Lakers went 0-8 during the preseason last month for the first time in franchise history before stumbling into the regular season with an 0-3 start, finally beating Detroit last Sunday for their first win.
The Lakers’ 1-4 record is the worst in the Western Conference, and owner Jim Buss had seen enough of the coach he hired just 18 months earlier to replace 11-time NBA champion Phil Jackson. Brown signed a four-year deal worth roughly $18 million in May 2011.
L.A. went 41-25 and reached the second round of the playoffs last season in Brown’s debut, losing to Oklahoma City. Brown received criticism even for that largely successful season.
The 68-year-old Bickerstaff joined Brown’s coaching staff in September. He was a head coach in Charlotte, Seattle, Denver and Washington, going 415-517.
Two sides sit another table, but there’s a lot of work to do
NEW YORK – NHL owners and players face a lot of work to save the hockey season. Whether they are moving closer after a week of talking remains to be seen.
The league and the players’ association met Friday for the fourth consecutive day and fifth time in seven days, trying to reach an agreement to end the lockout. A union spokesman said there will be multiple meetings during the day to discuss collective bargaining matters.
The sides got an earlier start Friday than in previous days, perhaps recognizing the urgency on the 55th day of the lockout. The league already has called off 327 regular-season games and said a full season won’t be played.
If there is no deal soon, the NHL could lose a full season to a lockout for the second time in seven years.